United We Stand, United We Fall: A Lesson in Brand Ambassadorship

united.com

united.com

As a professional, your actions represent not only you…they also represent your company. You are a brand ambassador when you work with customers, speak at a national conference, or volunteer in the community. You are the brand, and all it stands for. You are the face of the company. One false move, like bad behavior, can stunt or end career success.

The recent United Airlines debacle demonstrated that actions speak volumes about who you are and what you value.

The United Airlines Flight 3711 incident, which occurred on Sunday, April 2, has been reported, analyzed and picked apart by the media, bloggers and regular folks like you and me. Here’s what happened: The flight was fully booked, and passengers were already seated. One passenger, Dr. David Dao, had been asked to relinquish his seat (which he had paid for) to make room for a United employee. He refused. As a result, Chicago Department of Aviation officers swooped in with brut force, handcuffed and carted Dr. Dao off the plane. In the process, his nose and a few teeth were broken. A video captured by another passenger immediately went viral. The rest, as they say, is history. In fact, it was an historic event.

It didn’t have to be this way. A moment of thought before taking an action would have resulted in an entirely different outcome…a more positive one…for everyone involved.

Days later, top headlines are still trending:

Newsweek: Why United Was Legally Wrong to Deplane David Dao

NBC News: United CEO: Doctor being dragged off plane was ‘watershed moment’

What would a good brand ambassador do? Here are a few thoughts:

Know what your brand stands for. Your brand is that one thing that represents who you are and what you stand for. First, United’s brand begins with its name, United. That one word creates a larger-than-life image of the company. What does United stand for? Second, you may or may not remember United Airlines’ famous tagline, “Fly the friendly skies.” Because of the brut force that was used to remove Dr. Dao from his seat, one might question, “Is United really friendly?” If United’s thought leaders had really, well, thought about this, they may have come to the conclusion that the action that was being considered didn’t fit with the United brand. But things didn’t play out that way. Every employee of United is a brand ambassador for the airline. And every employee of the Chicago Department of Aviation serves as a brand ambassador for the organization.

Do the right thing. Consider the public’s reaction once the video went viral. It was clear that everyone agreed that the situation was not handled properly. We have all been in situations where our gut screamed out to us “Don’t do it!!!!!” Yet, we ended up not listening to our intuition and lived to regret our poor choice. When your conscience speaks, listen.

If protocol is flawed, pitch it. “I was just following protocol” is not a good enough reason. Sure, United Airlines had a policy. All airlines have policies, procedures and protocol. Sometimes you need to look at protocol, look at the situation, consider the outcome, and ask if the protocol fits the situation and if the outcome is one you desire. If things don’t add up, it’s time to re-examine the protocol or throw it out completely in that situation. The incident has resulted in United Airlines changing its policy.

Take quick, responsible action. The leadership at United Airlines first offered a boilerplate response to the media, saying they were examining what had happened before commenting. A few days later, United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized and took full responsibility. This was too little too late. Two days after the incident, United’s stock had fallen by 4%, roughly $1.5 billion. Although the stock has regained some of its strength, United will carry this ding on its record forever.

Be strategic. In my workshops, I remind people how important it is to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the marketplace. Technology makes it so easy to do. If you want to get ahead in your career, you have to stay ahead of the competition. A change in the airline industry began shortly after the United Airlines incident. A CBS News headline says it all: “Three airlines change policies in wake of United’s passenger dragging incident.”

Build a culture of respect and compassion. You will never find yourself in an awkward situation or have to apologize for bad behavior if you treat every person that you meet with respect and compassion. More people recognize  that this is the best way to move forward together.

The United Airlines incident is already becoming an important case study for business schools, communication scholars, human resource professionals and enforcement officers. Hopefully this is one case where we will learn from mistakes and bring about positive change as brand ambassadors.

Without Art, There Is No Humanity

Pictured: Cleveland Public Theatre’s Brick City Theatre. Photo by Steve Wagner.

