Real leaders don’t cry(?)

tearsRecently in a workshop a leader was moved to tears while narrating her story.  She apologised and received a very positive response from the group.

Immediately the leaders wanted to talk about how to handle vulnerability.  One leader said sometimes he’s so passionate about what he’s saying that he tears up.  He questioned if this was appropriate.

Recently, Michael Clarke, Australia’s cricket captain, broke down on national TV discussing the tragic passing of teammate Phil Hughes.  Many a blogger commented on how powerful the moment was as a positive influence on young boys. This comment captured the sentiment: “Not so long ago it wouldn’t have done at all for the captain of the Aussie cricket team to cry for a mate, and say how much he loved him, publicly. Glad our boys can see this.”

Our culture deeply conditions us to be brave and hide our feelings, particularly at work.  For women leaders this is compounded by fear of being seen as weak or emotional if we tear up.

Tears at work are awkward.  If you tear up (it can happen), how would you recover? If someone else at work tears up, try offering a hug or a pat on the back, or try some humour to break the tension.

Tears are a sign of vulnerability, not weakness.  Brene Brown the world’s foremost expert on vulnerability, says staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take to experience deep connections.

Real leaders cry – and real leaders also recover with grace.

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Emotion: Tapping the final frontier

132301_cheersquadThe roar of the crowd watching football on a large-screen TV on Saturday immediately drew me into the cafe.   And it wasn’t even my team playing!

What makes sport such a spectacle to watch is the emotional rollercoaster it unleashes on players, fans and even unsuspecting passers-by.  Could you imagine watching sport and feeling nothing?  No emotion – that would be almost impossible.

In the business arena, despite embracing the need for emotional intelligence, we shy away from emotions as being too messy, unpredictable and dangerous.
Philosopher Descartes said ‘I think, therefore I am’.  When it comes to sports or business, I prefer this twist on his words: ‘I feel, therefore I am’.

So how can leaders tap into emotion at work?  One way is to speak to the emotion in the room, as this is often the biggest undercurrent in any situation.

A senior leader announcing the company’s new hot-desking policy started by sharing what he felt when he first saw the policy.  “Yesterday when I opened the email announcing the new hot-desking policy, I immediately felt “Here we go again, another sexy label for what seems like a cost-cutting measure.”

Immediately you could see the nods around the room.  By speaking to the emotional elephant in the room, the leader earned both trust and respect.  He then went on to explain why his initial fear was unfounded.  Imagine staring at the emotional end of the stick instead of the logical end.  As Richard Branson said: “In business your intuition and emotions are there to help you.”

So where have you seen this done well at work?  Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Getting to grips with emotion

Where were you when you heard Princess Diana has died? What about when September 11 happened? Most people can recall with crystal-clear clarity these events and how the news made them feel – shocked, angry, sad. This is the power of emotion.

Emotion is the most powerful thing in any presentation. It influences how your audience feels, thinks and acts. Most presenters are unaware of how important tapping into the right emotion is. Either that, or they’re scared of doing so. We’ve heard remarks like “It’s just year-end company data. There’s no emotion in that”. Or “My audience is made up of economists and they don’t do emotion”.

Don’t fall into that trap. Whatever it is you are presenting and whoever your audience is, as long as they are human, they have emotions. Life coach and performance expert Timothy Warneka once said “emotions are the untapped resource of every organisation”. When it comes to presentations, we believe that “emotions are the untapped resource of every presenter”.

So how can you bring emotion into your presentation?

The first step is to understand what makes your audience tick.  Is it concern for the environment? Is it more money in the bank or more free time?

Now with your audience again in mind, think of what positive emotion you can you appeal to in your presentation? Would it be pride in a job well done? Is it about the satisfaction of having made a difference? We must emphasise again what positive emotion can you appeal to here. Not negative emotion because it is positive emotions inspire change.

Getting emotion right means people will care about your message and it will inspire them to take action. Tony Robbins says it best with “If we get the emotion right we can get ourselves to do anything”. Just imagine the power of doing that for your audience.

