Don’t Be Right — Be Effective

Shouting never helps.

Is it me, or is everybody getting a bit overwrought these days? Election rhetoric tends to cause a certain degree of national divisiveness, but this year it is compounded by the added stress of pandemic concerns, economic woes, and social justice issues. Everything seems to be subject to debate, even such former “givens” as whether or not our kids should go to school. We’ve somehow lost the ability to engage in civil discourse; the simplest disagreements can provoke rage.

There is plenty of misunderstanding to go around and not enough empathy. No one was ever convinced to listen to a differing opinion when it’s being shouted at them. In fact, most opinions are grounded in our emotions — and an appeal to logic is wasted. People don’t like how they feel in confrontational situations. Arguments don’t lead to understanding. That’s why, as people of influence within our community, our businesses, and our families, we have an obligation to take the high road.

Don’t worry about being right — worry about being effective. Work toward unity. Act with integrity. Focus on common goals. Be productive. Inspire other people to do the same. This is the only way we can move forward as a country, a society, and an industry.
There are only two ways to deal with a landmine — you can set it off, or you can quietly, patiently, carefully dig it out and defuse it.

It it’s time to come together. The first move is yours.

When It’s Okay to Go Outside Again

Being safe and feeling safe may not be the same thing.

Is it safe to go outside yet? It’s a question we’ve all asked at some time or another. Whether the object of our fear was a tornado that drove us to the basement, a high school crush so intense we hid in the restroom, or an extended lunch spent avoiding a boss waiting to assign anyone some thankless task, we’ve all sought refuge from time to time. And there’s always a pivot point where we feel it’s okay to make our move back to the daily norm.

Unfortunately, we’ve been sheltering a long time from COVID-19, and the signals have been kind of vague about how long it will last. We are all eager for the “all clear” sign. But will we trust it? I suspect that the longer we’re in quarantine, the scarier it will be to come out.

This must be a consideration when those of us in the Live Events industry start planning for a rebound. We need to think about a global population reeling from the trauma of a pandemic caused by the kind of casual human contact that typifies participation in a conference, trade show, exhibition, or ticketed entertainment event.

There’s a precedent for this kind of lingering fear. After 9/11, many people were reluctant to fly. The global response was to add elaborate security measures that forever changed the boarding procedures — and a way of life — for all of us. In the wake of 9/11, the anthrax scare rekindled fears and additional security measures became part of the new normal. Mass shootings and other terrorist actions further heightened our sense of vulnerability and fear. Today, we don’t really blink twice when asked to step through a scanner at the airport, or through metal detectors at a sports arena or even our kids’ school. On some level, these new routines are reassuring, even if they’re annoying.

So what should we be doing now to anticipate the feelings of people whom we hope will rejoin us at our events when it’s officially safe to come out? How can we make it feel safe to mingle at live events where large crowds will be gathered? A recent TrendWatching report points toward “ambient wellness,” wherein those hosting live events “embed health-boosting measures into the very spaces that their customers pass through, making staying healthy effortless.”

We are working with our events partners to establish new, industry-wide safety standards. Convention centers and event planners are already considering measures to ease congestion, promote better air filtration, provide wellness booths, and even screen people for temperatures. Most likely we’ll be given hand sanitizer at the doors. And the wearing of face masks may become a sign of respect for fellow event participants that are as ubiquitous as a lanyard and credentials. It’s vital that we consider both what is required to keep people safe — and what it will take to help them feel safe.

A coalition of businesses representing various aspects of the Live Event industry is working to solve this and related challenges. Together, we are advocating for additional funding to support safety standards. And we are considering other programs that might encourage attendance at Live Events, once sanctions are lifted, because we believe this is needed to accelerate economic recovery. This has everything to do with learning to be smarter, more generous, more innovative citizens of the world. As we state in the Freeman manifesto, we “stand in support of the human commitment to create prosperity, economic impact, knowledge, learning, and social connection.” The live experiences we produce collectively, as an industry, create a space where innovation, change, and purpose come together.

Although people in the coalition represent diverse organizations, each is a champion for the power of live events and the need for live, large-scale human connection. It’s how good ideas spread and how innovation become contagious. If you’d like to be part of this movement, visit golivetogether.com. It will help you stay informed about opportunities for action and provide access to tool kits you can use to engage your employees, partners, the media, and legislators. You are also invited to join Go LIVE Together colleagues who are connecting via the usual social channels: Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn.

Until it’s safe to come out, don’t! But there’s so much we can do right now to get events back on track. We don’t have to be afraid. We just have to act responsibly, be proactive, and collaborate on solutions. Let’s help people come together in a way that is safe. Let’s do what we can to help them feel secure. Let’s go LIVE together.

