Tag Archive for: Leadership

Why Words Matter When Building Organizational Culture

As a people manager, consultant and coach, I continue to be amazed by the fact that so many people fail to recognize the power of  their words. Maybe ‘amazed’ is not the right word. Disappointed might actually be the better word. Disappointed that so-called people managers and/or leaders disregard the power of the words that they choose when communicating with subordinates and/or even peers.Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 12.17.16 PM

Organizational culture has been on my mind a lot lately. Working closely with clients and organizations experiencing change can cause that to happen.

Unintentional  or Intentional Word Choice


There is an argument that word choice is completely unintentional. In this case, people might not take the time to stop and think about the words they are selecting in the heat of the moment when sending an email, letter or even when having a face-to-face with someone.

People are busy and they really may not realize the words they are using result in people feeling embarrassed, demeaned, humiliated or even angry. Things of course are complicated further by who else sees/hears the conversation unfold and who actually uses the words.

For example, as a people manager I may realize that employee A is not as reliable as employee B in delivering and I need to get a project completed for an important deal to come to fruition. I could say:

“Employee A, I really need you to step aside and hand over your work on Project X to Employee B because he will get it done correctly and on time. Whereas you will need a lot of handholding and prodding just to get it done. I have something else I can get you to work on instead.” And of course I am saying this in a team meeting with everyone listening.

Or, I could say….

“Employee A, I really need your help with a new initiative because you are very strong in a, b, and c, which is essential for success. This overlaps with Project X so I was thinking that Employee A could take that on. Why don’t the three of us meet after this to discuss how we can make both priorities a success and support each other?”

See/hear the difference? Not only am I not embarrassing or diminishing the person, but I am actually focusing on what the person is good at. If you want to promote and develop a great work culture, you must have both: the right words and positive reinforcement. [Click to Tweet]


Of course there is also the intentional choice of using particular words. This can be both a positive, which is really the second example above, or a really negative. In the latter, a person is deliberately choosing words to hurt and diminish someone. In an organization that promotes its culture as being ideal, this would seem to not align. And, if in fact it was intentional, it is likely that the culture is not what management claims it to be. This is a red flag. Morale is likely low and people will not be as productive. Turnover will be high and internal cliques will be obvious.

Here is an example of someone deliberately intending to demoralize an employee:

“Donna, despite accomplishing everything that was set out for you to do last year and exceeding established KPIs, we don’t support your promotion. We think another person could do it better. We recognize your hard work though, so we expect you to continue to manage the projects until complete. This will give us time to train your new manager. Maybe next time!”

How would you feel as an employee hearing this? Probably not very good. Despite accomplishing everything and exceeding expectations in terms of results, you aren’t getting promoted. This does not match.

Or, how about this follow-up request two months later?

“Donna, since you managed this project until being replaced, attached are the vendor assessment forms that need to be completed. Fill them out and return to me by the date noted. Be sure to cc your new boss!

If your goal is to have people fully engaged and supporting the organization, this is not the best way to do that.

As a people manager or someone with influence such as HR or an executive assistant, your words can cut deeply. While frank and candidate conversations need to happen, there are better ways to do it, including the location and of course:  the right words. You are not doing anyone any favours bringing a person down. In addition to demeaning a person, this behaviour is also sending a signal to the rest of the team that:

  • it is acceptable to embarrass others
  • it is acceptable to make sure others know of the embarrassment
  • if you don’t deliver the way I want you to, then you might be next
  • working in fear is acceptable in our culture.

Something to Remember:

High-performing organizational cultures don’t just happen. Everyone from top to bottom and bottom to top have to live the goals and objectives. People need to be aware and coach each other to make it happen. Bad behaviour, including deliberately demeaning people should not be accepted. Good leaders get to the bottom of it. What is the root cause? Is it the real culture coming through, or is it simply that a person or person hasn’t really been coached on what the organization’s culture is to be. Word choices need to be deliberate to bring people up versus bringing them down.

High-performing organizational cultures don’t just happen. People make them happen. Words matter. [click to Tweet]

Remember, words matter. Be selective. Act with purpose and meaning. Bring people up rather than pushing them down!

Have thoughts on how words matter, I would love to hear.


6 Signs You Aren’t Really A Team Player

Our work environments can often be a very competitive space where we are jockeying to get the positions, perks and pay. Have you ever noticed however, that there are some people who manage to move through the ranks and they remain respected and well-liked? Of course you have. Then there are others that make it so far, but they seem to get stuck. Often times there are telltale signs of why. It often comes down to not being a team player. In fact there are six signs that you aren’t really a team player and there is a very good chance that your peers as well as your managers have noticed!

