What Business Leaders Can Learn From Stuart McLean’s Style and Legacy

Stuart McLeanStuart McLean was one of the most popular and widely read among generations of Canadian writers and humourists. His immortalization of his two most popular characters Dave and Morley resonated with readers across North America. As host of the CBC Radio program The Vinyl Café, he was also among Canada’s most listened-to storytellers. His approach to his life and his craft can serve today’s and future leaders well – he had many traits that successful business leaders should strive for.

Here are seven lessons McLean left with us about good leadership:

Leaders are intellectually curious and are always learning.

McLean delighted in learning all his life and shared his enthusiasm with his readers and audiences on any topic that came to mind. His curiosity about cooking, history, music, travel, documentary film-making, and other communications led him to explore new approaches and content in his books and storytelling. Business leaders who seek and share new knowledge will always be among the most successful.

Leaders are effective communicators.

They shape their messages to resonate with their audiences, whether gathered in an auditorium to be entertained or employees assembled at a corporate town hall to be updated on their organization’s progress. One of McLean’s gifts was to make his personal experiences relevant to his audiences. His readers could identify with the characters McLean brought to life, with empathy and often biting humour. We all know what it feels like to constantly change checkout lanes to leave faster, only to have each lane close as we arrive.

Understanding people is more valuable to a leader than judging them.

McLean was more interested in poking fun at situations in which everyone finds themselves than judging the people caught in those situations. He never presented himself as an expert on human behaviour, but merely a communicator who shared his perceptions of his characters’ situations and predicaments objectively. Whether his content was amusing or sad, their trust in him united his readers. Leaders seek to understand behaviour and learn from what they see.

Leaders are detail-oriented.

Upon arriving in each city or town three days before a performance, McLean and his team would fan out and spend their days listening to citizens and learning the town’s history and gathering anecdotes as he explored his new environment. This gave him some local knowledge of the place (if it was a very small town) so that it would often appear he had lived there for years. His humour was enhanced by detailed and relevant descriptions that brought readers deeper into the story. He did his homework and was always prepared for every interview. His famous 1977 interview with the late Gordie Howe during the weeks he pursued his 1,000th career goal is an example of his attention to detail and empathy as a communications professional. (Source: CBC specialstarting at 6:50)

Leaders are collaborative and recognize the efforts of others.

McLean frequently travelled the country and parts of the United States with a small support team who were responsible for coordinating and staging each performance. Back in the studio, he worked closely with producers, other hosts and production crews to deliver memorable performances in a collegial and upbeat atmosphere. He was always quick to recognize his team after each performance or radio show. This not only earned their loyalty but the respect of his listeners.

Leaders achieve professional excellence over time – and with humility.

They possess practical skills learned over years of effort and practice and occasional setbacks. McLean often remarked that early in life, he was never satisfied with his abilities as either a student or athlete. Yet, he found his niche as a renowned writer and lecturer. His books from the Vinyl Café series earned him the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour three times and he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2011.

Leaders are fully committed to their goals.

The most valuable lesson business leaders can learn from Stuart McLean is the importance of being fully committed to their goals and face them head on – one at a time. McLean had many interests. One of the reasons for his success is that he sought to delve deeply into each one rather than spread himself too thinly. For example, when he signed on to teach a radio documentary course at Ryerson University in Toronto, he wasn’t sure he would be a good instructor. Through his focus and application his classes were hugely successful and he earned the loyalty and trust of many students. Despite their many responsibilities, leaders who focus on their goals one at a time are more likely to reach those goals as they build the trust and loyalty of colleagues, employees, clients and other stakeholders.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Connecting with Your Audience

Connecting with Your AudienceUnless you are alone, you are often before an audience, whether you realize it or not. Whether you are in public or making a presentation in a boardroom or before an audience of hundreds, you are being observed. Making a connection with strangers in public who you will likely never see again is usually not as important as connecting with people in a social or business setting. However, you are constantly making connections of a fleeting or long-term nature.

Connecting with your audience goes well beyond the concept of practicing correct etiquette and ‘being good with people.’ Your ability to engage others, whether they are strangers, friends, prospects, colleagues, or clients—and build the professional networks crucial to your success—largely depends on your ability to connect with them.

The quality of your connection with an audience is based first on the trust you earn from them – and the sooner the better.

I define making strong connections as a combination of deploying your interpersonal communications skills, awareness of other people and the world in general, and personal and business networks to get things done. This could entail getting a promotion, successfully launching a new business, or being successful in your bid for political office. Contributions of your time and professional skills you make to your community also add to your trustworthiness and your ability to make robust connections.

Here are tips on how to earn trust and respect to forge strong connections in five common business and social situations.