In a Dark Moment — A New Movement

Accelerating economic recovery, together

I think we are already seeing that the legacy of this pandemic will be the way people forced into isolation were determined to find safe ways to connect. Musicians offering free concerts from their living rooms, where fans comment in real time and request favorite songs. Teachers figuring out how to reach their dispersed students through distance learning. Congregations worshiping together on Zoom, Facebook, or whatever platform serves their purpose. People persist in connecting.

The obvious irony, of course, is that being pushed apart brought us together. Human beings don’t like being pushed. Not by terrorists. Not by acts of nature. Not by COVID-19. Movements are born when people are ready to push back.

We’re seeing this in the Live Events industry. It’s pretty gratifying. When I first started worrying about the new coronavirus, my immediate concern was understanding the impact on my company and my employees. But by the time of my first blog on this pandemic, when events were being cancelled and our customers were trying to figure out the right thing to do, it was clear that this was a bigger problem. Clients, suppliers, fierce competitors and colleagues all struggled to find solutions. And out of this struggle, a movement started taking shape. It’s an unlikely coalition of leaders coming together around the  shared, vested interest in protecting and, when the time is right and it is safe to do so, jump-starting the LIVE Events industry.

Self-serving? Yes. And no.

Our shared purpose is two-fold. First, to ensure millions of workers and thousands of businesses reliant on events get the relief they desperately need to continue working in an industry they love. Second, to restore an industry that is a vital accelerator to economic recovery. For everyone.

Through participation in trade shows, travel to conferences, and attendance at performing arts and sporting events, customers are generated across the travel and hospitality industries. Food vendors, janitorial services, and represented labor in the host cities all benefit. And as I’ve written about before, by providing a forum to connect professionals to the latest technologies and research, we are an incubator for the very innovations that drive business and, perhaps, will lead to solutions the world needs to preempt the next threat to our welfare.

Speaking on behalf of my company, Freeman, we are proud to stand with a coalition of businesses who are ready to lead the movement to accelerate economic recovery.  Many people. One voice. Ready to Go LIVE Together. Please join us.

www.golivetogether.com

#eventsimpact #GoLIVEtogether

 

Building Core Strength

Corporate viability helps customers today and tomorrow

We’ve been talking to some really smart industry people, listening to the pandemic experts and closely following the economic forecasts. What we’ve concluded is that, while we should prepare for any number of recovery flight paths, we cannot plan on any one of them playing out as scripted. Everyone agrees that the economy is taking a serious hit. Few agree on when we’ll turn the corner. Or on what we’ll see when we get there.

No one expects the events industry to bounce back overnight. No one expects it to rebound unchanged. It will take all of our best thinking to imagine and design the new shape of what’s next. I’m optimistic we will emerge with something better.

But I’m also a realist. And to be honest, the single most important thing we can do today to help our customers is work on core strength. We’re asking our people to stay safe, and many are using the extra home time to strengthen their core muscles. But we also need to stay healthy as an organization. We are calling on business leaders everywhere to do whatever we have to do to keep our businesses viable. Otherwise, with no partners to engage in commerce, there will be no economic recovery. There will be no jobs for our people to come back to.

Perhaps that sounds simplistic. Or draconian. But a look back across Freeman’s 93-year legacy confirms that this is the right move. History is full of relevant lessons. In WWII, Churchill did everything in his power to improve morale. But historian James Taylor notes that he also took steps to strengthen political and military effectiveness by ensuring that planning and decision-making processes were “simpler and more efficient.” The lesson: focus on what was critical.

In the U.S., many economists predicted a new recession as returning GIs flooded the job market in which factories converted to war-time efforts were no longer operating. In fact, businesses prepared to respond to the pent-up demand for their goods and services thrived, and America saw one of its greatest economic booms. The lesson: be ready with what customers want.

comprehensive study of the devastation and recovery of various communities hit by natural disaster urges not just rebuilding but redesigning to address fundamental problems:  “Sudden loss creates opportunities for reorganizing the elements of a community — not just facilities, but also services…. disaster-related challenges provide an opportunity to approach community redevelopment in ways that improve health and social well-being.” The lesson: leaders should focus on making things better than before.

Today, the World Economic Forum urges an investment in infrastructure as a way to stave off recession. “The U.S. infrastructure industry is 30 years behind its global counterparts but a new centralized and data-driven approach to infrastructure projects could help it catch up; Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and innovation could help make the industry more resource and cost efficient.” The lesson: invest in the core to prepare for recovery.

