Archive | October, 2011

No Pain, No Gain: Seven Lessons of Leadership in a Crisis

24 Oct

A lot of people strive to be good leaders in their lifetimes. It is indeed hard. Good leaders should be their employees’ role models and have to stay rational when everybody else in the company freaks out in a crisis. People say, “No pain; no gain.” If this is the case, does it mean that people have to suffer more in order to be a good leader? Not necessarily. A shortcut would simply be to learn from others’ pains. Here are the seven suggestions Bill George summarized from other CEOs’ hard times to deal with crises:

  1. Facing Reality. This is the foremost thing to do in a crisis. It means finding out the real reason that caused the problem. The leaders can only plan for the right strategy after they get everybody on board and gather the truth from each one.
  2. Anticipating the Worst. The leaders also need to know how serious the problems are. They need to understand the ponderance of the situation in order to plan for moves that are strong enough to correct the mistakes. They would also set the right expectation for the bearers, and not make them dissatisfied.
  3. Preparing Cash. Abundant cash is the amulet for the company during a crisis. Leaders might have other priorities during “peacetime”, but these things should all be sacrificed for cash for all kinds of unexpected use in emergencies.
  4. Seeking Support. Leaders shouldn’t work alone during crises. It’s essential for employees at all levels to work together towards the same goal, which makes this a perfect time to unite them.
  5. Making Sacrifices Yourself. The staff all looks up to their bosses especially in hard times. If the leaders put their own interests in front of the company’s, nobody would sacrifice more than the leader does.
  6. Utilize the Crisis. Crisis is a good opportunity for leaders to check what has gone wrong, and to make things right again. Since it’s an emergency, leaders would also implement the strategies more efficiently.
  7. Creating Changes. The market would never be the same after the crisis is solved. Therefore, it can actually be a chance for the leaders to make some aggressive changes to adapt to the new market.

These seven “gains” summed up for others’ “pains” should enable leaders or future leaders like us to get over crises, or even make good use of them, without suffering too much.

However, Bill George did not mention the foundation on which to practice these seven lessons—and that is PLANNING AHEAD. The only way to be able to take the shortcut and avoid the pain is to plan which way to go before running into the intersections. Otherwise, people might risk choosing the wrong way, and in that case, they can only gain from the pains. More specifically, good leaders should bear all these lessons in minds, and prepare themselves economically and mentally even before anything goes wrong. This is why people say to save against a rainy day.

by Carol Qi

The “Cell-Phone Shield” Effect

24 Oct

Over the summer, my father and I went to Bush Upholstery, a small, family-owned business in our neighborhood.  A trip to Bush Upholstery is never short.  Mr. Bush, 85 years old and energetic, keeps you in the store for 20 extra minutes telling you stories.  During my most recent visit to Bush Upholstery, Mr. Busch mentioned he heard a statistic: 13% of cell phone owners pretend to use their phone to avoid confrontation with other people[1].  I found this fact hard to believe, but after thinking about our world today this phenomenon seems reasonable.  Later, I told my friends about this fact and at one point we had pretended to check our phones for text messages or new emails to avoid interacting with other people.  I’ve noticed when I’m waiting for a class to start, the campus circulator to arrive, or my food to be prepared at Bear’s Den, it is easier to use my cell phone as a barrier than to open myself up to potentially awkward or unwanted interaction.

Ironically, we live in a world where we are constantly connected to others via email, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media devices.  These tools promote constant interaction; however, when we are face-to-face with others we shy away.  Could our introversion be a consequence of the hyper-connected world we live in?  Are we too comfortable with remote connections that we fear physical interaction?

Looking back at the situation over the summer in Mr. Bush’s upholstery shop, I understand why Mr. Bush was surprised by this trend; he grew up in an era when connecting through technology was not an option.  In fact, I think we could learn a lesson from Mr. Bush: embrace those around you instead of hiding behind technology.

by Elizabeth Crowell

[1] Pew Research Center’s Internet  & American Life Project

The Three Lenses

22 Oct

Throughout my ten years of life in school, I have encountered various kinds of people and to be honest, difficult people do exist. I am a sensitive person so the way others react to me has great effects on me. Hence I was immediately attracted by this Harvard Business Review article about ways to deal with difficult people.