 Choose your words wisely

Words are powerful and emotive. They stop and start wars. We can still remember the opening line of Lord Spencer’s eulogy to his sister Diane, Princess of Wales: “I stand before you today the representative of a family in grief, in a country in mourning before a world in shock.”
Simple and engaging.

Do your words paint a picture, or are they just mindless mumbo jumbo? Can you say less, but have more impact when each word is carefully selected instead of just fluffed through?

Tell a story

Stories have the simplest, yet most powerful emotional force. That’s why we’ve been telling and listening to stories since the dawn of time.

Candice Lance, Communications and Events Officer shared this story to demonstrate her point that it’s OK to be out of control sometimes.

The plane had just reached 12,000 feet – I was sitting on the edge of the open door. The time had come, it was my turn.  In just a split second my mind raced – what was I thinking, what did I have to do, what did they tell me, was the guy behind me having a good day, was this such a good idea?

Didn’t really matter what the answer was to any of those questions – I was out the door, no turning back. I was bending like a banana, holding on like I was told, remembering my training and plummeting towards the ground – I was tandem sky diving!  

What a rush. I was flying. I was free. As we continued to fall I remembered the videos of this moment as people landed safely on the ground crying and hugging their instructor I thought, ‘what saps I would never do that’.  Moments later my feet touched the ground I was jumping up and down,  hugging my instructor, crying – yes what a sap!  

I am not sure if I would go sky diving again, but I did learn a lesson or two. Sometimes it is OK to let go, some times it’s OK to be out of control. And it is definitely OK to trust your training and the people who are the trained experts.

When you get the emotion right in your presentation people will walk out, remembering what you said and being inspired to act on it.  More power to you!



Why I do what I do? Business storytelling at its compelling best

Business Storytelling‘In July 1985, 5 year old Eve van Grafhorst was banned from attending her local kindergarten in Kincumber, NSW.  Eve was HIV positive and had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion when she was born.  This was the time of the grim reaper ads about AIDS and families in the town of Kincumber would cross the street to avoid Eve and her family.  Completely ostracised Eve and her family migrated to Hastings, New Zealand where I met her while working for the newspaper. 

One day in New Zealand Eve decided to raise money for AIDS awareness by selling hugs for $1.00 at the local mall. Everyone was giving her a hug and helping her raise money except for this one man who was watching from a distance.  I asked him if he planned to give her a hug and he told me ‘I am scared to give her a hug as I might catch something’.  I told Eve and she went over to the man and gently talked to him for nearly an hour at the end of which he gave her a hug and $1.00 and there wasn’t a dry eye in the mall.  When I saw how this little girl could work for an hour to raise $1.00 to make a difference I realised how much I could do to make a difference. 

This was my turning point and I decided to set up my company m.a.d.woman, committed to encouraging, inspiring and enabling people to make a positive difference in the environment, community and to the lives of people who need support.  Eve died peacefully aged 11 in her mother’s arms. She remains one of the most inspiration people in my life.’

Melina Schamroth

We recently had the privilege of hearing this story shared by Social entrepreneur Melina Schamroth, on why she set up her business.  We were also so delighted to learn that on on Friday night m.a.d.woman was named the National Winner of the 2011 Telstra Business Awards – Yellow Pages Social Responsibility category. GO Melina!

Frank Lowy please ring me! Business Storytelling and Australia’s bid for the World Cup

Business StorytellingEvery four years  like a lot of people, I am gripped by soccer fever, thanks to the World Cup and  turn into a complete soccer tragic!  Given our time zone differences, here in Australia this involves setting our alarm for the earliest hours of the morning to watch the games ‘live’.  But it is absolutely worth it!

Like most people in Australia I am deeply disappointed that Australia won’t be hosting the 2022 World cup.  Life is a tough teacher.  You have the experience first and then you hopefully learn from it.  So what did we learn?  I am of course going to be looking at this through the lens of storytelling.   Caveat: We all know the whole bidding process is complex involves many strategies, and many players, political wrangling etc. So this is in no way a solution but something to consider as part our learning.