  1. You go out of your way to find fault in the work of your colleagues.
  2. Even more of a red flag, you go to great lengths to prepare communications  – usually via email – that showcase the errors of others and you cc the whole chain of command of the employee or employees to ensure that everyone is well aware of the mistakes.
  3. Despite there being subject matter experts, you make copious notes on how they can better do their jobs. And, of course you share them.
  4. When conversations are occurring, you not only talk over others, you go out of your way to one up the others, again to showcase your intelligence.
  5. You never ask how your colleagues are. You go directly to what they or others are doing wrong.
  6. And, finally you never praise others for their work.

Chances are, unless you are both really self-aware and very honest with yourself, you won’t recognize that you do this. However, if you aren’t getting a head at work quite as quickly as you would like. It might be time to step back and honestly self-assess.

Would you add others to this list?

Note: this post was previously published on LinkedIn.

The Sunday Brief (June 22, 2014)

Welcome to this week’s The Sunday Brief.  Like every week, I had a hard time selecting just three top picks of the week.  On top of the many great reads I found during the week, I learned about someone I consider to be a remarkable young man and I want to share what he taught me. So, this week, I offer up my top four picks, instead of the standard three.The Sunday Brief heatherannemaclean.wordpress.com

1.  My top pick of the week is Modern Marketing Is About Human Connection – Not Robots by Tony Zambito I really like this post as it echoes my own personal beliefs about what marketing is “supposed” to be.  Marketers around the world talk about relationship marketing and creating a connection. We have moved away from speaking about changing buyer/consumer behaviour. In reality that is what we are still trying to do.  Now, let’s look at content marketing. I still believe it is a great tool, but so many marketers approach it from a checklist perspective that is is loosing meaning for many.

Zambito, points out quite accurately that buyers notice when you are pushing to hard and when you have become robotic in your actions. This is a must read for marketers in my opinion and that is why it is my top pick of the week.

2.  Speaking of being less robotic and thinking about things from a human perspective, my next pick is about that young man I mentioned above. In 7 Lessons in Leadership from an 8 Year Old, you will learn about Ben Hamilton, a young boy who saw something he didn’t like and how he took action versus waiting for someone else to do something about it.

It is really quite humbling to realize that an 8 year old is demonstrating more leadership than most of the adults in his community.

3.  While posted a few months back, I came across this post during the week and quite liked it.  Need New Customers? Get Happy Employees, by Michael Brenner  reinforces the importance of having engaged employees.  Report after report conclusively demonstrates that engaged employees result in organizations performing better.  This is a direct correlation to the bottom line.  Despite this however, organizations, including governments, fail to take actions to truly engage employees.

Brenner gives some good insight and steps to take to help increase employee engagement.  Definitely a good read.

4.  My last pick is Insights from Coca-Cola:  Let your Customer be the Star of the Story from the We First Blog. Again, Marketers will talk about what we should do versus what we actually do.  In this interview, Coca-Cola shares how they build relationships and promote sustainability by talking about others.

For those brands that actually practice what they preach, the results are wonderful.  A great read/listen. Well, those are my top picks from the previous week. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did.

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7 Lessons in Leadership from an 8 Year Old

We have all heard Hilary Clinton’s famous line of “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”, suggesting that leadership and external influences can impact a child, for good or bad.  Yesterday I learned about Ben Hamilton, an 8 year old who lives in my community. I live in a lovely little Village just outside New Brunswick’s capital city of Fredericton and while this bedroom community is a safe heaven, we aren’t absent of trouble. Recently, a group vandals tagged everything from mailboxes, bleachers to even our local elementary school. They are destroying property.  They are breaking the law.  It is disheartening to say the least.  But while most of the villagers sat and hoped it wouldn’t happen again, 8 year old Ben Hamilton didn’t sit and wait.  No, Ben took action.  I think we can all learn from Ben. Maybe it doesn’t take a village to raise a child, but a child to get a community to act.   Here are 7 lessons in leadership we can all learn from an 8 year old:  

Ben Hamilton, photo courtesy of his parents.

Ben Hamilton, photo courtesy of his parents.

