Rather eye-opening before I even got into the book. It’s hard to overstate the importance of communicating well. I am on a constant personal journey to learn how to connect with others more authentically, to listen better, and to express myself more clearly.
Today I am excited to introduce you to someone who is a master teacher on the art of communication. His work has helped me, and I hope you enjoy our discussion.
“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” — Marilyn von Savant, highest recorded IQ in the Guinness Book of Records
Nicole is the kind of executive you trust with your biggest, craziest projects. She figures things out when everyone else throws up their hands in frustration. If it’s wild and ambitious, or difficult and seemingly unsolvable, Nicole is your go-to person.
Despite her long history of strategizing and launching successful projects, Nicole kept getting the same unpleasant feedback in performance reviews. She was celebrated for her heroism at the launch phase, but criticized for her inability to be a solid day-to-day manager, once her projects were operational.
Year after year she tried to hone her managerial skills, attempting to morph into the type of executive who deftly oversees an established program. But boredom overtook, and she’d find herself distracted by the prospect of a brand new challenge.
She’d think something was wrong with her, believing she must lack ability or strategic thinking. The guilt dragged her down at work – and at home.
“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” -Marilyn von Savant
Your sweet spot is an actual thing, not just an abstract idea.
It’s doing the things you love to do the way you love to do them.
It also happens to be where you deliver by far the most value. Your sweet spot talents are so indisputable it is criminal to waste your energy elsewhere. This is where you have vitality and inspiration, oxygen coursing through your system.
Unfortunately, conventional wisdom leads you to believe you’re supposed to care about improving your weaknesses. This is nonsense. It’s a path that leads to mediocrity. And ultimately, it’s a sure-fire recipe for disaster, physically and mentally. It drains your oxygen supply, depleting your energy, creativity and enthusiasm for life.
The minute the video starts, it’s obvious it will be explosive. And it sure has been. It has now been viewed millions of times around the world: A man is forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight.
Most of us are offended that the man was treated like this, bloodied as he was hauled out of his seat and dragged down the aisle. Most of us have also had our share of experiences with airlines, and this hits a nerve, like a final straw breaking the collective back of the paying passengers. We’ve been hit with baggage fees. We’ve been told, “No, you can’t have the whole can of soda.” Blankets disappeared ages ago. We’re scanned, wanded, searched, and pushed along through a system full of weary travelers with suspicious glances. Our flights are canceled or delayed for hours—always, it seems, the minute we arrive at the gate, harried and exhausted from running, of course.
Watching this man pulled off so brutally, we ask, “Why was he pulled off the flight?” The answer doesn’t make us feel any better: so that United Airlines could use the seat for a flight attendant.
A customer, obeying all rules, who the airline boarded moments before, who was sitting in the seat he paid for, was chosen at random for removal.
He didn’t want to get off the plane, and so the scene escalated.
Defenders of the airline will point out that this is not only legal, but then they point to his behavior during and after the incident. They will also point out that it was security, and not airline personnel, who removed him.
My law degree is decades old, and I’ve been an inactive member for too many years to weigh in on the legal issue here except to say that it’s far from clear.
Make the Right Choices
What’s clear to me is this:
United apparently chose policy over principle, chose employees over customers, chose to save a few dollars only to lose millions.
“When in doubt, choose principle over policy.” -Skip Prichard
Worse yet is when you remember United’s motto: Fly the friendly skies. Maybe the friendliness only starts when you’re airborne?
Many PR disasters seem to worsen just when you think the lowest point is reached.
And that’s what happened when the CEO stepped in with his comments. He sent a memo blaming the passenger and defending employees, saying that they were following existing procedures. He called the passenger disruptive and belligerent.
Did he apologize? He “apologized for having to re-accommodate these customers.”
Re-accommodate? The man was bloody and seemed to be unconscious!
Only after outrage about his comments exploded online did he change to become “outraged” himself about the incident. His tone has now changed to apologetic. Yesterday he softened them further and even said it was a failure of policy and training. At least the tone is improving.
The minute I saw this video, I said the obvious: This is going to be a PR disaster for United. They better have a full crisis team working on it. When I saw the CEO’s comments, I said to a group that this would now make PR history. It has found a place in marketing classes where these types of mistakes are prominently featured. It may well be mentioned along with other great PR blunders like BP’s spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 10 minutes to ruin it.” -Warren Buffet
That’s a great point. We are mostly united against this behavior. In a politically divided nation, it has shifted the conversation from politics.
