Professionalism and the Presidency

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet at the first Presidential Debate,

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet at the first Presidential Debate,

For those of you who follow my posts, you know that I am a thought leader on professionalism in the workplace. I even wrote a book about it.

This week, I am using that thought leadership lens to look at the first U.S. presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. After all, the position of President of the United States is the highest and most professional role that any American can hold.

I have shared some of the qualities that the President must possess to represent our country here and abroad, and I have provided a score in each of these categories. You may agree or disagree with my thoughts, and that’s okay.

Leadership. Hillary Clinton was the first to extend her hand to Donald Trump for an historical handshake as they both entered the stage. Clinton then walked to NBC-TV news anchor Lester Holt, moderator, and extended her hand. A leader takes the initiative. She set the tone. Score 1 for Hillary.

Clarity. For each question that was asked of Hillary Clinton, she answered the question clearly, offering factual information. The majority of Donald Trump’s responses were off topic, vague, or not connected with the question in any way. Quite frankly, he side-stepped most questions. Score 1 for Hillary.

Respect. When I think of the leader of the free world, I think of someone who is diplomatic, thoughtful, calm, and clear. Donald Trump showed disrespect for Hillary Clinton by interrupting (or manterrupting) her 51 times during the 90-minute debate, according to Vox. Debates are carefully structured, allowing each candidate two minutes to answer the same question provided by the moderator, then followed up with a more open banter. Despite persistent interrupting by Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton remained calm and positive. She didn’t roll her eyes or huff and puff or make faces. She remained consistently calm. Trump, on the other hand, made faces throughout the debate. I shuddered to think how such behavior on his part would be interpreted by another world leader. Score 1 for Hillary.

Preparation. Sorry, Trump supporters. Donald Trump flunked this test big time. As a communication expert, I teach people how to deliver powerful presentations. The first step in any solid performance is preparation. Answering his first question, Trump revealed his lack of preparation. His rhetoric and ramblings were anything but presidential. Despite what Trump has suggested, Clinton not only looked presidential, she responded as a President would. Why? Because she had prepared for the debate. She has the experience. Some political pundits felt Clinton was over-prepared or too scripted. I don’t share their perspective. She was speaking from her extensive knowledge base. Score 1 for Hillary.

Insight. A professional transcends hyperbole and sound bytes to offer deeper understanding, insights, ideas, and solutions. Trump didn’t back up his comments with any solid solutions. Clinton added additional thoughts, insights, and references to specific plans. Score 1 for Hillary.

Trust. Trust and trustworthiness has been a huge issue in this presidential campaign. After seeing each candidate perform at this first debate, I had to ask myself the most important question of all: “Who do I trust the most to lead our country as President?” Score 1 for Hillary.

There you have it. This is my opinion of who I believe presented a more professional image for our country, based on what I saw, heard and felt during this first debate. Of the two candidates, Hillary Clinton was more professional, better prepared, more thoughtful in her responses, and frankly, more presidential. Donald Trump fell short in all categories. He was ill prepared, non-substantive, vague, and disrespectful. In this first debate, substance trumped shallowness. Let’s see what happens in the second and third debates.

Shed a Tear, Shed the Stress


We are taught from a very early age that crying is not good for us. As we were growing up, adults would say, “Stop crying,” “Don’t cry” or ask, “Why are you crying?” We were conditioned to believe that something was wrong with us if we felt the urge to cry.

For professionals, crying is forbidden in the workplace. It is perceived as a sign of weakness, or showing a lack of maturity. Yet, seeing someone get teary eyed, or wipe tears from their eyes shows emotion. Seeing adults shed a tear means that they are feeling something.

Growing up, we cried because we were physically hurt (like falling off a bike and scraping our knees) or something bad happened to us (like getting spanked or reprimanded) or we were upset about something (like we didn’t make the final cut in a competition).

