At Penzeys Spices, Kindness Rules

KindPinI have never met Bill, yet, I look forward to receiving and reading his frequent emails. He is one person who is changing the world one email at a time.

You see, Bill is the CEO of Penzeys Spices, a purveyor of herbs, spices and all things gastronomic. Not only is he passionate about cooking; he is passionate about being kind to others.

Bill is not your average CEO. He is way above average, a CEO who understands what it means to pay it forward. I wish more company leaders provided an environment of love, support, and kindness. Imagine the level of true prosperity that we could experience as a society.

Being a fan of Penzeys Spices, I – like many smart gourmandes – signed up for the email list for free spices, offers, recipes, and other goodies. What I received in return was a newly-acquired taste for goodness. I’m not talking about just gourmet goodness…I’m talking about simple human goodness.

Bill is a good guy. The goodness he shares comes from his world view, his spirit, and his written word which appears in Penzeys Spices emails.

The one email that got my attention was Bill’s offer to send a free Kind pin (pictured within this article) to anyone who marched in The Women’s March on Saturday, January 21, 2017. As you recall, this national spirited March attracted unprecedented numbers of women, men, and children in Washington, D.C. who had a strong desire to share their voices with the world. And this March happened not just in cities across the United States; it happened globally, in cities around the world. The voices of the masses shared positive messages of hope, compassion, joy, love, understanding, peace, acceptance, and kindness.

In return for the free Kind pin, Bill requested that marchers share their personal stories of why they marched, and any kindness that they experienced or witnessed that day. In an email, Bill said, “I believe history will show just how important The Women’s March was, and just how great of a debt we owe those who Marched. Their humanity, kindness, and strength were just the reminder we needed of what really makes America great, at the very moment we so desperately needed to be reminded.” In total, Penzeys Spices shipped 174,139 free Kind pins to people who participated in The Women’s March.

What Bill – and Penzeys Spices – did through his generosity and act of kindness was to remind us that true change begins with one simple idea that is put into action. Thank you, Bill, for being a positive role model and inspiring others.

What type of change do you want to initiate? Get started today!

Photo credit: Christine Zust

Communicate With Credibility

Young-Professional.490f209379970f055c2ee7e62629b438219Credibility is one of those intangibles in life that can change dramatically from moment to moment. Throughout your life – and your career – you will have many opportunities to compromise your credibility. Never compromise your credibility. The credibility that you enjoy today has taken years to build. Why risk throwing it all away? Protect your credibility. It is one of your greatest assets. Your credibility is built on the foundation of your personal and professional character, and your competence as a professional.

In their seminal book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their longitudinal research on leaders asked professionals how they felt when they were in the presence of truly great leaders. The top ten replies were: Capable. Challenged. Enthusiastic. Inspired. Motivated. Powerful. Proud. Repeated. Supported. Valued.

How do you communicate with credibility? These tips will help you to consistently position yourself as a professional.

Align verbal and nonverbal language. Listen to your words and intonation. Be aware of your nonverbal language.

Lead by listening. Practice active listening. Deliver an “SOS” to your brain – Silently Observe, Then Speak.

Make realistic promises and keep them. Think before you speak. Do what you say you will do.

Speak from the heart. Create a mindset of inclusion. Use compassionate, caring language.

Be yourself. Align your values and behavior. Don’t try to mimic someone else’s behavior. Be your most authentic self.

Be an expert. Enhance your knowledge base continuously. Be a resource. Share your knowledge with others.

Be honest. Frame what you’re sharing so it benefits the other person. Know the difference between using kid gloves (being gentle) and boxing gloves (being more assertive).

Be proactive. Ask people their preferred form of communication. Ask clarifying questions to gain understanding. Seek challenging assignments at work, then follow through to get the job done.

Be consistent. Don’t flip-flop. Don’t exhibit unpredictable behavior.

To gain – and maintain – your credibility requires a great deal of behind the scenes strategic thinking. Begin with a simple self-assessment. It’s worth the time and your constant attention.

