Will Wardrobe Engineering Save Mark Zuckerberg?

The world waited with great anticipation: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before the Congressional Commerce and Judiciary Committee was finally beginning on April 10, 2018. Zuckerberg was summoned to discuss Facebook’s “privacy” policy and data breaches, which left millions of Facebook users’ personal data exposed to global trolls.

Rather than focusing on what Zuckerberg was saying, the media and late night pundits focused on something quite different: The Suit. Zuckerberg had traded in his signature gray tee shirt, blue jeans and sneakers for a more corporate look. Headlines focused on The Suit. The Washington Post headline read: Mark Zuckerberg is one of the suits. Now he’d better learn to get comfortable in one.

As the news media clamored to get the best shot of the “new and improved” Zuckerberg, I expected a reporter from E News to pop up ala runway style and ask, “Who are you wearing today, Mark?” To which Zuckerberg would confidently reply, “Marc Jacobs. That’s Marc with a c.” The brilliance of his dazzling smile would shatter the camera lens as he continued walking to the hearing.

But I digress.

What the media is paying such close attention to is known as Wardrobe Engineering. Defined as “how clothing and accessories are used to create a certain image,” what image do you think Zuckerberg was going for? The “I’m not guilty” image? The “I’m a successful, responsible American entrepreneur” image? The “You can trust me” image? The “I’m just like you” image? The New York Times called it the “I’m sorry suit.” The Times even created a “greatest suits appearances” slide show just for The Suit. Only time will tell how The Suit is ultimately interpreted by Congress.

Every politician, titan of industry and celebrity knows how to effectively wardrobe engineer. We all know that color plays an important role when you represent a certain political party, like how often Republicans wear red and Democrats wear blue. It’s no accident. And red, white and blue, well, that is just so absolutely, positively American, and safe. Then everyone will love you and vote for you, right?

Will wardrobe engineering save Mark Zuckerberg, though? It will take a lot more than a stylish suit to convince Congress. Or will it?

Watching this event unfold in the national news, I was reminded of my favorite graduate-level course on rhetorical criticism. The course’s book, Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, was written by an academic communication scholar and rhetorical criticism expert, Dr. Sonja K. Foss. She defines rhetorical criticism as “a process of thinking about symbols, discovering how they work, why they affect us, and choosing to communicate in particular ways as a result of the options they present.” I remember vividly the moment when I understood the process of rhetorical criticism. It was as if a magic force cleansed my eyes so I could see more clearly and completely. When you look at the world and major events as they unfold, through the lens of rhetorical criticism, every piece of the picture – verbal and nonverbal communication, physical objects, and symbols – all take on a whole new meaning.

In her book, Foss emphasizes that rhetoric goes beyond just written and spoken discourse. According to Foss, symbolism is found in all forms of communication, such as “speeches, essays, conversations, poetry, novels, stories, television programs, films, art, architecture, plays, music, dance, advertisements, furniture, public demonstrations, and dress.” And I would add public hearings. In graduate-level rhetorical criticism classes right now, even though it’s nearing the end of the semester, students are sinking their teeth into this juicy news story and extracting meaning from every blink, gesture, vocal nuance, physical stance, room set-up, and yes, attire.

Professional image icon John T. Molloy wrote in his 1975 seminal book, Dress for Success, “Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.” In Zuckerberg’s case, we’ll see where his wardrobe engineering leads him.

What professionals can learn from this very public hearing is that when it comes to telling your part of the story, it’s not just what The Suit looks like, it’s the meaning behind The Suit. A bigger question to ask is: What captures the essential, most important element: The truth?

Photo credit: Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash.com

Repositioning a Generation: How March for Our Lives Elevated Generation Z’s Image

ThankYouthPosterWhat has happened since the tragic February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is truly remarkable. In just five short weeks, Stoneman Douglas students ignited a nationwide youth movement #NeverAgain to speak out against gun violence, encouraging participation in the March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and cities around the world. The result: Their generation, Generation Z, has elevated its position in our American psyche, shifting older generations’ views of them from “entitled” or “lazy” to now a generation of doers, thought leaders, and change-makers.

