Thursday, August 26, 2021

As We Celebrate 1920, Work Remains to See More Women in Top Leadership Roles


Today is Women's Equality Day and marks the 101st anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. This important day celebrates the achievements of women’s rights activists (including my great-grandmother who marched for women's suffrage in New York in the early 1900's) and reminds us of the struggles that women still face including equal pay for equal work and top leadership roles.

According to the National Women's History Alliance, "At the behest of Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY), in 1971, the United States Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.” The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The observance of Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality."

Over the last decade, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege of meeting inspiring marketing, branding, customer experience, leadership, and social media experts. One of these experts is Susan Colantuono, a leadership expert based in Rhode Island. We recently had a discussion about leadership and the employee experience, the COVID pandemic's impact on the workplace, and most appropriate for today, women's advances in leadership roles. Highlights follow Susan's bio.

Susan Colantuono is an expert on women's advancement, author, and speaker. She is best known for her TED Talk on the Career Advice You Probably Didn't Get (which has over 4 million views) and her books, No Ceiling, No Walls and Make the Most of Mentoring. She is the founder and former CEO of Leading Women, a global consulting firm focused on women's advancement. Now, as a co-host of A Career that Soars!, she continues to provide leadership and career development to women around the globe. Check out Susan's website at and connect on Twitter @SusanColantuono.

QUESTION: Since the Covid-19 pandemic began more than a year ago, how has it impacted the role of leadership and the overall employee experience?

SUSAN COLANTUONO: The answer here depends on where you're standing. Leaders at the board level expect executives to continue to deliver positive results in the face of changing business environments. Employees continue to want positive work environments and meaningful work. Delivering on these expectations has required significant flexibility on the part of executives, managers and employees. The biggest impact of the pandemic from my viewpoint is the "Shecession," whereby more women have left the labor force and if/when they re-enter, they will be behind in terms of income and experience.

QUESTION: You have defined leadership as "Using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others." Can you please elaborate?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: Too often people define leadership from the perspective of the employees being managed (engage our greatness) or through the lens of an individualistic culture (use your personal greatness). While both are important, they leave out how leadership is viewed from above (achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes). This gap has contributed to women rarely receiving advice about the importance of developing and demonstrating business, strategic, and financial acumen.

QUESTION: Janet Yellen, the current and first female Secretary of the Treasury, has been described as, "A proven leader who knows how to build consensus, the kind of person who makes everybody around her better." What three characteristics are necessary to create a consensus-builder?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: Consensus builders rely on 3 key skills:
(1) Listening - consensus builders are able to hear the perspectives, values, and superordinate goals of others.
(2) Openness to new ideas - consensus builders are able to find new paths forward which create "wins" for all involved.
(3) Patience - building consensus takes time and therefore needs patience. There are situations where you have the time to build consensus and others where the decision-maker must act to avoid danger or disaster.

QUESTION: Despite recent successes, how can women earn more top leadership positions as CEOs, COOs, CFOs, Board Chairs, etc.?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: For years, women have been performing in ways that would earn men more top leadership positions, but have not gained them. At this point, in many organizations, the onus is on men in decision-making roles to examine the gender dynamics in hiring and promotion that are holding women back (double binds, double standards, motherhood penalty, etc.) and make less biased decisions.

As a CEO, or as an executive or director for that matter, if women aren’t proportionately represented throughout your organization, you aren’t facing a women’s issue — you’re facing a talent development issue with business implications. And so it’s important to bring your personal commitment and the same level of organizational accountability to that challenge as you would to any business issue.

Where women are not performing in ways to earn top leadership, I suggest they work to fulfill my leadership definition - especially working to develop and/or demonstrate business, strategic, and financial acumen. Debbie, being a branding expert, you can see how being known as someone who: uses her personal greatness to achieve or exceed the goals of the organization through great relationships with key people inside and outside the organization would be a leadership brand worth cultivating.

TWEET THIS: If women aren’t proportionately represented throughout your org, you aren’t facing a women’s issue, you’re facing a talent development issue with business implications. ~@SusanColantuono #EmployerBranding #WomensEqualityDay #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?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: As others you've interviewed have said, surrounding oneself with smart and capable colleagues is one hallmark of great leaders. In this sense, giving them space to "do their thing" is a leadership act, as long as "their thing" is aligned with the business strategy and the goals they're paid to deliver.

