Intentionally Effective Leadership

Effective leadership comes naturally to very few individuals. For most of us, learning to lead requires navigating around common stumbling blocks and—hopefully—learning from our mistakes. And even if we craft a fairly good leadership style over time, leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. The thing about leadership is, what makes for a good leadership style is completely dependent on situational issues. How professionally mature is your organization? How mature is your team? What’s your culture like? What is your team’s collective psychological and personality make-up? The answers to these questions should help inform the leadership style you deploy.

The Evangelist  

If you’re trying to move a team toward a new vision, being an effective leader will require that you champion that vision. Stick to the role of evangelist and don’t become preoccupied with implementation. Vision implementation needs to wait until you’ve achieved org-wide buy-in. And while evangelizing, remember that it’s not enough to make an announcement at a company meeting and assume that buy-in will happen automatically. Trust me, it won’t. You need to campaign for the vision over time and—most importantly—consistently articulate how achieving this vision will impact individuals. Evangelize the vision while humanizing the outcome.

The General

Think of this leadership style as the General Patton approach. It relies on heavy use of chain-of-command and orders. It’s a command style of leadership and while it may have been perfectly suited for Patton’s Third Army in the European Theater during WWII, it doesn’t work well at all for common usage in the modern office. This style should be used extremely sparingly, and if used, should be done very intentionally to produce an intended outcome. When used by someone who normally tends either toward The Evangelist or Collaborator/Facilitator styles it will produce a certain cognitive dissonance and create significant impact because it likely will seem very out of character.

The Collaborator/Facilitator

This style of leadership tends toward non-hierarchical and is what many of us may gravitate toward more naturally. The reason this approach is effective in so many situations is because rather than a communication kind of monologue, this style of leadership invites dialogue. Rather than giving closed end direction, this approach invites feedback. Someone exercising this leadership style will frequently ask questions like, “How can I support you in X?”, “What do you need from me to be successful in accomplishing X?”, “What resource or human capital allocation will ensure your success?” This approach accomplishes three things: it allows you to help actively problem-solve and proactively think through potential difficulties in a project’s execution, it demonstrates that you care about an individual’s success and also gives the individual a psychological boost of knowing they’re not in it alone.

The Importance of Messaging

Regardless of what leadership style you use and find works best for you, never underestimate the importance of proper messaging. Very often, leadership teams will become so used to talking about a specific topic that they can easily lose track of the fact that they haven’t discussed it with anyone outside of the leadership team yet. This can result in a lack of discipline with respect to rolling out information in an organized, coherent, logical, well-timed and properly nuanced fashion. Proper messaging from leadership matters immensely. Done the right way, it can create excitement at the team level and an accompanying morale boost. But done poorly, the opposite can happen in addition to appearing ill-organized and less than adept. Messaging should be crafted with an eye toward how individuals will react to it. Very often, leaders craft messaging based around logic—forgetting in the process that humans aren’t all inherently logical creatures. We’re also emotional beings, and proper message crafting can wrap the logical package in an appealing cloak of emotive language.

 

 

 

 

Why Process Matters

Attracting and retaining the right people is hugely important for any organization. Companies invest a lot of time, effort and capital on personnel recruiting and retention efforts. And those are good investments to make—people form the backbone of a company and help form the fabric of its culture. And it’s your people working in the trenches with their heads down that makes clients successful. But having the best people in place only gets you so far if you’re not developing, standardizing and maintaining processes.

The Mechanics of Process

Mechanics are the least sexy part about process—and largely responsible for the yawns you’ll get when you begin talking about process in a company meeting. But the mechanics are crucial. They’re what enable accurate time tracking, forecasting, measurement, smart hiring decisions based on understanding capacity—the mechanics of process protect your profit margins. Everybody loves innovation, but if you haven’t built out mature processes around which to drape innovation like muscle over bone, attempts at innovation will flounder. Think of process as the skeletal structure around which the muscle of innovation can hang.

Process Permits Proactivity

Without established processes, a lot of activity can be mistaken for work. And lack of process implementation can easily lead to a culture of multi-tasking. Don’t get me wrong, it’s impossible to completely prevent multi-tasking. The nature of some tasks just inherently leads to it. But when process can create an environment where single-tasking can thrive, work is done faster, more efficiently and with much higher quality. And when single-tasking and routine are achieved consistently, more time is spent planning through eventual issues that arise, rather than reacting to them when they happen.

