In a time filled with hustle and bustle, the wisdom my mother shared decades ago still resonates deeply: "Life isn't just about reaching your destination; it's about savoring the journey, the people you meet, and the places you experience along the way." As I navigate the ever-evolving landscape of my career and personal growth, this insight remains etched in my heart.
Today, I want to share a story that embodies this timeless wisdom.
Meet Laura Clancy, a dynamic young colleague who worked as a public relations account executive in New York City. Laura was a vivacious redhead with sparkling eyes, an appetite for life and a perpetual smile that brightened any room. Beyond her professional accomplishments and growing experience as a leader, she held family close to her heart.
When she received the devastating news in 2000 that her sister, Karen, was battling cancer, Laura made a life-altering decision. She resigned from her agency position, putting her career on hold to care for her ailing sister. Laura’s actions spoke volumes about her commitment to "Family First," a principle she lived by rather than one merely talked about.
Life's journey rarely follows a straight and uneventful path, and Laura understood this truth well. She embraced the unexpected detours that life presented.
Picture a chilly winter morning in Massachusetts, snow softly blanketing the landscape. Undaunted by the weather, Laura embarked on daily distance runs, dedicating herself to the rigorous training required for the 2001 Baltimore Marathon. This event symbolized her resurgence, a momentous step towards rekindling her career. Her determination and unwavering spirit were evident in every step she took.
However, on that fateful marathon day in October, just shy of the finish line, Laura experienced dizziness and exhaustion. Many marathon runners refer to this moment as hitting "the wall." Laura sought medical attention, but tragically, she never regained consciousness. It was discovered that a blood clot in the base of her brain had cut short her promising life at the tender age of 29.
A close friend and our wonderful colleague, Ray Kerins, at the time poignantly described Laura as a compassionate and joyful individual, a remarkable PR professional, and someone whose absence would be deeply felt.
On a sunny day in Milford, Massachusetts, friends and family gathered at St. Mary's, Laura's childhood church, to say their goodbyes. Laura was laid to rest nearby, having completed a remarkable race. As they remembered her journey and celebrated her well-lived but too-short life, they were reminded of the beauty found in life's fleeting moments.
The years pass quickly. When I’m in Manhattan, I always walk over to have a quiet dinner at Wollensky’s Grill at 49th Street and 3rd Avenue. It’s been one of my favorite haunts for decades. I never visit without stopping in reverence at a display near the bar where the restaurant honors those who it refers to as “Absent Friends,” the dead whose memories live on.
Absent friends. Time marches on and the list grows. We remember them. Life unfolds through their stories and experiences we share with others, especially in the tumultuous times we face during the Holiday Season.
Laura's story encourages us to cherish our loved ones, celebrate the journey, and find strength in the face of adversity. It underscores the importance of living authentically, embracing life's twists and turns, and valuing the people who journey alongside us. It reminds us that, ultimately, it's the journey itself that shapes our lives and leaves a lasting impact.
As we navigate our own journeys, may we always remember Laura's indomitable spirit and the enduring message she leaves behind: Enjoy the journey; the destination will arrive in its own time.
The train journey from Tokyo to Hakone was a tranquil and scenic prelude to a day that would leave an indelible mark on my heart. In the company of two Japanese colleagues, Taydoshi Goto and Sherrie Fujinama, we embarked on this trip one crisp October moirning. The countryside unfurled before our eyes, a tapestry of vibrant green and the promise of autumn's splendor. It was a day meant for reflection, as my trip throughout Asia was drawing to a close.
Upon arriving at Hakone station, we decided to pause for a leisurely lunch before immersing ourselves in the cultural wonders that awaited us at the Chokoku-no-mori art museum, a sprawling 17-acre complex where the genius of great artists comes to life. What makes this museum truly extraordinary is the way it weaves art into the fabric of nature.
Art and Nature Coexisting in Harmony
At the heart of our visit was the question that has intrigued artists and thinkers for centuries: Is art a mere representation of nature, or does it hold the power to become one with it? The Chokoku-no-mori museum, with its remarkable outdoor exhibition featuring sculptures by luminaries like Rodin and Henry Moore, offers a compelling response. It effortlessly shows that art and nature can coexist in harmony, each enriching the other.
Founded in 1969, this museum's setting immediately casts a spell on its visitors. Nestled amidst picturesque green hills, valleys, and breathtaking mountain vistas, it feels like the landscape itself is a masterpiece waiting to be uncovered. The decision to infuse this pristine natural setting with artistic creations was nothing short of inspired.
As we explored the museum, we encountered about 120 sculptures, spanning the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, hailing from Japan and beyond. It's a treasure trove that proudly holds one of the largest collections of Henry Moore's sculptures, a testament to his belief that sculpture thrives in the open air. Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol, and Niki de Saint Phalle with her powerful "Miss Black Power" are just a few of the eminent artists gracing the museum's collection.