As it turns out, crying is good for us. Crying relieves tension, reduces stress and has been postulated to remove chemicals that build up during stress from the body. It helps us to feel better. In a way, crying cleanses our psyche.

William H. Frey II, PhD., a biochemist and tear expert as well as founder and director of the Alzheimer’s Research Center at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, studied crying. His early research was published in the seminal book, Crying: The Mystery of Tears. Here’s what he found: For those participating in his research, 85% of women and 73% of men reported feeling better after crying. For each tiny drop, a tear is quite complex. Frey found that human emotional tears contain three things:

1) Leucine-enkephalin, an endorphin that reduces pain and elevates mood;

2) Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), a hormone that is elevated in the blood during stress; and

3) Prolactin, a hormone that regulates both mammal milk production and the development and function of our tear glands. Although we may not know definitively why human beings possess the ability to shed tears in response to emotional stress, it is likely they help reduce the harmful effects of stress on our bodies.

The next time you feel like crying, just sit down with a big box of tissues and have that good cry. The release of toxins will lift your emotional state. It will also make you more pleasant to work with!

If you encounter someone crying in the workplace, here are a few tips to guide your behavior:

Don’t judge. We are often quick to judge another person’s behavior, especially when it is deemed out of the norm. We are not mind readers. We don’t know what a person has experienced in the past or even today. Sometimes an emotion is triggered through a tone in someone’s voice, a look, or specific language. When that emotion is tapped, crying can result. You may be showing a photograph of your beautiful baby girl to a group of co-workers and not know that one of them (who begins welling up with tears) has been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for the past few years. Try to remain open minded rather than judgmental.

Don’t reprimand. When someone begins crying in the workplace, don’t become the parent and tell that person not to cry. And definitely don’t scold her or him by saying, “It’s very unprofessional to cry. Pull yourself together!!” Rather, find a quiet spot if you’re not already in one. Sit with the person for a while and offer comfort. Open with a statement like, “You appear to be upset about something” or “It seems that something I have said has upset you.” Begin a conversation.

Listen and Learn. People can often hold in feelings and then let them come out all at once, sometimes with tears. This happened to me more than 20 years ago when a staff member came into my office, closed the door, began crying, and said, “I just don’t know what you want me to do.” It seemed that I was being more of a controlling perfectionist than I had realized. Her outburst helped me to see things from her perspective. At once, I understood how she felt. As her boss, I felt good knowing that she confided in me at a very personal level. Our working relationship, and our communication, opened up from that moment.

Recommend. If the person is repeatedly breaking down at work, it may be time to recommend outside help through counseling or a physician’s visit. The persistent crying could be a sign of more serious mental or emotional distress which may require medical attention.

If you are on the receiving end of someone’s tears in the workplace, make yourself fully available to be a comforting, consoling adult. Don’t judge. Don’t reprimand. Listen and learn. Recommend. Your attention will help more than you know.

Empathy Is Needed in a Post-9/11 America

Artist Faith Rinngold and New York children, ages 8-10, created the 9/11 Peace Story Quilt, 2006

Artist Faith Rinngold and New York children, ages 8-10, created the 9/11 Peace Story Quilt in 2006

Where were you on September 11, 2001? What were you feeling as the events of that day unfolded?

I remember exactly where I was. I was working on the computer in my home office, getting ready for a morning meeting in downtown Cleveland. The phone rang. It was one of my clients. She quickly said, “Turn on your TV!” When I asked her why, she repeated, “Just go and turn on your TV!!” I ran downstairs, and found national news anchor Peter Jennings reporting live on ABC-TV. He was showing video footage of a jet hitting the World Trade Center in New York City.

My mind was trying to process what was happening. I stood there shocked and dazed. I realized my client was still on the office line upstairs. When I returned to the call, she provided a few more details. I didn’t know until much later that one of the “hostage” airplanes had flown over Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. I live several miles from the airport.

