How to Lead from the Front: Advice from a Marines Captain

Angie Morgan, Marines Captain and co-founder, Lead Star

Angie Morgan, Marines Caption and co-founder, Lead Star

Jessica recently attended a one-day leadership conference hosted by The Quorum Initiative, a selective group of high-level corporate women devoted to creating more opportunities for women in the workplace. At the event, amongst an impressive and smart group of women across industries–from finance and law to media and academia–she participated in an inspiring workshop given by Angie Morgan, a former Marines Officer and co-author of the book, Leading From the Front: No-Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women, along with fellow Marine Courtney Lynch, with whom Morgan also runs Lead Star, a leadership development consulting firm that has worked with companies from FedEx to 3M to Bank of America.

Morgan and Lynch were among the fewer than 1,000 female officers serving in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time — a scant one percent versus, for example, the U.S. Air Force, where nearly 20 percent of the officers are women — and she believes that the leadership training that she learned during her military service is transferable to the private sector, and can help anyone become a stronger and better leader. Below, Morgan shared with us some advice for how to lead from the front both in work – and in life.

JK: I imagine there’s a lot of fear and nervousness when entering the military for the first time, just as there is when you get a new job or position. How can fear stand in the way of success and how can you quell it in order to lead?

As you go through life, you get more comfortable with yourself and more reflective. I can easily recall that one of the biggest fears I had early on was the fear of failure. Up to that point in my life, everything had come pretty easily to me. I had good grades without studying too hard and did well at sports. In the Marines, I had to quickly learn a skill set that I wasn’t socialized learning and it was really challenging. I had never played with G.I. Joe or watched war movies growing up. When I started training, I was very overwhelmed and, on any given day, I felt like I was behind.

When there’s a fear of failure, your ego goes up and you start to get very defensive. I had excuses for my poor performance, but those weren’t helping me. What I had to come to terms with in order to succeed and get out of that place was absolute humility and an ability to ask for help. I never needed help before, so that was humbling. The fear of failure can influence your ego in unhealthy ways. Often you don’t want to raise your hand and ask for help because it makes you vulnerable.

That fear manifests itself in different ways in different people. For me, it was a lack of confidence; for others, it’s over-confidence.  Sometimes it’s even complacency, such as “I’m too afraid to fail so I’m not even going to try.”

In order to combat the fear, moments of self-appraisal are pretty helpful, such as “This is what you’ve done, this is how you’ve overcome this similar situation before.” That’s important for leaders to do. You have to remind yourself that you have the ability to influence your success and failure in pretty powerful and profound ways.

JK: If the Marines believe that everyone can be an effective leader, then who is following those leaders? In other words, can you be effective if you have all leaders? Or can those following a leader also be leaders and, if so, how?

In our society, we tend to see leaders as people who have positions of authority. In the Marine Corps, they teach you to have influence, and anyone can have influence. Someone can be a go-to person at any level. The Marine Corps teaches everyone to be a leader – they teach basic fundamental behaviors that influence outcomes and inspire others. Leadership can happen anywhere. Through Lead Star, we like to go to corporations and help them understand that leadership can be demonstrated at any level of the organization, especially among those who are individual contributors. What we like to do is start with professionals at an early stages of their career so they can develop their leadership skills well in advance of any promotion or managerial role. That way, they are prepared for the people responsibilities when they get to advance.

JK: With Millennials, they often want their superior’s job in six months or have tremendous confidence because they were told by their parents that they could do anything. At that age, how do you show leadership and not hubris?

For Gen Y, it’s important to have a mentor to help them understand that growth doesn’t have to be vertical but can be horizontal. Give them challenges and to help the develop their expertise and experiences – whether they want to start their own business, move into another role or move up. Most companies are faced with a significant percentage of their workforce getting near retirement age and the need to mentor younger employees. You can’t change the way the younger generation operates, so you need to embrace it. I think we’re going to see a lot more mentoring models out there, and it’s a good thing.

JK: I love your story in the book about making cold calls as a manager right along with your staff and how it inspired them and made them work harder. Why is it important as a leader to show that you are not above rolling up your sleeves? 

I’ve been to so many programs that teach leadership and often we gloss over two important qualities – trust and humility. Frequently people get promoted into managerial roles and think about their staffers, “You work for me,” but that’s not true – you really work for them. Sometimes the smallest things can have the most profound impact on your team’s performance or your employees’ performance. Even asking someone “How’s your day?” and sticking around for the answer can really help.

JK: In the book, you and your co-author Courtney give personal examples of when you had to give up or change things in your life in order to focus on succeeding in one area. How do you determine what to give up and how to maintain balance?