Set a Positive Tone and Build Lasting Relationships

relationship-building-content-marketing-372x230Your success as a professional comes from building solid relationships. When you are working with someone for the first time, you set a certain tone to help the other person understand who you are, your values, principles, work style, and your worldview.

In my career work with leaders and spokespeople for more than 30 years, I emphasize the importance of making a positive first impression. Whether it’s a new Board of Directors, new boss, or new client, you want to set a positive tone from day one. That tone says “I respect you.” “I will take your thoughts into consideration.” “I am here to help you.” Whether in business or politics, academia or non-profit life, there are certain professional standards, ethics, and behaviors to uphold.

As I enter my fifth year of providing blog posts on topics related to professional presence, professionalism, strategic communication, brand ambassadorship and leadership, I often turn to the current news for examples.

The buzz since Inauguration Day has been around one topic: What is the tone being set by the incoming administration? Herein I provide three lessons on the importance of setting a positive tone.

Make your message powerful, positive, and uniting. Words matter. Tone matters. Embracing the importance of the moment matters. Donald Trump’s inaugural address contained some strong negative rhetoric, sounding more like a campaign speech rather than the inaugural address that so many were hoping for. Part of that negative rhetoric degraded the political leaders sitting behind Mr. Trump on the platform, including elected officials, past presidents and Supreme Court Justices by referring to them as a small group of elites. The inaugural address was the time to focus on the future by including messages of unity, not division; lifting up, not putting down. Lesson: If you want to win friends and influence people, begin by starting out on a positive rather than a negative note, and never insult people publicly, especially those who have come before you. Why? Because you need those people.

Remain open, not defensive. Being a former spokesperson myself, I tuned into the live television coverage of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference. The key word here is first. What I saw and heard shocked and concerned me. His defensive body language spoke volumes. He came at the media with both guns blasting, yelling, as he chastised them for the ‘miscalculations’ of the size of the audience on Inauguration Day. He claimed that the audience size was bigger. His language was bombastic, aggressive, and unprofessional. When he was finished, he abruptly left the room, not allowing the media to ask any questions. You see, the White House staff was miffed at the comparison in audience size, since television stations and major newspapers ran a side-by-side photo of President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration Day audience with President Trump’s 2017 Inauguration Day. Clearly, Obama’s audience was much bigger. And rightfully so. It was an historic event. He was elected as the first African-American President of the United States. On that day in 2009, Washington, D.C. Metro stations were jammed. Busses were full to capacity. Hotels were over-booked. It’s historically noted. You can’t change those facts, though this is what Spicer was trying to do, to de-legitimize the media’s reports of the size of the crowd on Inauguration Day. Lesson: There are several lessons here. The first, and most important, is on your first day, your first press conference, you set the tone. Make it positive, not negative. Second, have something important to say. Don’t waste the media’s time with a single trivial message. There was no reason to hold a press conference. Third, control your emotions. Don’t shout at the media. They have power. And they will use that power to call you out. A spokesperson’s role is to communicate factual information in a clear, concise fashion. Uncontrolled emotion does not belong in the room.

Admit your mistakes and move on. In a televised interview with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, White House Counsel Kellyanne Conway tried to downplay Sean Spicer’s remarks by using a new phrase, “alternative facts,” which immediately went viral. When Chuck Todd pushed Conway on the phrase, claiming that a more correct phrase to use would be “falsehoods,” Conway flippantly accused Todd of being “overly dramatic.” In all the years that I served as a media spokesperson, I never talked to a member of the media like that. It’s disrespectful. Lesson: Words matter. The moment Conway said “alternative facts,” she was in trouble because there is no such thing as alternative facts. There are just facts. Admit that a mistake was made, and move on. Now, the alternative facts conversation will continue to be covered in the national media and social media for far too many days to come. News flash: There are far more important issues to be discussed.

Instead of setting a tone of inclusion and unity, the Trump administration in its first few days in office has unfortunately continued its exclusive, divisive, arrogant tone from its campaign days. So sad!!!!