Art is an essential part of my life. It enhances my well-being. You may be the kind of person who values access to community programs that offer music, dance or theatre performances, literary readings, or lectures on philosophy or history. Without art, there is no humanity. Without humanity, hope is compromised.

I was introduced to the arts at a very early age. My mother, a gifted singer, played piano and sang to me in our living room to keep me occupied before I was old enough to go to school. She also acted in our local community theater for many years. I have fond memories of sitting in the back of that community theater, watching my mom in rehearsals. I continued that love of artistic expression into adulthood, and served on the board of directors for several small arts organizations. Today, I remain a dedicated arts patron.

Every nonprofit arts organization relies on some form of public funding to bring its creative and brilliantly produced programs to the community. Currently, several important cultural institutions are being threatened: The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). As independent agencies of the U. S. Federal government, the NEA and NEH were established through the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, which was enacted by Congress.

The NEA supports arts programming in the areas of accessibility, dance, international arts, media arts, musical theater and theater, visual arts, design, literature, museums, opera, arts education, folk and traditional arts, and music.

“What are the humanities?” you may ask. The National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, as amended, explains:

“The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a nonprofit corporation created by Congress in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 is also under scrutiny. CPB provides funding assistance to more than 1,500 public radio and television stations across the country. Programs provide rich educational, historical, and entertainment content.

Funding for these three essential organizations is less than $750 Million. To put things into perspective, proposed U.S. military spending is expected to increase by 10%, equivalent to a $54 Billion hike. That’s with a B, and that’s just the increase.

Where would our American society be without the arts and humanities? The value that these three organizations provide to citizens is unparalleled. Millions of underprivileged children have benefited from after-school arts programs. Senior citizens on fixed incomes have tuned into interviews with thought leaders and listened to great performances. Families have enjoyed free community performances.

Consider how your life (and the lives of your family, your children), has been enriched by programming in the arts and humanities. Now think about how the lives of future generations will be affected if these vital organizations disappear. Take a moment to join the fight to retain the NEA, the NEH and the CPB. It only takes a moment.

#NEHMatters

#NEAMatters

#CPBMatters

#SavetheNEH

#SavetheNEA

#SavetheCPB

@NEHgov

@CPBMedia

@ClevelandPublicTheatre

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

The Power of Unified Silence

CircleBannerOn Sunday, July 17, 2016, on the eve of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, I witnessed the power of unified silence by participating in Circle the City With Love, a 30-minute silent “stand” to show the world that with peace, love and unity, anything is possible. Standing with me was my husband, Mark, my sister Marianne and my brother-in-law Gene. Circle the City With Love was the idea of Sister Rita Petruziello, executive director of River’s Edge, a sponsored ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph on Cleveland’s west side.

People from all walks of life, representing diversity in age, race, religion, lifestyle, economic background, and gender, joined hands as a sign of solidarity in bringing the Circle the City With Love message to the community, the nation, and the world. More than 2,000 people spanned the Hope Memorial Bridge, forming two lines across the historic 4,490-foot bridge. A group of about 30 police officers on bicycles received cheers of support and thank you’s from the crowd as they rode across the bridge.

SrRitaPetruziello

Sister Rita Petruziello

When the fog horn blew, indicating that the 30 minutes of silence had begun, people became quiet immediately. I found myself fully present and aware of every environmental sound and sensation, the breeze, the heat of the sun on my shoulders, the din of distant traffic. Within moments, I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I experienced firsthand the power of purposeful silence. I wasn’t distracted by my usual “monkey mind” which is quite active, thinking of things to do. Rather, my mind was relaxed and at peace, joyfully demonstrating solidarity, unity, peace, compassion, love, and hope in action.

When the fog horn sounded to indicate the end of the stand, strangers embraced, hugged, shook hands, chatted a bit, and then went on with the rest of their day. Donning our Circle the City With Love t-shirts allowed us to identify our community anywhere in the city for the rest of the day. We didn’t have to say a word, just simply nod, sending a nonverbal cue that we shared a common purpose.

