Monday, January 17, 2022

Is There a Cookie-Cutter Mold for Leaders?

Over the last 13 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing marketing, leadership, and customer experience experts. One of these experts is Lori Dernavich from New York. We recently had a discussion about leadership, and highlights follow below Lori's bio.

Lori Dernavich is a Leadership Development Advisor and Executive Coach. She partners with leaders and their organizations to develop the skills they’ll need to scale. With additional background as a food scientist and psychotherapist, Lori’s background gives her an in-depth understanding of a wide variety of personalities, functions, and industries. Connect and follow on Twitter (@LoriDernavich), and on her website at

QUESTION: Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020, how has it impacted the role of leadership?

LORI DERNAVICH: COVID has certainly required more from leaders. They’ve had to go well beyond managing day-to-day activities and become laser-focused on clearly communicating vision, context, intentions, expectations, and accountability. Great leaders have recognized the necessity of paying attention to employee mental and emotional well-being too. I often coach leaders in the lifescience and biotech industries. Many of these leaders come from academia, where they weren’t taught how to be strong leaders. The COVID silver lining is watching these folks step up their leadership game quickly and wonderfully.       

TWEET THIS: Great leaders have recognized the necessity of paying attention to employee mental and emotional well-being too. -@LoriDernavich #LeadershipTip #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: How do you differentiate between management and leadership?

LORI DERNAVICH: In my opinion, management is about the work people are doing. Leadership is more about the people doing the work. Management is about taking care of the day-to-day management of work, like creating and managing timelines and tasks. Leadership is about caring and growing the people you hope will want to follow you.

TWEET THIS: Leadership is about caring and growing the people you hope will want to follow you. -@LoriDernavich #LeadershipTip #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: How can people without grandiose titles lead others and/or make a positive impact in the workplace?

LORI DERNAVICH: People can become leaders long before they ever have direct reports. To make a positive impact, build your network within the organization to build your personal brand. Great leaders get rid of obstacles so their direct reports can focus on their jobs.

Think about how you can be of value and remove obstacles for others. That could be as simple as offering to schedule meetings, taking and distributing meeting notes, or staying late to help finish a project.

TWEET THIS: People can become leaders long before they ever have direct reports. -@LoriDernavich #LeadershipTip #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: How can a CEO be an effective brand ambassador?

LORI DERNAVICH: A CEO needs to be passionate about their company to the outside world, but it’s just as necessary for a CEO to show that passion internally too. Whether you’re charismatic or not, meet with employees. Ask them what they like about working there, what they wish they could improve, and whether they’d recommend the company to a friend. Show employees you care about them and that they’re integral to the company’s success.

QUESTION 5: To quote Peter Drucker, “There may be born leaders, but there surely are far too few to depend on them. Leadership must be learned.” What does this quote mean to you?

LORI DERNAVICH: We must invest in employees at every level of a company. There is no cookie-cutter mold for leaders. Give me someone who is open to always learning, shows humility, and exhibits empathy, and the rest can be taught. Actually, while empathy comes naturally for some, I even think it can be learned.

TWEET THIS: There is no cookie-cutter mold for leaders. -@LoriDernavich #LeadershipTip #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): “Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others.” What does this quote mean to you?

LORI DERNAVICH: Empathy, removing obstacles, believing in your people, and being willing to go to bat for them.

My thanks to Lori for sharing her inspiring leadership insights and for appearing here on my Blog. Is anyone else craving cookies now?

Image Credit: Wordswag app.

Monday, January 10, 2022

2021 Was the Year of #BRANDIDENTITY Changes

Was your brand in the news during 2021? If not, don’t despair. There were many other brands that made headlines during 2021.

Here’s a recap of 15 interesting brands that either rebranded, changed their logo, co-branded, or changed their name during 2021.

* The 2,800-unit sandwich chain Jimmy John's began the year with a new look and logo for typography, packaging, illustrations, and uniforms.

* Major league baseball team the Cleveland Indians transitioned to the Cleveland Guardians. The decision to change the team's nickname was a desire to be more inclusive, which led to a survey of 40,000 fans and 140 hours of interviews with fans, community leaders, and front-office personnel. According to the team, "When facing the 43-foot "Guardians of Traffic" that have stood tall for nearly 100 years on the Hope Memorial Bridge, Progressive Field looms in the background. The two are now forever connected, the sculptures that have served the city as beacons of progress now trickling over to the city's baseball team."