One of the things I like to do when I’m making decisions is really reflect upon my priorities and if something in front of me doesn’t fit it to one of my priorities, I say no. The “decision-making lane,” as I like to call it, allows me to stay on my path. In a perfect world, that works great. You can get comfortable doing everything but if you want to succeed at one thing, you have to narrow your focus. You can’t do everything well.

JK: In your workshop that I participated in at the HOW conference, you talked about three critical qualities of a leader: credibility, decisiveness and confidence.  Can you be a leader without all three?  If you lack in one of these areas but want to lead, how do you advise addressing that weakness?

There are many leadership qualities that are interdependent on one another. For example, if you’re confident, but indecisive, that will slow your team’s progress down. Or if you’re decisive, but lack confidence and can’t express this in your decisions, you’ll have a difficult time rallying people to support you. Leaders are well rounded and it’s important to know qualities associated with leadership behaviors so you know what needs to be developed.

JK: As a PR professional, my industry has to deal with crisis management on a daily basis and I love the phrase in your book used in the Marines – “aviate, navigate and communicate” – to handle a challenging situation. Can you explain the three steps?

Consider that you’re flying an airplane and you see the “red light” blinking, indicating an emergency. Your instincts are to panic and freeze, yet that won’t get your plane on the ground. You need to aviate – keep your plane in the air, so keep your hands on the control. Navigate – keep on attempting to get to a destination. Communicate – reach out to others to get the help you need, such as flight crew or air traffic control.

JK: You talk a lot about the importance of accountability in the Marines and in the real world and believe that effort and excuses don’t equal progress. Why is it so important? What if you have a team member who tries hard and takes responsibility for failures but just isn’t getting results?

We define a leader as someone who influences outcomes and inspires others. Results matter. While it’s important to take accountability for personal failures, they next step is identifying what you’re going to do about it to deliver a different, more positive result. An important part of being a leader is being credible – credibility is derived from your character and your competence. If you’re looking to influence others, your results will capture their attention.

If you’re purposefully committing yourself to developing your leadership skills, my guidance would be for you to start thinking about important leadership qualities and assess how good you are at expressing them. Then, after you’ve identified areas of improvement, make a commitment to yourself to pick three things that you’re going to focus on. When you’re intentional with your development, you end up surprising yourself with how quickly you can develop a specific skill or behavior.

How do you lead from the front?  Share with us here, on Facebook or Twitter.

7 Ways to Bounce Back from Career Mistakes, Missteps and Misunderstandings

Collectively, we’ve spent nearly more than thirty years in the public relations industry, where dealing with crises is par for the course. In fact, in a recent study, PR executive was ranked the 5th most stressful career behind commercial airline pilot, firefighter, military general and enlisted military personnel. Hard to believe that we’d rank amongst jobs that literally have the lives of others in their hands but, as we say in our profession, we’re “paid to be paranoid.” In our book, , Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work,we dedicate an entire chapter to crisis management.

The truth is, we all face difficult situations at work but not everyone knows how to handle them. Often people let mistakes and crises cripple — even paralyze — them, but bouncing back from roadblocks in your career is not as daunting as you might think. We really believe that every crisis is an opportunity. Most errors are reversible, and it’s important to remember that how you respond in tough times shows who you are as a person as much, if not more, than how you are in good times.

Need some guidelines? Here are a few tips for how to handle your next crisis:

#1:  Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst.

  • Go with your gut. When you see a red flag, pay attention. How many times in life have you kicked yourself for not listening to that little voice in your head that says, “Something is wrong here”?
  • Have a plan and a back-up plan. In PR, we try to lay out a strategy and do our best to identify potential pitfalls and problems on the horizon. While we may not always be able to predict what’s coming our way, by doing the exercise and putting a solid plan on paper, you’ll be prepared to deal with it if the issue ever sees the light of the day.

#2:  Be a Problem Solver.

  • Stay calm. In a crisis, people tend to get anxious. Maintaining a sense of Zen will not only allow you to think more clearly but will also set the tone for those around you.
  • Get focused. You want to quickly assess the damage and determine how to move forward.
  • Find a solution. Next, you need to figure out how to address and remedy the situation. Start by considering your end game — what’s the ultimate outcome you’d like to see? — and work backwards from there.

[Read more…]

Multitasking Literally Hurts Your Brain: Q&A with Time Management Expert Julie Morgenstern

Multitasking is actually bad for our health.

