May 18, 2020


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on the elastic tension between your leadership vision and current reality, plus tips on reducing Zoom fatigue, communicating in high-stress situations, and whether it’s time to reconsider your brand positioning. Enjoy!


1. Rubber Band Leadership

One of a leader’s key responsibilities is to predict the likelihood of future events and plan accordingly. This is, of course, an important skill as we deal with the pandemic and its after-effects.

“[Leaders] peer over the horizon and get a sense of what it might be like to live there,” leadership coach Ed Batista observes on his blog.Zz

“This capability can be a tremendous asset — but only when it’s coupled with the ability to influence others to adopt and act upon that same vision.”

Leaders face an elastic tension:

He asks you to imagine a rubber band connecting you with those you lead. When you travel forward in time to envision the future, the rubber band stretches.

“This produces a useful and necessary tension between the leader’s vision and everyone else’s current reality, which, under the right circumstances, can move people to adopt this vision of the future and begin to act accordingly,” he says.

“But if the leader runs too far ahead or pulls too hard in an effort to bring people along, the rubber band breaks. There’s a rupture between the leader’s vision of the future and everyone else’s current reality, and the leader loses influence as a result.”

In this volatile climate, he finds the rubber bands binding leaders to followers are fraying.  Don’t let them break.

That means finding a delicate balance — maintain sufficient tension to move your organization forward without putting so much pressure on people and systems that the bands snap.


2. Five Ways To Combat Zoom Fatigue

If you’re spending part of your day on Zoom here are five research-based tips to make those video calls less exhausting, shared on Harvard Business Review. They come from Liz Fosslien, head of content at Humu, and consultant Mollie West Duffy:

  • Avoid multitasking:  It’s tempting to surreptitiously work on other things while Zooming. But that cuts your memory and performance. Close all other tabs and focus on the meeting.
  • Build in breaks:  During longer calls, minimize the Zoom window or look away from the computer for a few seconds. “This is not an invitation to start doing something else, but to let your eyes rest for a moment,” they say. And they believe your colleagues will understand.
  • Reduce on-screen stimuli:  Research shows that, when you’re on video, you tend to spend the most time gazing at your own face. So get yourself out of the picture by right-clicking on the three dots within your video square and then selecting Hide Myself. Others will see you while now you can focus on them. But try not to focus on their paintings and furniture in the background — it’s like being in five, or 25, rooms at once.
  • Make virtual social events opt-in:  People may be drained, so let them skip the session if it’s not appealing to them.
  • Switch to phone calls or emails:  Check your calendar and see if any upcoming meetings can be handled in ways other than video.

If video conferencing is exhausting you, try those five tips to reduce your Zoom fatigue.


3. Selling In A Pandemic

In these uncertain times, sales consultant Colleen Francis says you should beware of excuses keeping you from serving clients.

“Don’t fall into the trap of believing that there’s no point in reaching out to clients right now because nobody is buying,” she writes on her blog.

“Selling is about serving. Find ways that you can be of service to your customers during this difficult time.”

Consultant Alan Weiss suggests dividing your customers and sales prospects into four groups:

  • Ideal:  They value your contributions and will rely on you even more in tough times.
  • Hesitant:  They are sitting on the fence, waiting for future developments. “They need to be shown the high cost of not proceeding and the wisdom of being confident in the underlying structure of the economy and our institutions,” he writes on his blog.
  • Intimidated:  They are understandably conservative and waiting for the all-clear. Explain they won’t succeed if they try to plunge ahead from a position of inertia; they will need to already be in motion when the time comes.
  • Hunkered down:  They are frozen by fear. Stay in contact, offer value, share best practices but don’t push them beyond that.


4. Two Mantras For Our Times

Henry Kraemer, a professor of leadership at the Kellogg School of Management and former CEO of Baxter International, offered these two principles for our times in Kellogg Insight:

  • You’re going to do the right thing and you’re going to do the best you can.
  • You’re going to tell people what you know, what you don’t know, and when you’ll get back to them to discuss what you didn’t know before. Telling people what you don’t know is the key to building credibility, he stresses.


5. Zingers

  • Maxims from Tom Peters:  Leadership guru Tom Peters offered this observation on coping with COVID-19, based on his writings over four decades:  “One Message. People First. Now More Than Ever.” (Source: TomPeters.com)
  • Same Storm, Different Boat:  Consultant Donald Cooper disagrees with the catchphrase these days that we’re all in the same boat: “We’re all in the same storm, but we are far from all being in the same boat.  Many of us are in very different boats.” (Source: Donald Cooper Corporation)
  • Difficult Can Be Attractive:  Research shows that interview candidates in professional and technical services are significantly more likely to accept a job offer after undergoing a difficult job interview. Yet less than 11% of interviews are rated difficult. Don’t hold back. (Source: Glassdoor.com)
  • Better Meeting Interaction:  Leadership coach Dan Rockwell says you’ll improve your meetings by asking people to respond to each other’s input. (Source: LeadershipFreak)
  • Keep Strategy Flexible:  For the foreseeable future, create your strategy on a whiteboard, advises consultant Art Petty. Keep erasable markers handy. (Source: ArtPetty.com)


6. The List:

    Do You Need A New Brand Category?  