These youth elevated their image in several simple yet powerful ways:

Determination. The Parkland students were determined to give voice to an issue that has plagued our country for decades. They succeeded in setting themselves apart in the March for Our Lives and changing how others saw their generation.

Inclusion. Students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the general public were invited to participate in the March for Our Lives. Just two weeks after the Parkland shooting, students from Chicago were invited to Parkland to share their experiences. Two days before the March, Parkland students met with students from Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C., to discuss their experiences with gun violence.

Organization. What the Parkland students were able to accomplish in just five short weeks is incredible. Students accepted full responsibility for getting their tasks done, and they achieved them.

Eloquence. The memorable presentation by Emma Gonzalez, and her powerful use of silence, has people talking about how she may become Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Emma and other Parkland students appeared on the national platform for the first time in their lives. Each student spoke with such deep emotion, compassion, and eloquence.

Positive Messaging. Filled with passion and emotion, students’ messages remained positive, clear and consistent throughout the speaker program as well as media interviews. Presenters focused on telling their own stories with insight and great maturity.

All of that hard work created a new statistic: The March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives represents the largest youth demonstration since the Vietnam War (reminder: that was more than a half century ago).

When asked by a reporter “What’s next?,” without hesitation, Stoneman Douglas high school student David Hogg quickly and succinctly outlined what those specific next steps are:

* Reach out to eligible youth across the country, encouraging them to register to vote, and then vote in the next election.

* Host Town Hall meetings in every Congressional District across the country, inviting sitting Congressional representatives to meet and discuss gun legislation.

* Encourage participation in an April 20 nationwide student walkout, the anniversary of the Columbine shootings.

* March on all State Capitols and meet with elected officials.

The level of planning and organization of these high school students is truly remarkable.

One final observation: Kudos to MSNBC, who devoted an entire 24-hour news cycle to live coverage of the March for Our Lives. Top MSNBC news anchors shared the role of anchoring throughout the day, inserting live interviews in Washington, D.C. and in cities around the country. What also impressed me was MSNBC’s dedication to including a diverse group of reporters, including a number of young reporters. I especially appreciated that MSNBC did not repeat the same story multiple times; rather, they provided fresh interviews throughout the day.

Th poster that I carried (seen above) during the Saturday, March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives in Cleveland, Ohio (one of hundreds of participating cities) represents a clear message: Focus on today’s youth because they have a voice that needs to be heard, they rallied others to participate in this march, and they deserve our support and recognition.

The March for Our Lives was truly an historic event, one that we will be talking about for years – and generations – to come. For anyone who wonders what the future will be like for the next generations, the message is emphatically clear: They are in good hands.

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: Get Involved in Make A Difference Day

DLPk7ggWAAAjC08.jpg-largeSaturday, October 28, 2017, is Make A Difference Day. Twitter: #MDDay. This event is one of the largest single days of service across the country. Projects range from cleaning up public parks and building homes to serving meals to the needy. The annual event began in 1992, sponsored by TEGNA, Inc. with the support of Arby’s Foundation and Points of Light.

You can either start a project or volunteer for a project that is already organized. Find a project in your community here from the Make A Difference website. When I searched for events in my zip code, I discovered 20 projects that are happening in my area, from park clean-up and reading to underprivileged children to building an inner-city garden hoop house and knitting warm scarves and mittens for the homeless. Also, check your local television stations, radio stations, public libraries, schools, park systems, or nonprofit organizations to find projects right in your community. Or if you are feeling ambitious and want to travel out-of-state, participate in a larger scale project or historic site preservation. You will feel inspired when you read the stories about the 2016 project awards.

Beyond this one national day of service, consider simple things that you can do to be of service to others every day.