Using the storytelling lens and comparing Australia’s bid with Qatar’s three things to consider:

  1. The emotion each pitch was tapping into
  2. The audience
  3. The audience’s objections

Every time  I heard Frank Lowy pitching to host the World Cup he talked about Australia being a ‘safe pair of hands’.   The Australian bid tapped into a negative emotion, fear.  It looks like the FIFA committee (the audience) was not looking for a ‘safe pair of hands’.  Their decision to go with South Africa for the previous World Cup indicates this.  Another plank in our bid was ‘Make a country’s dreams come true’  which could apply to every country bidding for the World Cup.  On the other hand ABC news reporter Emma Alberici said Qatar presented a bid full of emotion, imploring the executive committee to make history by sending the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time.  Compare ‘Safe pair of hands’ with ‘The opportunity to make history’.

But what about the audience?   Any narrative we engage with has to be right for the audience.

On their web site FIFA states ‘For the Game. For the World’.  It is interesting to note the Qatar bid tag line states  ‘For football, for the Middle East, for the world’.  Perfect alignment.  Qatar was telling the committee you have the option to unite the Middle East and the world through football …compare that with making a single country’s dreams come true.

In their bios on the FIFA website one of the questions for the Executive Committee is ‘What does football mean to you?   It is interesting to note the range of answers from  Unity and friendship’, ‘Responsibility, service and joy’, ‘Team spirit and social responisbility’, ‘Unity and teamwork’.  Again the Qatar bid taps into this.

How do you in storytelling overcome the audience’s objections? One of the key hurdles for Australia was the time difference.  The Australian bid website states ‘A time zone for more than 60% of the world’s population. Australia will work closely with FIFA to ensure that the match schedule is designed to maximise total television audience numbers around the world’.

All necessary statement of fact but compare how objections can be handled in a compelling and emotionally engaging way.  In one of Qatar’s bid presentations a child is heard saying ‘So say the Israeli teams and the Arab teams go to the world cup and they play against each other.  Israelis would come to cheer their team and the Arabs would also come, then they would get to know each other’.  An adult voice then adds ‘Indeed what we saw in South Africa was harmony between all people there’.

Giving a speech after the wining host was announced, Qatar 2022 Bid Committee Chairman Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al Thani said “On behalf of millions of people living in the Middle East, thank you,” he went on saying “Thank you for believing in us, thank you for having such bold vision. Thank you also for acknowledging this is the right time for the Middle East. We have a date with history which is summer 2022. We will not let you down. We will make you proud.”

He was letting the panel know this was about  football, but it was also about the Middle East and the world. The legacy they would leave the world with this decision.

Congratulations  Qatar on the historic win.  Frank Lowy please ring us and let’s start working on Australia’s bid for 2030.  The time is now …

Business storytelling and The Social Network movie

On the weekend I went to see The Social Network,a film about Mark Zukerberg the founder of Facebook.  While watching the film,  I was struck (yet again) by how powerful stories can be. Especially when compared to a statement of fact or even a metaphor.

In the movie, Zuckerberg sets up a meeting with Sean Parker, the 20-something founder of  Napster. Zuckerberg is being persuaded by Sean Parker to think big.  Parker actually does this in three stages.  First with a  statement, then with a metaphor and finally with a story.

Parker says “What’s cool is not a million dollars, but a billion dollars’.

Parker then advises Zuckerberg to choose his future using a metaphor: When you go fishing you can catch a lot of fish or you can catch a big fish. You ever walk into a guy’s den and see a picture of fourteen trout? No, he’s holding an 800-pound marlin and that’s what you want’.

Later, at a San Francisco night club, Parker influences Zuckerberg with this story of the founder of Victoria’s Secret.

‘A Stanford MBA named Roy Raymond, wants to buy his wife some lingerie but he’s too embarrassed to shop for it at a department store. Comes up with an idea for a high end place that doesn’t make you feel like a pervert. He gets a forty thousand dollar bank loan, borrows another forty thousand from his in-laws, opens a store and calls it Victoria’s Secret. Makes a half million dollars his first year. He starts a catalogue, opens three more stores and after five years he sells the company to Leslie Wexner and The Limited for four million dollars. Happy ending, right? Except four years later the company’s worth five hundred million dollars and Roy Raymond jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. Poor guy just wanted to buy his wife a pair of thigh highs.’

