Being a Leader

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Over the years, I’ve discovered there is a big difference between being a leader, a manager and a supervisor.

Managers are typically defined as people who have been put in mid-level positions who is tasked with planning, organizing and directing departments. Compare that with supervisors who are in a position to give instructions or orders to subordinates and are held responsible for the work and actions of other employees. I have found that supervisors usually report to managers.

However, being a manager or supervisor does not necessarily translate into being a leader. Having led various teams, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that leadership isn’t about power. Rather, the key to leadership is motivation. Does the person in charge create an environment where the team can shine and thrive? Or does that person choose instead to create an environment where the team only responds with minimal work in order to get the boss off their backs?

There are different leadership styles and traits, which have been discussed in numerous places. My experience has shown that there are three traits that work well for leaders:

  • Collaboration
  • Communications
  • Trust

Collaboration … Working together with the team is key to being a good leader. Walk the walk, talk the talk. While the manager may delegate a project to his or her subordinates, a true leader does not ignore the importance of showing the team that he or she is not afraid to participate and work toward a common goal. If it’s just about delegating and giving orders, then team members tend to become bitter or disconnected.

Communications … A critical component to leadership is open communications and sharing of information with the team. A sign of a poor leader is the unwillingness to share information. I’ve heard it said that “knowledge is power” so that translates to me that some people choose to keep all that knowledge to himself because that leads to perceived power. But if the rest of the team, who typically does the daily work, doesn’t know what is going on, then the work is done improperly or time is wasted by re-work. If all the information is shared early in the process, then the quality of work from the team is higher. Not only is communication important for sharing information, but creating an environment of open dialogue can lead to loyalty and support from team members. Just remember that collaboration is not about control or micro-managing the team; it’s about supporting each other through the process.

Trust … As Wikipedia says, trust is a relationship of reliance. Reliance on each other as a team and reliance on the boss as a leader to do what is right for the team and the company. When there is collaboration and open communication, then it’s easier for a leader to earn trust from his or her team members. A surefire way of losing trust is for a manager or supervisor to delegate all the work and take all the credit for projects. A way for a manager or supervisor to show leadership is to push the praise and credit down to the team, without taking any credit himself.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

I had a boss who was fantastic at this, and also willingly took the blame when things went wrong. She earned loyalty by realizing that errors on her part in communication or collaboration led to mistakes on our part as a team.

These are my take on just a few leadership traits. I know there are others, and would love to hear your thoughts.

Is All PR Good for Business?

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Photo from Google Images

PR stunts are common. For generations, publicists for all types of companies have brainstormed “brilliant” events and tricks to garner attention for their product or service. PT Barnum is one of the more famous individuals in the stunt world, and PR Week published this list of PR stunts that would make Barnum proud.

It recently came to my attention that a car dealership in a northeastern Oklahoma town chose to promote itself by dropping a pickup off the side of a 19-story landmark building. Thousands of people attended this street party and publicity opportunity only to discover that there was no truck but instead the car dealership lowered a banner over the side of the building promoting a cash incentive on said truck. Here is the car dealership’s version; here is a take on the situation as written by a colleague of mine. Watch the video on YouTube here.

While PR stunts like this have been common for many, many years, I’m hesitant to encourage companies to attempt this sort of publicity because it rarely works — more often than not, it completely backfires. While this car dealership may not lose business in its’ small town, one has to wonder whether, in this age of transparency and openness, if the use of traditional tactics as well as as social media to promote an event where the end result focused on generating sales for the dealership is the right move.

I’m a proponent for being upfront, honest and above board with customers, employees and other stakeholders. It’s a matter of integrity for me. I don’t want anyone to question whether or not my business will treat them right or fairly. By choosing to launch a PR stunt like the one described above, it calls into question how the organization will respond in the future.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

No Egos Allowed

Earlier this week, I attended the first OkieSMart social media conference hosted by PRSA Tulsa, IABC Tulsa and the Tulsa Press Club. The keynote speaker was Peter Shankman, CEO of the Geek Factory and founder of Help a Reporter Out (HARO). I’ve heard Peter speak a few times now, and find him to be entertaining and educational. One thing I find interesting about him is that he is not one to tout his expertise in social media but rather allows others to do that for him. That’s not the case with everyone I’ve run across in the world of Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks.

