I suspended a sign from the ceiling in the main hallway of an agency I ran that announced, “The better directions you give us, the faster we get where you want us to go.” It was mutually inclusive – both clients and agency staff learned to be better at expressing themselves with absolute clarity.

The digital age has tossed that concept out the window.

Brand Language

From my earliest days in business, I had three role models: George Abbott, Edward Bernays and, despite having rock ’n’ roll DJ for a father, Mozart. Abbott was in the midst of planning a revival of his Broadway show Pajama Game when he passed away in his sleep…at age 107. Bernays, the father of public relations, was still going to the office until death blocked the door…at age 103. Mozart, of course, died young but created, arguably, more timeless music before he turned 39 than his equally famous compeers.

Nothing prepared me for managing people more than parenthood. It surprised me…probably as much as it may surprise you. But if you’re not a parent…it doesn’t matter. The concepts are simple, and they’re easy to use – whether you’re dealing with stubborn co-workers, troublesome staff members or bosses who make despots seem docile.

Early in my first career (in television), I worked with someone who excelled at telling me (and probably many others) that my work was “not right.” Yet, when I asked what was wrong, the person couldn’t tell me.

manager_communication“What’s wrong with it,” I asked.

“It’s not what I expected.”

“But it’s exactly what was outlined in the brief and the storyboard.”

“But it’s not right.”

“In what way?”

“It came out different.”

“Different how?”

“Not the same as I wanted.”

“What did you want?”

“Not this.”

“Well, then, what would you change to make it what you want?”

Great leaders don’t know everything…but they can find those who do.

People ask me for advice – regularly – about a ridiculous number of things. I wonder if they realize they’re asking me because I readily admit that I couldn’t possibly know about so many subjects. That doesn’t stop me from answering, however. I just don’t answer with solutions. Coming up with the solution is their job.

When Nixon opened China to American business, U.S. manufacturing was still a viable source of employment for a large swath of the middle class. When robots began replacing workers on assembly lines, it was an early sign of myopia. When corporations (which, as late as the 1990s, offered mentoring programs for high school and college students and often provided internships as a first step toward employment) stopped nurturing a domestic workforce, U.S. industry made it clear that profitability was number one. There was no consistent number two.

It's Politically Correct to Value Senior Talent in Word...Not Deed

For a while now, companies have lamented the loss of what’s called institutional knowledge – the know-how that walks out the door when a long-time employee retires. That person’s skills, understanding of products and customers, experience with getting things done, insights into regulatory compliance issues, or the integration of remote suppliers and employees are all considered valuable (and difficult to replace).

When I began my first career, I found myself in what may have been the most fortunate situation I could have wished for – working in a place where, if you wanted and could do a job, you deserved to be given that job. Yet there was a catalyst.

The top executive enjoyed spotting talent. He actively looked for it. He felt that people who were guided into the things they did best – because they enjoyed doing them – were certain to exceed the company’s expectations...and their own.

For anyone who ever studied Latin, there are certain nuances. In referring to unclothed deities, you use the Latin word for “naked.” For mortals, it’s “nude.” And the mnemonic device to remember is “naked is sacred, but nude is lewd.” The difference doesn’t mean much nowadays – not even in America where any form of undress that’s viewable by the general public can still be considered immoral.

There was a discussion on LinkedIn in June 2015 that asked about the use of Big Data in retailing. The comments focused on detecting real time trends, analyzing purchasing behavior, and using historical activity to gauge the viability of upcoming strategies. It was short-sighted. Big Data was being used to ensure consistent or incremental revenue and profitability, but it wasn’t being used to detect breakthrough opportunities that could radically improve a company’s fortunes.

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