* Auto brand Kia unveiled a new logo and brand slogan: "Movement that inspires."

* Auto brand Volvo changed its logo for the first time in seven years. Named "Volvo Iron Mark," the logo is the same shape as the male symbol and the scientific symbol for iron.

* Auto brand General Motors unveiled its new logo with a nod toward its electric future, since it resembles an electric plug. The new logo was tied into a new marketing campaign entitled, "Everybody In," which laid the groundwork for the automaker as it aimed to put drivers into electric vehicles (EVs) and begin the slow march away from the internal-combustion engine.

* Oscar Mayer, the packaged foods brand marketed by Kraft Heinz, partnered with Lyft to add its signature Wienermobile into the ride-hailing app's fleet. Lyft users in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta had the opportunity to be picked up by the 27-foot hot dog vehicle. Driven by two five-star-rated "Hotdoggers," Wienermobiles were decked out with music, neon lights, free shirts, and hot dog masks. This campaign was unveiled in the midst of an overhaul of the Oscar Mayer brand, a 138-year-old brand that struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

* Fast-food chain Burger King underwent the biggest brand evolution in more than 20 years with a new color scheme, uniforms, a custom font called "Flame," and an overhauled logo. A designer for the brand explained that the new logo "can be seen better on the small screen, clearly important during the digital age in which more orders are being made using smartphones."

* Food brand Velveeta changed its logo and tagline. With more people staying and cooking at home during the COVID-19 era, food brands have become more prominent. Another Kraft brand, Philadelphia cream cheese was more often MIA on supermarket shelves throughout 2021.

* Drug manufacturer and COVID-19 vaccine maker Pfizer unveiled its most significant brand refresh in 70 years with a new logo. The company began a shift in 2019 away from a diverse collection of consumer brands to a more science-driven agenda creating prescription drugs and vaccines.

* Nonprofit organization Canine Companions for Independence changed its name, tagline, and logo. The organization changed its name to Canine Companions and its tagline to "Lead with Independence." According to the press release, "The new logo captures the belief that the human-canine bond makes us all stronger. The dog and human connect to form a unified, heart-like shape, underscoring the strength of the relationship and illustrating how service dog teams help each other feel empowered and valued. Additionally, the human is based on the letter "I" to connect back to the life-changing independence that Canine Companions service dogs provide."

* Social media icon Facebook rebranded and became known as Meta. Facebook and its family of apps (Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp) will be a division of a larger Meta company still led by founder Mark Zuckerberg that will also focus on AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), and metaverse efforts. On December 1, the company's stock ticker changed from FB to MVRS.

* Retail brand The Dollar Store added $1.25 and $1.50 price points. So, how can the store known for selling everything for one dollar continue to operate with the same name? Won't the brand identity be damaged? How can "Dollar Days" continue? Talk about misleading brand identity.

* The Israeli city of Tel Aviv took over the rein from Paris and Singapore as the world's most expensive city. Is that a moniker that a city would like? How does that impact marketing the city from a travel perspective?

* The California city of Los Angeles unveiled a new logo inspired by sunsets and car culture. While the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board wanted a memorable logo, nothing can rival the "I Love New York" tagline when it comes to city brands. Will the new logo still be around during the 2028 Summer Olympics? Time will tell.

* Staples Center, the home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers since 1999, will be no more. AEG announced that Staples Center would be renamed Arena in December.

With all these changes, one wonders if brands that don’t make changes have staying power. Do logos need to be refreshed every so often? Do brand names need to change every so often? How do these changes impact brand equity and customer/fan/stakeholder recognition? These are important questions to consider before making any strategic branding changes.

What brand change stood out to you during 2021? Please chime in.

Image Credits: Canine Companions, Pfizer, General Motors, and Oscar Mayer/Lyft.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Does Your Organization Have Culture Champions and Cultural Stewards?

Over the last 13 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing marketing, leadership, and customer experience experts. One of these experts is Gregg Vanourek based in Denver, Colorado. We recently had a discussion about leadership and culture, and highlights follow below Gregg's bio.