TWEET THIS: Surrounding oneself with smart and capable colleagues is one hallmark of great leaders. ~@SusanColantuono #LeadershipTip #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog


Here's the link to Susan's TED talk:
"The Career Advice You Probably Didn't Get"
and the Transcript:

Blog post about Janet Yellen in 2013:

More reading for Women's Equality Day:
2020 Was the Year of Women:
In Celebration of International Women’s Day:

Image Credits: Good Housekeeping and Mental Floss.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Good Leaders Inspire Others


Over the last decade, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege of meeting inspiring marketing, branding, customer experience, leadership, and social media experts. One of these experts is Lynn Scott, a leadership coach based in the UK and France. We recently had a discussion about leadership, and highlights follow Lynn's introduction.

Lynn works with entrepreneurs, leaders, and teams to help them beat overwhelm, build confidence, and cut out all the noise. She’s founder of the Effortless Leader Revolution – a lively and supportive Facebook community full of ideas, inspiration, resources, and answers. She’s known for her powerful insights, no-nonsense guidance, and her ability to cut through the  BS  ‘stories’ that keep wonderfully talented  people from doing their best work. Visit her website at, her Facebook group at, and connect on Twitter at

QUESTION: Take a look at the featured quote for this post's Q&A. How do you coach leaders who may not embrace the quote? (Fun fact: the quote was in a frame that was prominently placed on President Ronald Reagan's desk in the Oval Office during his two terms in the White House.)
LYNN SCOTT: Leaders who are only interested in their own success/career progression can and do create a toxic work environment. Leaders need to understand the impact of this behaviour – it doesn’t empower people, it breaks trust and ultimately, it can be career limiting for them in the long run.

My role as a coach is to give honest feedback about their impact and help them understand the importance and power of winning hearts and minds. And show them what this looks like in practice on a daily basis. But as with most things, they must genuinely want to change and not just pay lip service. People can see through fakery very easily.

It’s important to note though, that some leaders (often women in my experience) are shy about recognizing or sharing their personal achievements. Whilst it’s right that they acknowledge the team effort, they also need to own their own success and the leadership they demonstrated that led to success.

QUESTION: How do you explain the difference between management and leadership?
LYNN SCOTT: I’m not in the ‘leadership is x and management is y’ camp. If we lead a team, however small and whatever our title, we need to demonstrate leadership. Very simply, a good leader inspires others to do their very best work. People often ask me ‘how do I know how to motivate people to do this?’ My answer? Ask them! And really listen to the answers.

Someone who spends all their time being ‘busy’ with emails – ‘doing,’ reacting and firefighting rather than leading – is not someone many of us want to work for. And yet too many leaders are slaves to the inbox or the immediate at the expense of the work that really moves the dial.

So, a question we need to be asking ourselves always is ‘How should I be spending my time so others can spend their time in the best way too?’

TWEET THIS: A good leader inspires others to do their very best work. ~@LynnTheCoach #LeadershipTip #EmployeeExperience #EmployerBranding

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

LYNN SCOTT: Let people know HOW the brand contributes to the world – this can be at a community level or globally or both. If you have corporate values, live them every day – actions speak louder than words, and you’ll be judged by your actions not your fancy mission statement. When things go wrong, own it, and say what you are doing to make things better. And finally – ask your staff this question!

QUESTION: What book should every leader read, and why?
LYNN SCOTT: Time to Think by Nancy Kline. Busyness has become such a badge of honour that we’ve forgotten the importance of thinking well, listening well, and being ‘thinking partners’ for others. And yet, there is nothing more powerful than feeling heard. This is a book I go back to again and again.

QUESTION: Which two brands impress you as examples of inspiring employer brands, and why?
LYNN SCOTT: I’m going to choose two very different brands based on my personal experience.
The first one is Kajabi – constantly improving their service to customers, totally honest when they screw up (which they have done recently) and responsibility taken by the President to make the necessary changes and improvements in a very personal series of emails (no hiding behind lessons have been learned corporate BS).

The second one is my accountancy firm for the last 20 years. Russell Smith Accountancy – a real ‘can do’ attitude demonstrated by all staff particularly during COVID and Brexit. Clear guidelines around how they treat their customers, a totally ‘can-do’ attitude and a lot of opportunities for young, talented people to grow and develop within the business.
QUESTION: Your E-Book, The Effortless Leader Revolution, features two important questions that a leader must ask his/her/their team on a regular basis? Can you share the two questions and provide some explanation?
LYNN SCOTT: Question number one: “What can I do, starting today, to be a better boss/leader/manager”? When you get an answer to that question all you need to do is say “thank-you” and then: “If I started to do that, what would the impact be?” (On you, your team, our results, etc.)