At the end of the day today, take a few minutes to pause and reflect on what difference you have made – in the lives of people who you have touched or in your community. When you invest that time in assessing your impact on the world around you, you will value and appreciate your many contributions. You will feel great pride in what you do. You will inspire and motivate others to do more.

First, it begins with you. Take care of yourself and your health so that you can continue your good work. What did you do for yourself today that made you feel good about yourself? Did you start your day with nutritious food? Did you walk a few laps around your neighborhood to improve your stamina?

What did you do for others today that brought you joy? It could be something simple like packing a note in your child’s lunch, or involving a neighborhood in creating a delicious meal together. Did you open the door for a disabled person at the office? Did you help an elderly person carry her food tray to her table? Did you stop and visit a friend or relative who lives alone and enjoys your companionship? Did you give someone a chance to lead others because you believe in that person?

What did you do for your community today that made a difference? Did you bring your talents to a nonprofit organization’s board? Did you help to make an important decision that will have a positive impact on your community? Did you volunteer at a local fundraising event? Did you help build a home for a family in need?

If you want to invest more time in making a difference, then focus on that outcome. When you choose to do more for others, to make someone else’s life more comfortable, or to make your community a better place, the opportunities will come to you. You can also bring your own big ideas into fruition. Anything is possible when you have a strong desire to make positive change a habit.

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.

Women’s Voices Are Significant to the World

iwd-logomain2Today marks International Women’s Day, one day each year that celebrates the “social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.” This year’s theme is Be Bold For Change. Take a moment to honor and recognize the women who have served as positive role models in your life, who have inspired and motivated you, and who have bravely charted new territory as pathfinders.

Now imagine your life without them. Oh, wait a minute. You wouldn’t be here if not for a woman! This message is being reinforced by leaders of the January 21, 2017 Women’s March. They are encouraging women to participate in A Day Without A Woman on this International Women’s Day by not spending any money (or alternatively supporting women- and minority-owned businesses)  and by not engaging in any work.

Think about all of the women who have encouraged and inspired you. Mothers. Grandmothers. Aunts. Sisters. Daughters. Granddaughters. Great-granddaughters. Sisters-in-law. Mothers-in-law. Teachers. Bosses. Co-workers. Neighbors. Religious leaders. Shop owners. Community leaders. Political leaders. Friends.

I for one would not be the person I am today were it not for the courageous, intelligent, fearless women who came before me.

On this day, I honor my maternal grandmother who emigrated from Poland to begin a new life in America. She spoke no English when she arrived at Ellis Island. As a wife and mother, she ran a large household (with seven children) on a small stipend. Her values of hard work, discipline, and sacrifice were passed on to her children.

My 96-year-old mother continues to inspire me every day. I have enjoyed many lengthy conversations with her over the years, listening to her life story, and understanding her remarkable life as a first generation American. It took her ten years to work her way through college to receive her first degree – at the age of 47. At the age of 80, she received her second college degree. Although she could have audited classes for free as a senior citizen, she preferred to pay for every class so she could earn a degree.

Many women have inspired me from afar. The list is too long to include all of them here, yet, a few stand out…women of all ages and backgrounds:

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” Gloria Steinem

 

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Maya Angelou

 

“Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”

Tina Fey

 

“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” Malala Yousafzai

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Mother Teresa

 

“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.” Amelia Earhart

 

“One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.” Barbara Walters

Now more than ever, women’s voices must be heard. We are economic decision makers, leaders in education, innovators in science and technology, entrepreneurs, and nurturers of the human family. Our inclusive and collaborative style leads to positive change. A quick review of Forbes Magazine’s “The World’s 100 Most Influential Women” will remind you of the capabilities and accomplishments of women.

At some point today, pause for a moment, and silently thank the women who have encouraged, supported, and inspired you. Or better yet, pick up the phone and call them!

Follow more activity on:

#InternationalWomensDay

#BeBoldForChange

#ADayWithoutAWoman

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.