So did the story work?

Jim Fink in his article Facebook IPO? Insights from the Social Network Movie says the lessons for Zuckerberg were :  THINK BIG , be patient and you’ll maximize the value of the business.   Jim also goes on to add that Zuckerberg took Parker’s advice. When former Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel offered to buy Facebook for a cool $1 billion in 2006, Mark turned him down.  Semel was shocked, stating later in an interview:  I’d never met anyone – forget his age, 22 then or 26 now – I’d never met anyone who would walk away from $1 billion. I couldn’t believe it.  Today Facebook is now worth 26 times what Semel offered to pay.

I am sharing this with you to illustrate how a statement a of  fact or a metaphor inform people but may not necessarily shift behaviour.  As both are based on logic and logic informs but doesn’ t always persuade us to change.  If logic did that then no one would smoke, non one would speed, we would all eat right and exercise everyday.  But with a purposeful authentic story you can influence behaviour…just like Sean Parker did.

Empathy and humour anyone? Business Storytelling lessons from Junior Master Chef

Business StorytellingDid you see the first episode of Junior Master Chef on Sunday?  All eyes were on Anna Gare – the new judge.  When Anna was introduced to her audience she said ‘I started cooking when I was your age and I could barely see over the counter’. Her audience laughed and immediately connected with her (I know I did).


Anna opened with something personal that demonstrated empathy for her audience.  Empathy, humour, connection all in less than 30 seconds.  Do you think you could achieve all three in the first 30 seconds of your opening when you make your next presentation ..and why would you bother?

Annette Simmons story expert says one of the first stories you need to use are ‘Who am I’ stories i.e. ‘What personal qualities make you a trustworthy person’.. in this context?’

Its wisdom rests on that old adage ‘people need to trust you before they trust your message’.  Anna’s use of self disclosure shows that it doesn’t have to be a long story that trawls all the milestones in her life (which can be boring and certainly wouldn’t have held her audience’s attention or worked on prime time TV).  It can be one sentence that shows us who you are, and tells the audience what they need to know about you…that is relevant to them.

Giant mental post it note here – this is not what I think my audience needs to know about me – which could be everything I did from year dot. Too many presenters make this mistake and do a condensed version of their CV.  Instead think about it from your audience’s perspective.  Determine what your audience needs to know about you to trust you and your messages in their particular context, and work on getting that down to a line or two.

Remember the first 30 – 60 seconds are critical and this is where your audience will be making its mind up about you.  So never ever waste that on house keeping (YIKES) that can come later. Instead work on the right opening sentence that demonstrates WHO you are ..and gets their attention straight up with empathy and humour…just like Anna did.  Go chef (sorry I couldn’t resist!).

Inform or influence?



I was walking my dog yesterday and came across this sign which made me smile and also reminded me so much of what we try and do in business every day.  

So often in business we are stating what we believe is the bleeding obvious and yet we get so little cut through and so little recall.  Most of us can barely remember what we ate for lunch yesterday let alone what was said in a meeting two weeks ago.  What then is the solution?  Research and our own personal experience inform us that ‘emotion is the fast track to the brain’ i.e. how I feel, affects how I think and my performance.

The people who crafted this sign were trying to influence our behaviour with emotion (humour)…and we all hope they succeed!  Often in business we think logic informs people (which it does) but we also expect people to shift behaviour based on logic.   And when this doesn’t happen we get frustrated.    If logic did persuade us to change our behaviour then no one would speed, we would all eat right and exercise every day, no one would smoke etc. 

As business people every day we make choices with our communication – are we trying to just inform or are we trying to influence behaviour?   If it is the latter then what emotion can you tap into to influence your audience?  This isn’t manipulative but shows empathy for your audience as well as an understanding of the issue from their perspective.

Here is a link to some recent work place safety ads that did this really well and tapped into the right emotion with their tag line and message:  ‘The real reason to be safe at work is not at work it is at home’.