While the central square showcased some of the most renowned works, the true enchantment lay in wandering the grounds, where art and nature melded seamlessly. Gabriel Loire's Symphonique sculpture, a mesmerizing multicolored tower, felt like a symphony of colors and lights dancing in harmony.
Picasso's Genius Unfolds Before Us
Yet, the true lesson of this museum became apparent when we entered its interior. Alberto Giacometti's works found their place here, but the pinnacle was the pavilion dedicated to Pablo Picasso, the Spanish Cubist painter and sculptor. Inaugurated in 1984 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Fujisankei Communications Group, it houses an astonishing 700 of Picasso's works, including sculptures, paintings, drawings, and even pottery. Picasso's genius unfolded before us, from his youth to his later years, immortalized through the lens of the American photojournalist David Douglas Duncan.
What struck me profoundly that day was the interplay between the setting, the artworks, and the natural landscape. It's a rare occurrence to find such harmonious coexistence between art and nature, and it transformed this museum into a place not merely to visit but to inhabit, if only for a fleeting afternoon. Play areas for children and vast green spaces for relaxation enriched the experience. A tea pavilion, several restaurants, and even a foot bath provided a perfect way to unwind after immersing ourselves in the world of art and nature.
Picasso once famously said, "Art is not the application of a canon of beauty, but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon." His philosophy about art was deeply intertwined with his political and social beliefs, which are evident in many of his paintings. He viewed art as a powerful tool for societal reform and used his works to confront and challenge prevailing political and social conditions.
The Lesson of Finding True Beauty
As I departed Hakone that day, I carried with me not just memories of breathtaking sculptures and natural beauty but also a profound lesson from Picasso that transcends the world of art: that beauty is not confined by rigid rules or expectations. It can be found in the harmony between the man-made and the natural, in the interplay of creativity and the environment.
In a world increasingly defined by boundaries and divisions, Picasso's lesson from the heart of Hakone reminds us that true beauty emerges when we embrace the interconnection between different elements, whether it's art and nature, cultures and traditions, or people from diverse backgrounds. It's a lesson that invites us to see the world through a different lens – one that celebrates the boundless possibilities of human creativity and the profound beauty that emerges when we let art and nature become one.
Periodically, I look at a postcard purchased from the gift shop at Chokoku-no-mori. It features a photo of Picasso at work in his studio and a quote, "Lo que uno hace es lo que cuenta. No es lo que uno tenía la intención de hacer.” Translated, it reads, “What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.”
It’s time to do more with our lives – to listen to the heart, to step forward and serve the needs of others, and to be a witness to the continuous interplay of internal and external events that influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
While vacationing recently in Palm Desert, we drove through Indian Wells, California. My mind was transported back to another time and place, when I counseled a magnetic CEO who admired the breathtaking beauty and affluence of Indian Wells.
In the Eighties I was public relations counselor to a Dallas-based software company acquired by a global technology firm for the then-princely sum of $800 million. The CEO of my client organization was a former GE planner who trained under the legendary Jack Welch. He was a highly confident, urgent leader who listened intently, spoke with precision and made all the right moves. That is, until the day the acquisition was announced.
It remains fresh in my mind years later: The CEO ushering me into his office, just prior to the public announcement, to report that his triumphant entry into a room packed with hundreds of jubilant employees would shortly turn dark and despairing. As a condition of the merger, he would announce that every employees would be given their walking papers and asked to reapply for their jobs. I remember having no more than a few minutes to gather my thoughts on the crisis about to unfold.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Anguished employees cried out. Some wept bitterly. People poured out of the room as angry recriminations rang out against the CEO. As could be expected, the resulting news coverage was devastating.
The CEO departed the company with $30 million and built a stunning mansion in Indian Wells. His reputation, however, was bankrupt with the very people who delivered his largesse. It was all very predictable, and a great deal of pain could have been avoided.
Truth Cannot Be Silenced
I arrived in Honolulu one summer day in the Nineties on a mission to discover why Hawaii’s telephone company had experienced a sharp drop in profitability and customer satisfaction, and a staggering rise in workplace accidents, lost time due to illness, and scores of unfair labor practice filings among its union employees. Our client project was directed by Hawaiian Telephone’s parent company on the mainland.
Accompanied by Dr. Robert Berrier, a great friend and the preeminent researcher in the field of employee engagement, we traveled the islands to conduct in-depth interviews with finance leaders, customer service specialists, telephone linemen and front-line managers. These interviews were caustic and revealing. They led us back to a common denominator – the leadership behaviors of the CEO.