In February we wrote about brand categories — the mental framework clients or consumers use to understand what you have to offer. Think “office supplies” and Staples comes to mind, or Starbucks for “premium coffee shops”.

But with pandemic disruptions and social distancing, your customers may be re-evaluating or changing what they truly value in an experience, service or product.

Is it time for you to reposition the way you offer value and change how customers see you within a brand/marketing category?

Here’s a checklist adapted from a more general Emotive Brand briefing that may help you determine if that’s so:

  • Are you altering strategic direction and/or shifting your business model? (For example, have you now become a digital organization?)
  • Is your category in crisis or has it fallen out of favour (as we have seen with airlines, international travel and large entertainment/sports events)?
  • Is your product or offering misunderstood by prospects and partners? (For example, is your restaurant seen as a “traditional, pre-COVID” dining establishment or is it one of a new breed that has put new safeguards in place for social distancing and infection control?)
  • Is your current category preventing your key differences from standing out as ‘must haves’? (Has Skype been overshadowed by the hype about Zoom video conferencing?)
  • Are you ready to extend your brand beyond current customer segments? For example, if you serve older folks now feeling vulnerable to COVID-19 (and staying home), should you reposition to appeal to younger audiences?

As you scramble to adapt to “the new abnormal”, it may be time to reposition your brand in a different category. These questions help you make that determination.


7. Around Our Water Cooler: 

    Communicating in High-Stress Situations

We’ve long been fans of Chris Voss, the former lead FBI hostage negotiator who wrote Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.

He knows a thing or two about communicating in high-stress situations.

In a recent Global Leadership Network video, he explained how best to interact with people facing fear and stress in uncertain situations (like a pandemic). And you may be dealing with stressed-out staff, clients, or strategic partners at other organizations.

Here are some Voss tips that resonated with us:

  • When you call people, say you know the situation is bad.
  • Use a slow “late-night FM DJ voice” to help another person calm down. (It hits the mirror neurons in their brain.)  And smile.
  • The quickest way to calm fears is to call them out. Label the fear and anger. Call out the negatives. When someone is scared, don’t say you’re scared too. Say, “I know you’re scared.”
  • Don’t say “but”. Voss puts it this way: “If the word ‘but’ is getting ready to crawl off your lips, it’s a good time to be quiet.”
  • Wait for them to answer.
  • Then ask “how” questions. Ask thought-shaping questions, such as how do we work through this problem so we can both succeed?”
  • The right first step is to make an emotional connection (vs. reasoning). Then you can boil the problem down and challenge the other side to act.
  • Active listening is key. Put all five senses on the other person. As Stephen Covey said: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  • Demonstrate understanding of what you’re hearing. You know you’ve done that well when they say, “That’s right.”
  • Two ways to maintain a positive frame of mind and think more clearly yourself:  Be genuinely curious about the other person. You can’t lose your cool while you are genuinely curious. And maintain a mindset of gratitude.

Some common mistakes to avoid:

  • You can’t tell people there is no elephant in the room. They will say, “What are you smoking? There is an elephant right there!”
  • Saying, “we’re in this together” is well-intentioned, but it doesn’t help. If you’re about to be trampled by an elephant, they don’t care if someone else will get trampled too. People worry about their own survival first.
  • People want to know that you know what they’re feeling.  Say I know you’re frustrated. I know you’re angry. I know you’re scared. Phrases to call out emotions like “you seem”, “you sound”, and “you look” can be helpful in low stress situations. But under high stress, it doesn’t work.
  • Don’t talk about trust; focus on predictability. Anxiety flows from uncertainty. Make your world more predictable in little ways, such as communicating with them on a regular schedule — whether you have good news, bad news or no news.
  • When someone is under a lot of stress, don’t ask: “How are you doing?” They will think you’re oblivious to what is going on, or insensitive. Do tell people you know what they are going through.
  • In survival mode, the brain amplifies negative thoughts. People may also repeat the same dysfunctional behaviour because it’s a loop they know. Asking problem-solving “how” questions will help people get out of that cycle.


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8. Closing Thought 

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

— Salvador Dali