“Sometimes decision-making is not so cut and dried” – A Carmen Q&A

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this installment of our series of conversations, Carmen spoke to Rita Zonius who runs the communications, change and social media agency called the Enterprise Social Engineer.

Carmen: It has been a while – what’s new with you?

Rita: Hey Carmen! I took the leap to start my own business 18 months ago after working in various corporate communications roles for a very long time in one of Australia’s largest banks.

Carmen: Cool. Congrats. That’s incredibly exciting. Now, you played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders… Tell me more about that.

Rita: Oh, I liked it so much.

I actually ended up co-hosting it with Stephen Welch in London once. So I’ve been very lucky.

Thinking back to the first time I experienced it … I was in Singapore at a conference – and the thing I liked about it was how it reminds you that, as a communications practitioner, there are often no black or white answers. There are there are shades of grey and sometimes you have to make the best decision with the information that you have available to you. I think that is the great thing about playing the game. Sometimes decision-making is not so cut and dried.

Carmen: You say cut and dried?

Rita: I think sometimes it might be an absence of information. As a leader you’re not always going to be exposed to every single piece of information that you need to help you make a perfect decision. So the scenarios in the game really force you to think carefully about the course of action you should take. How different stakeholders might react and what the outcomes of that could be.

Carmen: And your own venture … what are you doing at the moment and does any of it link back to the things you might have learnt playing this game? Or things that you might help others learn – using this game…?

A lot of what I’m doing is coaching executives around the appropriate use of social media to build their impact and influence. With that comes thinking about questions such as: ‘How should I conduct myself?’. And ‘I’m sharing what I know – and is it coming from a place of generosity and with a good intention in mind or am I simply just trying to sell?’.

So I’m really mindful of all of that dynamic when I’m talking to executive teams about how they personally conduct themselves on social media. We don’t want to involve smoke and mirrors. We want to be authentic. Find a way to use social media that really speaks to who you are what you stand for and what your personal brand is because if you try to be someone else (not your authentic self) it will come through anyway. So I think that’s also some lessons that playing this game can teach: to make the best decisions you can from a place of authenticity. Don’t try and game the system. People will see through it.

The other thing I would say about the game is the interaction. What’s great about it is that once people get over their shyness for the first two minutes, they really get into it. The conversations around the tables are very rich. Particularly when you have diverse viewpoints being put on the table and being discussed. Somebody will inevitably illustrate that things are not black and white. The right answer for ‘you’ may not be the right answer for ‘me’. And listening to the sort of vigorous conversation is great. It gives you a fresh perspective.

You can find Rita on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter @RitaZonius

And if you’d like to try the game: see if it is right for you.

If you’re an alumni and you’d like to be interviewed by Carmen, let us know here.

An open letter to Carmen Spinoza

Dear Carmen,

Being the director of communications, you’re undoubtedly interested in language, and I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that that might extend to semantics too.

That’s handy, because there are some practical insights to be had through looking at what lies underneath some of the terms used to define your job. Let’s start with what’s on your business card:

Director

The root of the word is ‘to guide’ – and that’s a key to how the world’s top directors operate.

Etymology of Director

Etymology of director

It might be tempting to think that it is all about calling the shots (or shouting ‘cut’ as the cliché goes for movie directors). In truth, directors are part of a team – and the best results come when you work with your colleagues to find a shared way forward.

How might you do that in practice? Well, as the origins of guide imply: a little bit of wit might not go amiss.

Etymology of Guide

Etymology of guide

In practice this doesn’t mean cracking jokes all the time. One definition of wit is: ‘the capacity for inventive thought and quick understanding; keen intelligence.’

So it is about staying level headed when the going gets tough – and recognising that there is strength in numbers. And with the strength, there should also be room to allow for a little humour along the way. It can help you and your colleagues break a deadlock – and look at a challenge in a new way.

Now I mentioned numbers. That’s because you’ll now be part of the senior management team / senior leadership team / the executive management team. There are lots of terms and these are often shortened down to SMT, SLT and EMT but that just makes it even more vague. What is it all about when it comes to purpose and behaviours in a group like this?

Is there perhaps a single short term that can help us inform some of the what, how and why of a group like this?

I propose we take a closer look at the word…

Board

When you look at the root it becomes obvious why so many people talk about getting ‘a seat at the table’. The good people over at Fidelio even have a programme you might want to look at – called exactly this.

Etymology of Board

Etymology of board

What else might we learn from the root? Well, that when a board operates in unison, it really can be like facing a broadside. And boards operate at the sharp edge: they’re there to resolve issues that can’t be solved at lower levels of the organisation.