Speeches and Presentations

Respect your audience and the third parties you mention (unless you are part of a formal debate where showing sincere respect for your opponents would appear odd.) If you diminish the roles of others in your speech, chances are pretty good that you will alienate many audience members. A recent example involves Raymond Moore, former CEO of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California. As part of his comments at a recent, large trophy presentation, Moore said that Women’s Tennis Association members “ride on the coattails of the men” in fuelling the growing popularity of women’s tennis. Women’s tennis star Serena Williams’ subsequent remarks fanned the flames that eventually forced Moore to resign.

There is nothing wrong with putting your personal ideas or opinions forward to inform, influence, or entertain an audience in a passionate way. Crossing the line that separates respect and disrespect can instantly cut off your connection with your audience. Worse, it can have damaging repercussions that have a lasting effect on your personal brand.

Interviews

In addition to being punctual, appropriately dressed, concise and prepared for the conversation, connecting with your interviewer is just as important as producing the most impressive resume among all the job candidates.

Many first interviews are held essentially to view a candidate and determine if they have the credentials and communications skills to do the job. Research confirms that candidates who make a connection with their interviewer(s) in the first few minutes of the conversation tend to be selected over those who don’t.

You can build a connection by listening carefully to the interviewer and letting them complete the question before jumping in with what you believe to be the right answer. Rushing or over-speaking can quickly smother the chances of connecting. Pausing to think before responding tells the interviewer that you respect the question and that it is worth careful consideration.

Unlike in other business networking situations, you should also hold back on connecting with interviewers on LinkedIn and other social channels. This can be seen as presumptuous.

You can strengthen your connection with the interviewer by sending them a brief hand-written thank you note within 24 hours after the interview. Thank them for their time and interest and say that you enjoyed meeting them and found the conversation valuable. Avoid leading comments such as “I am looking forward to working with you.” If you really want the job and feel your chances are good, end with, “I look forward to our next conversation.”

Business Networking

Among the most powerful words in creating a connection with someone you have just met in a networking situation are, “I didn’t know that. Could you expand on your thoughts?” Often, when people network, they are thinking about their next comment, waiting to jump in to showcase their own knowledge. This makes it hard to actively listen to others and build an authentic, two-way conversation. When you express genuine interest in something someone has said and ask them to expand on their thought or idea, they appreciate it. And they will view you as sincere and outward looking.

Part of making a good connection is knowing when to ‘let it breathe” by graciously concluding the conversation. When you sense the best of the conversation is over, suggest to your conversational partner that you look forward to speaking with them again soon but don’t want to monopolize them. You will both leave the conversation on a positive note. (You can use the same approach with someone who is “over-refreshed” or wants to keep the conversation going unnecessarily.)

Social Settings

“Sharing” is often regarded as our unburdening/sharing of personal successes and issues on people you know well or have just met. “Over sharing” is one of the fastest ways to disconnect with someone, as they grow uncomfortable with a barrage of personal details delivered in inappropriate settings and at the wrong time.

The sharing to which I refer involves making a point of introducing one person to another in an effort to expand other’s horizons. After a few minutes of conversation with one or two people, ask them if they would like to expand the conversation and then bring someone else to join in. (Make sure you remain in the conversation instead of hastily moving on to start another. Doing so would be rude and undo the connection you are trying to create or strengthen.) Your ability to bring people together in a way that makes everyone comfortable is evidence of your ability to connect and build trust.

This approach can also be effective in business settings where you can show leadership in enriching the conversation.

Making connections combines art and science and we can use many tactics to make us appear interesting in the eyes of others. It is ultimately our conscious wish to engage others while being ourselves that results in the best connections – on a business or personal level.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

 

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PowerPointless?

Power PointlessDelivering a memorable presentation to any audience on just about any topic rests on three things: 1) identifying your goal; 2) making your presentation relevant to your audience; and 3) offering them a clear call to action at the conclusion.

But if you are like me, one of the first things that comes to mind is not so much the goal of your presentation but how to support your presentation with relevant, witty, and substantive visuals. The faster you get over your need to play graphic designer and go straight into theme and content, the more successful your presentation will be.

Hold attention and influence your audience

It can be easy to forget that a key goal is to engage your audience by building rapport and trust early in your presentation. Only then will they be receptive to your call to action at the end of your presentation.

Let’s say they have bonded with you early in your presentation and want to hear what you have to say. Your task is to keep them focused on you as you introduce more information that is relevant to them and build a case for the ideas, products, or services you are pitching.

For purposes of this conversation, let’s assume that the goal of your presentation is to: a) communicate technical information in an effort to educate your audience or b) convince your audience to purchase a service or product you are selling. With a few differences, delivering presentations that hold audience attention in both categories involve 5 key strategies.