As we pulled at the threads of truth that emerged in the interviews, we discovered the CEO had woven a tapestry of lies and deceit. While married and living on one island, he was carrying on an affair with a mistress on another island. The employees, predominantly Hawaiian natives whose Polynesian heritage guided their values, their priorities, their interactions with others and their behaviors, knew the truth about his immorality and had no respect for his leadership. The truth could not be silenced.
When we met with our senior clients back in Texas, they received the news stoically, thanked us for our report and terminated the leader that same afternoon. The Hawaiian company quickly regained focus and momentum under a new leader.
“Face reality as it is…”
Fast forward to 2014. I was consulting with leaders of a global bank in San Francisco as we sought to understand why front-line employees had secretly opened scores of deposit or credit-card accounts for customers without their knowledge.
As we pressed for interviews with executive leaders and front-line managers to dive more deeply into what was driving the fraudulent behavior, the heads of risk management and corporate communications pulled the plug on our project. They were unwilling to search for the truth. As the aforementioned Jack Welch once said, “Face reality as it is ... not as you wish it to be.”
It was later learned that the bank pressured employees to meet unrealistic sales goals, spurring them to open millions of accounts in customers' names without their permission, charging improper fees for auto and home loans, and selling unwanted insurance products. The bank agreed to pay billions of dollars to resolve investigations into its sales practices. It also admitted to collecting millions of dollars in fees and interest to which it wasn't entitled, harming customers' credit ratings, and unlawfully using customers' personal information.
Ultimately, the bank’s CEO became a sacrificial lamb forced to atone for a corporate culture driven to excess.
What Does It All Mean?
Decades after the rise of the strategic counselor in public relations and the evolution of the corporate manager as a more enlightened leader, we still experience these reputational gaffes inside great companies. Decisions made at the top can drastically affect employees and public perception and even put an organization into a crisis mode.
Finding truth – it’s a simple thing, really. It starts with listening to your employees, speaking from the heart, considering the effects of potential decisions, studying the implications of certain transactions, and mapping out key stakeholder needs to understand how they may act or react to actions we take. As Jeff Bezos of Amazon once said during the heat of a crisis, you always remember that “Our reputation is what people say about us when we’re not in the same room.”
Here are my key takeaways from these examples:
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.”
— Virginia Woolf
I remember the first time I saw the Chartres Cathedral. I was traveling from Paris by car. As we topped a hill, this majestic church climbed out of rolling wheat fields in the French countryside.
When Chartres Cathedral was built in the 13th Century, a medieval maze known as a labyrinth was set into the floor of the church. Since most people could never make it to Jerusalem, the heart of Christiandom, they would go instead to churches in Canterbury, Santiago de Compostella, and Chartres. Once there, the faithful would end their pilgrimage by walking the 40-foot-wide labyrinth to the center. Then they would slowly retrace their steps to regain the “outside world.”
The path of the labyrinth symbolizes the journey of human life leading to ultimate victory over Evil through Jesus Christ. The journey to truth.
In the world of leadership and public relations, the concept of truth can be elusive. It's a realm where perception, action, and ethics intersect, creating situations that can challenge our understanding of what is true and authentic.
Following are three intriguing scenarios that highlight the complexities of truth in these domains:
Scenario 1: Contradictory Statements and Actions
A highly decorated PR professional, known far and wide for his acumen and leadership, harbors a secret disdain for a fellow senior leader. He sees her as a person of questionable ethics, someone who blurs the lines between talent and nepotism, and wields influence with a gloved fist.
Behind closed doors, he doesn't hold back, critiquing her hiring practices, especially those favoring less-talented family members for coveted positions. He scoffs at her strong-arm tactics, the way she bends colleagues and clients to her will, and how she meticulously crafts a mirage of success for the sake of industry recognition and coveted awards.
Yet, here's where the story takes a riveting turn. In a public forum, where reputations are built and shattered, this very executive does the unexpected. He nominates the leader he privately ridicules for a major industry award, lavishing praise upon her leadership and talent. It's a paradoxical move that leaves industry insiders and colleagues bewildered and wondering about his true motivations.
Is this truth?
This true story highlights the complex dynamics that often underlie the world of corporate public relations. It's a world where personal opinions and public image can be at odds, where the line between authenticity and strategic maneuvering blurs, and where individuals must balance their inner thoughts with external expectations.
In the end, it serves as a compelling reminder that in the realm of leadership and reputation management, the truth can be as elusive as the illusions we create, and the choices we make can be as intriguing as the stories we tell.
Scenario 2: The Nepotism Dilemma
In another scenario, an agency CEO hires his wife to work in the firm, despite objections from the global HR leader and other senior executives. “What’s the problem? I can’t understand why people are objecting,” he says in defense of his action. “She’s talented and any agency would be proud to have her.” Never mind the team’s apprehensions about the wife potentially sharing sensitive client information and internal politics with her husband. The decision sparks days of conflict and mounting anxiety. Eventually, a higher-ranking executive intervenes and demands the woman's termination, bringing an end to the conflict.