1. Commitment

We all talk about commitment – how much we need it and why it is important, but Ben not only saw something he didn’t like, he decided to do something about it.  Originally setting out to raise $160 he and his friend have made more than four times that amount.  He could have stopped when he reached his goal, but he didn’t.  That is not only true commitment to the end goal, but it shows a level of maturity that many of us would not share.

2.  Confidence

I know my share of adults who aren’t comfortable speaking with the media, but 8 year old Ben did just fine being interviewed for radio.  In fact, he did better than just fine.  Fear does not hold him back. Sometimes as adults we don’t do something out of fear. Sometimes it is out of complacency.  Regardless of what our justification is, we don’t act. Ben reminded us that sitting and waiting doesn’t get results.

3.  Positive Attitude

In the words of Ben:  “So I decided I should do something about it. I was like, ‘Can we do something to help?’ And it was like, ‘Yeah.”  I don’t know many 8 year olds who would want to do something to clean up some graffiti, but Ben did!  He didn’t like what he saw, but he knew he could do something about it. He also offered a solution to the problem.

4.  Intuition

I am pretty sure that Ben hasn’t done something like this before.  After all, our sleepy little community hasn’t experienced this before and all rationale would have me believing that this is a first for Ben.  So, he didn’t have a road map to help him determine what to do, when and how.  And, as I learned from his mother, he actually did a proposal for the fundraiser and brought it to the Principal for approval.  Did I mention that Ben is just 8 years old?  That takes some natural intuition and takes me to the next characteristic of leadership – creativity.

5.  Creativity

So, how does an 8 year old raise money? An allowance? Maybe. But how about having a jersey day and a freezie day – getting them and selling them to his fellow schoolmates? Not only did he approach his problem with a creative idea, but he involved his fellow students. In other words, he has the ability to inspire, which is our next characteristic of leadership!

6.  Ability to Inspire

Setting out to raise $160 and exceeding $800 is no small feat.  While kids love freezies, being able to sell that many means that Ben is someone who truly can share a message.  He can convey what it means to respect property and to do something to fix a wrong – someone else’s wrong.

7.  Communication

Last but not least, Ben is a communicator.  He noticed a wrong, he thought about the wrong.  He asked what he could do, found a solution and then shared that solution and vision with others.  That my friends is a true communicator.

We can learn a lot from Ben Hamilton.  I can only imagine how proud his parents, Karyn and Ryan must be.  And when asked how they were feeling: “We are immensely proud of Ben and thankful he attends such a wonderful school that took the time to listen to Ben’s idea and gave him a platform to see it through.  We are also happy that Ben has learned about community activism and, that no matter how old you are, when you are doing good things, people will be supportive and will even  join in the cause.  He now knows he can make a difference in his community- and that is a wonderful gift.”

Like this post?  Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @MacLeanHeather.

Leadership 101 – Respect the Skills of Staff

When I was still at university, I learned a most valuable lesson in managing and leadership: the value of respecting the skills of staff, and the merit of letting staff employ these skills unimpeded by delusions that the manager can improve things by intervening.

Leadership 101 - Management

Image courtesy of philmckinney.com

My Experience

One summer I worked on board a hydrographic ship which was charting the ocean bottom off Newfoundland, Canada. The area of interest was a high point known as the Virgin Shoals. The method of surveying this area was to capture water depths at regular intervals, in a star pattern with the centre point of the star being Virgin Shoals. Every 4-hour shift, the hydrographer in charge (my job) would plot the latitude, longitude and depth at 5 minute intervals. We’d survey a line, and at the end of a line the helmsman would be instructed to turn the ship and start a different line heading back towards the centre of the star at a slightly different angle. If the plotting of the points indicated the ship was not on a straight line, the hydrographer would direct the helmsman to adjust the heading a little bit so the points would all be along a straight line. The other people doing this work on other shifts were seasoned hydrographers, not university students, and not university trained. They were a little contemptuous of a university type presuming to be able to do this kind of work.

Valuing Expertise

Leadership 101 Mary Ogilvie

Mary Ogilvie

When I worked my shift, the helmsman was an older chap, and had spent his life steering ships. I took over from a fellow who obviously couldn’t wait to see what kind of a mess I would make of the night’s work. Every 5 minutes I plotted the readings, and they looked great to me. When the line was over I said to the helmsman, looks like we should turn around now, and we started plotting another line. He kept the ship straight, and on the right angles, and at the end of my shift our lines were the straightest, neatest of anyone’s. Instead of saying “starboard 200 degrees” or whatever, I just let the helmsman do what he already knew how to do. Instead of directing minor course changes as the line progressed, I just let him make the decisions about how to keep the ship straight. The next day my colleagues spent all their spare time replotting our path to try to prove I had fudged it. All that I had done to get these great sounding lines was to let the helmsman do his job – one he knew a whole lot more about that I did. For me I learned quickly that leadership didn’t mean knowing it all, but rather knowing when your team knew what to do and to let them do it. It was a lesson the other hydrographers had yet to learn.