Gregg Vanourek is an author and entrepreneurial leader. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose and passion, co-authored with Christopher Gergen) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (called “the best book on leadership since Good to Great,” co-authored with Bob Vanourek). His writing has appeared in or been reviewed by the New York Times, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, and more. He is adjunct faculty at the University of Denver, Stockholm Business School, and Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship. Connect and follow on Twitter (@gvanourek), Facebook (, Gregg's website (,  Triple Crown Leadership website (, and watch his TEDx talk (

QUESTION: Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020, how has it impacted the role of leadership?

GREGG VANOUREK: We’ve all been tested by the pandemic, and especially leaders. Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, once said, “Bad companies are destroyed by crises; good companies survive them; great companies are improved by them.”

We saw how humanity, grace, and love rose to the surface during the pandemic. Organizations are communities, not just workplaces. With the best leaders, we’ve seen a renewed focus on humanity and community, the giving and receiving of grace, bonds between people during brutal times, and the common challenge of overcoming hardship together. Leaders have had to double down on empathy, vulnerability, trust, authenticity, communication, and integrity — always important for leaders, but even more so during a crisis. The pandemic has called into question what kind of work and workplaces we want, and it’s an opportunity to accelerate our move toward “conscious capitalism” via conscious leadership.

TWEET THIS: Organizations are communities, not just workplaces. -@gvanourek #EmployeeExperience #EmployerBranding #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: What three traits define a good leader?

GREGG VANOUREK: We like to change the focus from the “leader” to “leadership” — to the act of leading (which can be done by anyone, regardless of their position). With leadership, it helps to know what your ultimate aims are — your “quest,” as we call it. Where are you going, and what kind of organization would you like to build? With that in mind, our top three are “excellent” (achieving exceptional results and impacts not just for shareholders but also for employees, customers, suppliers, partners, and communities), “ethical” (doing the right thing, even when it’s costly or hard), and “enduring” (standing the test of time and operating sustainably, i.e., being excellent and ethical over the long run). Put together, that’s what we call “triple crown leadership” (which is exceedingly rare).

A little clarity: The "we" refers to my Triple Crown Leadership book co-author (Bob Vanourek, my father) and me.

QUESTION: How can a President/CEO become an organization's number one brand ambassador?

GREGG VANOUREK: An executive can become an organization’s number-one brand ambassador by maniacally focusing on the shared purpose, values, and vision of the organization and communicating them repeatedly for consistency. (It goes without saying that the shared purpose, values, and vision must be genuine and not just words on the website. The key is to inculcate them into the organization’s DNA.)

When we interviewed Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman when she was president of Princeton University, she said, “My most important job is to articulate clearly and consistently what the values of the institution are.” We agree, but we’d also add purpose and vision.

A counterintuitive key of becoming a number-one brand ambassador is to talk mostly about others (team, customers, partners, community) and not make it about you as the CEO. People want to know how your organization will help them with their problems or dreams, not why you are so good.

QUESTION: How can a President/CEO create a culture that inspires employees?

GREGG VANOUREK: Here are the ways:
* Place the shared purpose, values, and vision at the center of everyone’s agenda.
* Make culture-building a priority by placing it on weekly agendas and priority lists across departments.
* Appoint culture champions: Empower a small group of trusted colleagues across departments to be proactive about culture recommendations and to take independent action.
* Unleash what we call cultural stewards. Though people all work in their functional areas (HR, IT, Sales, etc.), they should all have another job: steward of the culture. That means they have an irrevocable license to speak up, protecting and defending the desired culture and shared values.
* Celebrate and reward people who serve as cultural stewards though public recognition, awards, bonuses, raises, and promotions.
* Be a role model for the desired behaviors in the organization, including doing what you say you’d do, admitting and taking responsibility for mistakes, actively soliciting feedback (and responding to it), and demonstrating character, competence, courage, passion and emotional intelligence.
* Conduct periodic assessments: Monitor the culture regularly and take decisive action when problems arise.

QUESTION: In a post on your Blog entitled, “The Trap of Caring Too Much about What Other People Think,” you wrote, “The problem is when we’re so influenced by what others think - or, to be precise, what we think others will think — that it causes us to make choices that won’t serve us well over time.” What was the impetus in writing this post, and the background behind it, as it impacts leadership?

(Check out the post here:

GREGG VANOUREK: The idea was that caring too much about what others think can cause us to drift away from who we really are and what we really want to do. We lose bits of ourselves because we’re haunted by the expectations of others. I can relate to this as the son of a five-time CEO and one who has moved around so much and felt the pain of not fitting in, and I see it in many of my students and clients. Much of leadership is an inner game, and it begins with leading ourselves first, including our mindset and self-talk. Can we let go of all the noise and just do our best and trust that all will be okay? A key here is taking the focus off ourselves (how we’re viewed and whether we’re successful or appreciated) and switching the focus to serving and being in relationship with others.