Process Requires Discipline

Process development requires a lot of careful thought and planning to ensure that no unintended consequences arise upon implementation. A lot of brain power needs to go into planning and thinking about all the possible implications of new process. And implementation carries with it a whole other set of obstacles—crafting the right messaging to ensure buy-in has to occur before you can achieve process compliance. From initial process definition, through development and eventual successful implementation, everything about establishing process requires commitment and discipline.

Process Fosters Innovation

Process isn’t the enemy of innovation. It’s quite the opposite. Innovation flourishes best when established process exists. If you’re interested in developing process, start small. Envision what you want the outcome to look like and think of the outcome as a finished meal. Then build process recipes for every item you want to see on the dinner table. It’s up to you whether you’d like a five-course meal or just a healthy snack.

 

 

 

 

StrataBlue Employee Spotlight featuring Henry Bestritsky

 

Q3_AI’m the CEO and I’ve been with the company since its inception in October, 2013.

 

 

 

Q2_AStrategy, Vision, Sales, Financials and that’s just in the morning. Seriously though, being a CEO of a startup is exhilarating and challenging. We’re about a year old now and processes, measurement and creativity are all key to our survival. The business we’re in constantly changes because social media platforms constantly roll out new products and features. I need to consistently understand how new technology can benefit our customers. The good old days of putting up a billboard and charging the customer $30K are gone. We’re all about numbers and we pride ourselves in truly delivering ROI. I don’t care about how many likes the customer has, I care about those likes actually driving measurable revenue. So what are my duties? I think a more interesting question revolves around my goals. My main goal is to create a world-class cohesive team that consistently helps customers get bigger, better, stronger and more importantly, profitable through our work in the digital marketing space. Oh, and also have fun doing it because life’s too short for mediocrity.

 

Q3_A (1)There are many great moments, but I guess my favorite moment is an unusual one when I was driving with my partner Slava through downtown Indianapolis. We were talking about marketing, Facebook, food, financials and many other things partners talk about. All of a sudden he turned to me and said, “You know what the best thing is about this job? It’s about helping business grow—especially in my community. It’s a feeling that goes beyond helping the customer. It’s the feeling that you’re also helping the community grow by helping the companies that support its growth.” I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but that’s the main reason why I decided to join Slava and create StrataBlue. You can be profitable and do good. I firmly believe that.

 

Q4_A (1)I have four kids in the house, so free time is at a premium. The youngest one is 11 and the oldest one is 15, so I have the privilege of being their driver. Ugh! Seriously, they are great kids, but they do take up a lot of time—as they should. I also like to play Borderlands on the Xbox. Ever since the invention of Pong—and yes I’m aging myself—I’ve been fascinated with video games and computers. I remember the first time I joined a BBS (Bulletin Board System) in the 80’s before the Internet, I clearly saw the power of connecting people together across the world and communicating with them. To me that was the beginning of social media. That of course spread to video games and for some reason I get immersed in Borderlands. Frankly it’s addictive, a little too much. I love it!

 

Q5_AMy son asked me once,”Dad, what is a touchdown?” I said, “I don’t know son, I’m a Jets fan.” I love the Jets and the Mets. Ugh! Seriously though, I love sports and I just wish I had more time to immerse myself and truly get into things like fantasy leagues.Damn you Borderlands! One great thing about having two boys is that they are both sports fanatics and I attend many football, baseball and basketball games. It truly is a great feeling watching them jump up and down as our teams score. The energy rush is amazing and actually a little emotional.

 

Q6_AI earlier alluded to my discovery of emerging social media in the 80’s and helping customers, but when I think about the industry, the thing that stands out the most is its ever changing nature. It’s never boring and I constantly learn new things. To me social media is still the wild, wild west of technology. It’s as disruptive as the automobile was to the horse drawn carriage. I love the fact that you can still invent things and make them better. I love the fact that because of what StrataBlue does, we can reach out to so many different and cool people and that constantly changes as new clients come on board. We at StrataBlue continuously learn about different industries and what makes people tick. Frankly, it’s fascinating.

 

Q7_AGame of Thrones. Many people like it because of the violence, fantasy, human nature, and more. To me it’s interesting how a show can become a social phenomenon and elicit such emotion and fervor. It clearly shows the good and the bad in people. The violence is very graphic and unfortunately we live in times where this violence can be seen in the real world. We should never forget that human nature is a two-sided coin and we must always strive to be on the good side. Sometimes that is hard and the show pulls no punches there, but I’m hoping that once the books are finished and we watch the final episode, we can learn something good from the show and apply those lessons in our lives and the world.

