Who is the Leader? The One with the Followers!

To be a leader, you have to attract and motivate followers.  This is true in business, politics, media & entertainment, non-profits, institutions — even families.  Any type of group dynamic.  Who leads the pack?  Why?

Early in my career,  I spoke on this topic at a skills development conference for women. Here are some talking points from my office archives — inspired by Michael Korda’s brilliant Newsweek column How to Be a Leader. Korda referenced political leaders. In my talk, I shared business and career examples.

You might have the best abilities and intent, but if you can’t get anyone to follow — or listen to your ideas — your talent will never be fully utilized. What does it take?  Here are 10 key traits.

1.  Timing.  The leader must appear on the scene when people are looking for leadership.  Possibly a newly-created opportunity or an existing role where the predecessor was not effective.

2.  Great Simplifier.  A leader can cut through the argument/debate.  Deliver a straightforward, potent message.  Offer a solution everyone can understand.

3.  Look like a Leader.   Must have a commanding presence.  Not necessarily tall, but greater-than-life.  An unforgettable identity — permanently fixed in peoples’ minds.  Today, we would call it a brand.

4.  Able to Do Something Others Can’t.  We don’t want leaders to be “just like us.”  They must be better, special — but not too different.

5.  Mediagenic.  TV/video magnifies everything.  If you fail on camera, it is hard to recover.

6.  Know how to Use Power.  A leader must show that ability.  Have smoothness and inner confidence.

7.  The “Grace of a Good Dancer.”  Followers seek someone relaxed, confident.  Purposeful stride.  Hearty laugh.  Affability.

8.  Know People Can Be Led Only Where They Want to Go.  The leader follows that path, but a step ahead.

9.  Understand the Yearnings of the People.  This is different from needs.  Match the peoples’ mood.  Focus their energies and desires.  Make what people want seem attainable and important — within their grasp.

10.  Dignify Our Desires.  Understand the desire for glory, importance.

Leaders must fit with the nuances of the times.  This content reflects an 80s vibe. Interesting to see that those who came up in that era can still command a platoons of followers.

GE’s Jack Welch is on the circuit with wife Suzy connecting with avid crowds of students and young careerists.  Microsoft founder Bill Gates is channelling his billions to philanthropy — working alongside wife Melinda to improve education and world health. And Donald Trump is shaking up a U.S. Presidential election!

The underlying principles still sustain — whether it’s a product, service or a person.  A cause or a phenomenon.   If the leader has followers, it’s what people like and want.  The key is to sustain — and therein lies the challenge.

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Optimize: 10 Life Lessons from the 433d Troop Carrier Group

Life is busy.  You need short cuts.

Here are some tips and strategies to consider.  Courtesy of the U.S. Army Air Forces 433d Troop Carrier Group where my father Frank Vetakis served as Tech Sgt. during World War II.  Planeloads of young guys — sons of immigrants from tiny towns across America — were dropped onto South Pacific islands where they had to clear out the jungle and build operations bases for troops and guerillas.

Their mission: Create something from nothing – with minimal resources and limited time.

He brought home valuable lessons which he imparted to his daughters, providing an excellent edge when we embarked on life and career adventures.

To be effective and efficient — in the jungle, as well as the modern world —  you gotta OPTIMIZE!

1.  Get an SOP.  Standard Operating Procedure, that is.   Always put your glasses, keys and other essentials in the same place. Build a foundation of being organized and avoid wasting time looking for things you need.  Put some rigor into your routine. Then you can channel your energies into something important.

2. Make the most of what you have.  You can’t wait for circumstances to be ideal.  You have to riff a plan, jump in and execute.  With some basic supplies, ingenuity and determination, you can get a good result.  My sisters and I did not grow up with an abundance of material resources, but we know how to win in a competitive environment.  We are Git-R-Done girls.

3.  Don’t try to do everything.  Pick something and do it well.  My father believed in the power of focus and personal mastery. He taught us to pursue one thing at a time.  To savor the sense of accomplishment and achievement.  To appreciate the little things.  To enjoy the process and pleasure of learning something new.

4.  Fast in the bath and shower.   Zip zip! No one was faster in the bathroom than my father.  Very much appreciated by the VGirls.   Very important for busy moms and career women who want to Lean In.  Do the math and calculate the beauty/image/household regimen we women have vs. the men.  Always look for smart time trade-offs or spend your life in the dreaded catch-up mode.  Isn’t that right, Sheryl Sandberg?

5.  Find the Zen.  Frank was master of the tuneout.  He could catnap anytime.  Be in the middle of a female family frenzy, un-addled by the decibel level. Take his brain to an oasis.  He taught us to ignore distractions and focus on the work.  My own mantra: “I’m not dealing with that right now.” Or, the beloved “Whatever.”  

6.  Notes and tip sheets!  Don’t rely on memory.  Write everything down.  In our family, we love index cards, Post-Its, diagrams and charts.  Even better with technology.  Lists, reminders, ideas, product numbers  –  all on every device.  And the scanner!  Heavenly.

7.  Be 15 minutes early.  Prompt, reliable, ready.  Growing up, we were never allowed to be late.  Now I have a odd, but successful system of setting clocks and watches 33 minutes fast.  My husband calls it Nan time. (between Central and Mountain zones!)  You always feel like you have a little leeway.