While the day was filled with disturbing images and reports, for me, the evening was surrealistic. Living so close to the airport, I didn’t hear the usual airplanes overhead that night. It was completely silent.

This year, the citizens of our country and the world remembered that tragic event that happened 15 years ago and the thousands of lives that were lost and thousands more who lost a spouse, partner, parent, child, sibling, relative, friend, neighbor, or co-worker.

9/11 changed the way we travel, how we perceive or judge others, how we communicate, how we measure security, and how we mourned as a nation.

The greatest lesson 9/11 taught us is the power – and the necessity – of empathy.

From my perspective, empathy is sorely lacking in society today. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings.” Simply put, it’s trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sympathy, on the other hand, is defined as “a feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.; a sympathetic feeling is a feeling of support for something.” Both require some level of compassion. To me, empathy requires a deeper level of compassion than sympathy. It requires stretching your capacity to genuinely “feel” for another person. Empathy also requires setting aside your ego and your own wants, desires, and needs and focusing on another person’s wants, desires, and needs. It also demands that you listen from your heart rather than your head.

The world today is a far different place than it was 15 years ago. Your skill set has expanded to include a greater consideration for cultural differences, diversity, and inclusion. Workplace environments and laws governing the country, states and cities have broadened our perspectives.

9/11 is a time of remembrance. It is also a time to reflect and ask yourself how you’re doing. How do you demonstrate empathy in your workplace? In your personal life? In your community? How open-minded are you when you travel to other countries or when you welcome new citizens to ours? Where can you incorporate peace, love, and unity in your life?

Media Fasting Keeps Overactive, Multitasking Minds Healthy

A mare greets the morning sun at Assateague Island State Park, MD

A mare greets the morning sun at Assateague Island State Park, MD

The sound of ocean waves lulls me to sleep as I nap on the beach of Assateague Island, Maryland. That’s how much of my vacation was spent last week. Assateague is a magical place, with miles of walkable beaches, stunning sunrises, and wild horses.

Wouldn’t it be nice to experience that soothing sound rather than listening to the chatter in my head? Always brimming with ideas, thinking of tasks to get done, staying connected, and if I’m lucky, planning to go more places.

Last week, I didn’t post my usual weekly blog because I was on vacation. I didn’t take a computer with me. I didn’t read any emails. I didn’t return any calls. All of my clients knew I was on vacation, as did my friends and family. For the frequent robo-calls I usually receive, I didn’t miss hearing their impersonal, electronic voices.

It felt so freeing, to wake up every morning without a To Do List staring at me, without having to check to see if I received any texts. Honestly, I felt like I was living back in the Twentieth Century. It was such a liberating feeling!

My media fast lasted exactly one week – Sunday through Saturday. Gone was my daily routine of turning on my computer, checking email and social media posts. Guess what? I didn’t miss any of it. Instead, my new daily routine consisted of waking up earlier, watching the sunrise, walking the beach and collecting sea shells. Then came the coffee and breakfast. And later, seafood, of course. The day simply unfolded. No checklists. No stress.

My priorities completely shifted. Usually my leisure time takes a back seat to work priorities. It was a nice change of pace to do exactly the opposite. My leisure time needs came first.

My husband and I returned from our vacation relaxed and refreshed. I doubt that we would have had the same result if we had remained completely plugged in throughout the week.

If you’re not sure if a media fast could work for you, think about its potential positive effects on your health. One study suggests that reducing the amount of light emitted from electronic devices before bedtime could result in a better night’s sleep. That means don’t view your computer, your mobile device or television right before retiring. Try this and see how you sleep.

Even when you’re not vacationing, you can still enjoy a mini media fast. Consider starting on a weekend with, say, an hour at first, then expand to two or three hours, and perhaps a full day without media. You could also choose to fast from just one source of connection, like Facebook or your favorite online news source, like MSNBC. Notice how you feel after fasting. You may experience feeling more connected…to yourself and the people around you.