Wednesday, July 15, 2020

What Happens When Leadership, Service and Encouragement Join Forces?

Over the last decade, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing leadership experts. One of these experts is James Strock – who I met in 2011 – a speaker, author, and reformer in business, government, and politics. His book is a must-read, Serve to Lead 2.0: 21st Century Leaders Manual. Connect on Twitter @jamesstrock and visit his website at We recently had a discussion about leadership, and highlights follow below.

QUESTION: One of your pearls of wisdom is, "When your ultimate concern is those you’re serving, your vantage point necessarily is from the outside-in, not the inside-out.” Can you please explain? 
JAMES STROCK: Quite understandably, many people analyze their life and work from the inside-out. They approach the world seeking, as it were, to sell the notions they’ve spun, the perspectives they created, the knowledge they’ve accumulated. This is encouraged by the ways in which most people are formally educated, with focus on their individual performance.

An alternative is to work from the outside-in, to transcend self-focus to attain a service mindset, focused first on those one would serve. This can result in much more effective value creation for customers and others. It can also be of significant value in building a strong psychological basis for one’s work and life. Various studies have borne out that when we’re focused on serving others, many of the stresses and anxieties that can inhibit performance are reduced or redirected positively.

As just one example that may be familiar to many readers, consider public speaking. This is a necessity for most of us, to one degree or another. Nonetheless it is often one of the greatest fears for many. If one removes self-consciousness, replacing it with an audience-consciousness, one’s performance may be enhanced. Going further, if one is aiming the performance of speaking or other tasks toward transcendent goals, the further one goes beyond self-concern the more effective the result can be.
QUESTION: Due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders for many employees, what new practices can businesses implement to collaborate with other businesses/strategic partners in the future?
JAMES STROCK: 2020 is emerging as a hinge moment. It may well be a year that is recalled in the way of 1914, 1919, 1929, 1939, 1941, 1945, 1963, 1968, 1974, 1979, 1989, 2001, and the Great Recession beginning in 2008. Which is to say, 2020 may be a year which divides the past from the present and future. We’re very much in the midst of 2020—and it’s a very crowded year thus far—so any observations are provisional.

One change that’s already manifesting is that telecommuting is rising to a new level. Rapidly improving communication technologies are a factor. So, too, the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing many physical offices to close—along with schools—has meant that many employees were directed to work from home. Many bosses who were a bit out of date were brought up to speed rapidly, learning that employees can work at least as effectively from remote locations in many cases. This will change management approaches. It may lend itself to new office arrangements and schedules. CV-19 will prompt distancing in workspaces. This will coincide with the prospect of reducing commercial real estate requirements. Cities and states may incent distributed work arrangements for the benefits in reduced air pollution and infrastructure wear. This may come quickly in areas with extensive mass transit, which may face reduced usage because of distancing concerns.

So, too, the rising capacity for a distributed workforce may incline more enterprises to retain talent as contractors rather than full-time employees. This will add to a surging political debate on the regulation of independent contractors, already stirring because of the controversial AB 5 legislation in California, which seeks to push Uber drivers, for example, from independent contractor status to full-time employees with the prospect of unionization. One anticipates that many employers and employees may be receptive to new arrangements after the forced shut-down reset their views of long-established customs.

For business, as for other institutions, the pandemic has accelerated existing trends and exposed areas of weakness. Ultimately, two overarching trends may face examination and recalibration. One is the financialization of business over the past forty years, including its relation to international trade and supply chains. Another is the transition from an industrial economy to a service economy. We may end up with a hybrid built around updated notions of national sovereignty, with a rise in the US, for example, in manufacturing capacity. However that sorts out, it will be necessary to update social insurance arrangements from the past century that were created for an industrial economy emerging from an agricultural economy, rather than a service economy.

In sum, there are numerous issues that will arise. The great thing is that ultimate outcomes are difficult to predict because we’re likely on the verge of an explosion of innovation, particularly in the US. The next decade holds the prospect of being extraordinary for entrepreneurs of all kinds.
QUESTION: You last appeared on my Blog back in 2018, and I asked you, "How can leaders (Presidents/CEO’s) explain their vision to employees so that they also embrace it?" How has the current COVID19 situation changed your thoughts about this when many businesses are closed? (Referenced link provided at end of this Q&A.)
JAMES STROCK: The specific practices change, but the principles of leadership communication remain the same. There have been numerous instances of excellent use of Zoom and related communication technologies by CEOs during the pandemic. Regrettably, there have also be dispiriting misfires. As with other areas, the pandemic may have constituted a stress test, with some enterprises and CEO’s emerging with flying colors – while others fell short.

QUESTION: Which three brands are your favorite industry leaders, and why?
JAMES STROCK: My favorites tend to be brands that customers and other stakeholders view as occasioning relationships, far deeper than merely transactional. This is consistent with Kevin Roberts’s notion of “love marks.”

May I offer a somewhat idiosyncratic group? One is The Beatles. This is an astonishing brand, conveying creativity, excellence, experimentation, joy, and a stunning capacity to reach across time and space.

A second would be Apple. It’s no accident that Steve Jobs constructed the Apple brand in no small part from the inspiration of The Beatles.

A third would be Southwest Airlines. In an industry that in the best of times is noted for strained labor-management relations, Southwest stands apart. So too their customer-centric approach to management has created exceptional customer loyalty. With the transportation, entertainment and hospitality sectors reeling under the pandemic lock-down—and the likelihood of ongoing distancing—Southwest is benefiting from its best-in-class service.

There are, of course, many more, but these three stand out in most any consideration of brands.

QUESTION: What is your favorite leadership quote, and why?
JAMES STROCK: I have so many favorite leadership quotes that choosing one seems a bit random! One that speaks to me is the epitaph selected by the late British politician Tony Benn: “He encouraged us.” When we truly encourage one another—inspiring courageous thought and action—many, many good things can follow.


My gratitude and appreciation to James for appearing on my Blog a fourth time and for sharing his inspiring leadership insights!

Sharing Timeless Leadership Lessons – from 2018:

Leadership Is All About Serving Others – from 2014:
Serve to Lead – What a Visionary Concept – from 2011:

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

What's Your Favorite Fourth of July Brand?

Some brands include “America” or “American” in their names, and here are some:

  • American Airlines
  • American Apparel
  • American Broadcasting Company
  • American Eagle Outfitters
  • American Express
  • American Greetings Corp.
  • Bank of America
During the months of June and July, brands can take advantage of the “America” or “American” portion of their names for advertising and memorable promotions.

The reason behind the advertising time extension can be explained by a simple advertising fact. Businesses want to capitalize on the buzz of the moment. In the case of June and July in the United States, that buzz is Independence Day, that takes place on the Fourth of July.

If your brand had “America” or “American” in its name, what would you do during June and July to capitalize on Independence Day or the entire month of July? Certainly, product or service discounts are an option, or maybe, the launch of a new product or service, or perhaps, the implementation of a new loyalty or referral program. But whatever announcement your business makes, you will definitely have an audience.

Another spin on this topic is if a portion of your brand name is tied to a national park, national monument, theme park, hotel resort, etc. There is no doubt that your brand has a head start on brand awareness if the name of your business is Mount Rushmore Cement Company or Yellowstone Coffee or Liberty Bell Music Store.

In all of these scenarios, the first goal of all marketing campaigns has been achieved. There is immediate brand recognition.

However, don’t lose sight of your brand strengths and the competitive positioning that you’ve worked hard to achieve.

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey (featuring American Greetings, American Airlines, and Bank of America)