Is this truth?
Again, factually, these events are true—they occurred. However, truth here is mired in ethical considerations. The CEO's nepotism, resistance to objections, and the intervention from above reveal a lack of adherence to established rules and ethical standards of the organization. The agency and its parent company had a nepotism rule that was clearly disregarded. This scenario emphasizes the importance of upholding organizational values and the potential consequences of deviating from them.
Scenario 3: The Struggle for DEI Communication Leadership
In a world increasingly emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), communications officers find themselves at the forefront of driving these conversations within their organizations. Yet, sometimes, the truth is that these efforts fall short, revealing challenges and complexities that demand attention.
A global company with a well-established DEI initiative proudly promotes its commitment to fostering an inclusive workplace. They have a dedicated team of communications officers responsible for conveying the company's DEI message to both internal and external stakeholders. However, behind the scenes, there are significant hurdles to overcome, including resistance by teams throughout the organization.
Is this truth?
Factually, the company's DEI initiative exists, and the communications officers are actively working on conveying the message. However, the truth here is multifaceted:
Within the company, there is a lack of alignment between the leadership's commitment to DEI and the actual implementation of inclusive practices. Communications officers find themselves in a challenging position, trying to promote a message that isn't fully embraced or practiced at all levels.
While the company outwardly promotes DEI, some departments or individuals resist change and remain resistant to embracing diverse perspectives. This resistance can create tension and make it difficult for communications officers to drive the DEI conversation effectively.
This scenario highlights the nuanced truth that communications officers dedicated to DEI face in their roles. While they may be genuinely committed to driving change and fostering inclusion, they often grapple with organizational challenges that hinder their efforts. The truth here lies in recognizing these complexities, acknowledging the need for systemic change, and persisting in the pursuit of a more inclusive workplace.
Where Do We Go from Here?
In the winding paths of leadership and public relations, the search for truth isn't a straightforward journey. It's like navigating a maze filled with twists, turns, and unexpected challenges. But it's a journey that holds a profound moral calling.
As Virginia Woolf wisely said, "If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people." Our quest for truth begins within us. It requires the courage to confront our own biases, motivations, and actions honestly. Only then can we hope to shed light on the shadows of deception that often cloud the worlds of leadership and public relations.
As leaders and communicators, we shoulder the responsibility of not only shaping our own narratives but also those of the organizations we represent. It's a challenging task, but one that can be guided by unwavering principles of transparency, integrity, and authenticity. The labyrinth may be intricate, but we have the power to navigate it with purpose and conviction.
At the end of the day, the complexities of truth should inspire us rather than deter us. They should motivate us to become better versions of ourselves, to work towards a world where our actions align seamlessly with our words, where authenticity triumphs over manipulation, and where the pursuit of truth is a collective mission.
As you journey through the labyrinth of truth, may you not only find answers but also discover the wisdom to question, the courage to act, and the determination to lead with unwavering integrity. It’s through these intricate twists and turns that we have the opportunity to unearth the most profound truths about ourselves and the world we aim to shape.
Remember always that it's the relentless pursuit of truth that distinguishes remarkable leaders and communicators—those who can guide us through even the most complex of realities.
My father instilled in me a love of the outdoors early on. It started with watching birds. Once I was old enough, it progressed to fishing and hunting on tanks, ponds and lakes in Northeast Texas.
Dad became a marksman while in the Marine Corps. He manned a 50-caliber machine gun as a rear gunner on a Helldiver bomber while stationed on the Ulithi Atoll in the Pacific Theater. On many occasions I saw him down a duck or a Mourning Dove with a single shotgun blast.
It was the pursuit of these activities and the quality time spent together that mattered more than the game or fish harvested.
I can still remember many a morning when he woke me at 4 am to join him on an outing. As we drove to our destination, the headlights of our car knifing through the darkness, I still recall the scent of his Mennan after shave and the Camel cigarette smoke drifting through the car.
Those were special days. Dad was a mystery most of his life, but he was in his element in the outdoors.
When the opportunity came years later to take a course in outdoor survival, I registered immediately. As a part of this work, I was intrigued by the study and interpretation of tracks (footprints) and other signs animals leave behind in the wilderness. Tracking identifies the animal that left behind the footprints, scrapes, chews, digs and scat (animal waste) for us to see, and it grows into an understanding of the intimate details of that animal’s life.
Some, like me, have taken the lessons of animal tracking and applied them to their study of human behavior in the wilds of the corporate world. A favorite Wall Street Journal article many years ago centered on this very topic. Animal tracking offers valuable lessons about people, particularly in the context of leadership, employee engagement, and crisis communication.