How Outstanding Are You?

runner-728219_960_720Some of the inspiration for my writing comes from my 95-year-old mother, Irene. She recently shared an anecdote with me that provided me with yet another topic.

At her age, as you can imagine, she has a full schedule of appointments with physicians and specialists who monitor her health. One is her podiatrist. She began describing to me one of his greatest natural traits, a full head of healthy, thick, pure white hair. She said to me, “His hair is outstanding!

She went on to describe a recent appointment with him. As she looked at him, she realized that something was different. More important, something was missing. He had dyed his hair brown! “He looked so ordinary,” she said. “That special trait of his was gone. He just looked like every other man. He wasn’t outstanding anymore!” My mom didn’t mince words. She told her doctor exactly how she felt about his new hair color. She didn’t like it. She preferred his beautiful natural color instead. Her podiatrist quickly replied that his wife shared my mom’s thoughts. Of course, my mom will have to wait until her next appointment to see if her podiatrist heeded her advice.

It was the way that my mom said the word outstanding, with such strong emphasis and conviction, that got me thinking about how we may downplay, hide, or even undervalue our own outstanding attributes.

What is it about you that is outstanding? Is it a specific physical characteristic? Is it your personality? Your talents or skills? Your energy? What gives you great pride in saying, “I am outstanding in…”?

Are you hiding some of your greatest attributes? Changing them so people won’t notice?

Here are two quick things you can do:

Internal assessment: Take time to assess your greatest qualities. What words fill in that last blank…”I am outstanding in…”? Once you have completed the assessment, then ask, “How do I show these greatest strengths and qualities to other people?”

External assessment: What qualities of yours do people most often compliment? Pay attention to the words people use to describe you to other people. You may be missing something important. If you are comfortable with it, ask a close friend or confidante what is outstanding about you. That person may be able to open your eyes to positive attributes that you are unable to see.

Often, one outstanding characteristic or trait can draw others in to you. No one else has what you have! Celebrate whatever it is about you that is outstanding because it is unique to you.

 

For the USSF, It’s Time to Set the Gold Standard

pure-goldThe U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) has an opportunity to strategically position itself as the professional sports organization that represents the best interests of all players, both male and female. Doing so would totally change the culture of professional sports by treating female athletes fairly and equitably. Today’s definition of the gold standard is simply “the paragon of excellence.” It’s time the USSF put this into practice within its own organization.

Why is the topic of equality met with such disinterest or even disdain when it is one of America’s foundational core values?

Recently, five members of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to draw attention to the appalling discrepancy in pay between their team and their colleagues of the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team. According to media reports, the USSF’s response to the filing was that it was “an irrational request.”

What is irrational and totally incomprehensible is this: The men’s soccer team earns about double to two-thirds more than female soccer players. Men also can earn up to more than four times what women earn in bonuses. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has delivered multiple wins, earning several gold medals, and in fact is the gold standard of Olympians. Read one of my earlier blog posts referencing how the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team serves as a positive role model.

If the soccer boot were on the other foot and men were earning one-half to two-thirds less than women, what do you think male players would do? They would rise up too.

Many, perhaps most, of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team members are the primary earners in their households, some juggling responsibilities with rearing a growing family or assisting aging parents. They have earned the right to make a decent income just as much as men do. Why should they be treated any differently? They work just as hard at playing an exciting game, which attracts television viewers and major sponsors, increases advertising revenue, generates publicity and boosts the human spirit.

This isn’t the first time the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has gone head to head with the USSF. Similar conversations have been occurring for the past few decades.

It’s time for the USSF to embrace fairness and equity within the sport. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team is a powerful, well-respected brand. It’s time to acknowledge and reward it.

Are You Giving It Your All?

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Aretha Franklin at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors

When was the last time you asked yourself if you were giving your all to your job or your personal life? It’s easy to skim along life’s surface without going deep. What would it take for you to go above and beyond the norm? To feel the satisfaction of knowing that you have done your absolute best?