That’s our plan. Freeman is the world’s leading live event and brand experience company. We continue to lead today. We will lead the way to the future. And our success will always come, and only come, by being focused on our customers’ needs. That’s a strategic imperative. It’s what we do. It’s our strength.

Today, despite furloughs, we have over nine hundred people at Freeman who are working with customers and fleshing out products and services we feel will be essential when everyone is ready to move forward. We are accelerating our capacity to support customers beyond the physical experience. We are embracing the concept that LIVE connection is not limited to physical connection. And we are deploying the critical resources to support our customers, when they’re ready to move forward, with what we believe will be the new look of what’s next. As importantly, we have the best people in the world standing by, waiting for the call to return to duty. Their expertise, their deep-seated values, are foundational to our recovery plan. We owe them our best effort to do whatever it takes to revitalize our business, our industry, and our economy.

That’s the plan. Be here. Be healthy. Be ready to move forward.

 

 

Hoarding: It’s a Maslow Moment

What empty shelves tell us about ourselves

Much has been written about the hoarding phenomena that has accompanied the pandemic — I’m pretty sure there will be a vast catalog of memes when this is all done. Maybe someday, in retrospect, they will seem funny. Right now, it can be pretty disappointing to witness the retail carnage that seems to precipitate each visit to the grocery store. In trying to understand what’s happened to an otherwise civilized people, two things come to mind.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken our sense of what’s dependable and real. And as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reminds us, we are only as good as the certainty of our food supply. Threaten our basic needs, and it’s a race to that fall-out bunker at the bottom of the pyramid. Like good little squirrels, we start to pack away supplies to make us feel better about the unknown future.

Also, there’s a lesson here from the oil crises of the ‘70s, when cars would line up at gas stations for hours in order to fill their tanks and spare gas cans. The trick was, there may have been ample fuel to meet basic needs — as much as every day in the previous week — but suddenly everyone wanted to have a full tank at the exact same time.  Millions of barrels of gasoline that had been part of the retail sector inventory were suddenly transferred to  consumers’ vehicles. The distribution system couldn’t cope with the surge. And while few people were intentionally hoarding, the effect was the same. People who didn’t need a full tank were depriving those who had no fuel at all.

What does this have to do with us in the pandemic-riddled world? Most people aren’t TRYING to hoard. They are just doing what humans do when our sense of normalcy is threatened. They stock up.

There’s an amusing essay in The New Yorker by the brilliant writer David Sedaris that I find more illuminating than some more serious news articles. After admitting that he is a failure at hoarding, Sedaris writes, “It helps to look at which shelves are bare. That teaches you, I suppose, what you should be hoarding.”

His ironic remark raises a question worth considering. What should we be hoarding right now? What will you wish you had in reserve when your “shelf” — perhaps your emotional resilience — seems empty? I want to hoard memories of time spent with my family. I want to hoard appreciation for the many, many people in my company, as well as clients, who have been generous and gracious under trying circumstances. I want to hoard so much gratitude for the healthcare workers, grocery store workers and first responders that I never run out, and never forget to share that gratitude throughout the many years that lie ahead.

I am optimistic about the future, but I know it will be a whole different future than I expected two months ago. What will we need to thrive there? It’s time to take stock.

Get schooled

Thoughts while visiting colleges with my daughter

I really enjoyed the privilege of taking my middle daughter on a tour of potential colleges. She is a bright young woman with plenty of options; she is clear about what she’s looking for. That’s good, because, personally, I felt drawn to each school we attended. Not just as a parent. I imagined attending EVERY school we visited as a student. To me, they all seemed like magical places of learning, with beautiful campuses, rich histories and a who’s who of professors just waiting to impart the secrets of the universe. After four years within their hallowed halls, I would emerge a well-rounded, brilliant, empathetic and nearly perfect human specimen. By the way, my children find this fantasy of mine hilarious. I suppose it is.

It’s the curse of the life-long learner — every opportunity to learn new things seems invaluable. Every educational environment seems awesome. And every earnest place of learning, especially a few of the prestigious schools my daughter was considering, seem like a big deal. At least, it did to me. No doubt, some of this derives from my experience as an Indiana kid reared in solid Midwestern values; I sometimes wonder what I missed by not attending a popular school. But I think what really struck me is the incredible opportunities available to all students. I’m not sure younger people are geared to see this. I suspect it’s an adult’s reflection on the narrowing world of “what’s possible” for us at a time when, for our children, anything seems possible.