8.  To hit your target, mark the spot.  Frank was master of the repeatable solution.  A stripe of red nail polish on his golf club for ball-striking purposes.   Pencil lines and dots before hanging and installing anything.  And a favorite:  The duct tape X. Where to aim the hood ornament of the family car to wedge it into the garage.

9.  Comfort counts.    Look good from the outside, but be comfortable on the inside.  I can race through airports in Manolo heels that are stretched, then cushioned with rubber soles + pillow inserts.  Get creative. You need endurance!

10.  Avoid crises.   Don’t leave your purse or technology unattended.  Keep your electronics charged.  Don’t drive on fumes.  No tailgating. Organize your things the night before.  Don’t wait until the last minute.  No one wants to hear a bunch of excuses. Plan ahead!

All good advice.  We miss you, Frank!

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To Reach Your Goal: Flash Forward, then Fill in the Blanks

This is for the students in your family.  But the principles apply for anyone with a dream.

The key is to flash forward — look at what it will take to win — then fill in the blanks with the experience and credentials that will make you an attractive candidate. How are you progressing on the path to your goal — whether it is a college admissions slot, an internship or your first job after graduation?

Here are ten surefire steps:

Visualize the key players. Who are the decisionmakers?  Who is your competition?  What are the credentials and characteristics of those who have gotten the nod previously?  How do you stack up?  What are you missing?  What would give you an edge?  You don’t need a crystal ball.  Everyone now has a bio/backgrounder on-line.   Join LinkedIn and start with key word searches.  Keep Googling to learn more.  Start now to scope what comprises the ideal profile for the slot you seek, as well as detailed information on the decisionmakers who can get you there.  Don’t wait until senior year — or graduation.

Inventory your successes.  What are some cool things you’ve accomplished?  Start keeping a list.  The achievements might be academic, athletic or part of organized school activity. Or maybe not. When you gravitate to something you enjoy, you will likely apply those same skills later in your adult life. Some student examples that impressed me: Formed a musical ensemble and began booking gigs. Started a blog. Performed with an acting troop at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Persuaded an elected official to invite one’s entire family to the Presidential inauguration. Organized a school fundraiser at a local business.

Document and showcase.  Don’t just tell them, show them!  When your work is showcased online, capture and save via screen shot.  Immediately!  (The webpage will not always be live.) Create word docs.  Case studies.  Powerpoint presentations. Yes, even selfies.  Whether you are targeting a college slot or career launch, these will become powerful supplementals to use in conjunction with the requisite application process.  Here’s a dirty little secret.  You can stir things up — causing the powers-that-be to cast doubt on other contenders who didn’t show this extra initiative.  Advantage: YOU!

Evaluate and allocate your activities. In the era of 24/7 busy-ness, this is critical.  You might be stretched to the max with a myriad of extracurriculars.  But what is meaningful and pertinent to your goal?   Let’s say you are targeting a slot at a service academy. This requires a strong track record of leadership and service par excellence.  If you are on a horizontal path of adding new activities and experiences, you may need to step back and re-focus.  Search your soul and sink your teeth into a meaningful pursuit — something that touches, helps and inspires others. Choose depth over breadth.

Get a Job.  There is an end game after high school and college.  A career!   And it typically involves working inside someone else’s organization, carrying out duties that someone else determines, keeping a schedule, etc.  So….best to start now. Find a summer position.  Begin to demonstrate that you can execute, get along with others and deliver results in a tough, competitive environment.  String together a couple of these gigs and you’ve got a foundation from which to springboard into the greatness you desire.  Here’a my favorite story of a summer camping job that led to one of the most coveted career opportunities in the world — content director for the amazing TED organization.

Repeat performance.  Doing a seemingly mundane part-time job for multiple years in a row is very attractive to a decisionmaker.   It shows persistence, consistency and reliability.  Similarly, you can take a 3-4 year stint in a student organization and treat it as a job on the resume — particularly if you have taken on leadership roles with increasing responsibility.  A demonstration of commitment always sells well against the competition!

Start building a resume.  Create a baseline of experience, accomplishments and credentials.  Evaluate and add to it every semester!  Continue to monitor your target — the decisionmakers, winners and competitors — via LinkedIn and Google searches. You will begin to see patterns.  What is the mix of academics, leadership and work experience that seems to be in favor? All you have to do is look for the model and replicate it.  No need to guess or fly blind in the modern Internet world.

What’s your story?  When you string together your experience and accomplishments, what are you able to convey?  You may need an interpreter to help package your offerings to appeal to “the other side of the desk,”  i.e., the admissions counselor or hiring decisionmaker.  If you had three different hospitality-related jobs, what is meaningful?  That you “delivered excellent customer service” as everyone typically states on the resume?  No.  Dig a little deeper.  You might be able to convey hands-on food preparation with front-of-the-house management and event planning in three different platforms:  single-unit/family owned, publicly-held entertainment concept, and regional chain.  Now that’s an attractive menu to offer.

Identify the connections.  Who might be able to help you with insights and possibly even introductions to the decisionmakers? Believe it or not, there are people within your reach who could help:  school alumni, faculty members, friends of the family and parents of your friends.  NOTE:  This is not an action item for your parents.  But if you leverage those relationships and personally float out the request for input/expertise in a professional and customized manner, you will be pleasantly surprised with the response and offers of assistance you will receive. Hint:  People love to give advice.