One of my favorite annual traditions watching the Kennedy Center Honors, a program that salutes a select group of talented individuals in the arts who have reached the pinnacle of their careers and who inspire us to achieve great things. The last week of 2015, the Kennedy Center honored filmmaker George Lucas, actress Cicely Tyson, conductor Seiji Ozawa, actress/singer/dancer Rita Moreno, and singer-songwriter Carole King. One of the stars to pay tribute to Carole King was none other than the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. She brought down the house as she gave it her all. Here’s what every professional can learn from Aretha’s amazing performance:

Own your professional presence. Dressed in a stunning gown and full-length mink coat, Aretha commanded attention as she stepped onto the stage. With confidence and ease, she sat down at a Baby Grand piano, and the applause and gasps got even louder. (I had never seen Aretha seated at a piano; in fact, I didn’t even know she played the piano). She began playing – and singing – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, co-written by Carole King and Jerry Goffin, one of the most soulful, intimate songs to reach the Top Ten charts ever.

Put everything you have into it. A woman half her age could not put the same spin on A Natural Woman like Aretha because she was singing her lived experience into the song. There is a reason she’s still called the Queen of Soul; no one else owns the title.

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A bold move: Dropping the mink coat

Do something bold and memorable. Aretha had the audience in the palm of her hand. Three minutes and 45 minutes into the video clip, she did something surprising that brought the audience to its feet: She stood center stage and dropped the mink coat on the floor, with complete abandon, showing her raw talent and vulnerability as a performer.

Connect to the emotion. No matter what line of work you are in, when you connect to people’s emotions, your message becomes much clearer and stronger. Everyone felt the emotion of the song. Carole King’s reactions were priceless.

When you’ve still got it, flaunt it. Every word Aretha sang, every movement she made was wrapped in graceful elegance. When you are a professional who performs your best, people respond well to you, no matter what your age.

When you stand front and center, with an audience of ten or 2,000, how do you present yourself to others? Take a few pointers from Aretha and give it your all.

 

The Pro’s Code: Credibility

Part 2 in a series on professionalism.

Criteria 2: Credible. Has integrity and follows through on what has been promised.

CredibilityBookCoverAs a professional, you work hard to establish and maintain a certain level of credibility in the work you do. If you have no credibility, you have nothing at all. Why, then, do people who call themselves “professional” keep ending up in the headlines doing stupid stuff that dismantles their credibility? The answer: They aren’t really professional.

On the topic of credibility, I rely on the wisdom of James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, authors of the book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. Kouzes and Posner have conducted longitudinal studies on the topic of leadership for more than 30 years. My dog-eared copy of the book was added to my business library since it first hit the market in 2003. If you haven’t read this seminal book, then visit Kouze & Posner’s website, The Leadership Challenge, and order a copy of the 2011 Second Edition, along with the companion Strengthening Credibility: A Leader’s Workbook.

Kouzes & Posner asked people what specific behaviors they appreciated in leaders they most admired. Four key traits were revealed:

1. Honest

2. Forward looking

3. Competent

4. Inspiring

Combining the three traits of honest, competent and inspiring leads to what Kouze & Posner call source credibility, meaning that people believe you. This is the true essence of credibility. Each of these behaviors reflects an emotional connection. They represent how admired leaders make people feel.

dolezalSpeaking of honesty…in the news recently, Rachel Dolezal, (now resigned) president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, lost all credibility as her true race, Caucasian, was revealed. She used a few props to portray herself as an African-American woman: An assortment of hairstyles and wigs, adjusting her skin tone to appear “black-ish” as some news commentators quipped, and posing with an older African-American man who she claimed was her father. When asked by an interviewer if she was African-American, she paused and responded, “I don’t understand the question.” What’s not to understand? You either are or you are not. She never admitted the mistake she made, nor did she apologize for lying to and misleading NAACP Spokane chapter members, the national NAACP organization and the general public. Remember, too, that the NAACP, both the Spokane office and the national office, have also lost credibility. Vetting someone takes a few seconds; in the click of a mouse, you can learn just about everything you need to know about that person. The NAACP selection committee would have understood her background better and known she was not qualified as a person of color to lead or represent the organization.