QUESTION: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): "Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others." What does this quote mean to you?

GREGG VANOUREK: It’s a great quote! It reminds me of what Robert Greenleaf called “servant leadership”: an approach focused on putting the needs of others first, helping people develop and perform, and sharing power.

In our “triple crown leadership” framework, we talk about leadership as a group performance, not a solo endeavor. The best leaders unleash other leaders throughout the organization, giving them an automatic license to lead and to take ownership and initiative, as long as they uphold the shared values.

Unless you multiply your efforts by unleashing other people and inspiring their full engagement, you will drown in your overflowing inbox. So, yes, block and tackle for others, but also serve and unleash them and then see how they soar!

My thanks to Gregg for sharing his inspiring leadership insights and for appearing here on my Blog.

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Branding Inspiration from Betty White

The initial shock has dissipated, but the sadness remains. But does it? Betty White gave us an amazing gift, the gift of laughter, and even now, after her death, she would want us to smile and laugh when we think of her.

Many in Betty’s industry, the entertainment industry, have shared their favorite memories and tributes. Betty was in three successful television shows from different eras: The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970’s, The Golden Girls in the 1980’s, and Hot in Cleveland from 2010-2015. She was also on the radio, appeared on game shows, and appeared in films. 

And throughout the years, she was a tireless advocate for wildlife and animal welfare – as well as a supporter of LGBT rights. She also earned several titles over the years including “First Lady of Game Shows,” “First Lady of Television,” “Honorary Mayor of Hollywood,” and “Ambassador to the Animals.”

But I put forward the idea that Betty White was actually a member of the marketing industry. She re-invented herself by starring in new TV shows and introducing herself to new generations of fans – including hosting Saturday Night Live in 2010 and appearing in an amusing Super Bowl ad for Snickers in 2010. The ad is viewable by clicking here:

A perfect example of her humor was evident in a 2012 interview with The New York Times. She said, “I’m a health nut. My favorite food is hot dogs with French fries. And my exercise: I have a two-story house and a very bad memory, so I’m up and down those stairs.”

She became legendary because she taught us all how to create a personal brand. The “Betty White Brand” represents laughter, happiness, and advocacy.  

So, what did YOU learn from Betty White? If you learned to laugh, respect animals, or re-invent your personal brand at any age, then Betty’s spirit will live forever.

Image Credit: Sacramento Zoo.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Top 10 Marketing Highlights of 2021

With 2021 now history, it's time for my annual “Top 10” marketing highlights post – incredible that this is my 12th post featuring annual marketing highlights.

What do you remember from the 2021 marketing reel? What stood out as marketing innovation, and what will go down in history that was as memorable as Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad? Without further ado, let’s get to it!

A theme seems to be running through many of this year's highlights, and it involves words and language – very important in the marketing arena because communication is key.

With a nod and thank you to David Letterman for the format, here's my list:

NUMBER 10: There were two noteworthy announcements by Merriam-Webster. In January, it added the term "Second Gentleman" to describe Doug Emhoff's role. Emhoff is the husband of Kamala Harris, the first woman Vice President of the United States. And in November, it declared that the word of the year was "vaccine." According to Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor-at-large, "Vaccine was a word that was extremely high in our data every single day in 2021."

NUMBER 9: Budweiser's signature Clydesdale horses did not appear during the Super Bowl for the first time in 37 years. The company explained that the money that would have been spent for the ad, a reported $5.6 million, was shifted toward supporting a critical COVID-19 vaccine awareness ad campaign.

NUMBER 8: Mattel's Barbie line of dolls added former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to its "Inspiring Women" series. The addition was announced to celebrate International Women's Day on March 8, a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Other women in the series include Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, Dr. Maya Angelou, Billie Jean King, Ella Fitzgerald, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Katherine Johnson, Helen Keller, and Frida Kahlo.

NUMBER 7: Tiffany & Company had some fun on April Fool's Day. The brand known for its little blue boxes – often filled with diamond rings – changed its iconic blue color to yellow – just for the day.