What’s your superpower?  There is a special concoction of talents, interests and passion that is uniquely you.   I LOVE the Gallup StrengthsQuest for students.  For $9.99, you can access a Web-based assessment that measures the presence of talent in 34 themes.  It delivers a report of your top five themes — with action items to help you further explore.  Building a life on something you do well will deliver more happiness and satisfaction than trying to correct something you’re not.  It’s the key to finding The Perfect Fit.

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Recipe for New Growth in Retail, Restaurants

Start with a number:  717 million smart phone shipments in 2012.*

Then, imagine the impact and opportunity if you are a restaurant or retail chain.  Your customer has a technology device close at hand on nearly a 24/7 basis.  Thus, a new delivery path for customer acquisition, market intelligence and revenue growth — all under the umbrella of omni-channel, a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels, from on-line to brick-and-mortar.

What is the best road map for your enterprise?  Trailblazer Capital offered up a tasty menu of possible solutions at its second annual TechTrends in Restaurant & Retail event — expanding the synergies that abound in Dallas as a center of excellence with a strong heritage and talent base in these three industry sectors.

Entrepreneurs presented an ROI-boosting extravaganza of technology-based innovations — designed to draw customers from their device screens to your door.  Not to mention productivity tools and facilities management applications to reduce operating expenses and level the playing field for legacy brick-and-mortar players competing against virtual new entrants.

Restaurants and retailers need more customers, but the market is inefficient.   Technology can be an answer, notes David Matthews, managing partner of Trailblazer, also anchor investor in the VentureSpur incubator.

Some food for thought:

  • The technology must not come between your team member and the customer.  Theatro Labs introducing voice-controlled, networked wearables accommodating inventory look-up and other customer questions while maintaining eye contact and one-on-one communication.
  • Geofencing — What are your customers doing inside or outside of your store? Koupon Media delivers targeted customers via a full array of on-line coupons, games, loyalty benefits and other offers within the client’s own app.
  • Dwell time — Goal is to increase frequency + duration of visits + basket size.  Proximity beacons can deliver benefits via permission-based mobile marketing.
  • $170 billion restaurant orders are moving on-line; 40% of pizzas now ordered on-line.  Patronpath enables restaurants to control the customer info/infrastructure with integrated on-line ordering system that includes coupons + promotions.  An alternative to menu aggregators.
  • The best customers spend 5x more, but restaurants don’t necessarily know who their best customers are.  Austin-based Mahana provides a complete ROI and paper trail — so you can provide unique benefits and experiences to your biggest spenders.  Notable point:  The customer selecting the restaurant may not be the one who pays the ticket.
  • Data is prolific, but actionable usability is still elusive.  Oculus 360 converts consumer perception to retail activation with a market intelligence platform that distills social listening to interpret what the chatter is really saying — enabling decisions based on what we know vs. what we think.
  • Green is good and cycleWood Solutions delivers a sustainable solution to plastic shopping bags with a lowest cost product made of lignin, a natural polymer that turns into compost quickly.
  • $1.2 trillion of retail sales follow a mobile path to offline purchase. Donde shows shoppers with high purchase intent where to find goods and services with a bonus of analytics regarding customer profiles and store traffic.
  • There is $20 billion in wasted energy usage at 2 million restaurant and retail sites.  EnTouch Controls provides a solution to cut costs, avoid crises and extend equipment life.  Save $$$ on energy and apply it to on-line customer acquisition!
  • NYC-based Service Channel is an Angie’s List on steroids for commercial work management — connecting local stores with tradesmen and contractors who can provide an instant fix, no pun intended, plus payment and quick-access analytics on aging stores, operations issues, etc.
  • Groupraise automates field marketing and community outreach, targeting non-profit groups within a 3 mile radius of a restaurant location who create fundraising events and deliver full-paying customers — many first-time visitors — in return for a portion of the proceeds.  It’s a beautiful win/win that delivers customers and documents community involvement.

The recipe for success is changing, upended by so many different approaches to access, serve and delight the customer.  It’s all about driving eyeballs to your website and social media channels, then converting to click-throughs and foot traffic.  What will draw and delight your customers?

One principle of success remains the same, according to master-innovator and legendary restaurant impressario Phil Romano: “Find out what people want and need.  Then give it to them.”

In a keynote interview conducted by Trailblazer’s Joel Fontenot, Romano told the audience that “the hospitality industry needs new restaurant concepts, new brands and new people to excite and engage young millennials, in particular.

In Trinity Groves, his new incubator/entertainment destination, Romano’s team is growing all of the above with a roster of test concepts that will grow to 20 by year-end.  He’s created a start-up formula and auditions fresh talent with creativity and new ideas. “Most of our operators have never been in business,”  he said.  ”They haven’t failed, therefore they have no fear.”

“We’re doing what the government can’t do:  creating jobs for young people and families. The entrepreneur is the most important in the economy.  Everyone feeds off of them.  Who is teaching young people to be entrepreneurs these days?” asks Romano.

In Texas, the entrepreneurial success platform is alive and well-done!

* according to IDC

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Secrets for CEOs: How to Be a Savvy Hirer of Top Talent

For CEOs of entrepreneurial and middle market companies, solving the talent puzzle is critical to the success and future growth of the company.  A Fortune 500 monolith can absorb a hiring mistake once in a while, as the work is distributed among thousands of people.  But, in a smaller organization, there is a bigger impact.  A wrong hire or even worse – on-going turnover — can bombast customer relationships, poison employee morale — or actually sink the ship.