In a world of multitasking and constant distractions –from the ping of texts and emails to everyone having to wear more hats at work than they used to– time management is one of the biggest challenges. We might feel like we’re doing more — and, in a way, we are — but we’re actually get less done in the process. So, is it possible in this day and age to streamline your work style, be more productive and get back some time in your day to focus on big picture stuff, strategy and brainstorming, all of which will make you more effective at your job?  Yes, says Julie Morgenstern, a productivity expert and bestselling author of five books including Time Management from the Inside Out. Dubbed the “queen of putting people’s lives in order” by USA Today, Morgenstern has made it her life’s mission to help people get more out of everyday and find focus in their lives, both at work and at home.  This month marks the launch of her new Circa Balanced Life Planner, a paper-based system for the digital age, designed to help people make good decisions about where to spend their time. Sign us up!

Morgenstern spent some of her valuable time talking to us about the email addiction epidemic, why being pulled in a million different directions and always being connected is bad for the brain, and sharing some great advice for how to manage your time more effectively this year.

Why is multitasking ineffectual?

It has been scientifically demonstrated that the brain cannot effectively or efficiently switch between tasks, so you lose time. It takes four times longer to recognize new things so you’re not saving time; multitasking actually costs time. You also lose time because you often make mistakes. If you’re multitasking and you send an email and accidentally “reply all” and the person you were talking about is on the email, it’s a big mistake. In addition, studies have shown that we have a much lower retention rate of what we learn when multitasking, which means you could have to redo the work or you may not do the next task well because you forgot the information you learned. Everyone’s complaining of memory issues these days – they’re symptoms of this multitasking epidemic.  Then, of course, there’s the rudeness factor, which doesn’t help develop strong relationships with others.

 

Have distractions multiplied in recent years and, if so, how?  

One is obviously the smartphone, which has made it so that you cannot get away. There are no safe zones where you can actually unplug. You feel like you’re busy and doing something – it’s a chemical addiction. There are so many things we can do through our screens now – stay in touch with friends, do business, entertainment, watch Netflix, do research, create a Pinterest board.  The volume of tasks in our lives that we can now do through a screen rather than tactilely has increased exponentially. It’s more than just email. It’s all the things we can do on screens.

[Read more…]

How to Finish 2011 Strong: Best Blogs, Books and Bits of Advice

Hard to believe it’s already nearly 2012. The holidays are always a good time to take stock of the past year and your accomplishments so, before you crack open the champagne, you may want to think about your goals for the coming year. Where do you want to go? How can you get there? Who can you rely on to help you? What kind of advice do you need to guide you?

 

As we look back on 2011 and our own accomplishments (most notably the publication of our first book, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work), as well as our choices and key learnings, we thought we’d share some of our favorite founts of advice from colleagues, fellow career advisors and just plain ol’ smart folks.

While we believe the wisdom imparted in our book and blog posts is helpful to many, we also love learning from others who have interesting things to say about career, creativity and life in general. Here’s our short list:

 

 

Breakdown, Breakthrough by Kathy Caprino: We had the pleasure of serving as fellow advisors with Kathy in a Mediabistro Job Search Boot Camp this fall and were totally impressed with the advice she had to give to the students. Her book, Breakdown, Breakthrough, focuses on why women (though men can benefit from it as well) feel disempowered and teaches them how they can overcome their fears, obstacles and professional crises to find breakthroughs. As someone who spent years in the corporate world and had to navigate her own professional crisis and layoff after 9/11, Kathy went back to school to become a therapist and is now a successful career coach and speaker who draws from personal experience to help others.

 

Jonathan Fields: We don’t personally know Jonathan but Kathy Caprino actually recommended that we check out his blog and we absolutely love it (and then coincidentally saw that there’s an article about him in the January issue of ELLE magazine). He’s a former SEC lawyer turned entrepreneur and author/speaker on creativity, career, play and entrepreneurship who has written two books,  Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love, and more recently, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance. While we have not yet read either, they are on our reading list for the New Year and should be on yours as well. In the meantime, you can read some great advice, insight and interviews on JonathanFields.com.

 

Lindsey Pollak: Our friend Lindsey is the ultimate expert on Generation Y and her book, Getting from College to Career, is a must-read for any college student or recent graduate, all of whom could use some advice on how to navigate a very tough job market upon graduation. Lindsey’s blog is also fantastic and, though we’re part of Generation X, we glean great career advice from it as well, particularly on how to manage Gen Y employees, which can present its own unique challenges to any boss with young people on his or her staff.

 

College Bound and Gagged: Speaking of college, another great book comes from a lovely writer/self-coined “Stand Up Psychologist” Dr. Nancy Berk, who interviewed us for her radio show this year. College Bound and Gagged is the straight-talking survival guide for anyone (read: parents) who are trying desperately to navigate the pre-college time and remain sane in the process.