And the Winner is…Chris Rock

Oscars Host Chris Rock, variety.com

Oscars Host Chris Rock Gave Diversity a Platform. Credit: variety.com

 

With all of the tension surrounding the 88th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, which aired on February 28, 2016, there was no one better qualified to handle it than comedian and Master of Ceremonies Chris Rock. And handle it he did. In his opening monologue, he put diversity front and center, and it remained there throughout the entire program. The result: He made everyone in the audience feel comfortable, laugh, and of course exhale.

Some African-American celebrities chose to boycott this year’s Awards ceremony because of the absence of African-American nominees. Those who chose to attend, like Whoopi Goldberg, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Hart, John Legend and Common, were there to support their fellow actors no matter what race or creed.

Chris Rock looked sharp – elegant in fact – in a white tuxedo jacket with black pants, a perfect rhetorical nod to the controversy at hand. His comments were fair and balanced. He was able to poke fun at the issue without offending people.

The chain of events that led up to the Awards ceremony provided fodder for Chris Rock’s raw comic talent. His example showed others how to handle adversity. Rock and writers worked diligently to create several on-topic, hilarious parody videos. My favorite was Saturday Night Live alumnus Tracy Morgan’s comic portrayal of The Danish Girl.

What can we – as professionals – learn from this historic event? For one thing, it’s a reminder that life gives you choices. You can either choose to be for or against something; sometimes you lead the charge and other times you follow other people’s leads. You also have to pick your battles because there are many in life. When making those decisions, you must ask some critical questions: What do I gain from taking this stance? How am I positioning myself? Will it help or hurt my reputation?

The game changer statement that Chris Rock made was when he said that in 1962 there were no African-Americans nominated for any Oscars, and there were no boycotts then. Instead, he said, black people at that time were demonstrating against important social issues (like being raped or lynched) rather than who won best cinematographer. And he said it in his own inimitable Chris Rock way, funny and cutting to the core of truth. Were some of his words hard to hear or even admit to be true? Yes. Therein lies the power of the moment.

From my perspective, Chris Rock solidified his image as a brilliant, talented, quick-witted comedian who chose to be collaborative rather than combative.

Another big winner at the Oscars was the Girl Scouts, thanks to Chris Rock’s plug and plea to the audience to buy Girl Scouts cookies. That product placement is sure to result in a spike in U.S. cookie sales.

The action of the boycott itself and the response of Chris Rock and the Oscars producers has encouraged conversation around diversity and will hopefully spark some positive changes on the Academy board and within the voting process.

Thank You, Harper Lee

harper lee youngThank you, Nelle Harper Lee, for opening our eyes to social injustice in the South in your Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The book has remained on the required reading list of just about every school in America for decades. Lee, who died on February 19 at the age of 89, leaves an indelible mark on American literature.

Lee’s book was released in 1961. Just one year later, To Kill a Mockingbird was released as a movie, starring Gregory Peck as a well respected white attorney, Atticus Finch, in a small Alabama town, representing a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch earned him an Academy Award for best actor. It was the humanity demonstrated by Atticus Finch that drew him close to our hearts: a professional man who treated each human being fairly and with respect, regardless of race, religion or economic status.

To Kill a Mockingbird is just as relevant today – 60+ years later – as it was when it was first released. It reminds us of the struggle and tremendous work behind our country’s civil rights movement. Exceptional literature challenges your thinking and opens your eyes, mind and heart to a different perspective, and expands your worldview.

When Lee’s Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015, some fans were disappointed to learn that their beloved Atticus Finch was portrayed as a different character altogether, a bigot and a racist. The book’s release now encourages us as readers to look at each piece of literature on its own and have a conversation. An excellent comparative analysis by Jonathan Sturgeon on Mockingbird and Watchman sheds light on the story behind the creation of the two books.

Millions of high school kids who were required to read Mockingbird thank you, Miss Lee, for educating them about social injustice. And for all those who faced discrimination, racism or bigotry, they thank you for giving voice to their lived experience.