NUMBER 6: Prince Phillip died at the age of 99 in April. Due to that loss combined with Prince Andrew's scandal and the exit by Prince Harry and Meghan, Queen Elizabeth introduced her core group for royal engagements: The Queen, Prince Charles, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Edward, and the Countess of Wessex.

NUMBER 5: Hershey's celebrated International Women's Day by emphasizing the SHE in HERSHEY. According to Veronica Villasenor, vice president of Chocolate for the Hershey Company, "We want to encourage everyone to share some extra goodness and take a moment to celebrate the "SHEs": the women and girls who have inspired us, motivated us, and have made a positive change in our lives."

NUMBER 4: With COVID-19 on everyone's mind and vaccines readily available, Krispy Kreme offered a free glazed doughnut a day to anyone who showed a vaccination card at its stores throughout 2021. According to Dave Skena, Chief Marketing Officer of Krispy Kreme, "Whatever little things brands can do to help make it past the pandemic are good things."

NUMBER 3: President Joe Biden formally recognized atrocities against Armenians as "genocide." The term was avoided by his predecessors for decades over concerns of alienating Turkey. This announcement was especially important because Biden campaigned on a promise to make human rights a central component of his foreign policy.

NUMBER 2: The Walt Disney Company removed the words "Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls" from its greeting from its Florida Magic Kingdom fireworks show and changed it to "Good evening, dreamers of all ages." According to a spokesperson, Disney announced that it was adding "inclusion" as a fifth key component of its customer service: "We want our guests to see their own backgrounds and traditions reflected in the stories, experiences, and products they encounter in their interactions with Disney."

And NUMBER 1 on my 2021 Marketing Highlights List:

Drum roll please...

NUMBER 1: Space tourism became a reality. Billionaires and celebrities became astronauts for a brief period, about 10 minutes. Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson, and Star Trek actor William Shatner were three of a select few who went into space and safely returned. Only time will tell how many people will pay the big bucks (ranging from $200,000 to $28 million) for their own space travel adventure.

What would you add to this list? Here's to 2022 and another year of marketing highlights. Happy New Year!

Image Credits: Krispy Kreme and Hershey's.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Alignment Between Leadership, People and Culture

Over the last 12 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing marketing, leadership, employee experience, and customer experience experts. One of these experts is Siobhan O’Leary from New York. We recently had a discussion about leadership and corporate culture, and highlights follow below Siobhan’s bio.

Siobhan O'Leary is an experienced and highly regarded executive coach, leadership development professional, and people and culture strategist. In 2019, she relaunched Aubergine Partners, LLC. From 2013-2019, she served as Senior Vice President of People and Culture at Convene, an Innovative Workplace Hospitality Company. Under her leadership, Convene was recognized by Smart CEO magazine, receiving the Top Company Culture Award; 2017’s #11 Fortune Magazine Great Places to Work; and in 2018, Inc. Magazine named Convene Best Workplace. Siobhan previously spent over 25 years as a human resource executive, predominantly in the luxury hospitality field and held senior level positions with Hyatt Hotels, Four Season Hotels & Resorts and The Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel, and Rosewood Hotels and Resorts Corporate. Connect and follow on Twitter (@AubergineCOACH), on LinkedIn (, and on her website at

QUESTION: How do you explain the difference between management and leadership?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: To achieve the high-quality organizational performance that is characteristic of high-performing organizations, it is necessary to master leadership and management simultaneously. Despite potential overlap between these roles in practice, they are different and require different skills and competencies.

Leading involves creating a vision, mobilizing people around that vision, and motivating them to actively contribute to its implementation. Management is about implementing this vision. Management provides a step-by-step approach to strategic planning and decision-making and is usually focused on the short-term. In leadership, the focus is on the long-term development of an organization and its people. It is often more concerned with motivating the organization to accomplish its goals.

The concept of management is concerned with organizing an activity from conception to completion, such as, planning, organizing, directing, etc., whereas, leadership involves a broader concept of people and their motivation to achieve goals. A leader works “in service” to the organization, protecting and driving the long-term direction of the business.

QUESTION: How do you convince your clients about the importance of having an inspiring employer brand?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: To attract and retain talent, employers today must develop compelling employer brands in an increasingly mobile workforce.

You can make a tangible statement about your company's culture and identity with employer branding. It reflects who and what you are as an organization. Candidates' perceptions, behaviors, attitudes, and decisions are affected by the way you brand your employer image.