According to the Bersin human capital consulting arm of Deloitte, improving the quality of hire doesn’t start at recruitment, i.e., the actual solicitation of candidates.  I agree.  It’s the upfront planning that relates to your business model, talent market, assessment of needed skills, competitive dynamics, succession planning — and more.

This is the part that often gets short shrift — resulting in weak hires, culture clashes and disappointments.

1.  What do you want?  As chairman, founder or CEO, you’re the visionary!  Where do you want the company to go?  What markets and opportunities do you foresee?  What will it take to get you to the next stage-of-growth?  What skills are already resident in your organization?  What experience and market relationships must you acquire?  How much are you willing to invest? What do you absolutely love to do? As leader, you should be the decider…then build the team around you.  What is taking time, holding you back from spending more time on what you do best?  This is the starting point.  Enjoy the imagineering!

2.  Engage your leadership team.   Now it’s time to solicit the input of your kitchen cabinet.  Those who report to you — plus trusted outside advisors.  Expect a dose of reality.  Your team probably spends more time on tactical matters in the trenches, so their views might be more conservative.  The outsiders can provide a broader market perspective.  Create a safe environment where people can be candid.  You want more than yes-talk.

3.  Get specific. With the team, drill down to the specifics of the position.  A new role creates a realm of open possibilities. When replacing an incumbent, you may want to elevate what you seek in a candidate to reflect a more complex competitive environment.  Go through a complete list of wants/needs.  Title, reporting structure, qualifications, track record, revenue experience, industry knowledge, performance expectations.  Plus the soft skills.  What personal attributes are compatible with the culture of your organization. What would cause chaos?  See this previous blogpost for for more secrets. 

4.  Consensus or Compromise?  Change is challenging — often threatening — to those comfortable with the status quo.  You need team acceptance and enthusiasm in order to achieve successful on-boarding and retention of a new player.  When targeting a talent upgrade, expect differences of opinion.  That’s OK.  It’s more important to be united in the specifics of deliverables and prioritization of initiatives.  Then, you can set a range of horsepower and credentials to evaluate.  Seeing candidates in the flesh will give a close and up-front view of what might comprise the perfect fit. 

5.  Reporting structure input.  Once your leadership team has weighed in, invite the participation of those in the reporting structure and daily interface of the position.  This is a great time to get people talking.  What do they love about their current roles? How might a new player enable them to do more of what they love and do best that can have a material difference in the company? It’s an excellent way to discover underlying issues that might be looming. Be sure the new role complements the existing team. Otherwise, be prepared for unhappiness, i.e., additional turnover.

6.  Summarize the position.  You’ve now compiled your laundry list of requirements and responsibilities — typically an internal HR document known as the position description. DO NOT use this to market the role to prospective candidates and referral sources.  It’s the most boring type of eat-your-vegetables mandate — like listening to your mother telling you what to do. Not what attracts star talent to an opportunity.  But you need it.  Put in the files and use later in the interview process.

7.   Merchandise the position.  Here’s the secret sauce.  The za-za-zu that will deliver to you a targeted, robust pool of possibilities for the position.  First imagine an actual person.  Whom would you envision coming into your organizational family? In what industry might you find him/her?   Why would someone leave an existing position for your opportunity?  What is the unique selling proposition you offer?  What are the essentials of the requirements and personal traits you seek? Incorporate all of this into a document written to appeal to prospective candidates.  The position specification must weave a vibrant story that resonates and captures the attention of the person who can walk in the door and make a difference to your organization.  It must also be rooted in truth. You can’t pitch Utopia if your reality is a turnaround.

8.  Sourcing email. This is a condensed, bulleted version of the position specification:  a summary of the must have qualifications, headlined with the attractions of a fresh new future that a prospective candidate might find with you. This can be used for a round of sourcing with your business contacts, vendors, friends of the firm. The content may also be used for posting via social media or internet career websites. When you tell someone you’re looking for a new (fill in the blank),  it provides a very specific response to the question “What are you looking for?”

9.  Consistent messaging.  Recruiting talent for a new position inside your company is like a new product rollout.  Having a consistent message and well-defined target audience will provide a strategic advantage, not to mention positive buzz about your company within influencer and customer circles.  Whether you handle the assignment internally or use outside resources, it is important to spoonfeed the message you wish to convey. This is important in discussing the role with outside contacts and referral sources, not to mention each internal team member who interviews/interfaces with the candidate.

If your company does not have an internal HR/recruiting team, you might seek an outside resource to facilitate the planning phase or designate an internal project leader.  Your goal is to explode into the talent marketplace from a springboard of strength and savvy. With the right preparation, you now have everything teed up for a successful launch — not to mention efficient use of your talent budget.  Mis-steps and do-overs are expensive and time-consuming.

Next….Deploy! Now comes the dizzying part. The actual recruitment phase.  Who will carry your message to the market?  Who will review, reject and prioritize the slate of possibilities.  Who will organize the schedule of internal interviews, evaluations, feedback, reference interviews, background checks, etc.

There are many options in today’s market — from your own internal resources to industry/alumni career boards to social media and internet resources such as LinkedIn, TheLadders, contingency search resources, retained executive search firms, staffing companies, temp-to-hire options, fractional executive timeshare, do-it-yourself or a combo approach.  What is the perfect fit for you?

copyright 2014 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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What Motivates Change?