Now Globocorp operates all over the world, so there are management boards, supervisory boards and subsidiary boards (and a few more in-between). We’ll look closer at these another time.

You might end up serving on more than one – directly, or perhaps as part of a committee – and while the legal framework and statutory requirements will vary, there are some shared principles. The Financial Reporting Council’s updated guidance on board effectiveness is not a bad place to start as you start thinking beyond the function you came up through (so to speak).

Here I’ve pulled a few quick principles to whet your appetite:

FRC Guidance on Board Effectiveness - cover
FRC Guidance on Board Effectiveness

“Effective directors will understand their duties both collectively and individually.”

“A sound understanding at board level of how value is created over time is key in steering strategies and business models towards a sustainable future.”

“The boardroom should be a place for robust debate where challenge, support, diversity of thought and teamwork are essential features.”

“Openness and accountability matter at every level.”

As you can see immediately, this calls for working well beyond the comms department. It requires for you to be a true guide when walking into the boardroom.

Now how might you practice some of these skills in a safe environment, exploring scenarios and testing out approaches?

Get a seat at the table. Help guide.

Play Snakes & Ladders…

Good luck!

Michael

Michael Ambjorn has led people for over 20 years. He has run organisations, chaired boards and developed changemakers. You can find him on LinkedIn or follow him @michaelambjorn

 

“Never assess the situation from your own lens…” – A Carmen Q&A

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this installment of our series of conversations, Carmen spoke to Colin Hatfield the founder and senior partner at Visible Leaders.

Carmen: Hello Colin; tell me a bit more about your work…

Colin: We help leaders to articulate a vision that inspires – at all levels. We help them develop the skills to engage their internal and external audiences, to drive performance and realise their organization’s ambitions.

We believe that at the heart of leadership lies great communication. Great leaders inspire change and motivate their teams through what they say, what they do and how they listen.

Carmen: You’ve played this game more than once…

Colin: Yes! And it has developed quite a bit. The first time I tried it was when it was in a very early version. And then I partook in a ‘proper’ session earlier this year at the Strategic Adviser Forum as part of IABC’s World Conference in Montreal.

I think it works on many many levels. It is an idea that we could build in with some of our clients, and some of the relationships we’ve got.

Carmen: What surprised you the most?

Colin: Perhaps not surprised, but what I liked the most is the discussion it generates. In some situations there is a right and wrong answer. but in many there aren’t. What is interesting is to see a bunch of professionals in the room come to different outcomes. Understanding the different factors that informed their decision-making process. Getting into that was enlightening.

Carmen: You’ve recently been writing and speaking about Adaptive Leadership. Is this something that is relevant here?

Colin: Adaptive leadership is about how leaders show up: reading a situation, understanding the context – and understanding how to have the best possible impact. It is a move on from the pure ‘authenticity’ discussion that has been going on for some time. I think the game could easily be used to explore some of these challenges and approaches in practice.

Carmen: Have you got a couple of top tips from Adaptive Leadership that could be used by others playing the game?

Colin: Sure!

  1. Never assess the situation from your own lens. What’s great about the Adaptive Leadership approach is that it helps you look at things from the point of view of your stakeholders.
  2. Experiment – try taking on the different ‘personas’ as you think through the challenge. That’s essential when you play this game – and in work in general. Explore what makes the various stakeholders you deal with tick.

Carmen: Big thanks Colin – and where can we find out more about your work?

Read our blog for more on Adaptive Leadership – and you may also find our recent white papers on Communication Across Cultures and A Practical Approach to Stakeholder Management useful.

Connect with Colin on LinkedIn if you want to learn more – and follow @VisibleLeaders

And if you’d like to try the game: see if it is right for you.

If you’re an alumni and you’d like to be interviewed by Carmen, let us know here.

The Claire Underwood school of leadership

Last Sunday, after a week putting out metaphorical fires in South East Asia, I managed to book myself a “me day”. I’m in Kuala Lumpur, in one of the suites of the Mandarin Hotel, enjoying the familiar smell of their newly pressed linen (as the ads say, “I’m a fan.”).  After a run through the Perdana Botanical Gardens and a long, long bath I powered my laptop up: Claire is President and I need a binge-watch.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you may be forgiven. The world’s realpolitik has become so ‘entertaining’ that it’s almost OK to forget the dark mischievous world of House of Cards, the Netflix series that used to belong to the maligned Kevin Spacey (still I believe one of the best actors of his generation). Season 6 was just released with Robin Wright in the role the first female president of the U.S.

