Volunteer Time Off (VTO) Programs Can Transform Employees

Photo credit: Larm Rmah for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Larm Rmah for unsplash.com

Beyond offering leadership academies, mentoring, and coaching, more companies are choosing to engage employees in a more meaningful, personal way by offering Volunteer Time Off (VTO). I am a firm believer in volunteerism and how it enhances professionals’ skills. What is unique about VTO is that employees are paid while working on important local, national, or global community projects, learn from the experience, and hopefully apply that learning at work. Outdoor gear specialist Patagonia offers employees a variety of VTO opportunities, and sales leader salesforce.org offers its employees seven paid VTO days each year.

VTO is a win-win for both employer and employee. Here are some thoughts on the benefits of VTO:

Deeper level of connection. Service to others sets aside the ego because your number one goal is to help others. Many companies require employees to remain “unplugged” from technology while participating in VTO. No quick sales calls. No checking in with the office. The whole point of the experience is to engage fully in the work to be done.

Present moment awareness. When you are volunteering for others, you are most concerned with handling the task at hand, no matter what it is. Whether helping to build a Habitat for Humanity home in an aging urban city or bring fresh water to a small village in Africa, you are most mindful of what you are doing from moment to moment.

Expanded worldview. When you see the world from an entirely different perspective while living among people whose cultures and way of life are completely opposite from yours, it shifts your worldview. Some say the experience is as if someone removed a film from their eyes so they could see more clearly.

Transformation. Beyond an expanded worldview can come a complete transformation of mind, body, and spirit. Acts of kindness build character. You may see a slight change in yourself, or you may see a different person emerging after a VTO experience.

Better employees. When you learn something new every day, use different creative thinking or problem solving skills, and lead, or even follow, you return to your company as a better employee. You gain much more from an offsite cultural exchange than you ever could experience within an office environment.

Shared, supportive values. Companies that offer VTO to its employees share positive values with employees, like compassion, kindness, generosity, and creativity. When you work for a company that practices social responsibility, you just feel good when you come to the office every day.

How could a Volunteer Time Off program benefit your company and its employees?

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.

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears…and Reappears

Photo credit: Fischer Twins for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Fischer Twins for unsplash.com

It was the title of the article that first captured my attention more than 30 years ago as a budding, young professional:

Work Hard; Love People; Be A Professional

Then, the first sentence, in all capital letters, begins: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT JOB.

The article, written by Elinor J. Wilson, then Director of the Colgate University Bookstore and sitting President (1985-86) of the National Association of College Stores, appeared in The College Store Journal.

The same article title that caught my attention all those years ago stood out the other day, as I purged old paper files and organized my office. Asking myself the all-important question as I touched each memory, “Does it stay or does it go?,” the answer was an emphatic “Stay!” The fading copy is carefully and meticulously highlighted in yellow, with specific words and phrases then underlined in red.

That first paragraph continues with, “In any position, you will find some duties which, if they are not unpleasant immediately, eventually will be. Success depends not merely on how well you do things you enjoy, but how conscientiously you perform those duties you don’t enjoy.” Reread this last sentence. What refreshing honesty. These words of wisdom could be incorporated easily into new employee orientation or onboarding programs.

Wilson outlines several specific, simple rules to better one’s chance for success:

• Have ambition

• Learn everything you can about your work

• Broaden your horizons

• Set your goals high

• Learn self-discipline and self-reliance

• Communicate effectively; put your ideas into clear language

• Be thorough; cover every side of a question; follow every lead

• Set a definite goal for yourself

She adds, “Before you know it, you may find the ladder of success stretching out below you instead of rising ominously in front of you.” She emphasizes how important it is to Keep (maintain action by care and labor) Doing (deeds of interest and excitement). The true professional is in constant motion, continuously improving, and including others in important decisions.

One of my favorite sections of the article, though, is a discussion about time.

“If you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,400, that carried over no balance from day to day, and allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you had failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!

“Well, you have such a bank, and its name is time. Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdrafts.

“Each day it opens a new account with you. Each night it burns the records of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the tomorrow. You must live in the present, on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success.

“The secret for controlling time is that there is always enough time to do what is really important. The difficulty is knowing what is really important.”

Wilson encourages the reader to focus on professional development, hard work, dedication, and resourcefulness. “Be a giver to life instead of just a receiver,” she adds.