Let's delve deeper into how we can identify human behaviors in ways similar to tracking animals, through stories and examples:
Tracking Patterns in the Workplace
Imagine a scenario where an organization is experiencing high turnover among its junior employees. Just as animal trackers look for patterns in footprints and other signs to identify species, leaders can analyze workplace data to identify patterns. They might discover that the turnover is higher among employees in a particular department, or after a specific event, such as a change in leadership or a merger.
Key Takeaway: Similar to tracking animal movements, leaders must track patterns in employee behavior to uncover underlying issues affecting engagement and retention. Once identified, they can take targeted action to address these issues.
Body Language and Non-Verbal Cues
Picture a manager giving a presentation to their team. Some team members are engaged and nodding, while others appear disinterested, with crossed arms and blank expressions. Just as animal trackers observe non-verbal cues like body language to understand an animal's mood or intent, leaders should pay attention to their team's non-verbal cues. These cues can reveal their level of engagement, satisfaction, or discomfort.
Key Learning: Effective leaders use their observational skills to adjust their communication style and address concerns when they notice non-verbal cues signaling potential issues. By doing so, they can maintain a more engaged and cohesive team.
Listening Like a Tracker
Imagine a CEO who regularly holds town hall meetings with employees but always dominates the conversation, rarely allowing employees to speak up. Or they refuse to take any questions but those that have been submitted in advance for which they have a “canned” response.
Similar to how animal trackers listen for the faintest sounds in the wilderness, leaders should actively listen to their employees. Encouraging open dialogue and feedback is essential for understanding their needs, concerns, and ideas.
Key Takeaway: Leaders who truly listen can identify early warning signs of dissatisfaction or discontent among employees. By fostering an environment where employees feel heard, leaders can improve engagement and prevent issues from escalating into crises.
Crisis Communication and Tracking Signals
Consider a company facing a public relations crisis due to a product recall. The initial response is vague and lacks transparency, leading to a wave of negative media coverage.
In crisis communication, like tracking animal behavior during challenging situations, it's essential to monitor signals such as media coverage, social media sentiment, and customer feedback. These signals provide insights into the severity of the crisis and public perception.
Key Takeaway: Just as animal trackers adapt their strategies based on signals in the environment, crisis communication specialists must adjust their approach in real-time. Transparent and timely communication can help mitigate reputational damage and rebuild trust.
Adapting to Change
Imagine a team struggling to adapt to new technology introduced by their organization. Some employees embrace it, while others resist the change.
Similar to how animals adapt to changes in their habitat, employees must adapt to organizational changes. Leaders should identify resistance and offer support and training to facilitate a smoother transition.
Key Takeaway: Effective leadership involves recognizing and addressing resistance to change, ensuring that the team adapts positively to new circumstances. Just as animal trackers help species adapt to evolving environments, leaders guide their teams through transitions. Being able to pivot and adjust strategies in response to challenges is a valuable skill.
In the wilds of nature, I’ve learned that tracking goes beyond footprints and signs; it unveils the intricate details of an animal's life. Likewise, in the corporate jungle, tracking human behavior reveals the subtleties of leadership, engagement, and crisis communication.
The lessons from my father's love for the outdoors and the wisdom of tracking have led me to understand that, just as animals adapt to their changing environments, effective leaders must adapt and guide their teams through transformations. So, whether in the wilds or the boardroom, remember that the pursuit of knowledge and the quality of time spent together matter most. Embrace these insights from nature, and let them guide you in your journey toward successful leadership and engagement.
There were two leaders in public relations seen by others as role models.
One of them, let's call him John, was the epitome of selflessness. He was known for always making time to help his colleagues advance in their careers, developing his subordinates as leaders, and contributing tirelessly to the communities in which he lived and served. John didn't just talk the talk; he walked the walk. He was the first to promote the work of other people, shining a light on their achievements.
Now, let's contrast John with the second leader, who we'll call Mary. Mary was the embodiment of self-absorption. She was always advancing her own reputation and career at the expense of others, constantly shining a spotlight on her achievements. Mary had a knack for promoting other self-absorbed and self-centered leaders in hopes that they would return the favor when industry awards were handed out.
These two leaders provide valuable lessons for leadership:
These stories of John and Mary emphasize that leadership isn't just about actions; it's about the core beliefs and values that underpin those actions. It's about the difference between short-term gains and long-lasting influence. It's about the ethical choices leaders make daily, knowing that their decisions shape not only their careers but the culture and future of their organizations and how they will be remembered by their peers.
"Challenge and adversity are meant to help you know who you are. Storms hit your weakness but unlock your true strength."