There are of course times when a manager must coach, or direct, or even discipline. And there are lots of articles and courses to help you do these things well. But skilled trained staff can often be more productive if they are afforded respect for their abilities, with words of encouragement rather than suggestions for improvement that may well be unfounded, and counterproductive. Valuing expertise and experience served me well over the course of my career and in every leadership role that I had. I am glad that I learned it early.

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About Mary Ogilvie:

Mary Ogilvie is a professional engineer, having graduated from UNB with a BSc (Survey) in 1972.  After a year with a private survey firm in British Columbia she returned to New Brunswick to work with the newly formed land registration and information service (LRIS) as a research analyst.  LRIS became the New Brunswick Geographic Information Corporation (NBGIC) and then Service New Brunswick (SNB).   During this time Mary oversaw leading edge innovations in digital mapping, creation of products from digital topographic data, and distribution of digital map data.

Mary retired from SNB in 2004 and at the time was the Vice President, Development.  In that capacity she oversaw the major development projects for SNB such as PLANET, Business Registry, Electronic Service Delivery.  She also oversaw the Information Technology unit, which provided desk top, networking  and other services for the organization, and looked after the unit responsible for business development – convincing departments and municipalities to have their service delivery work handled by SNB.  During this time she was also responsible with the arrangements with private sector firms for the marketing of SNB owned software such as PLANET, PPR and G-Biz.

After retirement Mary consulted on several projects, taking her to, Saskatchewan, Chile, South Africa  and Vermont.  She now spends her time travelling, looking after grandkids, and playing keyboard in Rock Revival, a local rock and roll band.

Be a Branding Genius Like American Pickers’ Mike Wolfe

How would you like to debut your brand to 3.1 million people?  That would be pretty amazing right?  Well, that is exactly what Mike Wolfe did in 2010, when his show, American Pickers debuted on the History Channel making it the highest rated debut since 2007.  This didn’t “just happen”.  When you dissect it, Mike Wolfe is a Branding Genius and you can learn from his success.

Image courtesy of the Mike Wolfe American Picker Facebook Page

Image courtesy of the Mike Wolfe American Picker Facebook Page

Now, before getting to Mike’s genius, let’s be clear what a brand is.  Far too many people think a brand is a logo.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There are a number of definitions for brand, but I think that Seth Godin’s best captures it:  “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”   Now that we are all on the same page, let’s break down what Mike did to create a brand that has resulted in growing his business and brand recognition that we all dream of!

1. Leadership and Vision

Before you can establish a great brand, you need someone who has a great vision.  On top of that however, you need a leader who can execute on that vision. (Click to Tweet)

Mike is definitely “that” person.  His business Antique Archeology has a different take on antiques.  In effect, he is creating and curating his own story all the way from the experience in-store to going out on the road with sidekick Frank Fritz to collect “rusty gold”.  He is unearthing great finds.  It truly is archeology.

 2.  Differentiation

In 2010 when American Pickers debuted, there were no other shows like it. In fact, Mike understands differentiation more than most.  As a result, it was important to have his on-site in-store person to be outside the expected norm.  Danielle definitely fits that bill.  Tattoo-Clad, ring adorned and burlesque-dancing Danielle is definitely not what you would expect at a traditional antique’s store. (Click to Tweet)

In addition to Danielle being an unexpected twist, Mike’s take on going antiquing is truly different.  Crawling through barns, garages, junk heaps and even junk yards, he is willing to go where no man has gone before on TV.  His cringe-worthy approach made us all think twice about the junk we see and what it might be worth.

Image courtesy of the Mike Wolfe American Pickers Facebook Page

Image courtesy of the Mike Wolfe American Pickers Facebook Page

And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that his approach has definitely converted many men to rethink antiquing trips with their wives.  No longer is it about fancy or precious items that are to be looked at.  No, Mike has created a whole new focus by getting junk-drunk with “mantiques”.