If you are planning a technical or more broadly focused presentation using PowerPoint or other technology, consider these five tips:

  1. Less is more: Keep the slide content uncluttered and part of the original big idea or theme of the presentation. Edit your presentation to reflect your audience and don’t rely on your “all-weather presentation” deck in every situation. If you do, you will find yourself racing through complex slides or skipping over them all together. This confuses the audience and lets them know you aren’t prepared, which is insulting to them. I once saw some audience members leave the room while being pitched by a sales representative. He said, “This is the same deck I used for a major pitch yesterday, so it might be a bit complicated for this audience. Just bear with me.”
  2. Create a personal feel with face time: Face the audience as much as possible instead of turning your back on them to confront complex charts and graphs on the screen. You can always glance at the laptop in front of you to get your bearings. If you don’t keep them engaged and/or in a two-way conversation, you will be sorely tested to keep them awake. As you click your way through what amounts to a marathon presentation, you may see slumping body language and glazed eyes as they count down to the last slide. Better to run more intimate working sessions with small groups to get through the material and reach them on a more intimate level. Otherwise you’re subjecting them to waves of information in endless slides that will wash over them and stamp you in their memories as the talking head who put everyone to sleep.
  3. Takeaways are essential: Wherever possible, take the executive summary approach and provide technical details in online/printed takeaways they can review on their own time. If people want more detail, you can talk through it or invite a conversation after the presentation. Some presenters believe that the more senior and experienced the audience, the more you should rely on a high-level presentation heavy on stories and light on large amounts of technical information. They go so far as to suggest you dispense with AV altogether to create more dialogue and keep the presentation conversational. I believe you still need some anchor slides to maintain the message flow and stay on track.
  4. Don’t pre-apologize: Avoid introducing your presentation with the promise of getting through it as quickly as possible owing to its complexity because you realize that people are busy. You will have then given them permission to focus on their phones versus your presentation.
  5. Don’t post-apologize: At the conclusion, avoid thanking people for their attention and time. This may sound odd because almost every presented does it. When you thank them for bearing with you, you are devaluing your previous comments and efforts to engage them and relinquishing a leadership role and dialogue you worked hard to create. It’s rather like an Olympic skater at the end the program thanking the judges and audience for their support during “some difficult routines.” If you don’t think you nailed your presentation, no one else will.

If you are like me, your thoughts often turn first to PowerPoint when thinking about building a presentation.

Microsoft PowerPoint and other presentation software are easier to manage and incorporate into a presentation than ever before. The concern is the way it can take over your presentation by diverting your audience’s attention from you to the screen that is supposed to be your backdrop, not the main attraction.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

 

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6 Ways to Showcase Your Personal Brand

6 Ways to Showcase Your Personal BrandBefore unveiling your personal brand, you’ll need to make sure you’ve spent sufficient time defining who you are, identifying your key audience(s) and identifying your competitors.

It’s unlikely that everyone you reach out to will gravitate to your personal brand. It’s connecting with your specific target audience(s) that really matters.

Showcasing your personal brand need not involve an unrelenting effort to draw attention to yourself. Unless you are campaigning for political office, consistent relationship building over the long term versus ad hoc attempts to gain publicity in short bursts will boost your personal brand to levels that will surprise you. Effectively showcasing your personal brand involves providing quality information to your audiences via social media, public speaking, volunteer work or any other activity that lets people observe you in action.

Once you can define your personal brand, here are ten ways to help you better showcase it.

#1: Build a brand statement

This short summary essentially provides the what, why, where and how that supports your personal brand. It reflects how you present yourself to others in a professional capacity in terms of your goals, your values, and your outlook on the world. This is not to be confused with an ‘elevator pitch’, which is intended to focus more on the benefits of being associated with your personal brand and to encourage deeper engagement between you and the listener.

#2: Work up a communications plan

This is the foundation of your long term outreach strategy that will help you remain consistent in how you present yourself. It covers the nature and timing of the deployment of the tools and tactics you will use to increase your personal brand awareness, such as your website, social media content and channels, and public and media relations strategies.

#3: Manage your Google results

Your objective is to encourage visitors who have searched for you on Google to find out more about you and how you can help them, or someone they know. Depending on your web history, there are various approaches to consider.

If you have no web presence, you will be invisible to people searching your name and are well-served to start building your online presence as soon as possible. Be sure that your content is consistent with your brand statement and that you are posting material you will be proud of next month and for years to come.

Alternatively, if you already have a presence but you are not happy with what pops up in Google, then the challenge is to populate your channels with quality content consistently so it is easier to find out more about what it is you have to offer.