She ends the article with one simple sentence: “The light of leadership shines only because of the spark offered by each individual.”

Wilson’s words of wisdom are as relevant today as they were when she wrote them more than three decades ago. I hope they resonate within you as they continue to do within me. There is so much more that we can do to contribute and create positive change in our workplaces, our communities, and in the world. Keep doing. Work hard. Love people. Be a professional.

What Every Presenter Can Learn From Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes Speech

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Season 75At this year’s Golden Globe Awards event, which was held on January 7, 2018, Oprah Winfrey delivered the speech of a lifetime, as the recipient of the Cecile B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement for her accomplished career in television and movies.

This was no ordinary acceptance speech. Her presentation – both in content and delivery – is one that will endure over time as one of the most powerful of its kind, as you can see on video or listen to on Spotify. It was an opportunity for Oprah to use her dedicated time on the platform to share an important message: “Time’s Up,” a movement begun by women in the entertainment industry to draw attention to and give voice to the pervasive societal issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Women attending the Golden Globes event chose to wear black as a visual symbol of their unity and support of Time’s Up. Refreshingly, red carpet interviews with celebrities focused on the Times Up message rather than couture dresses. Time better spent.

Here’s what made Oprah’s speech so successful and why college professors and speech coaches will be referencing it for years to come:

Attention getting. Oprah opened with an anecdote from her childhood. She remembered at that young age watching television, as an Oscar award for best actor was presented to Sidney Poitier, a black man who served as a positive role model for her. Her story tapped into the emotion of the audience.

Clarity of message. In my presentation skills programs, I remind participants to make their message meaningful and memorable through clarity. Oprah’s message did just that. She communicated her intent clearly and concisely.

Relevance. A message must be relevant to the needs of the audience. In this case, an audience of millions, from ordinary everyday people to celebrities. Her powerful message resonated with people across cultures and socio-economic classes because the time had come to speak openly about an otherwise hushed subject.

Intentional intonation. A good orator uses the voice as an instrument and masters vocal variety. Oprah’s words, so eloquently prepared and delivered, were shared with perfect emphasis and volume.

Use of stories. Stories create an emotional connection with the audience. Oprah shared several stories and personal anecdotes, about her childhood, her hard-working mother, and stories of inspirational female luminaries like Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks.

Selfless content. Oprah’s speech wasn’t about her; it was about a critical societal issue far greater. Audiences often complain about self-centered presenters, saying “All he did was talk about himself. Blah, blah, blah.” Oprah gave voice to a persistent problem in our society, and elevated her message to rise above the ordinary.

Inspiration. Her powerful words provided inspiration to millions of women and girls to speak openly and truthfully about sexually harassment and sexual assault. Those words provided inspiration to all who listened, including men who play an important part in making voices heard. To any disenfranchised people whose voices have gone unheard or who have ever been violated, undervalued or under appreciated in any way there was a recognition that their voices too were being heard.

Power-packed ending. The energy in the room exploded when Oprah emphatically began building her closing remarks with the statement, “A new day is on the horizon…”

So many people were openly inspired and motivated that Oprah’s acceptance speech immediately started a speculative buzz about whether she would consider running for President in 2020. To borrow one of Oprah’s signature phrases, “This I know for sure”…Words really do have power, tremendous power. Words can spark curiosity, command attention, and motivate others to take action. Words can take you to places where you never before imagined or dreamed.

Questions:

In what way can you incorporate more power into your presentations?

How can you better motivate and inspire others to take action?

Photo credit: Paul Drinkwater, NBC News

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.

Natural Disasters Provide Lessons in Crisis Communication 101

crisis1From crisis comes lessons learned…hopefully.

The recent devastation in Texas, Florida, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, left thousands of homes and businesses destroyed, people displaced from their homes, in desperate need of basic essentials like shelter, food, and water, and sadly, lives were lost.

When you know a crisis situation is coming, you have some time to prepare a communication plan. Authorities had learned from Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and others in recent years. When you apply lessons learned, tweak and adapt along the way, then you have a solid communication strategy.

With each repeat event, more is learned about what needed to be communicated and when. What will you do when crisis strikes? Here are a few important reminders when communicating catastrophic events.

Send Clear Messages. Keep your message clear and simple, and repeat, repeat, repeat. The anticipated devastation and flooding levels in each of these hurricanes reached the public days in advance through meteorologists, the media, FEMA, government leaders, social media, and in-person efforts. The messaging for protection against the elements and evacuation when recommended needs to be clear.