In Matt Laur’s interview of Rachel Dolezal on The Today Show, when asked about how differently things might have turned out if she had been more transparent, Dolezal said, “Overall, my life has been one of survival and the decisions that I have made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive and to um, you know, carry on in my journey and life continuum.” It got me thinking about two things: 1. Wouldn’t it have been neat to have Al Roker as the interviewer? I love you, Matt, but… 2. Dolezal’s motives became more apparent to me when she used the word “survival.” Ponder that one.

Back to Kouze and Posner’s book on credibility. In a section entitled “Scandals, Betrayals, and Disillusionment,” they say, “The most common reasons for the decline of credibility are the most visible.” In Dolezal’s case, her own visibility – both physical and professional – is the pivotal reason for the decline of her credibility. The truth simply caught up with her. Had she been transparent from the beginning, about her identification with (rather than her portrayal) as a member of) the African-American race and culture, her future may have looked a little different.

Credibility is one of those intangibles in life that can change from moment to moment. The credibility that you enjoy today has taken years to build. Why risk throwing it all way? Protect your credibility; it is one of your greatest assets. It is built on the foundation of your personal/professional character, and your competence as a professional. Never compromise your credibility.

 

Opulent Positioning Strategy Backfires

Ben Terris, The Washington Post

Applying my signature mantra “Everything I do positions me” to the recent resignation of Senator Aaron Schock (R-ILL) over extravagant spending habits causes me to ponder the question, “What were you thinking?”

In Senator Schock’s case, it was the over-the-top opulent design of his Capitol Hill office that caught the attention of the media, other politicians and his constituents back home. Was this how a senator’s office was supposed to look? Wasn’t it a tad bit too much? Who paid for the furniture and expensive decorative items?

Certain expectations come with the role of a public servant. The greatest of which is how you best represent the needs of your constituents. Your number one priority is to ensure that the voices of the people you represent in your district are felt, heard and presented. Taxpayer dollars are expected to go towards important issues, like education, job creation and health care, not office furnishings or an extravagant lifestyle. Even though the interior designer donated her services, that act also has faced scrutiny from Capitol Hill, questioning if that donation broke some ethical rules.

The foundation of our democracy – the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – reminds us that individualism – and self-expression – is celebrated as one of our greatest rights. However, there are certain norms and standards that apply to public servants. Beyond the Downton Abbey-esque decor of his office, Senator Schock also had gained a reputation for a flamboyant, ostentatious lifestyle, often posted on social media. (Lady Violet would have never approved of the red walls, by the way The sexy pose on the cover of Men’s Health?. You’ll have to ask her personally at her Twitter account, Dowager Countess).

violet_dowager_countess_of_grantham_downton_abbey_maggie_smith-thumbI have nothing against Downton Abbey. I am a huge fan, so much so that my husband and I transformed ourselves into ghosts “Lord and Lady Creepy Crawley from Downton Abbey-Normal” for a friend’s Halloween party last year. But I digress…

The young, 33-year-old Senator Schock was viewed by many in the Republican party as a leader with a bright future. That future does not look so bright right now because of some poor choices he made during his rise to the top. If he had considered my mantra, “Everything I do positions me,” things might have been a bit rosier for him.

Maintaining positioning power and credibility are achieved through understanding  what is expected of you in a specific role or position and appropriately living up to the standards and ethics of that role. The moment you push the boundaries too far, you expose yourself to risk. The next time you are considering a bold move, answer some important questions: How much of a risk are you willing to take? What are the potential consequences of that risk? Is taking that risk worth it? Those are questions only you can answer.

Do You Trick or Treat?

TrickOrTreatThat favorite annual holiday – Halloween – is upon us. It got me thinking about how in our everyday lives we are capable of either tricking or treating others. Which do you do?