Prospective employees nowadays research companies and read more than just the annual report/promotional materials. The success of a company is commonly acknowledged to depend heavily on its employees. So, in order to build a talent pipeline for their businesses, employers need to leverage their employer brand as an effective and engaging first touchpoint with candidates. A positive employer brand helps to engage, motivate, and retain employees. With increased engagement and loyalty, companies increase profits. This means a win-win for the organization and employees. As a result, engaging new talent and retaining the best talent require employers to use their employer brand as a competitive advantage.

TWEET THIS: Engaging new talent and retaining the best talent require employers to use their employer brand as a competitive advantage. –@AubergineCOACH #EmployerBranding #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: Which three leaders inspire you, from business or history, and why?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: Here are my three:

Isadore Sharp, Founder and Chairman, Four Seasons Resorts & Hotels.
Isadore Sharp was an early influence in my career. Four Seasons had only 13 hotels at the time. His constant commitment to the “Internal guest” (employees), as he insisted we were, was unfailing. He started out in Toronto, the son of a modest builder from Poland. He believed in what I call failing forward, listening “between the lines,” and truly proved the significant ROI on employee experience.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court Justice – aka, The Notorious RBG
Clearly, I am not alone in identifying RBG as an inspiration. I suppose the characteristics that inspire me about her are synonymous with those of my mom. Prompted by their own experiences, they began to take on initiatives for the greater good. On a more personal level, the inspiration is truly how she (and my mom) connected with people individually to deeply understand, acted with humility, and never compromised doing what was right. Beyond those traits that are the obvious, is the respectful, calm approach with which she communicated, with tenacity and yet never offensive. Her ability to bring people together regardless of differences and disarm uncomfortable moments to be productive or enjoyable is something that creates more productive and empathetic conversations. Not to mention the incredible sense of humor which my mother taught me is truly a gift that creates success.

Chris Johnson, CEO Rackson Restaurants and
Chris Kelly, Co-founder and former President, Convene

These are two incredible leaders I currently work with and have worked with in the recent past, respectively. I mention them together mainly because of the commonality in their passion for building companies on a strong people philosophy; having the insight and commitment to recognize values are the cornerstone for a successful and sustainable organization; of course, providing the pallet to create a people platform, build into this philosophy and more importantly live the philosophy (bringing it to life). As with most things in life, there are no accidents.

My fantastic chapter with Chris Kelly led me to Chris Johnson. Chris Kelly insisted that our team members are the “CEO” of their households, and transparency with our business and commitment to our values will create true engagement and a sense of ownership.

Chris Johnson, similarly, leads Rackson Restaurants in service to our store managers. He believes our general managers are operating as entrepreneurs of their piece of the business and through common values and tools we create opportunities for THEIR success, ultimately, OUR success. Chris Johnson inspires me daily, reminding me that we are building a company to be part of the communities where we operate and create opportunities for people to learn and grow. Whether they continue with Rackson or move on, we (Rackson Restaurants) are a part of the learning journey.

A little clarity: I currently work at Rackson Restaurants as Chief People Officer. Therefore, I refer to Rackson Restaurants' store managers when I use the term "our store managers." By "we (Rackson Restaurants) are a part of the learning journey," I mean Rackson Restaurants remains a part of our store managers' learning journeys through their time with us regardless of whether they stay with us or not.

QUESTION: When President Obama introduced Janet Yellen as the new Federal Reserve Chair in October 2013, he said, "Janet Yellen is a proven leader who knows how to build consensus, the kind of person who makes everybody around her better." Certainly, President Biden remembered this when nominating her as the first woman Secretary of the Treasury. What three characteristics do you think are necessary to create a consensus-builder?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: Habitual good judgement, ability to listen intuitively, and ability to admit failure and learn.

QUESTION: You shared a quote from Sheryl Sandberg on Twitter: "Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence." What does that quote mean to you?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: Being a good leader comes from not just being powerful, but from creating significant, productive spaces for others to grow. Leadership can mean different things to different people, but at its core, it rests on one simple principle: Influence. It's about connecting with others, building strong relationships, and inspiring people to do their very best work. Effective leaders know that every word, action, or decision has a profound effect on those in their sphere of influence. These leaders use this awareness, along with key insights, on establishing values-based environments to drive behavior toward high performance. To me, Sheryl's quote underscores the importance of being aware of oneself and others. Creating a positive impact triggers a domino effect that drives everyone to success.