The  three lenses Tony Schwartz introduced are extremely useful: “the lens of realistic optimism, the reverse lens, and the long lens.” We can’t change the way others treat us, but we can change the way we view the reality by using the lenses. I benefited a lot from reading this article. Before I read it, if I had to work with a difficult person, I would simply accept the reality and try my best to stand that person, meanwhile hoping that everything can end soon. However, after reading this article, the next time I have to work with a difficult person, I will not react the way I used to do. I will think the situation in a more positive way and think from the angle of that difficult person’s point of view.

For example, I usually feel terrible and ignored when others don’t respond to me after I have said something. I might think more positively—such as “that person probably just didn’t hear what I said because he was thinking about some other stuff important to him.” The last thing I will do–which is also the most important–is that I will think of how I can “learn and grow” from working with this person. Even if something bad really happens, I will tell myself that if one door closes, another will open for you.

by Shumeng Wang

Using Dance as a Lens to Understand Business Communication

22 Oct

Using Dance as a Lens to Understand Business Communication

We often use vivid, viewable activities to explain more abstract ideas.  One such abstract idea is effective business communication.  What is effective business communication?  To understand this, we can take a look at something much more concrete: dance.  In essence, an effective business communicator is like a fine dancer.

  • Appropriateness.  A good dancer knows how to respond to different types of music.  Different sounds solicits different styles, movements, and expressions.  On the other hand, effective business communication requires using an appropriate tone in different situations.  For example, when a company announces that it will lay-off employees, management must communicate in a way that is not too direct and harsh but also transmits the message.
  • Clarity.  Just as experienced dancers use all movement for a function, business writers/speakers need to know how to make every word, phrase, and sentence count.  A dancer must showcase everything he/she practiced in a concise fashion in the time allocated for a performance.  Likewise, a businessperson usually has limited time and/or space to convey all their ideas.  Thus, clear, concise communication is essential.
  • Relevancy.  Different styles of dance are relevant for different types of music.  For example, you would not do ballet to hip-hop (at least I hope you wouldn’t!).  Likewise, in business, certain forms of communication are more suitable than others in various situations.  When working on a time-sensitive project, you might use short, concise text messages rather than extensive emails to collaborate with your colleagues.
  • Purpose.  The ultimate purpose of dance is to express music through movement.  A good dancer uses all different types of motion to convey what he/she feels to an audience.  Essentially, movement is a dancer’s tool to achieve a purpose.  The main tool in business communication is language.  Just as a dancer uses movement to express music, a communicator must use language to effectively convey their ideas.

Viewing business communication through the lens of something we can see, dance, can help us better understand what makes effective business communication.  We can draw parallels between the two in the elements of appropriateness, clarity, relevancy, and purpose.

by Raymond Pang

What Apple’s New iPhone Can Teach Us about Business Communication

22 Oct

Apple released the newest generation of its iPhone on Friday, and with it came an exclusive piece of software called Siri. Siri is a personal assistant application for the phone that performs tasks based on human voice commands. You can say, “Wake me up in two hours,” and Siri will confirm your request and set an appropriate alarm. You can say, “Text my brother that I will arrive in 15 minutes,” and Siri will transpose your words into a text message and send it to the contact assigned to “brother.”

This innovative feature demonstrates a high degree of technological prowess. People can utilize this software for hands-free situations such as driving and exercising. However, there’s something else we can learn from it. When you give Siri a command, you instinctively make your thoughts clear and succinct. You know that the device is listening, and you work to be as straightforward as possible so Siri understands what you want.

Why can’t we utilize this thinking in business communication? The business world isn’t a literature class, in which your messages can hide behind metaphors, imagery, and other combinations of diction and syntax. The goal of business communication is to be clear in expressing your message.

We often get so caught up in how we express ourselves that we don’t realize we’re making ourselves unclear.  We try to use complicated words and verbose phrases in order to sound “smart,” but we forget that this tactic can be counterproductive.