Question number two: “When I’m operating at my very best, adding real value to you and the business, what specifically am I doing?”

There are a few reasons I chose these questions. Firstly, they’re simple. Secondly – people don’t see our good intentions, they ONLY see the impact they have. So, understanding others’ perspectives helps us see where we’re getting it right or missing the mark, and we can decide what, if anything, we want to change. Third – we should encourage open and honest feedback at every level because it helps everybody to grow and develop. Celebrating success does a lot for building morale and well-being.

If you are then very public about what, if anything, you are going to change and what help you need from those around you, this shows you are open, honest, transparent, and willing to learn.

By the way, if you’re reading this and you’re thinking ‘I don’t think people would tell me the truth if I asked those questions,’ you’ve got a problem with your culture, your leadership, or with trust and psychological safety. That should be a big red flag for you.

My thanks to Lynn for appearing here on my Blog and for sharing useful take-aways for all leaders and teams to improve their leadership skills.

Image Credit: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Why Leaders Must Understand the Importance of #EmployerBranding

Over the last 12 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege of meeting a myriad of amazing marketing, branding, customer experience, leadership, and social media experts. One of these experts is James Ellis from Chicago. We recently discussed employer branding and its impact on the overall brand experience, and highlights follow James' bio.

Before falling in love with the art and craft of employer branding, James Ellis was a digital marketer with 15 years experience learning how audiences think and behave online. He has taken those skills and become one of employer brand’s leading voices, developing and activating dozens of brands of every size, running The Talent Cast podcast for more than four years, writing the Employer Brand Headlines newsletter and writing for a number of industry publications. His mission is to evolve the conversation around recruiting and hiring, and to support that mission, he has recently published two books: The Employer Brand Handbook and Talent Chooses You. Follow on Twitter @thewarfortalent, connect on LinkedIn at, and visit James on his website at

QUESTION: What do you believe are the seven things every marketing leader/CMO - and in reality, the entire C-Suite team - should know about employer branding?
JAMES ELLIS: It really boils down to the idea that most marketing is "product" and "brand" driven. Heck, it still feels semi-revolutionary to say "the man doesn't need a half-inch drill bit, he needs a half-inch hole in his wall." (Or more accurately, he wants the satisfaction of having completed a task.) A focus on product and brand take up all the oxygen in the room, and it usually isn't until something really bad happens (CEO is an obvious racist, company who made a name for itself by calling itself "not evil" is firing anyone internally who disagrees with leadership, branch managers are pressured to open fraudulent accounts, etc) that we realize that the product and brand aren't everything. We've forgotten the people.

Employer brand is the human face of your brand. It is the people who think up, make, and support the product. It is the voice on the phone, the delivery person, the salesperson, and the product manager. In the next, the product and brand are by-products of their collective ambitions, effort, and execution. The people aren't the "most important asset of a company," they are the company. No people, no company.

The good news is that the people side of things augment and support the product and brand. The people are the go-to step in crisis management. The people make a mediocre product feel more honest and valuable. But that only comes when you stop treating employer brand as something that lives exclusively in the recruiting ghetto but should have a seat at the brand table.

(For more details, here's James' full article: )

TWEET THIS: Employer brand is the human face of your brand. It is the people who think up, make, and support the product. -@thewarfortalent #EmployerBranding

QUESTION: What is an “employer value proposition,” and do you know of any employers that have them written down and/or framed on the entrance wall and/or included in an employer handbook?
JAMES ELLIS: There is so much writing about EVPs, but in the end, it boils down to a simple idea: What should an employee expect while working here? What motivation will the company serve and reward? What is the working culture here? How do you get things done? How do decisions get made? How much impact can one person expect to make? How much of someone's waking life will they spend in the office? Will they walk away smarter, richer, more satisfied or all three?

These ideas aren't always written down. In fact, until recently, they were just the culture you were entering, something a deft interviewee would try to suss out in the interview process, but it mostly resulted in a "reading tea leaves" process.

Today, the pendulum has swung the other way: companies are more than eager to tell the world how amazing their culture is, but they do it in a very "marketing" way: they focus on being attractive to the widest possible audience rather than to the core audience of people they would actually want to hire (hiring is a game of quality over quantity, where marketing is the reverse). They put big awards on their career sites saying "Amazing Place To Work!" but never define to whom they are an amazing place to work.