Thank you, Miss Lee, for courageously saying what few people would at the time. Americans of all ages and backgrounds today are still learning the lessons from To Kill a Mockingbird and now Go Set a Watchman. Thank you for initiating the dialogue.

What Jon Stewart Teaches Us About Power Positioning

Jon Stewart, Comedy Central

Jon Stewart, Comedy Central

When Jon Stewart left Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, people were wondering what he was going to do. The answer is simple: He is doing good. Listen up, professionals, and learn from Stewart, who is using his positioning power to give others a voice.

On the December 7, 2015 Daily Show, host Trevor Noah welcomed back Stewart, who is bravely tackling a serious issue before Congress right now: the fight to continue funding for first responders of the 9/11 tragedy through the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act. H.R. 1786 “amends the Public Health Service Act to extend the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program Fund.  Watch the full episode here.

Stewart and a video crew accompanied first responders to Capitol Hill, visiting the offices of senators, most of whom were (conveniently) out, unavailable or in meetings. With every rejection from Senate staff, Stewart pushed on, heading to the next senator’s office, determined to let first responders’ voices be heard. There were no altercations, no harsh words, just a message that needed to be heard. The only leader who took the time to talk with Stewart and first responders was Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who later signed the act.

For two decades, I have coached professionals on the importance of power positioning. I define power positioning as “The art of putting yourself in a place that you want to be, that maximizes your talents, skills and contacts.” Stewart demonstrated power positioning in action on Capitol Hill. In his Daily Show appearance, he reached millions of loyal Daily Show viewers, encouraging them to contact their senators and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He asked them to Tweet using #worstresponders. He recognized that he had the clout and power to raise his voice and raise the collective consciousness of Americans. Political leaders across the country can take pointers from Jon Stewart’s integrity and high level of professionalism. It comes at a time when lives have been shattered and communities are still rebuilding from devastation. It’s time to do the right thing.

All too often, you can easily become passive, detached or uninvolved in the issues of your community, your workplace and the world. The next time you rationalize why you shouldn’t get involved, think again. Your voice could make a difference in someone else’s quality of life.

Thank you, Jon Stewart, for elevating our awareness about this important issue. You continue to be a positive role model for other leaders. You inspire and motivate us all to do a better job of putting other people’s needs ahead of our own.

Invite an Outsider In

openhand“Get outside your comfort zone.” “Push the envelope.” “Be more.”

You have been in conversations or meetings where statements like these were made, reminding you to shake off any complacency. When you apply these commands to your interaction with people, your mindset (hopefully) shifts.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain reminds us that not every person is socially outgoing. She points out that introverts, while quiet and contemplative, have a lot to contribute. They just may need to be invited into the conversation.

Introverts can often feel like outsiders, especially in a room full of extraverts. Whether you are an introvert or an extravert, take a moment to observe the behavior of your co-workers and clients. Does that person need encouragement or a nudge to share their thoughts and opinions? It could be you who invites that outsider into the conversation. The result could be uncovering some brilliant ideas. It begins with some simple questions:

What are your thoughts about…?

I would like to hear your opinions about…?

Your comments are valuable to me. What information can you share about…?

Initiate a conversation with the other person. If you would like to hear more about a certain topic, simply say, “Tell me more about that” or “Could you explain that to me a little further?”

As you scan the room at an event or a meeting, look for the person who sits on the sidelines, against a wall rather than at the table. Extend an invitation to sit at the table. Open up the space for that person to share her/his voice. Sometimes you need to gently pull someone along with you.

If you are that introvert, challenge yourself to make small changes in your interactions with other people. Those small changes over time will give you the confidence to be more open with your ideas, thoughts and opinions. An example: If you have an idea that is worth sharing, write it on your To Do List to bring it up at the next meeting. Once you get into the habit, you will feel more comfortable with other people and yes, even the extraverts.