#4: Add value to your network

You can add value to your network via online strategies as well as more traditional face-to-face connection. In conversation, be sure to listen for opportunities to add intelligent insight that will benefit your conversational partner rather than steering the conversation to your needs constantly. Referrals go a long way to add value to your network as well and shows that you play well with others.

In terms of online value add, engage your audience through social media with content they value. Whether blogs and articles (yours or curated), short observations, or industry commentary, your content should be relevant to your audience.

#5: Use social media wisely

If you are trying to build a professional personal brand, you have to ensure you have a positive presence on social media that showcases what you stand for. Avoid posting inappropriate photos and language that don’t project your personal brand. At the very least, learn how to use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to help you showcase your personal brand at a professional level.

#6: Take into consideration the three A’s of personal branding daily:

Appearance –First impressions are cast in stone in seconds and are hard to change, no matter how intelligent you may be. Consider all aspects of your personal appearance from your shoes to your hair, the car you drive, and even the way you speak. You needn’t be the best-dressed person in the room but you will gain confidence with properly fitted, good quality clothes. Think quality, not quantity and when shopping for clothes look for those that you can easily adapt for both casual and more formal occasions.

Actions – Once you have made a good first impression, your personal actions (the way you carry and present yourself) is a key factor in establishing good relationships. How you behave around others is often affected by your connection with them, whether positive or negative. It can also be affected by how you think the other party perceives you. Understand the source of your behaviour and celebrate it, or fix it.

Agreeability – your ability to get along with others and help them remain receptive to you. Active listening when interacting with others will help to create stronger connections because you are taking a proactive approach to building relationships. Learning more about others will help you apply your own strengths to the development of each relationship.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

 

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Achieving Success Through Personal Brand Development

Achieving Success Through Personal Brand DevelopmentWe all have a personal brand. Regardless of our professional role, personality type, range of interests or stage in life, each of us daily projects our unique persona to the world.

As technology accelerates and our personal imprint on the work process diminishes with each new advancement, we become more focused on what makes us unique and sets us apart from others, whether in our workplace, our neighbourhood, or our gathering places in the community where we interact and contribute in our own way.

I define a personal brand as “a consistent set of personal behaviours and values we exhibit to others that may draw them to us or discourage them from being around us – or somewhere in between.”

Personal branding has become a preoccupation for the majority of professionals seeking to move forward in their personal lives or careers by becoming the sort of person others gravitate to while retaining their ethical standards and remaining loyal to their beliefs.

Many of our best thinkers, writers, and speakers over centuries nurtured personal brands that to many were at first contrarian, offensive, and generally unpopular. Others projected immensely appealing and popular personae that authentically projected their values and goals and won them the unconditional support of millions of people. The late Mother Teresa (1910 -1997) and her work to fight world poverty comes to mind immediately.

More recently, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s unmistakable personal branding strategies have sent his public awareness soaring but the long-term outcome of these efforts are yet to be seen.

To best develop your personal brand, you have to consider all aspects. Ask yourself:

  • What sort of people do I relate to best in my personal and professional life?
  • Am I confident in my abilities that allow me to achieve my goals readily and set new goals for my personal betterment and happiness?
  • Am I hesitant to set major goals because I fear failure?
  • Do I listen well or am I inclined to impose my views and ideas on others early in the conversation to take control and assert my authority?
  • Do I tend to be overly diffident and readily embrace the opinions of others without question?
  • Would I describe myself as empathetic?
  • Do I give of my time to others as a volunteer, confidant, or close friend?
  • Am I an introvert or extrovert (or like many of us, somewhere in between)?
  • Do I pride myself on my appearance and take pains in selecting a wardrobe that I believe best reflects the occasion?
  • Or, am I more concerned about focusing on less visual traits, such as what I say versus how I look?
  • Do I follow through on promises or let them slide thinking that no one will notice or care that I have not made good?
  • Do I enjoy group sports and activities or am I more comfortable pursuing individual sports and hobbies that don’t rely on others to ensure my success?

You will probably agree that the above ingredients (and there are many more) that constitute anyone’s personal brand are desirable, undesirable, and neutral. That’s the point. No one can honestly embrace all of the desirable and none of the undesirable characteristics listed above, although many of us spend our lives trying.

The essence of determining your personal brand and being content with it lies in understanding and accepting your qualities and challenges as a composite sketch of how you appear to yourself and to others. Chances are, you want an authentic personal brand that presents you in as positive a light to others while being true to yourself.

I like the phrase, “being comfortable in your skin.” To me, people in this category are best equipped to project an authentic and consistent personal brand. Some may gravitate to them while others may give them a wide birth.

The most enduring personal brands are consistent with our personalities and values and must be authentic to bring any permanent value to our lives.