Anyway, on this journey with my daughter, two things became really clear: 1) Any environment designed to optimize learning is good. 2) In choosing a college, we drive ourselves crazy for all the wrong reasons.

As a father, I want what’s best for my daughters. What parent doesn’t? But it occurred to me, even as I was being awestruck by our tour of colleges, that the ultimate choice was important only insofar as it was my daughter’s choice and it provided her an environment conducive to learning. What mattered most was my daughter’s own commitment to learn and her overall happiness. And if she chose to attend the free city college for a couple years, and then transfer to a local university, she would thrive. She will succeed because she is primed to get the most out of every opportunity to learn, and there are innumerable, excellent opportunities.

Just about the time the college visits were going on, the scandal broke regarding certain wealthy, entitled parents hiring someone to fraudulently inflate their kids’ entrance exam scores and bribe college admissions officials. Sobbing mothers appeared on the nightly news saying they just wanted to secure their children’s futures. Again, what parent doesn’t? But it’s not something you can achieve just by writing a check, and they must know that. So it makes me question their real motives.

My personal opinion is that as parents we often have so much invested in our children’s success that it becomes an extension of our own personal equity. We like being able to casually mention at dinner parties that our kids are attending a popular school and rubbing elbows with the elite or Nobel Prize winners. We like to flaunt our own brilliant parenting skills.

I suspect we also do this as business leaders. How many times have we heard about C-suite corporate leaders who make a short-term decision to impress Wall Street, their shareholders, or the people at the club, knowing that it will hurt long-term productivity, innovation, and growth? How often is our first consideration “how will this make me look?” instead of “how will this affect future growth?”

Whether we are acting as parents or business leaders, we need to constantly examine our own motives. If we’ve launched our children into a lifetime of learning habits, and designed our organizations for continuous improvement, we’re doing our jobs.

What have I done for you lately?

The best cure for feeling unappreciated is to show appreciation.

I suppose everyone is entitled to the occasional pity party. Even people in the C-suite. Some days it seems that no one knows how hard we work. No one treats us with the respect we’ve earned. No one gives us what we really want. Are we that hard to please?

Yes. Yes, we are that hard to please. So take a deep breath and try this — show someone else some appreciation. And instead of asking, “what have you done for me lately?” ask, “have I done enough for others?”

These two questions typify distinct personalities at opposite ends of the leadership spectrum.

One has a bloated sense of entitlement that is constantly disappointed because no one else seems to prioritize their needs as highly as they do themselves. Their focus is all inward; they can never get enough attention, praise, pandering, credit, or reward for what they see as their due. They enjoy being the boss, but reject the actual pain that can goes with leadership. At best, they are the lonely person in the corner office. At worst, they are the self-centered country-club poser.

The other type of leader is outwardly focused. They worry that they have not given their people enough of themselves — enough inspiration, enough encouragement, enough instruction, enough recognition. They accept the responsibility of leadership, which often includes some ingratitude. They take the high road. They are the real deal.

I’ve learned from both of these types, and I’ve tried to model my behavior on the second. It’s not all that altruistic. The truth is, doing our best for other people feels pretty good. It’s all part of a true leader’s identity — we help organizations and individuals be their best selves. We will fail sometimes, and we will feel bad about it. We may even feel unappreciated. But not for long. Because there are more people who need our help. Who need our encouragement. Who are relying on us to stay outwardly focused.

Every morning we have a choice. Which is the priority — my needs, or their needs? The irony is, the second choice can fulfill them both.

Looking for a fight?

Don’t get angry. Don’t get even. Get real.

Do you ever have the feeling that someone is trying to pick a fight with you, but you can’t quite figure out why? It’s a lot like the schoolyard bully — some big kid who’d pick on you in hopes you’d take the first swing, so he could really pound you. Now that we’re so-called adults, this kind of behavior is usually less physical and more passive-aggressive. Either way, it’s unproductive and unprofessional. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen often enough that I’ve learned to decode the behavior. I find it helps to remind myself that, most of the time, it’s not about me. It’s about something they’re working through and, for whatever reason, I have become the target of choice.

Often this kind of bullying behavior is triggered by some minor or imagined offense on our part. Instead of responding right away (so we know we’ve given offense), our colleague harbors the resentment, nurtures it, and when it finally erupts, it is over-the-top and inappropriate. I suspect most of us are willing to excuse it as, “they’re just having a bad day.” But there is a danger that our colleague is digging a hole they can’t get out of. As business leaders — and as friends — we need to help pull them out, even if they are reluctant to own up to the real source of the grievance.