Careerideas.com: Kim Styler, who spent years working in the magazine industry, started this resourceful website to provide a behind-the-scenes look at as many careers as possible to help others figuring out their own path to learn as much as possible about what it’s like to work in various industries — such as book publishing, PR, film, HR, technology, etc. There are hundreds of video interviews with successful folks in these fields (including Jessica!) who answer questions such as “Who should or shouldn’t go into this business?”, “What’s your typical day like?” and “What do you like best/worst about your job?” Even though we’re not looking to change careers, we have enjoyed watching many of these videos just to hear more about what different jobs entail. Note: You can watch snippets of all videos for free but if you want to watch the full-length versions, you do have to sign up for a monthly or three-month package, at $14.99/mo. or $29.99, respectively.

And then a few nuggets of year-end advice from us that we hope will help you prepare for a successful and exciting 2012:

Look Back/Look Ahead: Take some quiet time to write down what you thought really worked in your career/job over the past year and what didn’t work as well. Determine what you can do better/differently/more of/less of in the coming year that will make you more efficient and effective in your job.

Be Thankful: Reflect on the moments — both small and big — that made you feel successful in 2011 and the people who supported you, connected you to someone else, and/or gave you positive feedback that helped you stay focused on your goals. Then, send those people a thank you note. It may sound hokey,but they will appreciate it, and you’ll stay top of mind for them in the New Year.

Do What Makes You Happy: Most of us spend more time at work than anywhere else, so it’s important to be fulfilled in what you do. Think about what would make you happier in your career and what changes you might make to help you get there. It could be as minor as telling your staff that you need an hour of “quiet time” each day to focus on strategy and not be distracted by constant interruption or emails. Or, it could be as drastic as switching careers or starting your own company, as Meryl recently did after doing PR in-house and at agencies for several years. Now is the time to take a risk, make a change and figure out how to advance your career — and happiness — in 2012.

Have any New Year’s advice, book or blog recommendations to share? Tell us here, on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

News You Can Use: First-Time Job Seekers May Be Struggling for a Reason

In this week’s New York Post @Work section, there’s a great cover story on how many young job seekers may be ruining their chances of getting hired because of various errors they make during the interview process. We’ve blogged about this several times before but it’s imperative that applicants learn to stand out to potential employers — and we don’t mean in a bad way!

Some of the common gaffes covered in the New York Post article include:

  • Spelling/grammar mistakes: It’s amazing how frequently job candidates submit written materials — whether resume, cover letter, writing sample or thank you note — riddled with errors. Even if you use the spell check function on your Blackberry or computer (and our guess is that most don’t!), read it again aloud before sending it and, even better, get someone else to review it first. If job candidates aren’t careful enough to check for mistakes during the interview process, they’ll only get worse once you hire them.
  • Dress for the job you want: We spend a whole chapter in our book Be Your Own Best Publicist on personal style and how to dress appropriately for an interview. We share advice from loads of fashion experts and they all agree that candidates need to be well-groomed, polished and stylish and not be tone-deaf when it comes to the industry or position for which they’re interviewing. For example, if you’re going for a job in a creative field, you may want to dress a bit more fashion-forward (but still no flip-flops, people!) than if you were applying to work in banking or the legal arena.
  • Come prepared: This seems like a no-brainer but endless job candidates apply for positions without doing the proper research on the company, the industry and the person with whom they land an interview (if they get in the door). Having just come from college, where students must do research and study in order to succeed, it’s shocking that recent graduates don’t realize that they need to put the same effort and preparation into a job search, particularly in a tough market where there are fewer jobs available.
  • Keep it professional: An interviewer is not your friend; if you’re lucky, he or she may be your future boss. So don’t get too chummy or casual during your conversations. Don’t discuss your personal life or ask about theirs. Don’t post about your interview on Facebook or Twitter. Don’t curse (yes, people have done this during our interviews!). And please don’t use emoticons in your follow-up email.

Many Gen-Yers suffer from a bit of culture shock when they enter the workforce after college; in most cases, just being “good enough” is simply not going to cut it. And any sense of entitlement certainly won’t either. Young job-seekers need to go above and beyond in order to make a good impression on potential employers. (We share lots of advice on how to do so in our book.) Because as the New York Post article ends, “Not everyone gets a trophy in the real world.”