While being a “chameleon” may serve us well in temporarily navigating constantly changing life and business situations, this can cause us to fail in our quest to live happily within a true personal brand. When we have an authentic, true personal brand we – and others – more fully accept who we are.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

 

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How To End a Relationship With a Client Without Burning Bridges

How To End a Relationship With a Client Without Burning BridgesYou might wonder who has the courage to actually fire a client in these uncertain economic times.

The answer is simple: professionals and business owners who envision the long-term erosion of their business if they don’t fire them.

A colleague who was considering firing a problematic but important client said to me, “Cash flow is cash flow, and that’s all that matters.” Some months later, turnover in the business had escalated at such a rate that the owner finally had to take over the account, and only after feeling the stress of others who had managed the account before, finally fired the client.

Timing is everything

Think the firing over carefully. You should never decide to fire a client immediately after an argument or a discussion you have taken personally. Your decision should come only after documenting a series of examples of non-performance or bad business behaviour on the client’s part, the steps you took to save the deteriorating relationship, and careful consideration of the pros and cons of firing them.

Weigh the risks involved in cutting ties

You need to quickly assess whether a conflict with a client is merely a personality issue or whether it could have legal ramifications that may affect your business. If the client does small things that drive you crazy, such as occasionally being late for meetings or cancelling on short notice, they are not in contravention of your working agreement. But if their chronic lateness and failure to meet input deadlines hamper your ability to do your job and fulfill your side of the agreement, then you could be facing a legal issue.

Ask yourself what triggered the tension

Was it your behaviour and actions or your client’s that started the problem? Are these actions personality-based or do they have legal ramifications?

You need to first assess the events that led to the difficult situation. Here’s how.

Determine:

  • Who is responsible for the current situation
  • Whether you did all you could to avert the situation
  • The risk or consequences you face as a result of the situation

When ending a client relationship, it is important to be decisive and remember you are making a decision that will ensure your business’s future success, not to save face or rebuke or embarrass the client.

You need to assess the risk of the client suing you for damages as a result of withdrawing services or breach of contract. Without legal intervention, you may also risk not receiving payment for any outstanding invoices.

How do you end the relationship?

Once you are confident that your decision is legally valid and you are not at risk of being sued, how do you tell your client that, “it’s over?” The goal is to have a former client who will let the matter rest versus one who will attempt to damage your professional reputation out of spite and anger.

Depending on the client’s initial response, you may need to engage a lawyer to review the client agreement (if one exists) and itemize instances when the client did not abide by it. You can save time and money early on and avoid court proceedings by documenting events that led to your decision. So much the better if those events involve the client’s financial violation of the agreement (e.g. failure to pay on time or unduly withholding payment without cause) or missing deadlines that affect your ability to meet agreed upon goals. Where personality conflicts are concerned, things can get hazy.

If you once shared a strong personal and professional relationship, you might start the telephone conversation with, “Terry, you have no doubt noticed that our professional association has become strained of late. Despite our conversations to rectify the situation many of the issues remain. I have no choice but to terminate our professional association. If you wish, I will meet with you to share my reasons behind this decision, or confirm my intentions in writing.”

If you did not have a close relationship with the client and dealt with many people within a large organization, you or your lawyer can send a letter to your lead contact there communicating your wish to cancel the contract. Keep it brief, objective (vs. judgmental) and most importantly, clear. Briefly state the reasons for termination, the date the termination will come into effect, and any other issues that need to be resolved, such as payment of outstanding invoices or return of product or work materials (including promotional displays or artwork) to either party.

When it’s not the client’s fault

Sometimes it’s not the client’s poor behavior, dysfunctional infrastructure or deteriorating business culture that drives your decision to end the relationship. One-person business owners are sometimes asked by clients to deliver products or services beyond their area of expertise with the full expectation they can get the job done. Rather than disappoint the client with a less than stellar outcome, offer to recommend another business that can meet their needs. It’s not being lazy, it’s good business.

As difficult as it is to turn away cash flow from a client, you and your client are better off in the long run when you are honest with one another. Chances are, the client will refer you to others or give you assignments that are within your area of expertise. You’ll earn more and build all-important trust in the process.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

 

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14 Questions to Ask Before Creating Your 2016 Business Development Strategy

14 Questions to Ask Before Creating Your 2016 Business Development StrategyA new year inevitably triggers a series of resolutions – some personal and some business-related. You may have had a great 2015 and simply want to maintain the status quo in your personal and business life. Chances are, you are chomping at the bit to create new opportunities to make 2016 your best year yet.