No one likes to be called out. Especially in a public forum. But if you feel someone is consistently giving you the passive-aggressive treatment, or even worse, if you find that everything someone else is doing seems to rub you the wrong way, so that you lash out at them, it’s time for a one-on-one chat. Be honest. Talk about what you’ve observed, and try to achieve reconciliation.

This is more than business etiquette. Our work is too important to allow for unproductive, disruptive, adolescent behavior. We expect our colleagues to be intelligent; we should be able to insist on emotional intelligence too. This works both ways. If we never learn what we’re doing to offend our colleagues, we can never make it right and relationships will deteriorate, along with the quality of our work. You don’t have to be best friends, but you need to respect each other and the work it’s your job to accomplish together. Instead of digging trenches, you need to march toward mutual goals.

I wish we could simply mandate that passive-aggressive behavior is unacceptable in the workplace. Our time is too valuable. Our emotional construct too vulnerable. Honest, one-on-one discussion can untangle and preempt a lot of office drama. It requires a degree of vulnerability, but it’s imperative to organizational health. And it’s the only way to disarm and redeem schoolyard bullies.

You’ve Got Mail (You Don’t Know it)

Early lessons in leadership – #7.

Early in my career, circa 1990, my work in the nascent tech-media industry forced me to raise my game in computer literacy.  It was a humbling experience — but a great learning opportunity.

I was hired by Seybold Seminars, and when asked about my computer experience, I felt pretty confident.  After all, I had a rudimentary understanding of DOS — I knew how to enter a password to access a central inventory database — what else could there be?

So, there I was, the new guy, when my new boss asked me to cover for her while she went to Australia on holiday. She explained that she’d sent all of her contracts and follow-up information to my in-box. I assured her I was on it. After she left the country, I couldn’t find anything I needed, so I went down to the mailroom and explained that I was looking for some missing files. What I discovered was that she’d sent everything to my email box. I didn’t even know I had one — or how to use it. Epic fail.

For a few days, my work life felt like a bad sit-com. To get it back on track, I had to swallow my pride, make myself vulnerable, and ask for help with email procedures that now seem rudimentary. I had to learn an all-new way of working, and it was pretty intimidating.

Fortunately, I had an awesome, generous boss who saw beyond my shortcomings to the core competencies she knew I brought to the table.  That helped my bruised ego, because I shared her office, and had to learn a suite of new technology tools right in front of her. Every time I fat-fingered something and my Mac computer blasted  a “FAIL” noise, she just shouted out the command sequences I needed.

I never forgot the two lessons I learned from this humiliating experience. First – if you don’t know, don’t fake it. It’s better to be vulnerable and ask for help than to exacerbate the problem. Second – be patient with people who need help learning the ropes. True leaders, like my boss at Seybold, understand the importance of hiring for essential abilities and culture fit. Skills can be taught, but values define us. And empathy is a two-way street.

When Mr. Hyde shows up uninvited…

Office meetings provide a great opportunity to study human behavior. I am always amazed at how the personas of people I work with and enjoy can suddenly change based on the group dynamic.

September_01

One behavior I’ve come to recognize is the Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde effect that happens when a generally mild-mannered person tries to dominate a meeting or conversation. Nine times out of ten, it’s a signal that the person is feeling insecure about something. It may be that they haven’t worked out the bugs in the idea they’re presenting or the position they want to defend. Or the lack of confidence may be because they feel threatened by, or jealous of, someone in the room. Maybe they just feel ill-prepared because they didn’t do their homework and are trying to bluff their way through. As a result, they try to dominate the conversation, make it hard for anyone else to suggest an idea, and act like an annoying boor. Or worse.

This recently happened at a backyard barbecue with neighbors. A family friend, invited to mix with other neighbors for the first time, suddenly started acting like the casual banter was a championship tennis match that she had to win. Her voice became loud. Her opinions were stated with absolute authority. No one else was allowed to interject a thought.

The next day, my wife was still furious that our friend could become so aggressive without provocation. But I recognized the behavior pattern from years of observing people who try to dominate business meetings. So I shared with my wife the rule I’ve adopted for myself. You can be angry about it, or you can have empathy for whatever is driving the insecurity. You can “bench” people for being annoying, or you can “coach” them to play well with others. You may not be able to give them a hug in a meeting room – but you can prop them up with a kind word, show that you’re interested in the idea, and take the emotional volume down a notch.

Eventually, most people take the hint that Dr. Jekyll has more influence than Mr. Hyde and stop bringing him to meetings.  But if you ever get trapped in a meeting or backyard BBQ by a bombastic boor, at least you’ll recognize the symptoms, and can look for a remedy.