Strong employer brands are simple. They distill what they offer and promise into a few simple ideas, ideas that are not only true, but differentiated from other companies. The best employer brands draw lines to define the shape of those ideas so that rather than say "we have lots of opportunity!" they say, "For people who are willing to put in the work, who are willing to embrace the discomfort of the new, who are willing to collaborate and share with other teams to make something happen, amazing things can be done." Same idea, one described as a fortune cookie, the other as a promise.

And the employee handbook is a place where companies narrow the brand, defining what can't and shouldn't be done. The employee handbook is often where good employer brand ideas go to die the death of a thousand well-intentioned cuts.

QUESTION: What recommendations do you have for personnel/hiring/staffing departments to work in tandem with marketing departments to develop and implement an “employer branding” strategy?
JAMES ELLIS: In an ideal situation, a company has one brand, and that brand is shared. Each team uses that brand to talk to their audience (investors, consumers, marketplace, employees, candidates, etc.) about the things that that audience cares about. Each team is expected to strengthen their part of the brand to support all other aspects.

But in reality, marketing and recruiting fight because they don't understand the fundamental differences in their own perception of what a brand is. No one has to teach marketing that the goal of marketing is always "more" any more than you need to teach a fish what water is. But when employer brand shows up and attempts to apply the tools and ideas of consumer marketing to their own audience, things fall apart and the result is mistrust and finger-pointing. If employer brand is willing to accept that their burden is to teach about a VERY different way of branding and marketing is willing to listen in the expectation that both parties become stronger for the effort, amazing things can happen.

TWEET THIS: Marketing and recruiting fight because they don't understand the fundamental differences in their own perception of what a brand is. -@thewarfortalent #EmployerBranding

QUESTION: What employer branding metrics should every organization track, and why?
JAMES ELLIS: This is a trick question. In marketing, the metrics are easy (more = good). But in employer brand, more = more and that's all. If you sell donuts and sell a million donuts, you're getting a raise. If you're selling jobs and get a million applicants, you're getting fired. Employer metrics are a function of quality, not quantity, which as discussed, is a sea change in thinking for consumer marketing.

Thus, the metrics employer brand selects are a function of its own goals, a step marketing doesn't worry about because...more. So what do you want your employer brand to do? Become a household name? To be a top-of-mind employer for nurses around the US? To be seen as the only choice for electricians who want to grow their technical and business skills? To be the place where everyone has fun at work?

Until you know your goal, your metrics aren't actually useful.

QUESTION: How does an organization know when its employer branding efforts have evolved into enthusiastic brand ambassadors?

JAMES ELLIS: That's mostly a function of centralized effort: are you doing less and still seeing decent Glassdoor and Comparably reviews? How bad is your Blind space (Blind is a place for complaining almost exclusively so it's not about "are people saying nice things" so much as it's about taking the pulse and seeing where friction might still exist)? How hard is it to get people to share LinkedIn posts? Are people wearing the t-shirts and asking for the new sticker?

QUESTION: Who are your favorite employer brands, and why?
JAMES ELLIS: I have two, and I like them because they are so very different.

The first and most obvious is Spotify. They know their brand. They have woven it into a metaphor about being in a band that makes perfect sense. Every external communication connects to that metaphor. Rather than have brand pillars, they simply extend the band metaphor. They answer questions as a band might. It's cohesive, rather comprehensive, and connects so easily to the consumer brand. You get the sense that Spotify founders are real music fans (evidence that Spotify doesn't actually do a great job of rewarding musicians notwithstanding), and that their employer brand is an organic extension of that passion.

The second may not be as obvious. Delta Airlines is one of the rare brands that has integrated consumer marketing, employer branding, and investor relations into a single idea of its own brand. When you see an ad, whether it's a commercial on TV or a poster on the jetway as you walk onto a plane, it's very hard to say that the message is specifically a consumer message, an employer brand message, or even an internal communications message. There seems to be zero siloization of the branding teams. There is simply a shared sense of the brand.

Where Spotify is deeply and obviously creative, Delta is more conservative. They express their brands very differently, but they are each very much themselves. (The Thelonious Monk quote, "A genius is the one most like himself," is the best way to see when a brand is doing great work.)

My gratitude to James for appearing on my Blog and for sharing his inspiring employer branding, employee experience, and brand experience insights.

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.

Monday, August 2, 2021

How Well Does Your Brand Know Your Customers?