What a Scandal! How to React When Your Reputation is On the Line

With Weinergate in full swing and ‘The Sperminator’ and Strauss-Kahn incidents just barely in the rearview mirror, a lot has been said about the various scandals in the news of late (weirdly, all by powerful men making sexual slip-ups) — and the impact of said debacles on a person’s reputation.  But as PR experts, we’ll address the most recent situation with NY Congressman Anthony Weiner, who late last week was accused of having sent lewd photos of himself to unsuspecting young women on Twitter.  He responded by inviting reporters in to interview him about the scandal and then giving cryptic, defensive answers to simple questions about whether, in fact, he had done the deed and whether it was his, ahem, wiener featured in the offending pics.

After denying, deferring and dismissing these accusations, Weiner finally admitted today in a press conference that he had sent photos of his “member of Congress” to several women through Twitter and Facebook and had previously lied about the situation. In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist, we spend an entire chapter on crisis management and we thought we’d share some of that advice with Rep. Weiner and others who may find themselves in personal or professional pickles.

  • Assess. In PR, when we encounter a crisis situation, the first thing we do is examine the potential damage and consider the best course of action. Staying as calm and objective as possible will help you see potential solutions.

 

  • Admit. If the crisis involves lying, as Weiner’s did, you should fess up and admit your mistakes as quickly as possible.  Honesty is always the best policy. It’s never good practice to lie — trust us, it will inevitably come back and bite you in the ass. And, in the age of YouTube and Twitter, your cover-up will replay over and over again, harming your reputation more than if you had just told the truth.

  • Address. When you do apologize, it’s best to explain why you’re sorry about what you did and, if appropriate, the reasons behind your behavior or actions. Show true remorse for your error in judgment. No fake tears (Do you hear us, Congressman Weiner?), no robotically reading off a prepared statement (Hello, Tiger Woods!).

  • Atone. Try to clean up your mess by righting the wrong as much as you can. Make sure you make it up to the people you’ve hurt (especially if they include your wife). While you can’t reverse the past, you can attempt to have an honorable future.

  • Adapt. A scandal may interfere with your life in lots of ways. It may destroy your family or ruin your career. Either way, you need a game plan for how you’re going to adapt to your circumstances and their effect on your future. Maybe you won’t be the next Mayor of New York City but as we happen to live in a culture of forgiveness, it is possible to make grave mistakes and come back from them (Martha Stewart, anyone?).

Bottom line: The best way to deal with a crisis and do damage control is to face it head on and come clean. Not a lot of people like a cheater — but no one likes a bold-faced liar. We all make mistakes but admitting to them is the first step in repairing a tarnished reputation.

Share your thoughts with us here, on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

 

The Four People You Don’t Want in Your Meetings

If we had a nickel for every meeting we’ve sat in that was completely unnecessary, we’d be rolling in dough. Unfortunately, meetings are an unavoidable part of corporate culture, whether you’re at a big or small outfit.  Of course, we’ve all been invited to meetings with 20-plus people, no schedule, goals, or next steps and afterwards lamented the myriad ways in which we could have spent the last two hours more effectively. In fact, a recent survey by recruitment firm Robert Half International showed 28 per cent of meetings were viewed as unnecessary or unproductive and executives felt preparation time, meetings and follow-up represented a significant block of time they could better spend elsewhere.

When done correctly, meetings can be a great place to communicate your ideas and thoughts, brainstorm with others and raise important questions. You have a captive audience, a goal in mind, and a platform that lends itself to discussion. Some people, however, don’t know the right way to participate in meetings and, as a result, can derail the whole process.

Here are the four types of communicators we’ve witnessed in meetings time and time again (and wished we hadn’t):

[Read more…]

Top Five Workplace Lessons Learned from 2010’s News and Newsmakers


With 2010 now receding into the rearview mirror, we can look back on the various triumphs and tribulations of the past 365 days. From pop culture to politics to personalities, there’s lots to learn from last year’s news and newsmakers, including: [Read more…]

How “It’s A Wonderful Life” Can Help You Get Noticed or Rewarded at Work

‘Tis the season of Yuletide movies and the age-old insights they offer about love, celebration and family togetherness.  From  A Christmas Story to Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas to A Miracle on 34th Street, we eagerly watch the “bah humbugs” evolve into good tidings of comfort and joy.

But, can those same feel-good flicks offer ideas on garnering success and happiness in the workplace?

Absolutely – particularly in the case of  It’s a Wonderful Life, one of the most beloved Christmas films in America. The heart-warming (maybe an eensy bit sappy) Frank Capra classic that shares the story of George Bailey and his impact on the small town of Bedford Falls offers some key lessons that anyone can leverage to get ahead at work, whatever your denomination:
[Read more…]