TWEET THIS: Leadership is about connecting with others, building strong relationships, and inspiring people to do their very best work. –@AubergineCOACH #EmployerBranding #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): “Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others.” What does this quote mean to you?

SIOBHAN O’LEARY: My understanding of that quote means that the goal of leadership is to understand the nuances of each person's job, making way to create a clearer path to success for them. There will be times when you have to work with people who lack the aptitude to do the job themselves. Leadership demands that you step in and support them.

To lead, one must not simply be the smartest person in the room per se; it’s also about being on the frontlines with your team: supporting, coaching, holding them accountable, and making sure that they feel supported. Good leaders help get others to the finish line. They create trust and team spirit. Every day, they strive to help those around them succeed.

TWEET THIS: Good leaders help get others to the finish line. –@AubergineCOACH #LeadershipTip #EmployeeExperience #EmployerBranding #DebbieLaskeysBlog

TWEET THIS: Every day, leaders strive to help those around them succeed. –@AubergineCOACH #EmployerBranding #LeadershipTip #DebbieLaskeysBlog

My thanks to Siobhan for sharing her business insights and for appearing here on my Blog. Also, a shout-out to Sherry Lawal for her much appreciated assistance.

Image Credit: Jonathan Chng via Wordswag app.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Tips to Improve Employee Engagement and Create Better Leaders

Over the last 12 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing marketing, branding, employee experience, leadership, and customer experience experts. One of these experts is Liz Kislik based in New York. We recently had a discussion about leadership and employee engagement, and highlights follow below her bio.

Liz Kislik is a management consultant, executive coach, facilitator, and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Her TEDx “Why There’s So Much Conflict at Work and What You Can Do to Fix It” has received more than a quarter of a million views. She specializes in developing high performing leaders and workforces, and for 30 years, has helped family-run businesses, national nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies like American Express, Girl Scouts, Staples, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Highlights for Children solve their thorniest problems. Connect and follow on Twitter (@LizKislik), on LinkedIn (, and on her website at

QUESTION: You wrote a post for Harvard Business Review entitled, "Leaders, Are You Feeling the Burden of Pandemic-Related Decisions?" What are the six ways that you recommend leaders re-channel their energy to create a better work environment during and post-Covid?

(Post referenced:

Liz Kislik: I’m going to answer this question based on things that have been happening since this piece was written in October 2020.

(1) The most important thing is to learn what your people need and to gauge how you can support them. How will they work best and be able to participate most, given their personal health requirements and home lives? Look for ways to accommodate team members’ needs as much as possible.

(2) Stay up-to-date on all the medical information and changes in direction so you can adjust inside the organization and provide the most relevant content to your team. Whatever your plans are, craft at least a Plan B and a Plan C, because things keep changing, and that’s not likely to stop.

(3) Stay in touch personally as much as you can, and encourage all the other leaders in the organization to do the same, so that both employees and other leaders feel like part of a community rather than feeling isolated in any way. This is important whether you are all on-premises, working remotely, or are in a hybrid situation.

(4) When you have to change direction or status, explain why the change has occurred. If you’ve made an error in judgment, or are adjusting based on push-back from the team, own up to it and thank whoever helped you come to your current position.

(5) Encourage team members to engage in self-care, from getting enough sleep and exercise to spending time with their families and taking rest breaks. Explain how these behaviors will help keep people fresh and that you recognize that grinding or gutting it out will create burnout or brittleness in the long term.

(6) Model the behavior you want to see. Don’t send emails after work hours, for example, or make clear that you’re not expecting responses till the next workday. Share your plans for rest and relaxation and ask team members for theirs. Acknowledge that you’re all figuring things out together.

(7) And an extra — cultivate colleagues or experts that you can consult with when you need extra information or want to talk things through. Don’t try to get through hard times alone when there are people available to help you.

QUESTION: You wrote a post for Forbes entitled, "How To Use Corporate Culture To Help Get The Results You Want." What are the six ways you think can improve an organization's culture?

(Post referenced:

Liz Kislik: The six points in this piece are based on Netflix’s culture — all of which are relevant, but here’s a bit of a restatement.

(1) Be clear about your purposes and intentions, both in terms of the goals and objectives of the organization and the kinds of behavior, interpersonal dynamics, and cultural norms you expect all to abide by.