- Roy T. Bennett, Author, The Light in the Heart
One fall day, I took the train to Chicago to meet a good friend who served as an executive leader with a prominent public relations firm. After a short walk from the station, I arrived at their new offices in a nearby high-rise. The elevator quickly whisked me to their main floor, and when I walked into the lobby, I noticed how empty it was. Eerily, it reminded me of the mise en scène from the epic Citizen Kane, where a vacuous Susan Alexander complains to Kane of boredom, their empty words echoing off Xanadu’s cavernous walls.
My friend came to escort me to his office. Beyond the lobby, I saw that the inner hallways and offices, too, were empty – a stark contrast to the hundreds of employees I would have encountered in this very agency in earlier days.
As if on cue, my friend said, “I guess you’ve noticed no one is here.” I nodded and asked if people were still working from home, two years on from the pandemic. “They’re at home on Mondays and Fridays. Tuesday through Thursday, they’re expected to work here, at a client location, or from their home office.”
Facts and Figures
According to a survey by Global Workplace Analytics in 2021, approximately 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce was working remotely multiple days a week. PRWeek's 2021 Agency Business Report highlighted that many PR agencies adopted flexible work arrangements, allowing employees to work remotely part of the time.
How is it possible, I wondered, that arguably the largest public relations firm in the world can thrive when its people seldom come into the office to collaborate, co-create, and celebrate who they are as an agency brand?
A CCO of a major client organization asked the same question after a visit to another global agency in New York. “How are they making money? Are they making money?” he wondered.
An emerging leader with a New York boutique agency believes his high-flying firm has foundered post-pandemic. “I think we’re having real financial problems but it’s hard to know how bad it is because we’re not meeting with the senior leaders.” Entitled colleagues at this agency have openly fought to maintain work-from-home as their right rather than a privilege. Executives are now wrestling with staff professionals to regain a sense of equilibrium.
Research from Gallup shows that remote workers often face challenges related to engagement. In 2021, only 31 percent of U.S. remote workers were engaged in their work, compared to 37 percent of on-site workers.
Another friend working in-house in Chicago was downsized by his private equity employer. The bloodletting resulted in the elimination of hundreds employed in U.S. offices.
In the throes of the post-pandemic era, this colleague had worried for months about the potential for a reduction in force, spurring him to return to the office while others languished elsewhere. Most every day, however, he was the only person in the office and found it demoralizing to join Zoom calls from that location with Chicago and California colleagues working from their homes.
“You join a company to learn, to grow, and to interact with leaders,” he said. “How can you progress in your job when no leaders are around; no one to mentor and guide you?”
Impact on Company Culture
An executive leader at another global firm extolled the benefits of WFH during COVID-19: “There was no commuting time, so our people were able to start work earlier, work later, and clock more billable hours. We also found it easier to utilize fewer people on more accounts because clients had no way of knowing who might be working on their account.”
In the end, the firm has paid a heavy price for WFH: The absence of in-person interaction has deeply affected cultural practices. Employees speak of missed team-building events, the lack of face-to-face celebrations, and the challenges in maintaining a sense of camaraderie. Their storied agency culture has diminished as people are unavailable to honor teams and individuals delivering exceptional work, or to celebrate the agency’s values and beliefs, or to brainstorm and ideate together, or to simply be with the men and women who help affirm who they are as professionals.
Hybrid Work: Balancing Benefits and Costs
A significant challenge faced by many agencies during the pandemic and in its aftermath has been the burden of their real estate holdings. As remote work became more prevalent, office spaces were underutilized or largely vacant. Organizations faced major financial challenges, lease agreement constraints, and the need to adapt their real estate strategies to align with evolving work patterns. A survey by PwC found that 87 percent of executives anticipated a shift to remote work, with many planning to reduce their office footprint.
We know that certain agencies have ditched pricey, expansive offices in favor of more basic space near transportation centers (train stations or airports), in industrial parks or in coworking space (WeWork being a well-known example). Or they’ve downsized: One specialty agency with 16 office locations in 2021 today has nine.
What have we learned about the effects of remote work on employee satisfaction and company culture? Studies show the following:
The data points provide insights into the varied experiences and perceptions of the impact of remote work on employee satisfaction, company culture, collaboration, and innovation. These effects may certainly differ from one organization to another and may change over time as companies adapt to new work arrangements.
Where do we go from here?
Few are willing to return to long commutes into New York City or Chicago or Boston, for example, when they can begin work at home at 7 am, log onto Zoom calls from there and work productively for hours. “Dude, why do I want to get on the train and fight my way into Manhattan when I can get coffee here and get to work right away, when I want to work?” asked a close colleague.
Fewer still are willing to sacrifice the work-life balance they’ve now created for themselves. “Now that we’ve opened the door to working from home, you can’t go back,” said another colleague.
How might the landscape continue to evolve, and what challenges or opportunities might arise?
