Tag Archives: professional development

Six Ways Improv Can Improve Your Leadership Skills

Looking to take your leadership style to the next level?  Try improv!  Seriously.

Last year, as part of my performance evaluation, I was told in kinder terms that for my career development I should boost my executive leadership presence.  My review was solid, but if I wanted to take it to the next level, this was something to address.  No one doubted my capability or capacity, but my brand had lost some of its sizzle as I was bogged down by my daily grind as the Chief Marketing Officer of one of GE Healthcare’s biggest and most profitable businesses.

I did some soul searching and acknowledged that I needed to freshen up my leadership style.  As I considered alternatives, I began to evaluate development tools.  I’ve benefited from best in class leadership courses in universities and in corporate programs at GE and J&J, but I was looking for something different that could significantly impact my behavior.  Then I recalled something I’ve always wanted to do, but never took the time to – always with the excuse of “that’s not for me” – improv.

ComedySportz, Milwaukee, WI 2014
2014 ComedySportz, Milwaukee, WI

Improv, as defined by Wikipedia, “is a form of theater where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed. In its purest form, the dialogue, the action, the story and the characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds in present time, without use of an already prepared, written script.” 

I’ve always prided myself in being prepared, on strategy and with a clear objective in mind, not… well, being improvisational.

The Benefits of Improv : PILLAR

Challenged by the concept, I looked up the local club and decided to give it a try.  Ten months later, I am a convert.  Improv has boosted my leadership skills in unforeseen ways which corporate or university programs previously have not:

  1. Poise – Although I’ve always been a good speaker, facing a completely foreign audience on any topic without the benefit of any preparation is sure to challenge the best of us.  Poise, conviction and resolve are crucial to your delivery, on and off stage.
  2. Innovation – The only rule in improv is that there are no rules.  Through a series of “yes, and” you and your colleagues build a spontaneous reality that is both creative and original.
  3. Listening – By far, the biggest surprise I’ve had is the realization that improv has remarkably improved my listening skills.  I find myself much more attuned to what people say, particularly in interviews, presentations and the often dreaded marathon teleconferences.
  4. Laughter – I’ve always wanted to be that leader who uses the right humor with impeccable timing to diffuse tense situations.  While I’m not there yet, I can tell you that I am laughing a lot more in all aspects of my life and that my laughter is contagious with my team and workplace.
  5. Adaptability – The market, competition and unforeseen forces challenge us to be adaptable leaders.  Improv fortifies these muscles, as on stage you can be told to become someone with specific personality traits and you must make the story work – same as in business life.
  6. Risk-taking – Improv is 100% risk, in real time.  What’s more, the more you do it, the more you crave it.  The ability to take risks, rapidly, plays well in our competitive business environment.


This year, my performance review significantly improved in this developmental area, largely as a result of my newfound improvisational skills.  If you find yourself stuck in the same development conundrum, try improv!  You’ll be amazed if you stick with it.

Keep growing!


This article was featured on PM360 Online


Best Personality Type for Sales

Hire an ‘Ambivert’ or Learn to Become One

Are you in sales?  Yes, you are. Think about it, your title may not say so, but essentially you make a living selling. You may label it To sell is humaninfluencing, persuasion, cajoling, convincing, trading or exchanging—but if you use the general definition of selling: “to hand over something in exchange for money or to persuade someone of the merits of” then hopefully you’ll agree with Dan Pink, author of To Sell is Human (Riverhead Books, 2013) that we’re all in sales.

A seller’s market

In general, sales people have had a traditionally negative stereotype. The typical car salesman comes top of mind. People have associated sales roles with adjectives like pushy, sleazy, and manipulative—you get the point.

Historically, sales people could afford to take on an aggressive stance because it was a seller’s market, where the salesperson had exclusive information. In this context, the customer needed to interact with this gatekeeper. In this traditional model, extroverts— outgoing, gregarious and talkative—were hired and promoted in the sales ranks.

A buyer’s market

Pink details in his book how the sales playing field has been changed and the customer now has the advantage. Much of development has come with the advances of technology, access to information, increased global competition and consumerism.  Today, if a customer knows what they want, they can access most, if not all of the information without involving a sales person.

As the selling dynamics have shifted from seller to buyer, Pink identifies 3 key qualities a sales person must posses in the today’s environment:

1.  Attunement: fully understanding your target’s perspective as the prelude to help them

2.  Buoyancy—resilience through multiple cycles of rejections

3.  Clarity—expertise to make sense of complex situations and providing insights for problem finding

These qualities are not found in the traditionally extroverted salesperson.