(2) Acknowledge that people are different, and all have to find their own expression of and commitment to your organizational principles. Discuss these concepts and real-world examples frequently enough that you can feel confident that everyone on the team has bought in and knows what’s expected of them.

(3) Communicate more than you think is necessary. This means both outbound — notifying, explaining, and describing plans, changes, concerns — and inbound — soliciting employees’ input and concerns and listening, listening, listening. And taking action on what you hear.

(4) Be willing to raise uncomfortable issues kindly and with compassion, and also to hear criticisms and complaints with equanimity and open-mindedness especially when they are about your behavior or your deeply held opinions.

(5) Invest in the best candidates, tools, and other resources. In general, you get a better return when you invest up front rather than wasting time, money, and energy to repair less-than-best choices and decisions.

(6) Experiment with new approaches to increase growth and excellence. Let employees run tests and pilots and build prototypes of process improvements, training approaches, market outreach, etc. You can learn more from lots of little experiments than from big changes that may not match the realities of your organization.

QUESTION: Which three leaders inspire you, from business or history, and why?

Liz Kislik: I’m going to focus on three current leaders, for very specific reasons. I’ll start with Dolly Parton. Not only is she extraordinarily skilled at her craft, she is always on brand. She knows the world expects to see Dolly in full Dollyness, and she never disappoints. In particular, she took her masses of money and targeted child literacy and a Covid vaccine as some of the noteworthy projects she wanted to fund. She’s not looking for her own aggrandizement, she is trying to build up and protect community.

Dan Price is the founder and CEO of Gravity Payments, an online credit card processing company. He’s famous for reducing his annual pay from $1.1 million to $70,000 so he could increase all employees’ pay to at least $70,000. He speaks out consistently on topics of social inequality and social justice and right now is urging other CEOs to consider team members' needs and preferences rather than requiring that everyone return to their physical offices.

Stacey Abrams is a politician, author, lawyer, and voting rights activist. When she lost the fiercely-contested Georgia gubernatorial election in 2018 in the face of numerous accusations of voter suppression against her opponent, she did not make public complaint. She dusted herself off and doubled down on her organizing efforts.

All three of these individuals use their success and platform on behalf of others. They are resilient and dedicated, and they persist in their efforts to accomplish their goals and bring their beliefs to life.

QUESTION: How can people without impressive titles lead others?

Liz Kislik: Impressive titles are only meaningful to strangers. When you’re in a real working relationship, if you want to feel comfortable and confident about following them, it helps to see that they’re willing to understand what you care about, they’re curious about how things work and how they can be improved, and they’re willing to experiment — and to let you experiment — and will take responsibility for results whether those results are satisfactory or not. They use their political capital and personal reputation to provide cover for their colleagues when things are bad, and share credit and resources all the time. They demonstrate an ability to navigate relationships and spaces that you may not have — and they share the benefits of that experience with their colleagues rather than using them only for personal advancement.

TWEET THIS: Impressive titles are only meaningful to strangers. -@LizKislik #Leadership #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: How can a leader inspire his/her employees to become brand ambassadors?

Liz Kislik: The first thing is that leaders have to actually love their products/services/other offerings, and what they accomplish for customers. And they have to love their customers and express that love as part of their business-talk, so employees learn to understand how important customers are, and how their company’s offerings affect people’s lives for good. Leaders’ authentic excitement goes a long way to demonstrate to employees just how important, meaningful, and valuable their company’s offerings are.

The other thing is for leaders to show that they love their employees, so that employees are happy to be associated with the company and its offerings and proud to talk about their experience with the company and with the company’s offerings.

QUESTION 6: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): "Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others." What does that quote mean to you?

Liz Kislik: Believing that you’re the smartest person in the room could actually lead you to ignore the wonderful contributions that others can and are willing to make. The understanding and contributions of the group can be so much more powerful than that of any one individual. As the leader, it’s your job to recognize the barriers to their progress, and try to get those barriers and deterrents out of the way so your team members can all shine and be and do their best.

TWEET THIS: Believing that you’re the smartest person in the room could actually lead you to ignore the wonderful contributions that others can and are willing to make. -@LizKislik #DebbieLaskeysBlog

My thanks to Liz for sharing her inspiring insights about management, leadership, and the overall employee experience here on my Blog.

If you’d like to read Liz's free E-book, How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflicts in the Workplace, here's the link:

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.