 

 

Building a Collaborative Corporate Culture

It’s an absolute truism that shifting a corporate culture in any significant way is one of the most difficult tasks for any organization to undertake. And that’s more than a little counter-intuitive. The extent to which we think of our culture in terms of fuzzy warm feelings or casual Friday blue jeans or even after-work cocktails with colleagues belies its central importance. Culture can’t be mandated from the top down, nor can it percolate from the bottom up. A change in culture can only occur when there is a deliberate effort undertaken to engage in the hard work of changing the perspectives around how we choose to relate to one another org-wide.

Get Vulnerable                        

The only way to build a trust environment as a central component of a collaborative corporate culture is to encourage vulnerability. Being vulnerable is tough—it goes against human nature and the desire to shield our perceived inadequacies from each other. And that’s just normal human behavior outside of the workplace in our personal lives. Getting vulnerable in the workplace is even tougher. Why is it so difficult? It’s simple really. We fear judgment.

Vulnerability Impacts Innovation

We’ve all probably had traumatic experiences where our vulnerability was met with judgment. When that happens, it stifles creative experimentation and healthy risk-taking behaviors and also slams the door shut on any potential innovative spirit. The first step toward breaking the cycle of judgment culture and moving into a trust culture requires that everyone has explicit permission to be vulnerable without fearing criticism or risking the appearance of weakness. Getting teams to actively exercise vulnerability will build a component of empathy into your organization. And you may be surprised by how much innovation will blossom as a result.

Mutually-Assured Empathy

When a team moves toward empathy, it moves away from the blame game. And that’s important. The blame game is a time and energy suck because it requires time and energy to maintain defenses against blame. But a vulnerable team will communicate openly and focus their collective resources on finding solutions. So the vulnerable team becomes a collaborative team. And the collaborative team operates proactively rather than reactively. If the assignation of blame is predominant in your culture, your teams are probably operating in a reactive mode. But building a trust environment through vulnerability and mutual empathy can shift your teams into a proactive, blame-free and collaborative culture.

 

 

Life Lessons From The StrataBlue Intern

Being a StrataBlue intern is way more than going on coffee runs (though there is no shame in keeping the office caffeinated). This summer I was right in the mix with the social media account managers, the sales team and the overall operations of the company. My time at StrataBlue has left me with some invaluable lessons that I’ll be able to take with me going forward in my career, so I’d like to share them with all of you as well.

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Communicate.

  • In the constant growing/changing environment of a start-up business, communication is key. With StrataBlue employees located in Indianapolis, New York, New Jersey and London, we fully utilize all available technologies to stay in contact with one another in order to keep everyone up to date on both internal affairs and news regarding our clients.

Read Everything.

  • In order to generate content for the various clients that I’ve been fortunate enough to provide assistance to, I’ve never read so much in my life! Because of this internship, I feel more connected to the world due to the sheer amount of news articles that I read every day. The ability to provide new content day in and day out within the scope of your clients’ business interests is a job function that many fail to recognize as being very difficult. Social media account managers truly become a jack of all trades with the amount of knowledge that they pick up on a daily basis, and then figuring out how to implement said knowledge into a well-versed marketing strategy makes them doubly talented.

Under Promise, Over Deliver.

  • It’s probably the oldest saying the client-relationship book, but for good reason. In order to ensure a long lasting work relationship with a client, it’s important to never get too comfortable with your goals. Always aim to impress and reach beyond the finish line. As infamous street philosopher Young Jeezy once said, “My hustle is nonstop. I never stop hustling.” I believe the same is true in business; a tireless work ethic will set you apart from your competitors and will shape and mold your reputation that creates more business later on down the road.

Keep Things Light.

  • We all have lives outside of work, and these lives quite often produce extra stress. I believe that the work environment should be a place where you can check whatever is bothering you at the door. It should be a place where you are comfortable, happy and productive.  Here are some suggestions from my personal experience this summer in how to implement a more vibrant work environment:

i.       Do: Make puns when appropriate. (HA! Who doesn’t love some clever word play?)

ii.     Don’t: Print off pictures of polar bears on your boss’s color printer while he’s on an important call. (Sorry again, Slava.)

Adopt a Team Mentality.

  • Collaboration inspires cohesiveness. Although there is a hierarchy in place at most organizations, as there is on any team, that shouldn’t invalidate the opinions of those who are lower on the totem pole. I think that my favorite aspect of working at StrataBlue is the mutual respect that everyone receives. Even I, the lowly intern, felt that my voice was not only heard by all of my coworkers, but my opinions and suggestions were considered and valued rather than being cast aside despite my lack of experience.

These are just a few of the many lessons that I have picked up this summer. Being an intern, it really does put you in a unique perspective where you get to see all 360 degrees of the company you are working for. I really am quite fortunate that StrataBlue is where I wound up, because the well rounded experience that I’ve gained from working with such highly motivated peers has undoubtedly set me up for success in wherever my life and career take me into the future.