Most of us are hopeful that the great work we have done in 2015 will ensure that we experience what I call a “business harvest” in 2016. However, I learned long ago that hope is not a strategy and that success comes to those who plan and implement their business development consistently – measuring results and tweaking it as they go.

It’s important to approach your 2016 strategy by looking at what happened in 2015 and what worked versus what didn’t work. In order to determine where you stand at the end of the year, you have to be able to ask the right questions. You have to be able to evaluate from both a “soft” or reflective approach as well as a more strategic approach. Both approaches are important in determining your path to success over the coming year – and beyond.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before creating your 2016 business development strategy.

  1. Check in with yourself by asking, “What do I enjoy most about doing what I do?” Ask why you are doing it and what you gain from it on a practical and personal level. If you feel the year ahead will hold too much frustration (tempered with some high points), perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your focus or business.
  2. Reconfirm your business focus and reassess your target audiences, services, and products. Did any of these things change during 2015?
  3. If so, were the changes by design or in response to market conditions that affected your business growth – for better or for worse?
  4. Were there any changes to your business that you resolved to make during 2015 that were never implemented? If so, why? Are they still worth acting upon?
  5. What is the best example of how you seized a business opportunity in 2015 and made it work?
  6. What is the best example of a missed business opportunity in 2015? What did you learn from your misstep and is the business still worth pursuing?
  7. What are the five top opportunities for growing your business that exist today? This could include the rapid growth of a business segment that is your specialty, the signing of one or more new clients, clients’ business growth or an overall sense of optimism as 2015 ends.
  8. Are your daily business operations cost-efficient and working well – ranging from accounting to customer relationship management processes?
  9. How effectively are you communicating your professional value through regular client and prospect communications?
  10. Are your prospecting and referral gathering efforts consistent and carefully considered? Do your monitor your results to know where your business is coming from and who is buying your products and services?
  11. Are you using social media properly to build your business and personal brand?
  12. Does your life also involve looking after your personal relationships, your health, and interacting with others in your community outside of your business circles through volunteer work?
  13. Are there any personal or professional bridges that you need to mend to gain more positive versus negative energy? Are there any new ones that you want to build immediately as people wait for you to get back to them?
  14. What do you want to be doing five years from now? What do you need to work on today to be sure you reach that goal?

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

 

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Five Ways to Generate Better Referrals

Five Ways to Generate Better ReferralsThis is the time of year when people are socializing more – both with colleagues at office events and with friends and family at gatherings outside the office.

Most of them might know what you do for a living, but aren’t exactly sure who your ideal clients are. Or perhaps they do know several people who fit your ideal client profile but are unaware that you would like to meet them, which can create a lot of missed opportunities for you. By the same token, they may think they know who your ideal prospects are but regrettably refer you to the wrong people.

Referrals that don’t fit your ideal prospect profile can cause real damage to your business building efforts for two reasons. First, the person who referred you may feel unappreciated and the referral may be unhappy when they learn you aren’t interested in pursuing a business conversation with them. Both parties may feel their time has been wasted through miscommunication. Second, that crossing of signals could hurt the relationship between your referral source and the referral.

Many people make referrals to advance their relationship with the person they are referring. If the referral is not welcomed, trust between the referral, the person making the referral and you can be diminished and set three relationships back.

Worst case, your advocate could be reluctant to refer you in future for fear of getting it wrong again.

Here are 5 ways to ensure the quality of referrals to you gets better in 2016.

  1. Articulate your ideal client: Think about your business and determine the type of clients you are seeking. If you serve many types of clients, make a list prioritizing five types of ideal clients. It may sound as if you are making unrealistic demands on your referral sources or advocates, but if you communicate this information to your most productive referral sources, you will save them (and you) a lot of time. Consider sending them a short note to the effect: “Thank you for your support in 2016 – I truly appreciate your efforts in referring me to some of your valued clients, colleagues and friends. For your convenience, here is a prioritized list of the kinds of clients I am looking to serve: law firms, wealth management firms (including banks), accountancy firms, and family business owners/operators and insurance companies. I hope this helps save you time, and if you would like to refer me to someone and aren’t sure about the fit, please call or email to briefly discuss. “
  2. Stay top-of-mind: Be consistent in keeping your wish for referrals top-of-mind among your advocates. This doesn’t mean bothering them or mentioning referrals in every conversation. Consider instead sending a quarterly newsletter with content about the art and science of making good referrals that they can share with their clients and prospects to benefit their referral gathering efforts. The topic of referrals will remain in their minds and they will be more likely to think of you and perhaps pass on your newsletter to potential prospective clients.
  3. It’s a two-way street: Stay in touch with your 10 top advocates and try to refer them to appropriate prospective clients or employees. Referrals are really a two-way street and you need to be sure any referrals you give are qualified and of the highest quality if you expect the same in return. (A qualified referral involves talking to a person to confirm they are interested in a product or service before you refer someone to them.) Two qualified referrals are more meaningful than 10 hastily considered ones that could potentially damage your reputation.
  4. Respect others’ time: Be prompt in responding to an invitation to refer you, whether the person is a good referral, or not. Professionalism involves regard for others’ time and quickly acknowledging their efforts on your behalf.
  5. Build relationships: Regardless of the outcome of a referral, be sure to thank all parties for their time. The referral that didn’t work out could be the source of many great future referrals. As the year ends, consider forsaking another email and sending short hand-written notes to your top advocates (or as many as you wish) thanking them for their support.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

