The Case of the Clueless CEO

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I have worked up close and personal with a great many CEO’s.  Some were great, some were not. I’ve observed how they manage (or mismanage) their operations. I’ve taken note of the degree of alignment between their word and their deed. I have assessed whether they are true leaders of people, or egotistical, duplicitous bags o’ wind.

A CEO of the second ilk, once hired me to help him craft his Annual State of the Company Address.  He was having some PR problems and wanted me to help him come across as more down to earth, or in his words, to help him “appeal to the common man.”

My first encounter with this guy should have sent me running. He left me waiting outside his office for 45 minutes. I overheard him berate his assistant, cut people off in mid-sentence, scream, swear and slam down the phone. Oh yeah…this was going to be fun!

The good news is, while I was waiting, I had the pleasure of meeting his HR Director, Jorge. Jorge was a class act. Soft-spoken, impeccable in manner and dress, an all-around A-Player. He made apologies for his boss, something I’m sure he did often. I pretended to understand.

Fast forward, I help this CEO craft his speech, we cull his message to three compelling points, we add several humanizing personal stories and craft some business-relevant humor.  We put together a good speech and he is pleased.  I decide to attend the meeting to watch him in action. He delivers the speech. He is coming across as somewhat human and all is going well, until…

The Q&A Portion.  This is the part of the speech for which he has no script.  He starts taking questions from “the common man.”  A woman raises her hand:

“Sir, I have a question. 

Fine. What’s your name? 

Doris.

How long have you worked for us Doris?

33 Years.

So, what’s your question?”

BOOM!  In one fell swoop, this CEO has negated his entire Keynote message, about the importance of “being a team” and “working together as a family.”  He has demonstrated to his people in real-time, that after 33 years of service, he can’t even be bothered to learn your name. The reaction from the audience is palpable.  I watch people lean back in their chairs, cross their arms and roll their eyes. There are no more questions and the meeting ends on a very sour note.

Here’s the kicker!  This CEO is TOTALLY CLUELESS as to what has just transpired. He walks out of the meeting patting himself on the back for a job well done, while “the common man,” scurries to avoid eye contact.

Then…we go to Starbucks next door and he asks me for my honest opinion.  This is what I tell him:

“Here’s what I’ve observed.  Your original stated intention to me was that you wanted ‘to better connect with your people.’ Then, I watch in horror, as you miss a golden opportunity to connect with Doris, an employee of 33 years, while alienating the rest of the room in the process. This leaves me to surmise, that ‘creating connection with your people’ is either;

a) Not something you are naturally capable of, or

b) Not something you are sincerely interested in doing.

Either way, here is my heartfelt advice to you:

If you want to lead this organization effectively, then close your office door. From this point on, do not speak to anyone in your organization directly, unless absolutely necessary.  Your disinterest in people can not be disguised, so stop trying.  You should lead as a ‘behind-the-scenes’ CEO. Stick to planning and visioning, to guide and grow the business. Leaving all actual human contact, to your exceptional HR Director, Jorge. Is that helpful feedback?”

The guy’s probably still sitting at Starbucks with his jaw open.

As a leader of people, your word and deed have impact.  Make sure it is the impact you intend. It is imperative that your messaging be aligned with your mission, and that you stay aware of how both you and your message are being received. One of the key lessons I continue to learn from coaching leaders is;

 WHO you are, will always speak louder than your speech, no matter how well written.

Karyn Ruth White is a nationally recognized Keynote Speaker and Public Speaking Coach. She works with leaders who intend to connect and engage through a professionally crafted message, and she helps professional speakers who want to tighten their talks.  She is the First Place, National Winner of The Jeanne Robertson “Comedy with Class” Competition. She  delivers Funny Keynotes across the U.S., helping business to thrive and have fun doing it! She is the owner of Laugh and Learn Productions, LLC, an enterprise helping people to stress less and work happy.  Visit her at www.karynruth.com, on LinkedIn or on Twitter @karynruth.

No Question, I Miss You Terribly

question-1500086_1280Remember…Ah…I remember…

The days when you could have an actual conversation with another person?

No little screen to distract either of you, no beeping interruptions.  Just pure, wonderful, intoxicating, give and take conversation.

For those of you who don’t remember what that was like, it would go something like this:

You would start by telling the other person something about your day or your life, or your thoughts on a particular subject, and while you were speaking, the other person would give you their full attention, including eye-contact, (that’s right – people used to actually look at one another when they spoke,) and then they would ask you…wait for it…a follow-up question.

THAT’S RIGHT! A FOLLOW-UP QUESTION.

…and here’s the incredible part, their follow-up question would refer in some way to what you had just shared. (This is why it’s called a follow-up question.)