FROM JOSH’S SUMMER CO-WORKERS

Hey Josh – Having your blog post the first Monday after you’ve left us to head back to school is doubly depressing. Not only are we thirsty for coffee this morning (like any of us have time to run to Starbucks!), but we have loads of client Twitter lists we need help building.

In honor of you, and how much we will miss you, we are posting this photo from last Friday’s “Goodbye ‘Intern Josh'” lunch at Dick’s Last Resort.

Josh Swiss - StrataBlue Intern

We shall return to this post often for a laugh. 🙂 Good luck at school, buddy! And thanks again for all your help this summer.

– The Social Media & Sales Teams at StrataBlue

StrataBlue Employee Spotlight featuring Suzanne McGill

 

Q1_CReally, ever since I can remember. I always knew I wanted to do something where I used my artistic strengths and skills. My mom said during my childhood, I took a writing utensil to just about everything in the house, even the insides of lamp shades. I took a lot of art and digital design classes in high school which led to studying design in college.

 

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I graduated from Ohio University in 2011 with a bachelors degree in Visual Communication. My major was Informational Graphics and Publication Design.

 

 

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I am the Senior Graphic Designer here at StrataBlue and I have been here since January of this year.

 

 

thumbnailMy day to day duties involve creating print graphics, social media/digital graphics, and designing websites for our clients. I also get to create brand identities for our new clients that come to us for logos and a visual identity, which is challenging and fun!

 

thumbnailOne of my favorite websites I was able to design was for Plow & Anchor, a local restaurant here in Indy. They have beautiful menu items that were photographed very well, so that made it fun for me to come up with something special for their site. Another great website to work on that I had a lot of fun designing was for The North End BBQ. I loved working with their brand to create a simple yet appealing website.  Lastly, I am currently working on the brand identity and website for a new restaurant opening next month called Georgia Reese’s. It was great to have full reigns on the brand and logo while seeing that move across all spectrums of their social media, signage, website, etc. I can’t wait to visit when they open to see it all come to life!

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Banana peppers, definitely. I have to find someway to get them on a pizza, I could eat full jars of them.

 

 

thumbnailIt’s too hard to just pick one favorite spot in Indy, there are so many! If I could choose a few, they would include walks along the canal, shops and bars on Mass Ave., breweries in Fountain Square and perusing the Old Northside streets while marveling all the older homes!

Make Your Workplace a Fun Place!

January 28th was National Fun at Work Day. Many people spend a good portion of their lives at their workplace, so why not try to enjoy it? While looking to find fun things to do at work today, let your imagination be the leader. Make sure whatever fun and exciting things that you choose, that you have your boss’s approval.  Better yet, get your boss involved in the fun.

There are a lot of things you can do to make your work day fun, but it doesn’t have to be all in one day. Some of these things can be done periodically to make each day a little interesting and entertaining.

Teammate Trivia: A great way to learn about each other is through a trivia game. Request some interesting trivia facts about each co-worker and create a puzzle in your next newsletter with the object to match the little known trivia facts to the correct employee. Give prizes for the most correct answers or the first person to complete the matches correctly.

Mascot Madness: Create a mascot for your department and adopt it as your representative. Take it to meetings, dress it up for holidays, take it on special adventures. You can go the extra step and kidnap another department’s mascot and hold it for ransom, complete with a ransom note and photos of it tied to the train tracks.

Volunteer for Fun: Getting your company to volunteer in your community is a great way to get your name out there. Allow for paid time off for thoe who want to do community service or host an event to raise funds or awareness. For example, invite employees to wear something pink one day and have the company donate $1 for each person in pink to raise money for breast cancer awareness.

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Seasonal Sounds: For a simple seasonal theme day, choose a musical era, play music to the mood for the background effect, and wear the clothing of that genre. Here are some fun examples:

  • Fall into the Fifties- sock hop attire, jeans, poodle skirts
  • Spring into the Sixties- love beads, tie dye shirts
  • Seventies Summer- jeans, smock tops, band t-shirts
  • Summer Jams- shorts and sunglasses with Jimmy Buffet or Beach Boys music

Surround Yourself with Things that Bring You Joy: Decorate your workspace with things that have meaning in your life, such as:

  • Family or pet photos in unique frames
  • Plants or fresh flowers to cleanse the air
  • Bright colors that make you feel good

Does your company celebrate Fun at Work Day? What are some of the things you do every day in your workplace that make mundane days lively? Share with me in the comments below or tweet me!