Over the last decade, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing marketing, leadership, and customer experience/customer service experts. One of these experts is Jerry Angrave in England. We recently had a discussion about customer experiences and their impact on the overall brand experience. Highlights of our conversation follow Jerry's introduction.

Jerry Angrave is Customer and Passenger Experience Director of Empathyce, a UK-based Customer Experience (CX) consulting and coaching company. His background is in CX roles in the corporate world. As a consultant, he has helped organisations around the world culturally, strategically and operationally in sectors including aviation, financial services, SaaS companies, and utilities. He is also a mentor and trainer for professional development of those in CX roles. In 2020, he wrote his first book, the Customer Journey Mapping Playbook. Connect on Twitter @JerryAngrave and on his website:

QUESTION: In one of your Blog posts, you explained four ways to secure buy-in for Customer Experience from skeptical stakeholders. Can you share your secrets?
JERRY ANGRAVE: We have to help them see how CX can support what they do and contribute to their objectives. Create a starting point they are familiar with: themselves. Ask them to talk about experiences, good or bad, they’ve had with companies in their own lives. Explore what happened, how they felt, what they did or will (not) do next time and reflect on how that impacts the business. The penny will drop, I assure you.

(Post referenced:

QUESTION: There’s currently a lot of buzz surrounding the concept of customer journey mapping. You wrote a book on the topic. Can you boil it down to a quick explanation?
JERRY ANGRAVE: Journey mapping is the practice of not just creating a visual representation of what it’s like to be a customer, but of then doing something with it. It’s about organising the thinking about a customer journey into stages and then for each stage, recording what are they doing, thinking, and feeling. At this point, it’s nothing to do with your process maps, they get overlaid later. But armed with a journey map, validated by customers, it becomes apparent where the biggest, easiest wins are for both customers and the business based on the pain points and where you are creating emotions that erode value.

(Post referenced:

QUESTION: There is a direct correlation between the customer experience and the employee experience. Can you elaborate based on a post on your Blog whereby you wrote that customer journey mapping leads to employee engagement?
JERRY ANGRAVE: The act of having a journey mapping workshop brings people together in a way that rarely happens. They will be from right across the business, different functions who are often in conflict with each other and third parties who may not share quite the same values. But the common thread here is how they all collectively have an impact on the customer. They learn about their own business, the roles each person has, and are given permission to step back from the functional day-job to think about the customer. Done effectively, that ignites an excitement and belief abut the benefits of focusing on customers and the pride that will come and with it, therefore, deeper employee engagement.

(Post referenced:

QUESTION: Since March 2020, which brands have stood out by providing excellent customer service during the covid pandemic?
JERRY ANGRAVE: It’s tricky to call out any specific brand because so many have stepped up, refocused their business around people and done the right thing, whatever that may be for them. For others, it’s not been their best moment. So the ones that stand out are those who didn’t just keep doing what they were doing but recognised the position their customers were in and were brave enough to throw the operational manual out the window and, in some cases reinvent themselves. People will remember those companies who helped them through this as well as those who stayed wedded to their policies and procedures come what may. It’s not just the big corporations, the corner shop, the local gym, and cafĂ© have all learned as they go and done some amazing things.

QUESTION: Have you had any exceptional customer experiences during the covid era?               JERRY ANGRAVE: I’d say early on when it wasn’t quite clear what was happening, yet a booking we had with AirBnB was changed and then refunded without question. The expectation was that it would be like dealing with one of the airlines who’ve not covered themselves in glory but it couldn’t have been easier. We felt they trusted us, it worked as they promised, and as a result, I have no doubt we’ll use them again.

QUESTION: Bill Gates has a famous quote, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” What does that quote mean to you?

JERRY ANGRAVE: At one level, it’s obvious, but at another, it’s about being brave, being bold enough to take time to empathise with those who are most frustrated by what you do. It holds the leadership team to account...if they are not prepared to speak directly to an unhappy customer, then the future of that company will be limited.

My gratitude to Jerry for appearing on my Blog and sharing his inspiring international insights about customer experience marketing.

Image Credit: Image by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash app.

In first question, Jerry's post, Securing buy-in for Customer Experience, listed four ways. Here they are:
1. Get them to tell their own stories
2. Spend time getting to know them
3. Talk to other peers and colleagues as well as senior stakeholders
4. Make the business case, even informally

To learn more about the benefits of customer journey mapping, read this post:

For an interesting commentary, read this post:
Journey/Experience Mapping Isn't Just for Customers