The Rise of the Ambivert

A study conducted by Adam Grant, professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Management developed and deployed a personality scale from 1-7.  The scores from 1-2 were considered introverts and scores from  6-7 were considered extroverts. In the middle, scores from 3 to 5 were considered ambiverts—a person whose personality has a balance of extrovert and introvert features.

Additionally, the study mapped personality scores to sales productivity. Quantitatively, introverts produced $120/hour, extroverts $125/hour and ambiverts $155/hour.  Surprisingly, the ambivert group that scored the highest productivity of $208/hour scored a 4 in the personality scale, right in the middle of the ambivert range.

Unlike the extremes in the scales, ambiverts know when to talk and when to listen;  when to support and when to push. They are able to manage more selling situations, customers from broader spectrums of personality and leverage both skill sets of the personality spectrum for the benefit of the sale. In short, Pink and the research conclude that ambiverts are the best personality type to sell in today’s environment.


The book and the accompanying study demystify the stereotype that extroverts make the best sales people. To find out where you fall on the scale, take the brief indicator at http://www.danpink.com/assessment/. The good news is that we can all work on balancing our skills and becoming better ambiverts. If you’re looking for a pragmatic how-to book to balance your personality skills, I would recommend this book, it’s a how-to manual packed with exercises in every chapter.

Published in PM360

Authenticity Is Key to Good Leadership

Leadership styles become fads that come and go.

Two months ago, I was asked to give a 45-minute presentation to 125 aspiring leaders at General Electric. As I prepared for the talk, I thought about the most important leadership lessons I had learned over the last twenty years. One of the most important lessons, and now a pillar of my leadership philosophy, is to be authentic. 

I sheepishly have to admit that this was not always the case. Early in my career I developed a misguided belief that I could be someone different at home than at work. This is not uncommon and often a symptom of early career maturity.  Eventually I found this exhausting, inconsistent and deceitful. 

Why Should Anyone Be Led By YouIn “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?” Drs. Gareth Jones and his partner Rob Goffe present their findings on leadership from research they conducted over 25 years. Their conclusion is that eventually all leadership styles become fads and are unsustainable. Their solution is that the individual leaders must be themselves – authentic. 

3 Principles of Authenticity

Drs. Jones & Goffe invite us to be more ourselves, but with skill.  Here are general guidelines to help us get started:

  1. Consistency between words and actions: Do what you say you’re going to do, all the time.  Trust is delicate. It takes repetition to build, but only one move to destroy it. This is a good reason why you cannot be two personalities—one at work and one at home—because eventually the inconsistencies materialize according to your nature. 
  2. Provide a common thread in your role performance: Be consistent in your behavior, weaknesses and strengths. Unlike other leadership books, “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” encourages us to be vulnerable with our weaknesses, as long as they are not detrimental. Use common sense; be practically truthful, mindful that being authentic does not mean you share all your character defects. Yet, stay humble enough to let others see that you too are in a development path and do not have all the answers. 
  3. Be comfortable with your origins: Remain true to your roots and whole persona.  We are all unique human beings, with our own life stories. Even if you had alternative beginnings than what you perceive to be the mainstream, be open about those. Being transparent will help people connect with you at a deeper level. 

Application of the Book

At first blush, you may dismiss the book’s insight as a “no-brainer.” On the surface the concept is simple.  But its simplicity, like a simple diet, is only realized by living it out every day. 

Today, I find myself extremely transparent at work and consistent with my character at home.  I’m comfortable with the non-duplicity this affords me. I believe that this has also helped me in my career, managing large, matrix and remote teams. It’s also helped me live a more fulfilling live, in and out of work. 

This book review will be published in the May issue of PM360

Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader

Last summer, I took a course on enhancing one’s influencing skills and one of the speakers was Linda A. Hill, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Hill spoke about the need for leaders to assume the role of influencers and she challenged us to think more systematically on how we can achieve this seemingly elusive task.

Being the BossHill explores this subject in Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, co-written with business executive and author Kent Lineback. The authors provide a comprehensive and practical model for managers to follow. In fact, Being the Boss is a must read for anyone who has just started managing people, experienced managers who desire to become great leaders, and those seeking to improve their influencing or networking skills.

The book focuses on three imperatives: Managing Yourself, Managing Your Network, and Managing Your Team. For this book review I want to focus on the author’s analysis of how to influence through managing your network. Every experienced manager would probably agree that corporate America is extremely political because no organization has sufficient time, resources or homogeneity to accomplish its vision. I have found in my 15-year management career that an employee’s greatest source of frustration is the person’s inability to influence the political environment.