-8a5c2ebe922493b7Just one day prior, I had listened to Day 6 of Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey’s free 21-day meditation series, Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life. The message for that day was You Deserve More Than Second-Hand Experiences. A first-hand experience is one that you create for yourself, one that no one else can demand of you, one that reminds you, as Deepak suggests, that “I am the author of my day.”

For me, the Circle the City With Love experience was a powerful, memorable first-hand experience. As a result, I am challenging myself to create more first-hand experiences that expand my perspective and worldview.

When you live a purposeful life, you gain more from it. As Henry David Thoreau said, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”

How are you rising above and becoming the author of your day?

Images: Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com.

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.

In Life, Take the Long Way Around

BlackRockSunsetIt was a bone-chilling Halloween night, leaving our legs and fingertips tingling from the cold. My friend Linda, my older sister Marianne and I were making our way back home, three long blocks away, after filling our sacks with candy. Linda complained that her thighs were numb, so we had a brilliant idea. “Let’s cut through.” We knew we would save time by cutting through people’s property, even though we knew it wasn’t socially acceptable. And so the cut-through began. First Dennison, then Lexington, then our street, Northfield. Just three blocks. We picked up our pace. Our short steps turned into long jogs.

I was quite proud of my sweets stash. My new orange plastic pumpkin with the black handle was chock full of candies and goodies. I knocked on a lot of doors to earn that candy. I couldn’t wait to get home to show my parents.

From the darkness between Lexington and Northfield came two masked teenage boys, much taller than us, running, shouting “A-r-r-r-r-r-r” and grabbing at our goodies. I fell down, and so did my teeming pumpkin, spilling some contents on the ground. I was so startled, I didn’t even stop to retrieve my lost candy. The three of us ran as fast as we could to Northfield. We stopped to catch our breath only when our feet touched the sidewalk. That experience left such an indelible impression on my young eight-year-old mind that I vowed never to cut through people’s property ever again. (The impression, of course, was reinforced by my parents when my sister and I told them what happened).

The experience taught me an important life lesson: When you think of taking short cuts, don’t. Take the long way around. In the end, you will be safe (or even sane) and further ahead in the process.

How often does that little voice inside of you say “Oh, just put in the basic information. No one will know the difference.” Taking the time to think something through, do the extra research or write a content-rich report is worth it in the end. Next time you’re tempted to take that shortcut, take the long way around instead.

OH-IO: A Lesson in Responsibility

 

Cardale Jones Photo: Getty Images

The story – and media clips – of the College Football Playoff National Championship game between The Ohio State University Buckeyes and the University of Oregon Ducks will go down in history as teaching top lessons about the power of positive thinking, team building, leadership and responsibility. It’s this last topic, responsibility, that deserves attention.

If you were in the shoes of Cardale Jones, the Buckeyes’ third string quarterback, would you be able to rise to the occasion as he did? How often in your career have you been asked to fill in for someone else who was originally assigned to lead a project team, deliver a conference presentation or meet with a big client? Each time you were chosen as a substitute, you faced a challenge: Do I shirk responsibility (“I can’t do this…I’m not qualified”) or claim responsibility (“I can – and will – deliver”)? Cardale Jones claimed responsibility and with that came victory.

Third string means there were two other quarterbacks ahead of Jones in the line-up. When the lead quarterback was injured, that moved Jones into second position. When that lead quarterback was injured, that moved Jones into the lead QB position. In this lead role for just a few weeks, Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes’ victory over the University of Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Two weeks later, Jones again led the Buckeyes into victory over the Ducks with a 42-20 win, clenching the national championship title.

WOW. Congratulations to QB Cardale Jones, running back Ezekiel Elliott, coach Urban Meyer and the entire Buckeyes franchise for winning the national championship. If the media buzz is any indication, this success story will be told and retold for many years to come in schools, community centers and meeting rooms to inspire and motivate people to do their best.

The take away from this historical event: Anything is possible when you align leadership, team and talent with dedication, drive and responsibility. May we all be more responsible in our lives and in the work we do.