Be Calm Yet Emphatic. When you are the lead spokesperson during a crisis, people look to you for a calming presence. You provide stability and hope. Authorities remained calm yet serious when communicating with residents who were in the path of the hurricane.

Use Multiple Channels. Don’t rely on one communication channel…use all of them. From the most sophisticated electronic communication to the old-fashioned person-to-person, look to all communication channels to assist you in getting your message to the public.

Prioritize Safety and Security. The Number One concern in times of disaster is the safety and security of residents. Agencies were prepared for tens of thousands of residents who were displaced in the hardest hit areas of Texas and Florida. Yet, communication took much longer to reach those in more remote areas of Puerto Rico.

Anticipate Resistance. During crisis situations, you must anticipate some resistance. It’s human nature for people to look at other options if they have them. In Texas and Florida, some residents chose to stay in their homes to wait out the storm. They discovered that was no longer an option and were eventually rescued and evacuated. On the island of Puerto Rico, there were no such options…only to wait out the storm in the safest place possible.

Bring Mobile Devices to the Rescue. The use of mobile phones and social media channels opened up communication more quickly as long as communication towers were in operation. People were able to send out an electronic SOS and also could locate people who needed rescuing more quickly. In times of great devastation, however, lack of electricity makes it improbable or impossible to communicate through any electronic channels. You must then revert to more traditional communication channels, like person-to-person.

Be Timely. Leading up to a disaster, every minute is precious because your message must reach the public post haste, whether it is to take cover or to evacuate. Following the aftermath of a disaster, the use of time shifts to the Number One priority: saving lives. In the case of Puerto Rico, there was not enough attention given to the distribution of life-saving food and water. Many lessons will be learned from that terrible devastation.

Have a Plan B, C, and D. In disasters of epic proportions, relief and rescue workers must make decisions quickly and shift to trying something different. If Plan A doesn’t work, go to Plan B; if that doesn’t work, go to Plan C, then D, and so on. In times of great emergency, you must think of absolutely every potential outcome and be prepared to act swiftly. The clock keeps ticking.

Possessions can be replaced; human lives cannot.

When you are faced with a crisis, draw upon past experiences and apply those teachings to the situation at hand. Hopefully the lessons learned from these recent natural disasters will help leaders better handle crisis communication in the future.

Find Joy in Serving Others

HelpingHands2One of the greatest pleasures you can get out of life is being completely selfless — thinking of others before you think of yourself. It doesn’t require much effort…just a little.

On a hot summer day more than a decade ago, my husband and I attended a local art festival. Did I mention that it was a hot day? It was about 90 degrees. After an hour of walking in the heat, I needed something to quench my thirst. The iced cold beverages were flying out of the vendors’ coolers and I decided to buy one. As I stood in line, a woman in a wheelchair was ahead of me. She asked the vendor how much the water was. “One dollar,” he replied. “Oh, I don’t have a dollar with me,” said the woman. The man said he was sorry but the water cost one dollar.

That’s when I decided that I would buy this woman a bottle of water. After I made my purchase, I walked over to the woman and handed her the bottle. “Here is some water for you,” I said. She looked at me in disbelief. Surely she was mistaken. Why would a total stranger present her with a bottle of cold water? “What?” she asked. “I overhead you say that you wanted some water. Here’s some water for you,” I said again. She extended her arms up and pulled me down to her to give me a hug. She began to cry. She said, “God bless you! Thank you. I was just released from the hospital this morning and I don’t have any money with me. I’m so hot and thirsty. Thank you so much.” Giving water to that woman was the high point of my day. I have a feeling my act of kindness was the high point of her day.

Think of the people around you — at work or at home — who may be struggling, frustrated, or simply confused. Your word of encouragement, act of kindness, or generosity of time can change their outlook. What can you share with them?

Sometimes you have to trust your intuition and do what your heart, not your mind, wants to do. When you see someone in need, ask yourself how you could help. You, too, could make someone’s day. Wonderful surprises await you. Ask yourself every morning, “Who can I help today?” At the end of each day, ask yourself, “Who did I help today?” It only takes a minute or two. Soon, serving others will become so natural for you, you will do it without thinking.

©Christine Zust

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.