You’re buzzing along in life, minding your own business.  Then, an announcement implodes the routine.

Another re-organization in your company.  Or worse, downsizing.  You receive a rejection from (fill in the blank).   A key client defects to a competitor.  Your #1 salesperson quits.  Your (fill in the blank) calls in sick.  An ice storm is forecast the day of an event you’re chairing.  You have to upgrade your iPhone to the new OS.


Scream-inducing change is the worst.  But, in a way, it is also the easiest — because you don’t have a choice.  You have to act.  You have to move forward, the mantra of Don Draper in the TV show Mad Men.

As a blogger and consultant, I’m both a student and purveyor of change.  I’ve led presentations, created tools and implemented processes to increase sureness and ease the pain. But it’s complicated.  In these days of uncertainty and risk-aversion, what might motivate someone to invoke change if it wasn’t absolutely necessary or thrust upon you?

The underlying motivation is a four letter word.  L-O-V-E.

The power of the heart is what propels us to break the pattern…do the uncomfortable…try something new.  The reward is simple. All related to something — or someone — we love.

The principle is applicable in matters of work, family, community, career, school, friendship, romance.  It’s the theme of the most popular and enduring songs of all time.  Just scope this historical roster from ASCAP. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Love is deeper than happiness.  It’s an ocean vs. a puddle.  A feeling of happiness is to be celebrated.  But it’s a moment — until you need more happiness (another Don Draper-ism).

But love sustains.  It nourishes.  It’s at our core — in brightness and darkness, sickness and health, togetherness and alone-ness. It encourages us to stand up to others.  To focus where we know we can deliver and succeed.  To delight in the solace and comfort of those we love and enjoy most.

Love is the bond-builder in teamwork — those persevering in the trenches together when danger threatens.  Love rewards us for who we are.  It draws out the best in us even when we doubt ourselves.  It requires sacrifice.  But oh what a reward!

It’s an energizing force that also moves the economic needle.  Customers buy products they love. Team members go the extra mile for a boss they love.

Love tips the scales and moves us to do something we’ve previously avoided.  Tap into its power for purposes of relationship-building — or for deep understanding of those you are trying to influence or understand.

Change your mind.  Change your business.  Change your outcome.  Change your life.

When you unleash the power of love, that’s when the magic happens.

copyright 2014 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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The Networker

Growing up, our families imprint us with traits, values and habits. Some we strive to emulate. Some we struggle to avoid. Others slip unnoticed into our daily patterns. The DNA continues into adulthood.

In ten years of executive search, it was my opening interview question:  Tell me about you as a little person. Who was in your family? What did your parents do? Who were the role models who influenced you into becoming the person you are today?

Dead silence.  No one has a standard sound bite for this query.  Then the interviewee opens up and tells a stream of heartfelt meaningful-ness.  You can look right into the soul.  Then, you see the threads of family throughout the discussion of career path. The CPA father, the artsy mother.  The parent who survived a concentration camp.  The leader-of-the-pack eldest of seven kids.

I’ve already written about my father’s influence — The Toastmaster.  Here’s a rundown on my 91-year old mother, Mary Vetakis (photo above, circa 1991):

Networker.  My husband still marvels at the multiple circles of friendships evidenced at my mother’s 80th birthday party.  She worked the crowd like a politician!  Friends — young and old — from the neighborhood, church, choir, widows support group, three card clubs, not to mention family.  She became a networker as a young wife in a newly-developing suburb.  Every afternoon, she would pop me into the stroller and go door-to-door introducing herself.  She drew on this skill for successful on-boarding into a retirement community later in life and passed onto us her gift of connecting.

Communicator.  Having built a network, she stayed in touch.  The phone in our house was always in use!  She chaired the St. Rose Telephone Squad, a brilliant outreach devised by our monsignor for mobilizing parishioners during the building of a new church and school. It was the equivalent of a blast email or Facebook post.  The chair would call ten women, who would each call ten women, etc. My mother has always been curious and interested in others.  She can draw people out. Skills my sisters and I have used in our careers.

Infrastructure.   There was a rhythm and routine in our household, from sunrise to bedtime.  Things were smooth-running on a predictable schedule.  My mother ran the show, thus we girls could apply our energies to our own pursuits. We emulate this in our own work/life world. Create a good foundation, then focus on the important things that add value and make a difference.

Family First.  We grew up seeing our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on a weekly basis.  When life delivers some nastiness, you can put it in context — bolstered by a cushion of family love.

Sixth Sense. My little Italian grandmother would close her eyes and say “Hon-eeee.  I can-a see-a things.”  We inherited a strong set of antennae — picking up on details and nuances that go unnoticed by others.  Pieced together, it’s a powerful tool, client service-wise, in addition to the usual processes and practices.

Giver, not Taker.  Mary V. was always first at the doorstop with a batch of blueberry muffins in times of illness or death.  She set an example of community service, undertaking leadership roles for every type of fundraising vehicle imaginable.

Fun and Irreverent.  Who wants to be around boring people?  Nobody!  My mother has a quick wit and a love of “dish.” Always up on news and current events.  Quick to award nicknames.  Says what she thinks.  Joie de vivre!