 

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How Law Firms Can Maximize the Return on Investment in Summer Students

How Law Firms Can Maximize the Return on Investment in Summer StudentsEach spring, hundreds of Canadian law firms roll out the red carpet to welcome students who they have invited to “summer” with them, as many say on their websites.

Over a busy summer that will likely make or break their bid to become a lawyer, students face numerous challenges in a legal corporate or government environment that is new to them. They need to quickly convince lawyers they can take on files to gain the experience they need. They must build relationships with their peers and the firm’s associates and administrative and technical support teams on whom they must rely to orient them in their new environment. Even wardrobe requirements become stricter as university life quickly becomes a memory.

The “firm” in which they will work may be a newly established or venerable law firm with roots in the 19th century, a sole practitioner’s practice, a company’s legal department supporting in-house counsel, a government department or ministry, or a legal clinic operating on a low budget.

Law students have faced a long and testing road, which offers little room for missteps.

Sink or Swim?

Many law firms walk a fine line as they try to make the most of their investment in their summer students. First, they need the students to help get the work done during holiday time (which is a major reason for hiring summer students) and the firm wants to ensure the students are mentally prepared to perform to the best of their ability, thus providing their employers a peek into their future potential value to the firm.

Aside from brief on-campus and in-firm recruitment interviews, recruiters aren’t really sure how students will deliver under “real” conditions when work is assigned and the pressure is on. The “sink or swim” approach is not an ideal way to measure a student’s current and future value, but realistically remains the best way to assess it.

Summer students are thrust into a new environment where they have to make a good first impression that will stay with them throughout their time with the firm, choose appropriate ways and times to have their voice be heard, earn the respect of colleagues, and ensure a positive beginning to their fledgling law career.

On top of it all, each firm prides itself on its unique culture, which students must navigate throughout their stay as they learn and make a tangible contribution to the life of the firm.

Build a Mutually Beneficial Relationship

As a law firm, your investment of time and money represents a huge opportunity for the student. And vice versa. Both parties are making an effort and betting they will gain from the experience.

Here are three ways law firms can maximize the return on their investment in first year summer students. You most likely have an existing program set out well in advance, and you can adapt the following strategies to enhance the work you are already doing.

#1: Communication skills workshop: Hold a tip-filled interpersonal communications skills workshop (with role playing) that will help students brush up on their listening, conversational, and relationship building skills. There is a leap between the university and corporate world where robust real-time, face-to-face conversations in meetings with clients, lawyers, and associates trumps digital ones. Since every firm has its own culture, workshops with role playing helps them understand their role in the culture faster, thus earning the trust of their peers, associates, and lawyers who will be more likely to give them work and responsibility.

The advantages of this exercise include the creation of trust among colleagues as each gets to “walk in the shoes” of the other. It’s a great team-building exercise and can be a lot of fun if the participants are encouraged to “get into role” and enjoy the experience.

Tip: Consider bringing in a third-party facilitator who has experience working with summer students at law firms and can draw on road-tested and customized material. A fresh, experienced face can add to the workshop while still giving the summer student professional development director a chance to add ideas and participate.

#2: Build a group of self-starters: Encourage students to reach out to associates and lawyers with questions or requests for file work. By offering practical tips about making a positive first impression on associates and lawyers, these groups will be more inclined to give them files to work on and create a win-win for both parties.

It also opens up opportunities for dialogue that might further enhance the current corporate culture. The more engaged students, associates and lawyers are with one another, the greater the chance for profitably managing client files and encouraging internal process improvements and collaborative problem solving.

Tip: Ensure summer students understand the proper etiquette when it comes to interacting with colleagues as well as clients. A well-written welcome handbook will start them on their way to mastering all of the tips and tricks they need to succeed at your firm and in their career.

#3: Develop a mentorship program: Help them to get used to their new environment with mentoring and other opportunities available to them. Make them feel comfortable flagging any concerns they have before they become issues. Ongoing mentoring that involves weekly or daily check-ins that meet the scheduling needs of the firm and students is a practical way to build trust and ensure orientation and work schedules are kept on track.