The phrase “company politics” conjures up Machiavellian notions, but that is the negative side of the equation. The naïve manager says, “Not me, I’m above that.” The experienced manager says “Not me, the organization needs to change.” Both of these responses are unproductive because we already live in the political environment that these responses often dismiss or disdain. Being the Boss challenges us to change our perspective, work through organizational conflict and weave our own web of influence—all within our moral and ethical principles— in order to become great leaders.

Being the Boss asks the following questions: Do you strategically identify people whom you and your teams depend on to achieve your goals? Do you systematically evaluate the strength of your networks to keep up with changes?

To answer these questions try this exercise:

1.       Write down the names of the people who have formal or informal authority over your work that are considered experts in key areas, whose work is important to the organizational objectives, or who are “plugged in.”

2.       Assess the importance of each person to your goals using a 1-10 scale.

3.       Assess the current quality of your relationship to each person using the same scale as #2.

4.       Contrast the two rankings.

This simple exercise can be profoundly revealing. It’s the beginning of your networking roadmap. In doing this exercise, you will find it worthwhile to categorize sets of people in to three segments:

  • Operational: The people you need to do your group’s everyday work.
  • Strategic: The people you will need to help you and your group achieve longer-term goals.
  • Developmental: The people who help you grow professionally and provide personal, emotional support when you need it.

While I personally agreed with the philosophies, I struggled to see how they could be practically sustained. Being the Boss offers useful advice on making the initial contact, building networking into your daily work, sharing information, building coalitions, and avoiding unhealthy rivalries. Managing these networks takes focus, time and effort but the promise is an increase in influence, which will make you a better leader.

This book review was published in the November issue of PM360.

For more information on this topic, see this video:

Book Review: The End of Business as Usual

Last month, at General Electric’s Hispanic Executive Leadership Conference, I attended a session featuring sociologist, futurist, and author Brian Solis. My expectation was to hear this brilliant and bona fide social media thought-leader discuss the intricacies of new electronic tools and how I, as a marketer, could capitalize on those to reach my target audience. Instead what I learned was how leading companies are evolving from seeing social media as a tool to using it as a platform toward becoming more customer-centric. It was a welcomed view and it is the central theme of Solis’s new book that delivers a message that can connect to any business environment. 

At the heart of The End of Business as Usual (Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution) is the premise that commercial success rests on our ability to deliver a great customer experience. Underlying this call towards customer-centricity is the disruptive role of social media is playing in influencing customer purchases. The book details how digital culture is changing the landscape of business, consumerism and the workplace. Today’s customers rely on their friends, family and social networks—not companies—for purchase decisions. The marketer’s challenge is to design the appropriate customer experience, monitor feedback and address gaps or reinforce positive experiences through the relevant channels, including the right technologies. It expands marketing with an external focus on creating customer experiences that evoke advocacy.

Solis urges businesses to adapt to this new era of consumerism or die. He calls this phenomena “Digital Darwinism,” where companies that do not evolve as rapid as the evolution of consumer behavior and technology fail to exist.  In other words, it’s not necessarily the strongest who survive but the most adaptive. We live in an era of transparency, explains Solis, where the product value proposition cannot be faked. The word of mouth, benchmarking, blogs, ratings, etc, that are held at the customer’s fingertips (or thumbs) cannot be ignored or covered up. This transparency truly calls for companies to be customer-centric. 

Solis warns that any company that focuses on operations, margins, and efficiencies over customer experiences will hasten the erosion of market relevance. In order for companies to become more customer-centric, Solis offers a blueprint for change. It includes setting the need, and managing and reinforcing the change. Additionally he asks companies to connect the value propositions to personal values through accountability, authority and rewards. 

Solis’s insightful and well written book clearly communicate what can be a complex message. It is recommended as a primer for anyone looking to improve the customer experience and seeking to understand how to leverage social media toward that goal. 

You can follow Brian on twitter @BrianSolis, or join his blog at www.briansolis.com/

This book review was published in PM360


Book Review: The Go-Giver – A Little Story about a Powerful Business Idea

Are you as successful as you dreamed of being at this point in your life? If you are, congratulations! If you’re not, you’ve perhaps second-guessed your education or career choices. Maybe you think you will have to work harder and faster. But before you’re too hard on yourself, consider trying the old proverb: “Give and you shall receive.”

The Go-GiverI realize that this can seem counter-intuitiveness in today’s competitive world. The Go-Giver, however, claims that the secret to success is giving. Authors John David Mann and Bob Burg know you’ll be skeptical: “Most people just laugh when they hear that the secret to success is giving…. Then again, most people are nowhere as successful as they wish they were.” Furthermore, they challenge the law of scarcity and say the 50-50 partnership principle as a losing position. Instead, they ask readers to think exclusively about helping others to a 100% win. It’s a business philosophy that places altruism before one’s own interest.