3.  Consistency

For brands to be really successful communicating their brand value, consistency across all channels is essential.

Mike is using seven different channels:  TV, Website and of course social:  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and ebay.  Across all these channels, there is a high level of consistency with colour, themes and content.  Mike continues to flawlessly curate stories.   You know when you are looking at a Mike Wolfe asset.  His touch and likeness are everywhere.  Everything you see you can tie back to Mike.  He stays true to his area of expertise and interest.

4.  Passion

Hand-in-hand with consistency is passion.  Mike has a passion for what he does. You can see it and feel it.  He specializes in a few areas, including bikes – both man powered and engine powered.  For the most part this is a real man’s passion.  Engines, testosterone and finding the ‘honey-hole” of picks – that is Mike Wolfe and the American Picker brand.

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2 Reasons Why You Will Never Be A Leader

I have been thinking a lot about leadership lately.  Between the volunteer work that I do and some pretty cool and specialized work with my clients, the conversations have really caused me to pause and think about what makes a leader, and in particular, a good leader.  Is a leader born?  Or, can someone develop leadership qualities over time?  I would say, based on my experience, yes and yes.  But, are there characteristics that would indicate that you will not be a good leader?  Yes there are.  There are 2 pretty good reasons why you will never be a “true” leader and they are pretty straight forward.

Image courtesy of www.sdanational.org

Image courtesy of www.sdanational.org

Before getting into the two reasons, it is important to note that good leaders have certain things in common.  Good leaders are:

  1. very self-aware;
  2. genuinely concerned about others and like people;
  3. good listeners;
  4. great at connecting with people, as well as helping people connect with others;
  5. trusted; and finally
  6. because of the first five, they know how to inspire others

So, what are the two reasons why some people will NEVER be real leaders?  Two simple reasons:

1.  Ego

All leaders have egos.  But how big are those egos? Some are pretty big.  Even effective leaders can have very big egos.  The difference however, goes back to the list above.  If every conversation is about you and how intelligent you are, how great you are, how you saved the day, etc. etc., your ego is too big.  If you have a title, people “might” humour you and listen.  But, they won’t follow you when the chips are down.  They will look for ways to avoid you and look real leaders.

Real leaders have a bigger purpose.  It isn’t all about them.  They inspire others.  They raise others up and empower them.

Real leaders don’t need to have a title.  For example, they don’t need to be President and CEO. They don’t need to be Chairman.  They can lead and bring people along with them because of knowing who they are and inspiring others through trust and purpose.

2.  Lack of Authenticity

People are smart.  Most of us see through people who only want to advance themselves.  People who are authentic have consistency that shines through.  People who lack authenticity however cannot create trust or truly inspire others to follow.  Inauthentic leaders only have consensus and followers when things are good.  During times of trouble or change, inauthentic leaders can only win through ruling with fear.  In the end, people will turn on inauthentic leaders in a split second.

I remember one “leader” whom I worked with who only spoke about himself and his greatness. I often wondered if he was trying to convince me of his greatness or, himself.  He certainly didn’t convince me.  He was as transparent as water. He regularly spoke about his concern for others and the well-being of those he surrounded himself with.  Despite these words however, his actions spoke volumes.  In the roughly five years I worked with/for him he didn’t know my husband’s name or what he did.  On the other hand, I knew his wife’s name as well as each of his children’s names.  During an illness that manifested itself in very obvious physical changes to my appearance, not once did he ever ask how I was making out or if the cause was even found.  Our conversations always centered on him and what great things he had done or was doing.

Regardless of what meeting he was a part of, he always brought the conversation around to him.  People humoured him because of his title, but when he wasn’t in the room, people were not very kind to him.  People only tolerated him.  People found ways to work around him.  People even found ways to avoid him.  In fact, on one occasion, a meeting was called in one of the company locations where he would update the more than 800 employees there.  Less than 30 showed up to that meeting.  People saw through him.  They weren’t interested in listening to his rhetoric.

People are smart.  Most of us see through people who only want to advance themselves.  People who are authentic have consistency that shines through.  People who lack authenticity however cannot create trust or truly inspire others to follow.  Inauthentic leaders only have consensus and followers when things are good.  During times of trouble or change, inauthentic leaders can only win through ruling with fear.  In the end, people will turn on inauthentic leaders in a split second.

Real leaders have the ability to make great change.  We need great leaders. That being said, what do you think about leadership and these two reasons why some will never be real leaders?  Do you agree or disagree?