Tip: Setting up an in-house mentorship program that encourages full participation of lawyers, associates and students will not only help your current students, but it will also make your summer student positions more coveted in the community.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

 

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The Attention Deficit Age and How to Survive It

The Attention Deficit Age and How to Survive ItLong acknowledged by psychologists and other experts, society is running up a huge ‘attention deficit’. Much of this deficit is fueled by the tempting access to quick communication tools and our deeply rooted egos, which further hinder our ability to focus on the other person and communicate with them effectively. We all want to weigh in with our opinions based on all that we read and see online, and seek a voice amid the noise to make our views known – surrounded in comfort and perhaps anonymity.

We are in touch with more people than ever before but our conversations have become more clipped. Over time, a text or email thread has become the digital age version of a 19th century exchange of letters via ship across the waters. We have to adapt to the times, however, the issue is that there is an overload of communication. According to Yankelvich Research, we receive 3,000 to 20,000 visual impressions daily. Introduce personal communications devices into the mix, and people are continuously distracted. On average, millennials use their smartphones 43 times per day. Consider all of the other channels and it is easy to see how it all adds up.

The New Code of the English Language

When engaging one another in cyberspace, many people communicate not in sentences, but by using a code involving a world of acronyms and emojis (which have evolved far beyond the smiley faces that simultaneously irritate and cheer us up). This shorthand is the product of instantaneous information sharing and feeds our need for quick, clipped exchanges.

As a result, face-to-face conversation has become increasingly difficult and awkward as we interrupt each other, forget to listen as we wait for a break in the conversation to jump in, multi-task by checking our cell phones, or look around the room while talking with another person. This often results in a sort of truncated verbal short-hand because we expect our verbal conversations to match those we have via technology.

We therefore run the risk of losing much of our learning capabilities, let alone social skills that let us build trust and deep relationships.

How Can We Thrive in the Workplace?

As if our egos and personal interests weren’t enough, consider the double whammy that results when we are overloaded with information in the workplace – and too much work to do. Collaboration and relationship building are often the first things to go.

A recent study by the Harvard Business Review showed that successful organizational collaboration was the result of many skills, including appreciating others, being able to engage in purposeful conversations, and productively and creatively resolving conflicts.

How will we and the next generation fare business and career-wise if interpersonal interaction ceases to become second-nature and becomes an ordeal?

Here are six tips to help ensure we communicate with maximum efficiency and authenticity to build trust.

  1. When seeking to collaborate with others, weigh the choice of communications vehicle carefully. Consider whether you are really getting through to a person when you email, phone, text, write to, or speak with them. Are you engaging them or just ticking the boxes in passing along information? If you are just sending information, you would be wise to revisit your communication choices to make yourself and your message more memorable while expanding your influence. (Advocis Forum)
  2. Give your conversational partner(s) your full attention while maintaining eye contact. You don’t need to stare, but remain focused on them and their message. Eye contact is a powerful tool that allows a non-verbal connection. If you are constantly looking around the room or anywhere but at your conversational partner, it appears as though you aren’t interested in what they have to say.
  3. Be aware of their body language and sit or stand in a way that reflects their stance. This is called mirroring and can create trust among people who may have just met and don’t know one another well. Careful not to shadow their every move, turning your conversation into a comedy sketch, but if your conversational partner is resting casually in their chair, there is no need for you to sit bolt upright at attention, for example. On the flip side, if your conversational partner appears uncomfortable, perhaps it’s time to close the conversation or change the topic.
  4. Listen intently and avoid the temptation to finish their sentences or dive in at the earliest moment with your opinions or a new topic. Constantly ask yourself whether you are listening or waiting to speak. Interruptions halt the ebb and flow of a conversation, which makes it hard for meaningful dialogue to develop.
  5. Learn to overcome your nerves so you have an easier time connecting with people. When we are nervous, we can ramble and/or become almost inaudible. Speak slowly and purposefully. Anchor yourself by keeping your feet flat on the floor and avoid rocking or fidgeting with your clothing or hair. Taking stock of your own nervous habits allows you to adapt the way you interact with others.
  6. Remember to turn off your cell phone before the conversation begins. While there are many visual distractions that can hinder a conversation, cell phones have become a habitual extension of our daily lives. Many times we don’t even know we are checking our phone because it’s subconscious. You need to treat each conversation as the most important thing at the moment. That means, avoiding cell phone distraction. That text or email will still be there when you have finished what you are currently doing.

For more on the attention deficit age and how it is affecting our communication, download a FREE COPY of my latest eBook Communication in Crisis: Have We Lost Our Ability to Build Trust.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

 

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