Talent-picker/Toupee-spotter.  Everyone has secret gifts.  My mother could always scope future media stars.  She was an avid Anderson Cooper fan from the first moment he appeared on CNN.  She predicted Ann Curry would not make it as Today Show co-host. She is also a top spotter of fake hair, both in-person and on-screen.  (You know who you are, anchormen, politicians and pundits!)

Not a Nervous Eater.  No reaching for the chocolates in our family.  When we stress out, we can’t eat.  #ThankYouMV #NoFoodObsessionDNA

In-Style. My mother grew up in a small town, but my grandfather had a free pass on the Pennsylvania Railroad and she would visit cousins in New York, fascinated by the fashion vibes of the very best stores.  She has an eye for proper fit.  Not too tight, i.e., “It spans you.”

Customize It.  When my mother went gray in her 30s, there weren’t many choices in hair color.  She had the salon create a custom shade for her — to avoid the blue-black tinge of the very darkest shade of her era’s Clairol.  Weirdly, I do my own blend of nail polish. Always an Essie color mixed with a lighter frosted shade.

Una Bella Figura.  It’s an Italian phrase.  Make a good impression.  She taught us well.  Never show up empty handed.  Dress well.  Compliment others.  Be polite.  Earn trust.  Don’t track dirt into someone’s house.  (See below.)

Clean-a-holic.  The core element of my mother’s brand.  In high school, my friends dubbed her Mrs. Clean.  Our home was a fortress against the enemy of dirt, dust or germs.  She is a fanatic, fixated on a battle which, to me, has no end.  I rebel!  Much better to handle housekeeping via outsourcing and project management.  I am an advocate of Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn anti-perfectionist philosophy:  Done is good enough.  (But not for you-know-who!)

I could never understand why my mother didn’t apply her talents to a professional career.  Maybe my Aunt Rose, age 90, has a point.  “We’re living this long so we can show the right way to be.”  (I’m not kidding.  She actually said this.)  All along, our mothers have been running family-focused consulting practices.  And we’re the clients!

So…step back and examine your own derivatives.  Give gratitude for the traits that underlie your own success. Continue to strike your own path. Love you, MV!

copyright 2014 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Seniors and Alumni Sparkle at Garza Early College H.S.

There is a shiny glimmer of hope in urban education and I saw it with my own eyes at Trinidad Garza Early College High School.  Long title…but very innovative program.  It’s a joint venture of Dallas Independent School District and Mountain View College.  Students go to classes year-round and have the opportunity to earn college credits — as much as a two-year Associate’s degree –along with a high school diploma.

Continuing on to a four-year degree is less daunting.  Students already have a taste of the academic rigor that will be required.  And they don’t need to fund the cost of a full baccalaureate program — just a couple of years.  This is a winning proposition and upward path for families in low socioeconomic circumstances.  The school motto:  College Ready, Career Ready, Life Ready.

Students at Garza are 85 percent Hispanic and 13 percent African American, 86 percent of them are eligible for free/reduced lunch and 27 percent are limited English proficient.

Did I mention award-winning?

  • 2012 winner of Excellence in Urban Education Award from National Center for Urban School Transformation
  • Silver Level – U.S. News & World Report, Best High Schools
  • Ranked #6 in  Top High Schools of North Texas by Children at Risk Association
  • A Texas Honors Circle Campus –  Texas Comptroller citation for fiscal accountability + academic performance
  • Garnering $2.7 million in scholarships and grants

I met principal Dr. Janice D. Lombardi at the kick-off of the Big Read Dallas program featuring the school’s step team, then ran into her again at a Communities Foundation event where Garza student Jonathan Gonzales was an articulate and impressive panel member.

Lombardi is a dynamo with a big heart — a performance-driven, metric-savvy administrator who is passionate about her purpose and the students, families and faculty she serves.  She is a turnaround maestro with young people who were previously underperforming.

The teaching approach at Garza considers the whole student: behavior, academics, strengths and weaknesses. “We have a culture of learning and college readiness here,” she notes. “Our instructional emphasis is effort-based; working hard does matter.”

Lombardi invited me to speak on campus as keynoter for Senior Leadership Week.  What an experience!  Parents, grandparents and other family members came for a special breakfast and morning of presentations.   Translation services and headsets were offered.  It was a celebration of milestones and hope for the future.  The class of 2013 has a 100% graduation rate — with 46 out of 90 also earning a full Associate’s degree.

My favorite part?  The alumni who returned to share advice and encouragement.  Nine amazing examples of the Garza product  – juniors and seniors in four-year colleges, including UT/Dallas, SMU, University of North Texas.  19-20 years old.  Poised and polished.

Their messages were meaningful — not only for the new graduates, but for any of us who engage in lifelong learning and pursuit of dreams.  Some very good reminders!

  • You can accomplish what you set out to do.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Aim high!  Why not?  You will progress in steps.  Some forward, some backward.  But keep going.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.  You are unique to yourself.  Do your best on the path that is right for you.
  • Learn time management.  Accomplishing everything you need to do is not easy, especially if you are working while you are completing your studies.   It takes organization, self-knowledge and discipline.
  • Take care of your health.  Beware of burnout.  Eat properly.  Get enough sleep.  Recalibrate when you need to.
  • Network!  Knowing others is the key to growth and identification of new opportunities.  Add to your circle of friends, mentors and advisors.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.  If you only know people like yourself, you are limiting your options.  Learn how people behave and how things work in different environments.
  • Watch for opportunity and be ready!  By actively engaging in new relationships and new situations, you will learn about jobs, school projects, scholarships or internships.
  • Surround yourself with those who share your values and vision.  Do NOT get drawn into the wrong crowd.
  • Make good decisions for yourself and your dreams.
  • Risky and reckless behavior can have a derailing and irreversible effect.  YOLO-You Only Live Once is a dangerous outlook.
  • Love your family.