Here is the thing, after the first episode, I got a text from Hugh Mann, our HR Director. He needed to confirm things were OK for next week’s Exec Team meeting. I said “Yes. Now I’m going to lose myself in House of Cards, have you seen it?” “Yes, but I quit watching after the first episode. Once I realised she was only playing her version of Kevin Spacey.”

This totally innocuous comment got me thinking about the topic of women in leadership. No matter how you play it, someone is probably trying to see if you measure up, especially if you’re playing it right. Because, given the limited examples we have of women in positions of power, I believe there is less understanding of diversity and different styles of leadership in women. It’s normal, we are only just beginning to experience what a female leader looks like, is, and how she acts and reacts. The trouble is, when it comes to men, we can see leaders of every shade and tend to judge the person and behaviour. When it comes to female leaders – trust me, I’m one – the starting point is always – consciously or unconsciously – gender.

How, you might ask, have I handled the obvious pressures of being a female leader? I’m still grappling with it, every day. But here are four things I use to guide me in my journey:

  • A mirror – It can be a mentor, a colleague or your right-hand person. It’s someone who can look at you and give you the encouragement and/or the reality check you need. It is someone who knows you from your pre-leader days and can cut through the trappings of power. See: IABC UK’s mentoring programme
  • Noise-cancelling headphones – I use Globocorp’s own “STFU” brand (available at all our stores), the best in the market (of course). You need them to mute and silence the critics. Particularly the ones within. I don’t get the impression that effective male leaders replay every meeting and pull apart every decision they make to imagine a better reaction. In my experience, women tend to do so, we ruminate. So brush off that voice and only listen to her when it’s time to reflect. Brené Brown has some very useful tips on how to silence the inner critic.
  • A compass Sometimes I get lost in the power-jostling, life-balancing, decision-making maze I call my job. Should I fight for that extra million for a new campaign? Should I get involved when I see Buck cutting the canteen budget in our operations? Should I push back when my CEO makes a ridiculous request? How to know? I consult my compass. My true north is the purpose we -as a company- are here to fulfill. My decisions should always align with it. Frankly, sometimes I go off-piste, but that’s OK. The compass is there to bring me back.
  • A skills lab – A safe space to flex your decision-making muscles.  Would you get on a plane with a pilot that hasn’t successfully landed lots and lots of planes in simulation? Would you let a surgeon who had never used a scalpel take out your appendix? Many of us have prepared organizations to respond to crisis through simulations, stress testing a team’s response to media and organizational pressures. It works. We know it. But why should ‘crisis’ have a monopoly on simulations? When was the last time you took your team on a simulation to build their skills in other areas?

I’m still watching the last few episodes House of Cards, so no spoilers, please. I think Robin Wright is delightful in her complex back and forth between total evil and vulnerability, but ask me again after I finish watching. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

And if you want to put your toe into the waters of leadership and learn in the process, I can be the head of your skills lab. Bring a session of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders to your team.

“…you’ll also make connections – who knows, maybe even a future colleague or mentor.” – A Carmen Q&A

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this installment of our series of conversations, Carmen spoke to Adity Tripathi who played the game at the London College of Communication as part of the MA in Public Relations.

Carmen: Tell me a bit more about yourself

I’ve been living in London for about a year. I came here from New Delhi in order to do a Master’s degree in Public Relations.

Right now I’m working on my dissertation. It is on the topic of Male Gaze, something the feminist film critic Laura Mulvey identified her 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema“. I’m exploring how it still applies today – well beyond cinema. If you have something interesting to add on that, do reach out.

Carmen: Interesting work Adity. Now, you played Corporate Snakes & Career Ladders – how did you find it?

Adity: It was a unique experience – and a lot of fun. We were 5-6 people and it was like game grew up with us, and us with it. We learnt a lot as a group.

Carmen: What was the main take-away for you?

Adity: We had to make lots of decisions. Your decisions individually, and as a team, directly impact the result. It isn’t always about following the text-book approach so to speak. You really have to collaborate with the others on the team.

Carmen: Would you play it again?

Adity: Definitively. In addition to have fun and learning, you’ll also make connections – who knows, maybe even a future colleague or mentor!

Carmen: What’s next for you?

Graduation – and then I’ll be searching for a job. If you have ideas / opportunities, do contact me.

Connect with Adity on LinkedIn – and follow her @adity_noni

And if you’d like to try the game: see if it is right for you. We feature on the curriculum for Adity’s course.

If you’re an alumni and you’d like to be interviewed by Carmen, let us know here.