Several blog posts in recent weeks and months have called into question whether social media experts really exist, and if they do what is important for them to share with you. Check out a few of the ones I came across here, here, and here.

I still wonder what makes one a social media expert. Is it his participation on Twitter? Does it amount to the number of followers she has but not the quality of information she shares? To Peter Shankman, social media is about the quality not the quantity and I have to agree. My fear is that too many people take advantage of the uneducated or uninitiated people who simply hear that social media is the next “big thing” and need to jump on board.

I have run across a number of people who I find to be simply egotistical. To me, ego should not play a role in being a strategic partner for an organization. In my opinion, true counselors leave their own promotion at the door and instead focus on the needs of the organization with which he or she is working. When egos are involved, it’s far too easy to overlook the true objectives of the business and think only how the “social media expert” might benefit from the relationship being developed.

I’m intrigued by a new book coming out this fall called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Relationships and Earn Trust. Building trust is difficult and requires a lot of effort on the part of the counselor. It’s baby steps that allow the understanding and shared mutual goals to strengthen a relationship enough for trust to be a part of it. It takes sacrifice on the part of the counselor to recognize when he or she needs to step back and listen versus speaking out too vocally.

What do you think? Am I on track with this thinking or am I off base?

Photo from Flickr.com: Denise Lamby

Importance of Learning

After more than a dozen years working in communications and marketing, one of the most important things I have learned is to never stop the education. During my undergrad years of college, I fought tooth and nail to finish my degree program so I could graduate and move into the “real world”. Little did I know but all that information I learned would only get me so far once I started my career. Following are a few tips I’d like to share with anyone, new or seasoned:

1) Ask questions ~ Never assume that you know the answers. Making assumptions, to me, means a professional is entering a stagnant phase in his or her career. My mentors over the years have shown me that being curious and looking to expand your horizons allows one to build more trust among colleagues and leadership. Be wise in your questions though. That leads me to point #2 …

2) Listen carefully ~ Pay attention to what is being said around you. In my experience, the communications professionals in most organizations are the people who need to know that most. While it’s rude to eavesdrop, be open to listening to conversations when they occur around you to gain insight into your business, your employees and the general culture of the organization. Through the years, I have become the go-to person for leadership when they need feedback on decisions that are being made because people trust me to listen and hear what is being said. However, that brings to mind point #3 …

3) Gain trust ~ Asking questions and listening carefully, along with being the communications representative for the company, usually means you are privy to information that may or may not be shared with others in your business or outside. Learn to discern what can be shared, what ethically must be shared and where to draw the line on remaining silent. The public relations practice is governed by a code of ethics through our national industry association, Public Relations Society of America. Each of us has internal morals and principles that guide us. Look to the code of ethics as a guideline by which to practice but also build a reputation of integrity, honesty and responsibility. Your professional and personal credibility is on the line.

4) Find a mentor ~ I have been fortunate in my career to have found amazing professionals who are my mentors to this day. These men and women have taught me a great deal about the communications profession and how I can strengthen my skill sets. I turn to each regularly for feedback and insight on my career, decisions I need to make, and more. I consider each a friend as much as mentor. A good mentoring relationship should never end. Thanks to these individuals, I have adopted an attitude that I hope will facilitate relationships with younger professionals where I act as a mentor. I believe it is my responsibility to share my knowledge, but I also learn a great deal from younger professionals too. And that takes me back to where I started …

5) Continue your education ~ Never stop learning. Whether you decide to pursue a graduate degree, are fortunate to work for a business with an internal professional development program, or choose to pursue education options on your own, find ways to stay on top of new communication trends. Also very important is to expand your knowledge to other areas of business. Look to learn about finance, IT, operations, and other functional areas of a business in order to make yourself an invaluable employee. One of the best pieces of advice I received (from a mentor) was to temporarily find assignments in other departments in order to be a better communicator.