Storms like the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately hit our weaknesses, but they can unlock our true strengths. High on the list must be how we lead and manage others.
It’s essential that we learn new management skills for directing and guiding remote teams. The following list, gathered from our conversations with front-line leaders, captures the core skills and behaviors necessary for effective remote team leadership.
Setting the Example
In September, an aerospace CEO was roasted in major publications for his frequent travel and reported absence from the headquarters office. While the company’s governmental affairs team had largely returned to work in Arlington, Va., its head of communications was reportedly working at his home in Orlando when not traveling to visit distant colleagues on the corporate jet.
During the pandemic, I had the privilege of meeting with and interviewing hundreds of front-line managers and hourly workers in food plants across North America. While COVID-19 posed a constant threat, these dedicated individuals continued working tirelessly, ensuring the uninterrupted production of essential goods. In stark contrast, their colleagues in office roles transitioned to remote work, highlighting the resilience of those who kept our supply chains running.
As leaders, we must recognize the influence we can have as role models for our teams. In times of change, employees look to their leaders for guidance and reassurance. When leaders confidently adopt and advocate for the hybrid model, it can instill confidence in the team that this approach can work effectively.
“We have to show the way,” said my former executive colleague in Chicago. “How can we expect colleagues to come back into the office when we’re not there ourselves?”
In summary, the pandemic has reshaped the way organizations work, with remote and hybrid work becoming more prevalent. The key lessons learned emphasize the importance of adaptability, effective leadership, and the need to balance the benefits and challenges of new work models. Leaders must play a crucial role in modeling and guiding their teams through these changes, fostering resilience and growth along the way.
An old African proverb tells us, "Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors." Adversity like the public relations profession has faced in recent years, is essential for the growth of current and emerging leaders. For it's through challenges that we acquire valuable skills and wisdom that will indeed unlock true strength.
Effective leadership is a cornerstone of any successful organization. It's not just about managing people; it's about inspiring, guiding, and bringing out the best in individuals and teams.
In our interviews and conversations with hundreds of front-line managers and hourly employees over the past three years, we’ve identified 10 essential qualities that they believe define great leadership. In this blog post, we'll explore each of these qualities, accompanied by real-world quotes from the men and women we interviewed in manufacturing facilities that illustrate the importance of these ideals.
"Take ownership for your actions. Do what you said you would do. Walk the talk."
Accountability is the foundation of strong leadership. Leaders who hold themselves and their team members responsible for their actions foster a culture of trust and reliability. In a work environment, where accountability is lacking, mistakes go unaddressed, and progress stalls.
"Live your message. Lead with the heart. Behave with integrity."
Authentic leaders are genuine and true to themselves. They lead by example, showing consistency in their actions and values. Authenticity builds trust among team members and encourages open, honest communication.
"Deliver clear communication. Make it focused, precise, and easy to understand."
Effective leaders communicate with clarity, ensuring that their team understands their goals and objectives. When communication is muddled or unclear, it can lead to misunderstandings and hinder progress.
"Be reliable. Behaviors that match past decisions or actions. True to yourself."
Consistency is key to building trust. Leaders who are consistent in their actions and decisions provide stability and reliability for their team members. Inconsistencies can erode trust and create uncertainty.
"Provide employees with regular feedback. Give people opportunities to learn new skills."
Great leaders prioritize the growth and development of their team members. They offer guidance, constructive feedback, and opportunities for skill enhancement. Neglecting employee development can result in disengagement and stagnation.
"Show up and engage others. Be purposeful in your engagement."
Leaders should actively engage with their teams, fostering an environment of open communication and collaboration. Passive leadership or hiding behind technology can alienate team members and hinder progress.
"Be available for your team. Be empathetic. Set standards for ethical behavior."
A leader's presence goes beyond physical availability. It's about being approachable, empathetic, and setting ethical standards. A leader's actions should inspire and align with the values of the organization.
"Remember to appreciate others and be grateful for their contributions."
Acknowledging and appreciating the efforts of team members is essential for motivation and job satisfaction. Leaders who fail to recognize their team's contributions risk demotivation and disengagement.
"Foster a climate that encourages employees to feel a sense of personal accomplishment."
Leaders should create an environment where employees take pride in their work and contributions. Neglecting to recognize employees' efforts can lead to a loss of morale and pride in one's work.
"Communicate openly. Be open and honest with others."
Transparent leadership fosters trust and helps employees understand organizational decisions. Lack of transparency can lead to confusion and a sense of exclusion among team members.
Qualities of a Good Manager
We’re always curious to hear employees talk about the leadership qualities of good managers, the “culture carriers” of every great organization. Here’s three quotes that sum it up well:
These quotes highlight the importance of follow-through, active listening, addressing employees' needs, showing appreciation, and being authentic in leadership, which are key qualities of a good manager.