Trick

Do you trick people into thinking you are someone who you are not? Do you deliberately put on airs and misrepresent yourself to others? It’s time to take a long, hard look at yourself, and understand why you do this. Reveal your true authentic self for others to see.

Do you trick yourself into believing that you are not worthy? When you suffer from The Imposter Syndrome, you trick yourself into thinking that you are not as good as you really are and you are afraid that others will find out you’re not as good as they think you are. It’s time for a reality check and focus on feeling good about yourself and feeling worthy.

Do you trick others by compromising quality or taking short cuts? When you give 100% of yourself and do quality work, you demonstrate your integrity and gain credibility in the process.

Do you serve up tricks by being light hearted and funny? See? Not all tricks are bad. There are good tricks as well. When you can laugh at yourself and help others to laugh too, people will appreciate your sense of humor.

Treat

Do you treat all people equally, with dignity and respect? This simple act makes a big difference in how others see you. The dignity and respect you show to them will come back to you ten-fold.

Do you treat other people like they are more important than you? When you let others shine and support them in their dreams and aspirations, you are putting their needs before yours. It positions you as someone who cares.

How often do you treat others? I mean really treat them? Whether it’s giving a server a slightly bigger tip, giving a gift to someone just because you felt like it, or picking up the tab every once in a while for no reason, you are letting your benevolence shine.

As you participate in the festivities of Halloween this year, think about the “tricks” or “treats” that you are doling out. How can you treat others like they have value?

Gen X and Y: Dress Like a Pro

IScreen shot 2014-06-04 at 7.52.48 AMn 1978, John T. Malloy wrote the classic book, Dress for Success. The primary message from the book was this: Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have. For the younger generations X and Y, think of where you want to take your career, and dress the part.

It was a warm summer day. I entered the corporate headquarters of a highly successful IT company, checked in with the receptionist and waited for the staff person to escort me to the meeting room. Before she arrived, I heard a sound all to common in more casual work environments today: Squeak. Click. Squeak. Click. Squeak. Click. She was wearing – you guessed it – flip flops. She was an attractive young woman, recently graduated from college, with all the potential for dressing professionally.

flip-flopAs I scanned the rest of her attire, I quickly realized she was dressed more for the beach than for the work environment. Her skirt rose about 8 inches above her knees. Her tight top revealed way too much cleavage for 7:30 in the morning. I found myself wondering: How far will this young woman get in her career? Does she not see how other people may perceive her? If she’s not dressing professionally now, will people advance and promote her?

I fully understand that some work environments welcome casual attire. For some, beachwear is completely okay and even encouraged. My first impression of this company, though, fell down a few notches that day. When meeting and greeting people from outside the company, you still want to make a positive first impression. With this young woman, she was impressing me in a certain way, and it wasn’t good. I thought to myself, If I owned this company, I would never allow my employees to greet vendors or clients this way.

There is a very thin line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable professional attire in the workplace today. I err on the side of conservative. I remind young women that a close-fitting skirt (which most are these days) will creep up an average of three more inches when you sit down. You don’t need to be a math whiz to know where that skirt is going to end up! For young men, I encourage them to either own an iron and learn to iron their clothes or take them to the cleaners each week. Nothing destroys a positive first impression more than a wrinkled shirt and pants on a young man. If you think that the steam from your body as you exit the shower will magically press out the wrinkles in your shirt as you put it onto your body, you’re wrong. Only an iron will do it. So buy one!

With Baby Boomers retiring in great numbers in the years to come, a rather large window is opening up for Generations X and Y to move up the ladder of professional success at a much more rapid rate than we Boomers did. For Gen X: Dress the part and serve as a positive role model for the generation behind you. For Gen Y: Think about where you want to go in your career. Then take a look at your wardrobe. If you’re still dressing like you’re in college, it’s time to upgrade. There is nothing more attractive than young people who take their jobs seriously and dress the part for the career positions they want.

Question: How does your wardrobe position you in your career? Are you dressing like the future leader you want to be?