Meanwhile, the public relations problem for United reminds me of how each of us can handle our screw-ups, mistakes, and errors in judgment. I’ve made my fair share, too, though thankfully not at all like this one.
Here are a few leadership lessons from United’s….well, to be kind, should I say “lapse in judgment”?
If you can avoid a problem, that’s always the first step. It wasn’t necessary. The employees could have driven the few hours to reach their destination and prioritized the customers. United could have offered a higher amount of money until they had enough volunteers. Why allow all of the passengers to board and take their seats if you didn’t have enough seats for them? There are a number of ways this could have been avoided.
“Never respond analytically to a problem growing emotionally.” -Skip Prichard
Here’s my rule: Never respond analytically to a problem growing emotionally. Pointing to policies and legalese will satisfy only a small percentage of the public. Most people want you to connect emotionally and sincerely first. No excuses. The language initially used made it worse. “We apologize that we had to re-accommodate some passengers” was such an emotional miss that it fueled the fire of an already outraged public. Always great to think of Molly Ivins. She once said, “The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.”
“The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.” -Molly Ivins
Apologies are not as easy as they may seem at first. I learned this especially from the research of Jennifer Thomas and the book she co-wrote with Gary Chapman. There is a specific language of apology. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to improve their communication, but PR departments should take note.
“Genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.” -Jennifer Thomas
Is today’s generational divide greater than the ones that have come previously?
Yes, the difference surrounds how this generation was raised versus others. The first difference is technology. The rapid change in it and the connectivity in the world and dynamics of social media have changed the nature of who we are and how we interact. We have focused less on the interpersonal and more on the phone or device as a means of communication together with the immediacy of action. This generation wants action and now. Millennials are not schooled in relationship-building skills, so they are not wired to connect. This is the biggest difference. Instead of dealing with the differences, we are just complaining that millennials are not good enough.
The biggest gap involves perspective and myths. Each side is completely steeped in their views that the other perspective is flawed. For example:
Do the following statements about millennials ring mostly true or mostly false?
They have a sense of entitlement, and expect everything now!
They’re lazy and don’t want to work hard like we did; work/ life balance is more important than hard work.
They are disloyal and jump ship if they are not engaged or growing.
They need feedback all the time, 24/7/365. (“Please tell me how great I am. Every day. Twice.”)
They have different career goals from non-millennials.
They want everything digital.
They don’t deal well with authority.
Here’s the answer: It was a trick question.
All these are true . . . and false . . . and none of that matters. They are assumptions—myths, really—and there is no right or wrong when it comes to them. That’s because while myths, assumptions, stereotypes—whatever you want to call them—may be false as blanket statements (“all Americans are overweight” and “all fashion models are anorexic”), they come from a place of partial truth (more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight and many models are unrealistically thin). But who wants to be viewed through the lens of myths like these?
Consider the quiz from the other side. Do the following statements about non-millennial managers ring mostly true or mostly false?
They obey the Golden Rule: “I’ve got the gold, I make the rules!”
They are only in it for the money.
They are inflexible and don’t like change; they’re stuck in their ways.
They are so not tech savvy.
They don’t care about their teams or people.
They are “hard graders” and couldn’t care less about recognizing others.
They are afraid of nontraditional approaches.
They are willing to trade the pursuit of true passion for stability.
If you are a non-millennial manager, does this sound like you? Or sound like how you want to be perceived in this world? Well, these are the things most millennials say about us. How much is true? Not much. Just as you are guilty of creating myths that lead to disconnect and frustrations with millennials, they are guilty of perpetuating myths about you.
Work from the Inside-Out
What do you mean when you say to “work from the inside out?”
The secret to job and life satisfaction is internal self-awareness and growth. Youth in general is a time where, if we can understand ourselves, we can start to create a journey to build great careers and lives. Millennials in particular require training on how to understand and accomplish learning about themselves to impact the world. We believe the secret to success is predicated on understanding yourself to impact others, and they need help to learn how to engage themselves in the world and subsequently to create a talent and career track. If we can have them connect to their inside motivation and goals, we can universally have them succeed along their journey.
“Focus on where you want to go; not on what you fear.” -Tony Robbins