Effective leadership is a continuous journey that involves embodying these 10 qualities. By taking ownership, being authentic, communicating clearly, and focusing on the development and engagement of their team, leaders can create a thriving and motivated workforce. Furthermore, recognizing and appreciating others, restoring pride in their work, and fostering transparency will contribute to a positive workplace culture that inspires success and growth.
In the fast-paced world of communication and public relations, the ability to anticipate and respond to crises effectively is paramount. As a senior executive in the field, I've witnessed firsthand the evolution of crisis communication strategies over the years. One game-changer that has emerged in recent times is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create predictive models for crisis communication. In this blog post, we'll embark on a journey to explore how AI empowers us to navigate the storm of crises with foresight and agility.
The Power of Data: Fueling AI's Predictive Abilities
"We’re good at managing crises. 'Triage' is our first, middle, and last name," said the global HR leader of a food company client, emphasizing the industry's knack for crisis management. But what if we could go beyond mere crisis management and become proactive in averting potential crises? AI equips us with the tools to do just that.
AI thrives on data, and in the realm of crisis communication, data is gold. Through sophisticated algorithms, AI can analyze an extensive array of data sources, including news articles, social media chatter, and internal communication channels. By doing so, it keeps a vigilant eye on the digital landscape, detecting subtle shifts and emerging trends that might indicate an impending crisis.
Sentiment Analysis: Deciphering the Unspoken
Just as a seasoned communicator can discern nuances in tone during a face-to-face conversation, AI-driven sentiment analysis deciphers the unspoken sentiment in online conversations. This invaluable tool gauges public sentiment toward your organization or industry, flagging sudden changes in mood. Imagine having the ability to foresee when a minor issue is about to escalate into a full-blown crisis - that's the power of sentiment analysis backed by AI.
Proactive Crisis Simulation
"Practice makes perfect." AI facilitates realistic crisis simulations for training purposes. These simulations mimic real-world scenarios, enabling communication teams to fine-tune their crisis communication strategies. Through AI-guided training, we can groom our teams to be agile, resilient, and well-prepared for any storm on the horizon.
Pattern Recognition and Predictive Analytics
Patterns often hold the keys to foresight. AI can recognize historical patterns in crisis data, helping us anticipate potential issues that follow a similar sequence of events. Predictive analytics takes it a step further, forecasting potential crises based on historical data, market trends, and various other relevant factors. Armed with this information, we can strategize and implement preventive measures.
Immediate Alerts and Rapid Response
In the world of crisis communication, timing is everything. AI can set up automated alert systems that notify relevant stakeholders when predefined triggers or thresholds are met. This ensures a rapid response to emerging issues, often before they escalate to full-blown crises.
Enhanced Stakeholder Engagement
Communication is at the heart of crisis management. AI helps segment stakeholders based on their responses and engagement with crisis-related content. This segmentation enables us to tailor our communication strategies to different stakeholder groups, fostering stronger relationships and trust.
Crafting Initial Responses with AI Assistance
Crafting the initial response to a crisis is critical, and AI can lend a helping hand. It provides templates and suggestions that can be customized by communication teams, ensuring that our first response is well-crafted and in line with our organization's values.
Into the Future of Crisis Communication
Through the years, I've seen the landscape evolve, and I'm excited about the potential of AI in our field. It equips us with the tools to not only weather the storms of crises but to predict and avert them whenever possible. By harnessing the power of AI for predictive models, we can proactively safeguard our organizations' reputations and maintain the trust of our stakeholders. It's a new era of crisis communication, one where foresight and agility reign supreme, and AI is our trusted navigator in the turbulent seas of public perception.
One day, I began taking photos of paths in nature as we hiked in forest preserves, national parks and along mountain trails - from Kane and DuPage counties in Illinois, to Starved Rock State Park, to Phoenix, Sedona, Bend and Palm Desert, and to Crater Lake and Joshua Tree. I love the serenity, majesty and purity of nature and see God’s hand at work when we’re out hiking in the places we love.
Paths are a metaphor for expressing the direction of our lives, our journey toward discovering who we’re becoming – intellectually, spiritually, artistically and in our many life roles that play out through the years.
Paths remind us that if you want real answers and to discover what looms over the horizon, you’ve got to go the distance. Though painful at times, they tell us the biggest thing about moving forward is looking backward at the trail we’ve journeyed so that we remember the struggles we’ve endured, how we overcame real challenges, and to illuminate the blazes and signs on the path that will return us safely to where we began.
Sometimes there is no path. What then?
In my office is wall art that reminds me of the journey I’ve been on for so long:
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Find your path, or create a new trail.
Husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, son, friend, mentor. While we long for the destination, it is about the journey, what we learn about ourselves and how we move forward into the future.