So why do we naturally speak clearly and concisely to Siri? I suppose we understand its limitations as an electronic device. Siri probably can’t comprehend most subtle hints or inflection in our sentences. However, who’s to say that colleagues can interpret our hints and subtle inflections when we communicate?

Siri can teach us to make our communication simple. We cause networks of communication to be more efficient. Efficiency is, after all, what company executives strive for, right?

by Vincent Abad-Santos

A New Age of Business Communication: All in the Palm of Your Hand

21 Oct

The iPhone 4S is undoubtedly changing the way we look at smartphones.  It is truly the smartest yet and will have an immediate impact on the way people can communicate, both in business and leisure.

Many new aspects of the iPhone will streamline business practices, in particular Siri and iCloud. Siri is essentially a personal assistant on your phone, at your disposal 24/7.  If somebody asks you a question, you can have Siri find the answer quicker than ever before.  If you get a memo regarding a future meeting, you can have Siri put it in your calendar, so you will never miss another meeting again.  You can ask Siri for directions to the conference, ask for realtime updates on your investments, and send texts and emails, all without taking your eyes off the road.

Can’t make that meeting with your partner? FaceTime lets you videochat with another iPhone owner, or download Skype from the App Store, and you can have a face-to-face conversation, even if you’re half way across the country.

On your way to a big proposal but forgot to send yourself the updated version from your Macbook? Don’t worry! iCloud automatically uploads your documents to your mobile devices, so you will always be prepared.

Now, before you get too excited, listen to a few early complaints from owners:

  • Slow service on Sprint, specifically data speeds
  • Weak battery life due to increased power consumption
  • Siri struggles outside the U.S., mainly location-based actions
  • Problems with the shutter on the camera
  • Yellowish Tint on the screen from manufacturing residue

I’m not sure these are enough to deter somebody from buying this technological wonder, but perhaps it is a warning to wait a month or two and let Apple work out the kinks before you fly into the store.

by Jacob Lazarus

The Rise and Fall of RIM

21 Oct

In 2002, Research in Motion released the first model of the BlackBerry, the first cellular phone that focused on Internet capabilities.  Up to the release of the BlackBerry, cell phones had been primarily for calling and Internet had been an added feature.  RIM created the first mobile device; one in which Internet was as integral to the operation of the phone as the telephone functionality.  In doing so, RIM changed the way businesses communicate.

Changing the Game

RIM had long been in the telecommunications industry.  Before the BlackBerry, RIM had a hand in the two-way pager, wireless email, and cellular phone industries.  BlackBerry’s genius combinedthese technologies into one.  This combination shifted the telecommunications game.  In order to remain competitive, makers of cellular phones had to be more than devices with texting and calling.  Individuals had the possibility of staying connected; mobile devices had to satisfy that condition.  BlackBerries, for example, allowed for email to be quickly viewed and responded to, such that the primary function ceased to be a phone.  In fact, RIM has an option in which companies can purchase only the email functionality of the BlackBerry.  The ramifications for businesses were immense.  Not only could businesses stay in constant contact with their own employees, but business could be conducted easily and efficiently anywhere, at any time.  For a number of years, RIM was the leader in providing for the new, fast-paced world of business.

Hard Times

Lately, however, RIM has been fading as a leader in business communication.  Companies, like Apple and Verizon (iOS and Android, respectively), continue to enable more sorts of communication and more effective communication through their mobile devices.  For example, video chat, once exclusive to personal computers, has been enabled for use on a number of mainstream mobile devices.  Technology has advanced to the point that one can participate in an international face to face conversation without standing on the boundary of Canada and the United States.  And RIM, unfortunately, has not kept up.  The communications abilities of the BlackBerry are ancient compared to the video chat and video conferencing that have been developed for other devices.

Where from Here?

Can RIM reinvent business communication as the world knows it again?  Barring a miracle, no.  And even though RIM revolutionized mobile communication, the industry they created will ultimately be their end.  But as RIM fades into obscurity, we ought to appreciate the company that moved business communications forward and the product that did so, the BlackBerry.

by Michael Janoski