A story of reciprocity

This 127 page book is written in a short story format. It’s the tale of Joe, a young professional who is hard-working and ambitious, yet lately finds his hard work disappointing in sales results. Inadvertently, he finds himself seeking the mentorship of an older gentleman named Pindar.

The mentor—practicing the method he preaches—gives Joe his Trade Secret, with one condition; he too must give it away to others. Joe goes through a set of meetings that teach the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success and through that process achieves a transformational experience. In the end, Joe learns that giving is truly the secret to success and abundance.

The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success

The Trade Secret is found in these five laws:

  1. The Law of Value. Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment. This book challenges us to not to simply employ this tactic for self gain, but to learn to embrace this as a way of life.
  2. The Law of Compensation. Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them. In a sense, you’re in control of your own compensation because you can always find more people to serve.
  3. The Law of Influence. Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first. This in turn creates a network of ambassadors who become personally invested in seeing you succeed.
  4. The Law of Authenticity. The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself. Be authentic!
  5. The Law of Receptivity. The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving. This is the byproduct of the first four laws.

Try each one of these for each day of the work week. You have nothing to lose. Hundreds of thousands of people have tried, and the book has achieved a core following.

I was given this book in 2009, by one of the general managers at GE. Since then I have distributed about 20 copies to direct reports, colleagues, and friends. I do believe that if people authentically behave altruistically, they will be more successful, regardless of their personal definition of success. The book is a simple and powerful reminder that the more you give, the more you get.

By the way, if you’re still skeptical, the book went on to become a national best seller, making top lists at BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal and Amazon, among many others. It has also stood the test of time, through continued book sales, current seminars, and a lively internet community (http://www.thegogiver.com). You can buy it in any books store, and it’s very likely that you’ll find it in your public library.  Enjoy!

This book review was published in the May issue of PM360.

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Marketing Book Review: Conversations That Win the Complex Sale


How can you achieve the highest return per dollar spent of your marketing budget? “Great messaging through your sales force,” said Tim Riesterer, co-author of Conversations That Win the Complex Sale, in a workshop he recently conducted for my marketing team. This makes particular sense in a complex sale, where your highest operating costs are in your sales force…and your primary competitor is the status quo. Riesterer and his co-author Erik Peterson provide us an interesting messaging model. Before you decide to invest in the latest marketing tool, think about how you can leverage messaging across your marketing tactics and to help you achieve a high return on investment.

This is an exciting time to be a marketer! In the 20 years I’ve worked in B2B commercial sales & marketing , we’ve never had more tools at our disposal to arm our channels and get our message to our target audience. We continuously innovate vehicles that help us deliver creative, multi-media and relevant messages. Unfortunately, tools is can be easily imitated. If you have enough budget, you can copy the tactics your competitors are using: marketers cannot differentiate on tools alone.

For all the tools we have at our disposal, specifically the complex sale, messaging is the critical component that sets us apart from our competition and makes our solution relevant to our target audience. Messaging is the thread that ties all tools together, delivers a consistent…well, message…and makes the most of our spend. It maximizes our efficiency to clearly communicate our value proposition, educate on our benefits and ultimately to persuade our buyers.

Point-of-View Pitch

Conversations That Win the Complex Sale lays out a messaging framework that’s easy to understand and can be translated through different marketing tools. Here are the components:

1.  Grabber. Generate a reputable third-party point of view that is relevant to your client’s core business objective.

2.  Pain. Shock the clients by showing them an unknown or underappreciated issue currently eating away at their their organization and threatening their core business objectives.

3.  Impact. Create urgency by appropriately quantifying the personal, business, and financial impacts of ignoring the problem,; follow up by showing the beneficial effects of acting soon.

4.  Contrast. Differentiate your unique strengths, and show how they address the threats the customer is facing; be clear about how your proposed solution differs the present situation…without offending clients who may have skin in the current game.

5.  Proof. Demonstrate how you have helped similar clients by implementing the solution you’re proposing, and show your approach’s positive impact on the client’s objective.


From a marketing management perspective, the Point-of-View Pitch should flow from the overall positioning strategy. This model can help marketers create compelling messages for their sales forces, particularly in the prospecting phase. I particularly like the authors’ challenge to the status quo. But one strong caution: The model is only as good as the information you input, so the stronger the supporting data, the greater your opportunity for success.

Good marketing!

This book review was published in PM360.