Lombardi and her team are changing lives.  Isn’t this what public education is all about?

copyright 2013 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Are you a YES-aholic? Try this 12-step cure.


Every time you say yes, you give away a piece of yourself.  It’s a commitment of time, energy, brainpower and bandwidth. If you are operating at full capacity, there is little margin for error.  When you experience a spike in demand, something must inevitably drop off the list.

For someone who is a YES-aholic, prone to taking on new commitments, the aspect of reneging can be particularly painful.  Instead of one big up-front no, there can be a recurring chain of NO, SORRY, SOMETHING HAS COME UP, I’LL TRY AND FIND SOMEONE TO STEP IN.  Or…you get into a vicious cycle of multi-tasking, rushing, lateness, splintered effort and having less of an impact than what you originally intended.

To succeed in any endeavor, it’s critical to be focused on what counts.  If you are fragmented with a crazy quilt of commitments and activities, the distractions can impede the achievement of the goal, not to mention quality-of-life along the way.   It’s about setting boundaries, as Sheryl Sandberg recommends in her best-selling book Lean In.

Here is a 12-step roster of remedies, based on the Changeometer  decisionmaking tool.  Don’t worry, there is no To Do list.  More of a Not To Do list.

1.  Clear the decks!  Have you recently undertaken something significant in your life?  Perhaps a new job.  A relocation.  Or a new baby.  Congratulations, you’re in a mission-critical ramp-up.  Quick!  Step away from recurring commitments, old habits and routines.  Re-set expectations of family and outside organizations.  Give yourself at least a year to navigate the newness.

2.  Goodbye work/life balance.  Hello ebb-and-flow.  Balance infers something calm, peaceful and predictable.  A wonderful ideal — but real life today is messy and sporadic.  Maybe better to plan for the crazy, high-demand times, then scale back and celebrate when the onslaught subsides.

3.  Forget complex time management techniques.  Why spend time learning how to manage what might be an erroneous excess of action items?  It’s a fast-changing world.  What was relevant two years or two months ago may not be pertinent today.  Take inventory, evaluate and purge!  Like cleaning out your closet or garage, there is stuff you can get rid of.

4.  It’s complicated.  Saying yes 5, 10 or 15 years ago entailed much less of an obligation than today.  Organizations of every ilk and purpose are under much more pressure from an economic as well as human capital standpoint.  More demand.  Fewer resources.  Intense competition.  Thus serving on a committee or board is more stressful and time-consuming.  It’s not that you are any less capable or competent.  Just a higher level of neediness at every turn.

5.  Fresh approach to commitments.    A officer-level slot in an industry, school or community group can involve monthly responsibilities for at least a year.  Board positions can be open-ended.  An option is to look for high-value projects where you can plan ahead according to your schedule, deliver a big hit and – boom! – be in and out in a defined, short-term period of time.

6.  Your life as a media channel.  A master schedule board fills the wall in every program executive’s office.  Think of your life in the same way.  You can’t add on-air hours to a finite 24/7 grid.  But you can move things around.   Make the most of prime time periods.  Test new concepts. Mix it up in the new season.

7. Create a Zone of Serenity . No matter how busy you are, find a sliver in your week that you can protect and savor.  Be vigilant in reserving it for your purpose.  Something dedicated to your significant other, family or friends.   A quiet retreat for you.  Do not incorporate other programming.  Differentiate it from other time slots on the calendar.

8.  GatorRassling GroundRule .  If an interaction becomes frustrating and painful, give yourself permission to resign immediately (“I so enjoyed serving on the XYZ committee, but feel it is now time to offer someone else the opportunity…”).   If it’s a boss, client — or even a demanding family member — create boundaries and keep it away from your Zone of Serenity.  No emails, phone calls or action items on Saturday night, as an example.

9.  Everyone needs a tribe.  When aligning with a group, look for multiple benefits that can accrue for the effort expended.  For professional organizations, play at the highest level possible to expand your range of relationships.   Seek the company of like-minded individuals that can result in new business, friendships and social circles.  Commit!  Be active and engaged.  Take on a leadership role.  You don’t have to be involved in ten groups.  If you identify the right one or two, you can enjoy a lot of value and satisfaction.

10.  Tune out peer pressure.  It’s a form of adult bullying.  Period.

11.  Outsource process, not interaction.  A comedy legend broke the gender barrier in the stand-up world.  To manage family and a demanding career, she had a retinue of helpers for household, travel and logistics.  But she personally handled all of her correspondence, fan mail and booking requests, identifying a unique add-on path as a concert pianist with symphony orchestras — something her Hollywood agent might have overlooked.  Delegate mundane chores and focus on what can really make a difference.

12.  Thank you for asking.  Develop a predisposition to saying no.  Master an approach that fits your personal style.  Give yourself time to evaluate the request.  Be confident and comfortable in your right to decline or delay.  Be polite, but firm. If you keep saying yes, yes, yes, you are enabling others to be strategic at the expense of what is meaningful to you and the vision you have defined.

copyright 2013 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Betty Draper vs. Sheryl Sandberg: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

In the TV show Mad Men, Betty Draper epitomized the ideal of American womanhood in the go-go era of the 1960s.  She was Grace Kelly gorgeous and Bryn Mawr-educated with a drop dead handsome husband who was minting money as a successful Madison Avenue ad agency partner.