For those of you who have never been on the receiving end of a follow-up question, here are some examples of a few of my personal favorites:

“What was that like for you?

How fascinating, would you tell me more about that?

How did that make you feel?

So, then what did you do?

What happened next?”

You might want to re-read these questions over and over again, because this is the only place you are ever going to see or hear them.

Because…it is official…the follow-up question is dead! Stone Cold Dead.

I am not sure when this happened exactly, but I think it’s safe to say that it drew its last breath within the past three years.

Perhaps the “Conversation Coroner” could provide us with the exact time of death.

There is a reason it is called: The ART of Conversation.

It is not called, “You mindlessly talk about you, I wait until you’re done (maybe), and then I mindlessly talk about me. Repeat.”

I have had to release several friends and colleagues over the past several years because when I talked with them, I didn’t feel like anything “stuck.” I call it having a Teflon™ Conversation. 

Most unaware people define “having a conversation” as; I’ll talk, you nod.

The “art” in the art of conversation, refers to the give and take involved.  Good conversation should flow from one person to the other and then back again. It should have a natural back and forth rhythm, kind of like great sex.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of verbal masturbation going on out there. And frankly, I don’t think anyone is satisfied.

There’s no more give and take. I am appalled at how many encounters I have had lately, where the dynamic is clearly take, take.  Where people continuously hijack the conversational ball and mindlessly bring all the focus back to them. 

I pour out my soul, and when I finish, rather than getting a follow-up question from the other person, which would indicate:

a) They are listening to me

b) They have processed anything I’ve said

c) They give a rip about me as a person.

instead, what I get is a blank stare, a short pause, and then they’re off to talking about themselves again. I want to reach over the table and smack them.  I just tune out when this happens and go into my own mind.  They no longer have my respect or attention. Because, as far as I am concerned, there is no chance that this is ever going to turn into a real conversation.

You want to look like a superstar in your relationships? You want to stand out at networking events? You want to close more business? Then do this…

ASK A FOLLOW-UP QUESTION. 

I know, I know, this is unfamiliar territory, but give it a try. Try it, see what happens. Watch how people respond to you, notice how the quality of your interactions improve, and then report back and tell me, 

“How did that feel for you?”

Karyn Ruth White is a thought-leader in the exciting field of Human Potential. She is a Success Humorist, Keynote Speaker, Author, Comedian and Speaker Coach. She is the proud owner of Laugh and Learn Productions, LLC, an enterprise dedicated to helping people live and work from their greatness. If you have a follow-up question, visit karynruth.com or email info@karynruth.com.

Gender Differences and Humor

5 Tips for Dealing With Gender Differences and Humor:
aka…He Laughs, She Doesn’t

The genders are never EVER going to agree on everything…including what is or is not funny. Gender differences on how to use and perceive humor can cause confusion, tension and affect productivity in the work and office environment.

Women often find things funny that men don’t understand and men often use humor in ways women don’t understand. Being informed and aware of these humor differences can help minimize misunderstandings. Here are some techniques:

1) Observe and Learn. Start observing how your male/female associates use humor with you and with each other. Do you notice any patterns?

2) Don’t try to be “One of the Boys.” Only use and invite a style of humor you are comfortable with. If you are comfortable with a more aggressive style of humor, then use it, but realize that you are setting the tone for the type of humor you can expect back. Remember being respected for your work is more important than being liked.

3) Establish Your Personal Humor Boundaries. Make your objections known to offensive humor. If your objection is stated in a non-emotional, objective, professional tone, you can state your point without offending. Better to seem a bit unfriendly and establish your boundaries, than to be repeatedly subjected to humor which offends you.

4) Use “I” messages. For example: “Frank, I don’t find blond jokes amusing.” (You can even smile while you’re saying this). This is more effective than saying, “Frank, you’re a jerk and I don’t find you or your stupid jokes amusing.”

5) Cultivate your own style of humor. Define what you think is funny and what is not. If you offend another with your humor, be quick to apologize. Then set an example for others by “walking your talk.”

TIP: If a joke is at the expense of another person or group, leave it out! Life is filled with enough good-hearted humor to skip the mean jokes.

Source: Karyn Ruth White is a Motivational Comedian, Humorist, Funny Keynote Presenter, Organizational Morale Consultant and Author. Her presentation style is high energy, clean, clever and very funny. She headlines conferences throughout the U.S. Check out her Programs at www.karynruth.com/Keynotes. For speaking inquiries, go to www.karynruth.com/Contact or email info@karynruth.com or call 303-369-8277. For regular words of hope and humor follow her on Twitter @karynruth.