She presided over a stately Colonial manse with a spectacular wardrobe and a housekeeper to help look after her children.  She was a poised and effective corporate wife, the perfect accoutrement for client and business functions.  “Is this the one where I talk?  Or the one where I don’t talk?”  

Betty had it all.  A blonde version of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, if you will.  But it wasn’t as it seemed.  And like many women  women of her time, she had no clear path to fulfillment and a happy life beyond trading up to a different husband.  She had to rely on her core offerings of beauty and charm, the currency for women of that era.

Flash forward to the future.

Sheryl Sandberg is the new icon of feminine success.  She is armed with two degrees from Harvard and a career foundation at the World Bank, McKinsey and U.S. Department of the Treasury.  She gained entry to the alpha male enclave of Silicon Valley as Vice President of Google, then hopscotched over to Facebook where she serves as Chief Operating Officer.

Like Betty at the beginning of Mad Men, she is attractive and stylish with a successful husband and two children.  Plus a seat on the Board of Directors at Disney and Facebook.  Plus an equity stake with stock valued at half a billion dollars.

Sheryl has it all.  At a pretty daunting level, considering the broader context of what that uber-package of achievement entails.  To help others, she has documented her path in a new playbook and social movement called  Lean In:  Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

It’s creating ripples, to say the least.

Sheryl says that women themselves are to blame for the gap in ambition and achievement.  She lists the shortfalls and outlines a strategy for top-line growth.  ”Of 190 heads of state, nine are women.  Of Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women. Of full professors around the U.S., only 24% are women. Women became 50% of the college graduates in this country in 1981,but we are nowhere close to 50% of the jobs at the top.”

The fur started flying. Some criticized her elitist perch.  Others say she can’t relate to a “regular” woman juggling work, children and aging parents in a struggling economy.

Women hurt themselves by “leaning back,” she points out.  ”They say, I’m busy or I want to have a child one day, I couldn’t possibly take on any more. Or I’m still learning on my current job. I’ve never had a man say that to me.”

To me, that’s the whole point.  In today’s world, women now have an open-ended range of options.  You can follow the path that suits you.

You can be a Martha Stewart-inspired domestic diva.  A soccer mom.  Or Yoga entrepreneur.  You can be a single mom.  A trophy wife.  Community activist.  Part of a two-career couple with no kids.  A home office blogger.  You can be a lawyer on the partner path.  Then segue to the mommy track.  Then back to partner.  Then start your own boutique firm.  You can be the most powerful person in your industry. You can re-invent the wheel.  You can be CEO.  The possibilities are endless.

Not everyone wants to climb the rigid structure of someone else’s ecosystem.  That’s why there are more than 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue, according to a study commissioned by American Express OPEN.

Why do women lean out instead of leaning in?  In her Career Diva blog, Eve Tahmincioglu writes about the Company Man syndrome.  She is right.  The leadership positions by which Sheryl Sandberg and others define success are throwbacks to an organizational structure created in the era of Mad Men when there was a retinue of support on both the home and office front to bolster the careers of high-potentials destined for the C-suite.  You need to replicate that team on an outsourced basis in order to succeed, as outlined in Lean In.

Smart enterprises are beginning to lean in to capitalize on the power of diversity.   Chairman and Senior Partner of PwC Robert Moritz is designing an inclusive culture, he reports via LinkedIn. For example, Full Circle is a PwC program that allows parents to “off-ramp” from their careers, stay connected while they are gone, maintain their technical credentials, and then return to the firm. Formalizing this option gives people permission to pursue non-linear career paths. Mentor Moms is a PwC effort to match women returning from maternity leave with experienced mothers who are successfully juggling family and careers.

Jacki Zehner reports a disappointment at Goldman Sachs in this blogpost, due to a Queen Bee who did not want to help others lean in.  We’re not at the right win/loss ratio.  But I am heartened by the efforts and dialog.

Fifty years ago, Betty Friedan discerned the rumblings of unrest on the domestic front.  In the beginning of her book, The Feminine Mystique, she described the problem that lay buried, unspoken, for many years:

“It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question. Is this all?

Women of that era were hemmed in.  Betty Draper was not maternal, but she had children because that’s what you did.  You might have itched for something more, but when Betty delved into the truth of her existence, she discovered a deeper horror.  Don Draper was a man of many secrets.  He was a serial philanderer who had left behind his sad early life and reinvented himself by stealing the identity of a dead soldier.

Betty Draper had limited options for Plan B, thus she divorced dashing Don and married the more stable and sedate Henry Francis.  Even Jackie Kennedy tapped the second marriage option to Aristotle Onassis before forging a fuller life of her own in publishing.  Today, there would be more possibilities for revitalization and renewal.  You could run for office. Write a book.  Start a company.  Host a TV show.

I love the range of choice.  Like the tagline of the ad campaign used to introduce Virginia Slims, a cigarette designed and debuted for women in 1968, my view is that “We’ve come a long way, baby.”  Compared to then.  It’s not where Sheryl wants us to be.  But it’s a pretty big step forward.

copyright 2013 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene