Food for Thought

The consumer is still spending; here’s where

From ITR Economics

Amidst the economic recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer spending has contracted. Yet the decline is not equal across the consumer space. Rather, certain spending categories are booming while others fall dramatically. So what are we buying, aside from facemasks and hand sanitizer?

To answer that question, I examined Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) data to determine which categories grew by the highest percentage, and which contracted by the highest percentage, year over year.

Worst-Performing Spending Categories

Several of the worst-performing categories were to be expected. Spending at movie theaters has plummeted in the wake of shutdowns and delayed film releases. Travel, especially foreign travel, has also come to a standstill with border closures. In-school lunch spending nearly ceased due to school closures. Spectator events have largely been canceled; those sporting events that still take place mainly do so without an audience.

Bottom PCE Categories:

Motion Picture Theaters-47.5%
US Travel Outside the US-46.4%
Foreign Travel in the US-45.2%
Elementary and Secondary School Lunch-43.4%
Passenger Fares for Foreign Travel-40.2%
Admission to Specified Spectator Amusements-37.7%
Package Tours-37.7%
Railway Transportation-37.5%
Photo Studios-37.3%
Spectator Sports-36.9%

Best-Performing Spending Categories

But spending is not contracting across the board. Certain categories of personal consumption are rising at double-digit paces year-over-year. The top-performing segment, video media rental, is a fitting complement to the worst performer: former movie-goers are now enjoying films at home.

Unsurprisingly, emergency and relief services spending spiked in response to the extraordinary pandemic effects. What may be more surprising, however, is that spending in the newspaper category is rising at a pace last seen in 1980.

The consumer’s desire to engage in safe and socially-distanced hobbies is evident in the five categories rounding out the top 10, including purchases of audio and sporting equipment, and even big-ticket items such as motorcycles, boats, and pleasure airplanes. Businesses that align with trends related to social distancing in both consumer consumption and B2B avenues will likely grow more in the near term.

Top PCE Categories:

Video Media Rental20.6%
Miscellaneous Household Products18.9%
Community Food and Housing, Emergency, and Other Relief Services17.5%
Other Delivery Service by Non-US Postal Facilities15.8%
Audio Equipment15.0%
Pleasure Boats13.7%
Pleasure Aircraft13.7%
Sporting Equipment, Supplies, Guns, and Ammunition13.1%

Habits and spending patterns are changing. Now more than ever, it is critical to look to dispassionate data – not subjective media reports or assumptions – to determine your company’s path forward.

What is your protocol if you’ve been hacked?

From Foster Institute

You’ve trained your users to be vigilant for symptoms of cybersecurity issues. Now teach them to share their concerns confidentially.
Alert your users today: Tell them to, if they suspect something, avoid opening a support ticket or emailing your IT professionals about the concern.

More often than ever before, bad actors infiltrate organizations in a slow, methodical way. They can remain undetected for weeks, months, even years. The FBI uses the term dwell time to designate the period from when attackers infiltrate systems until you discover them. The FBI warns businesses that attackers can cause significant damage during dwell time. Bad actors quickly establish backdoors to ensure access, even if you block their first point of entry. They deploy keyloggers on systems to record keystrokes. If your cyber assets are compromised, the bad actors can potentially monitor your messages to find out when you discover their presence in your network, computers, applications, cloud resources, websites, or anywhere else.

Once attackers know you’ve discovered their infiltration, that triggers them to move forward with their next phase, often contacting you to demand a ransom. Sometimes they threaten severe consequences if you attempt to recover your system in any other way than paying them. Since they are in your systems, you must take the threats seriously.

Establish a protocol for workers to communicate suspicions in some method other than email.

Even your IT department must avoid emailing each other questions such as, “I received an alert that someone is resetting an administrator password. That’s odd. Is that you?” Instead, they must communicate by mobile phone or radio.

If you suspect a breach and contact us, consider phoning. If you must email, use a personal account outside of your company account, and use a phone or some device other than a company computer’s keyboard to send the message.

I’m not talking about when users receive a phishing message. I’m talking about if they receive a phishing message that includes customer account information, if an important file is missing or won’t open, or if they receive an unexpected login request on a website or to open a file. IT needs to investigate these early-warning signs.

Please forward this to other executives who you care about to establish a mobile hotline number for users to reach the IT team to report suspicious activity. Help avoid triggering attackers’ responses before your IT team has time to react and, hopefully, mitigate a potential cybersecurity disaster.

Take a look at this Vistage article written by Michael Malone – If I could Frankenstein the ultimate CEO

When I conduct leadership seminars, I start by asking the participants who they think best personifies leadership. Most of the answers are predictable with familiar names of well-known celebrities. Presidents, generals and CEOs usually top the list. But the ultimate question is: Who would you like to be like?

It’s getting close to that time of year – the holidays — and of course the seasonal kick-off starts with that spooky-scary-magical day … Halloween. So let’s indulge in a little magic of our own. Imagine yourself in your own laboratory, because you — Dr. Frankenstein — are going to create the ultimate best version of yourself, using the best parts of other successful leaders to create the ultimate leader.

A FrankenLeader.

I think the perfect CEO would have the following qualities:

Charisma. It is easier to follow a leader you like and admire, even if you don’t agree with everything they think or do. I like Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan in this category. Both men had the ability to lead by leveraging their charisma. They assembled teams of friends and enemies, best in class for the betterment of the country and the world.

Intelligence. The top of the leaderboard here has Einstein and Edison. There’s also a couple of guys named Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. The key to their success as leaders was a direct result of not only their raw intelligence, but the ability to see the future, and use their intelligence for another quality – innovation. From these leaders came many of the greatest inventions in history.

Decisiveness. I had the privilege of serving with General James Mattis, our previous Secretary of Defense. While he is likewise extremely intelligent and well read, his success was also largely due to his ability to be decisive. Not all his subordinates agreed with his decisions – but I guarantee he made decisions with enough information to select a clear course of action, without the paralysis of analysis.

Courage. I was alive in the 1950s, 60s and 70s when the Civil Rights Movement was born. While the language and currency of racism has changed over the decades, the fallout is the same; it brought out (and continues to elicit) the worst in human behavior and treatment of others. Dr. Martin Luther King had to have huge amounts of courage to lead and energize the Civil Rights movement. He talked the talk. He walked the walk. That took real courage.

Humility and Heart. The above qualities are important, but your success as a leader pales if you lead without humility. Your accomplishments are just words and numbers on paper if you do them without heart. The world has a hero in Mother Theresa. She served a higher purpose. She accomplished great things at the expense of great personal hardship and sacrifice. And always with love.

While I’m waiting for the lightning to strike so I can breathe life into my FrankenLeader, I think I will just strive to be the best I can be with those five qualities in mind.

After all, I’m only human.

About the Author: Michael Malone

Michael Malone has spent more than 41 years in the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve. He has been a CEO and senior executive in several technology companies, and has been a Vistage Chair since 2005.

Small business confidence doubles from April low [WSJ/Vistage Sept 2020]

Anne Petrik

The Wall Street Journal/Vistage Small Business CEO Confidence Index rose for the fifth consecutive month, reaching 89.5 in September 2020, doubling the low of 44.7 recorded in April. The monthly gain of 11.3 points in the overall Index also signifies a gain in momentum after slowing in August. While all factors that comprise the Index improved from last month, the largest change was the decrease in pessimism about the U.S. economy; 83% of small businesses reported that the economy recently worsened compared to 88% last month.

Also significant is the 15-point gain in the proportion of small businesses that believe the economic conditions will be better in the coming year, growing to 56% after stalling at 41% in July and August.

As Dr. Richard Curtin, a researcher from University of Michigan who analyzed the data notes, “While the gains forecast a rise in third quarter GDP, the data also reflects the realization among many small businesses that substantial hardships remain, with survival dependent on additional aid and a vaccine that ends the coronavirus.”

Recovery progresses slowly

Data show that small business CEOs indicate that the timeline of recovery is improving slowly. Dr. Curtin cautions that, “Resilience comes from facing adversity, and after the longest expansion in history, this lesson was long overdue.” Just over half (56%) of small businesses reported that economic recovery would begin in six months to more than a year; last month that figure was substantially higher at 71%. Forty-five percent of small businesses reported that it would take at least six months to a year for their business to recover, down from 53% in August. According to the September survey, less than a quarter (23%) of small businesses expect revenue declines of 25% or more due to the pandemic, down from 28% in August.

Plans to return to the workplace vary

As different parts of the country have different restrictions in their reopening plans and industries have diverse requirements from workers, this has caused a great deal of variation in the proportion of small businesses that have returned to the office. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of small businesses have had all employees come back full or part-time. Just 6% of small businesses surveyed have gone fully remote.

For the 10% who reported plans to come back to the workplace in the future, the majority are waiting until 2021. Only time will tell if those plans stay intact as cooler weather and holiday gatherings bring people together inside.

Workforce expansion planned for next 3 months

With revenue expectations improving to levels recorded in March, workforce expansion is also on the rise. The proportion of small businesses that plan to increase their workforce has increased 11 percentage points in the past month, and 47% indicate that expansion will occur in the next 3 months. Even more significant is that just 8% of small businesses plan to reduce staff, a 4x reduction from 32% in April. With a broad range of applicants stemming from high unemployment, rigor in the selection process will be more important now than ever.

The September WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO survey was conducted September 8 – 15, 2020 and gathered 679 responses from CEOs and leaders of small businesses with revenues between $1 million and $20 million. Our October survey, in the field October 5 – 12, 2020 will continue to measure expectations of small businesses through the recovery.

Download the September report for the complete analysis

Time management guide for executives who don’t have enough time

Vistage Staff

What is time management?

Time management is perhaps the executive’s most important tool. C-level executives are besieged by texts, calls, emails, meetings, charities, the news, board members, employees, other executives, their own health, personal obligations, and managing the company, among many other things.

But what, exactly, is the definition of time management? Time management is a process of planning and organizing projects, as well as the activities you and your team must do to complete those projects. Executives adept at time management always have an overview of their work and personal lives, allowing them to do more by working smarter.

Importance of time management for high-level executives

To leave time unmanaged is akin to being managed by your time. As Peter Drucker once said, “One cannot rent, hire, buy, or otherwise obtain more time.”

By managing time, executives will see immediate benefits. An executive who manages their time can prioritize what needs to get done to keep from feeling overwhelmed.

Time management ensures that executives don’t get stuck in the details—it may take an executive less time to create a spreadsheet, but their time is better spent on high-level tasks. And time management can help executives better control company time—once executives have a grip on their own time, they can see where their teams are needlessly slow.

Example of time management in business

While working at Bethlehem Steel Company, Frederick Winslow Taylor invented a process that nearly quadrupled the speed of cutting steel. A mechanical engineer by trade, Taylor became rich by patenting the new process. Even so, Taylor squabbled with other managers and was forced out of the company in 1901, freeing him to spread the word of his passion: measuring and managing time. 

On his own, Taylor convinced shovel workers to use more efficient movements and shovels. His ideas were novel and helped the workers make more money—pay depended on their production. Quickly, his ideas spread across shovel-using workers—as well as managers and researchers—and became the standard.

While Taylor’s ideas have been updated, he created a time management definition that, in spirit, has stood the test of time: Logic, analysis, and rationality should be used to determine where time is best spent.

Benefits of time management

1. Prioritize work life and personal life

An executive can use time management to take on more important projects. If an executive is working on five big projects, for example, time management can give them an overview of where the parts of each project will fit into their schedule, allowing them to prioritize and arrange their work.

2. Keep from getting overwhelmed

To be a good time manager is to be organized, a skill that will keep executives from becoming overwhelmed. If an executive is working on those same five big projects, they’ll stand a better chance at success and confidence if they know when and how to work on each project. Time management can be the difference between knowing what needs to be done next and merely guessing.

3. Avoid getting stuck in the weeds

Executives who find themselves working on too many administrative tasks or spending too much time in meetings must become better time managers. The problem with getting stuck in the weeds is losing track of time, which is a lone main non-renewable resource. Effective time management allows executives to be rich in time.

4. Delegate to grow your team

An effective executive is able to delegate tasks and projects. A good team, one able to handle more complex projects, is often the difference between success and failure. There are few better ways to create a successful team than to trust employees with important tasks. Executives with too much on their plate can delegate tasks to their team and instantly gain more time.

Time management infographic

7 time management tips to create more time

 Here are seven ways executives can improve their lives immediately by using the best time management techniques.

1) Set boundaries by saying “no”

Marcey Rader, founder of executive coaching firm Work Well. Play More!, recalls an executive she coached who said “yes” to almost everything.

“She had all this FOMO [fear of missing out] and she came to me because she never had time,” Rader said.

 Rader gave the executive a challenge: Say “no” to everything for 30 days. If the executive really wanted to say “yes” to something, she could wait until after the challenge.

“Since then, she has written a book,” Rader said. “She got into the practice of saying ‘no’ and then realized that her business still actually existed. She opened herself up. She was free to do the things that she really loved, so she wrote a book. I see that often.”

Executives often have a hard time saying “no” or setting time boundaries. They get sucked into multiple meetings, events, or tasks they don’t have the time for. Instead, Rader said that executives must practice setting boundaries, ahead of when they may be asked for their time.

A time boundary could be a canned response, such as an email template, or it could be setting a limit of the number of boards or charities they’ll serve on. The point is to avoid the moment where an executive is asked for their time, caught unawares, and agrees to an action simply due to social pressure.

“People are put on the spot and want to be helpful,” Rader said. “I find that creating those boundaries ahead of time—whether it’s where you contribute your money, where you contribute your time, or what your company is going to contribute to—makes it easier to say ‘no.’”

2) Plan your next day before you leave

Executives are brilliant high-level thinkers and planners, but what about the tactical effort of each day? One way to better manage time is to list what needs to get done the next day—meetings, tasks, deadlines, and anything else that’s important—the day before.

It may take some work to break down long-term goals into day-to-day tasks, but the practice will pay dividends. A study published in Psychological Science found that people who converted their year-long goals and deadlines into day-to-day actions were better at working on what matters.

3) Set goals

Goals are at the heart of time management. By managing time, executives will have the ability to prioritize the goals important to themselves, their family, their employees, and their company.

The best long-term goals are those that cause an executive to stretch but not break, those that allow creative executives to have a sense of direction while doing their best work. As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found in his research on flow states, humans feel happiest in the moments when they’re stretched to the limits of their voluntary efforts to accomplish a goal.

The best way to set goals is to find what matters and turn those ideas into SMART goals. These are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. In management coach Charlie Gilkey’s book “Start Finishing“, he suggests starting each goal with a verb. If your goal is to write a book, for example, don’t simply write “book” as your goal—write it as “write a book.” It’s a simple tweak, but action has the power to make ideas real.

Goals are inherently action-based and need high-level planning, which makes them perfect to work toward after executives have delegated low-impact work to others.

4) Delegate low-impact work

In his book “The Leader of the Future”, Peter Drucker wrote that, “Effective leaders delegate, but they do not delegate the one thing that will set the standards. They do it.”

Put another way: Do the work that matters, the work you do best, and delegate the low-impact work that can done by competent members of your team.

Gilkey wrote in his book “Start Finishing” that if one can list the steps of a task, they can delegate that task. By delegating, executives will have more time for high-level thinking, planning and management.

Rader said that executives often have tasks that they can do faster than someone to whom they’d delegate the task. But they should delegate those tasks anyway, she said, as it will save their own time.

In Rader’s business, she created a video and manual for how her employees can best distribute her books to companies that buy them. The video and manual were time consuming to create, far more than simply sending the books herself, but she sends books two or three times each month. By delegating the task, she’ll likely save hours over many months.

“A lot of times, people just think in the moment,” Rader said. “But a month from now, you could have recorded the video or written down the process, and somebody could be doing it for you.”

5) Prioritize with the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 Rule)

Once an executive has set their goals and delegated tasks, they’ll know what’s important to get done. But how can they prioritize what they do?

The Pareto Principle observes that for many events, about 80 percent of the results comes from 20 percent of the effort. This principle isn’t a law, but it contains a huge nugget of truth: most things in life have an uneven distribution. The most effective executives find where they can make the most impact, where they can find their 20 percent of input that creates 80 percent of output.

A big part of reviewing what needs to be delegated, what tasks should be prioritized, and how you manage your time should be thinking about where your effort is best spent. Each executive will have to review their own skills to see where they’re most effective, which may take some trial and error. But the power of Pareto, when paired with effective time management, gives executives the power to do more with less.

6) Stop multitasking

For most, multitasking simply doesn’t work. Arthur Markman, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, told LiveScience that maybe 10 percent of the population is adept at multitasking. For the rest, multitasking is taxing on the brain, overloading its working memory, and badly hurts productivity.

Research has found that multitasking creates more mistakes and multitaskers retain less information. Psychologist David Meyer said that even seemingly small task switches—how often do most executives check their phone throughout the day?—can cost someone as much as 40 percent of their productive time.

But for many, multitasking has become habitual. To fight the seductive pull of habit, Rader suggests practicing single-tasking, just as one might practice playing instrument, doing an exercise, or speaking a new language. Practice won’t make perfect right away, but with practice will come incremental improvement.

To better focus on single tasks, Rader suggests creating theme days. For example, Monday can be a day for high-level thinking, Tuesday for marketing, Wednesday for administrative tasks, and so forth. “It doesn’t mean you don’t also do those tasks throughout the week,” she said. “But you’re batching them together to better focus on them on individual days.”

7) Schedule time between meetings

“Never let anyone own your schedule,” said Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, and this is especially important if you want to make good use of your time between meetings.

Every executive will have free time, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Make use of this time on your schedule by scheduling it rather than leaving it empty. If an executive has an hour between meetings, that may be a great time to schedule exercise or lunch. If an executive only has 15 minutes, that may be a great time to sit in solitude, away from the buzz of business.

Busy executives are in demand—people will seize the dead time on their calendars, if given the chance. Instead, executives should schedule their dead zones, downtime, and moments to feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Executives who schedule their downtime give themselves the space to be humans in addition to executives.

Time Management Toolkit

For executives who want to quickly improve their time management skills, download Vistage’s free Time Management Toolkit for Busy CEOs. In this toolkit, executives will find what the research says about how CEOs spend their time, what the experts say about the best time management practices, and what leaders need to manage their time, stay healthy and feel supported amid tough moments.

time management toolkit

I was in a local store this week and every employee spoke to me. It was a great experience. Since we are all wearing masks, we cannot see smiles and facial expressions; I suggest we try saying hello…

Studies showed that saying “Hello” and “Thank you” to strangers can enhance our happiness Something as simple as saying hello to a stranger can enhance your happiness and feelings of well-being in these troubled times, two new studies show. Both studies were recently published as a paper titled “Minimal Social Interactions with Strangers Predict Greater Subjective Well-Being,” in the Journal of Happiness Studies. “Simply taking a moment to greet, express good wishes, or say thank you to strangers is linked with greater happiness in everyday life,” the authors wrote.

A longer read but worth it in this time of divisiveness. Understanding where others are coming from can serve you. 5 People Who Can Help You Strengthen Your Empathy Muscle

Ever wondered how empathetic you are? Consider the advice of these five people who have spent their lives studying, understanding and practicing empathy.

By Emma Pattee

Ever wondered how empathetic you are? Here’s a simple test: Read the news, speak to your boss, ride public transportation, start a conversation with someone who has opposing political views, spend time with your child or spouse, sit in traffic or just spend 20 minutes on Facebook.

Empathy is the ability to understand others’ perspectives, feelings and experiences from their point of view, rather than from your own. Research shows that when people are empathetic with someone else’s experience, they are more likely to have a positive view of that person or group.

It’s important to note that empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is caring for others by trying to share in their feelings and experiences; sympathy is caring about them by feeling sorry for or concerned about them.

In case you, like me, did the test above and found yourself in dire need of an empathy booster, I spoke to five people who have spent their lives studying, understanding and practicing empathy. Here’s their advice on how you can strengthen your empathy muscle:

Credit…Palesa Monareng

If you’re struggling to have empathy for a friend or a family member, Nedra Tawwab wants to remind you of this: It’s not about you.

“People have their own story, and not everything they do is about you,” Ms. Tawwab said. “It just happened to you; it wasn’t about you.”

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As a therapist and the voice behind a popular Instagram therapy account, Ms. Tawwab says it’s important not to label people as good or bad, but instead try to relate to the totality of their life experiences.

“People have a full story, and just because they did something bad or unfavorable, they probably have also done so many kind and good things in their life, too,” she said, adding that this is especially true when it is someone with bigoted views.

“I think it’s important to consider how that belief may have served throughout their life,” she said. “Like if your grandfather grew up in 1937, he may be using language that is appropriate for when he grew up. Is it serving him now? Absolutely not. Can you set boundaries? Yes. Can you set limits around what’s talked about? Yes.”

Empathizing with people who hold prejudiced views can be more effective at changing their minds than arguing with them, Ms. Tawwab said, because it allows you to expose them to a way of living or belief system that they may be unfamiliar with.

“We don’t realize how important it is to expose prejudiced people to things they might be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with,” Ms. Tawwab said. “I think the exposure can be more impactful in terms of changing people’s mind-set then arguing or creating a disagreement.”

She added, “Consider how exposure is a wonderful way to impact some change.”

Credit…Palesa Monareng

One of the questions that Brené Brown is asked by students in her University of Houston course, “Shame, Empathy and Resilience,” is: “How can I be empathetic with someone who has experienced something I’ve never experienced?”

To answer this question, Dr. Brown, a well-known researcher and the best-selling author of “Daring Greatly,” asks her students to raise their hands if they’ve ever experienced grief. Then despair, hopelessness, love and joy. By the end, nearly every hand is raised. She does this exercise to show that empathy is not about sharing an event in common, but about understanding the shared experience of an emotion.

“I may not know what it’s like to be separated from my family at the border, but I know powerlessness and grief and rage and despair,” Dr. Brown said.

Over the course of 25 years, Dr. Brown and her team have studied shame and empathy by examining people’s lived experiences. What they’ve found is that empathy is a collection of four skill sets:

1. Stay out of judgment

2. Take the perspective of another person

3. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

4. Communicate your understanding of what someone else is going through

Dr. Brown said it’s important that you don’t take on someone’s emotions to the extent that it becomes a burden, or that you co-opt their experience. “What’s the use of both of us both being in that dark place? There’s no help there,” she said. Dr. Brown uses the example of a friend calling with a marriage problem: “I have to touch in myself a place that understands that feeling, and then communicate back to you in a powerful way that you’re not alone without taking on and owning your pain.”

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As you practice your empathy skills, it’s guaranteed that you will occasionally miss the mark. Don’t worry, Dr. Brown said, since this can actually help strengthen your relationships: “Circling back and cleaning up an empathic miss is as powerful, if not more powerful, than getting it right the first time.”

Roman Krznaric believes empathy can change the world. Dr. Krznaric, an Australian philosopher and the author of “The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World,” has studied empathy for years, and he says we need it more now than ever.

“We are facing a chronic and growing empathy deficit,” Dr. Krznaric said. A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review in 2011 showed that empathy levels among U.S. college students had dropped nearly 50 percent in the previous three decades. Dr. Krznaric gave several hypotheses for this, including modern society meaning people spend less time engaged in social activities that nurture empathetic sensitivity, and that “digital culture has created an epidemic of narcissism and exacerbated political polarization that divides rather than unites people.” To counteract this, Dr. Krznaric is determined to help people understand and practice empathy.

One of the ways he’s doing this is through the Empathy Museum, a series of participatory art projects that he founded in 2015 to help people look at the world through other people’s eyes. Its best-known project is “A Mile in My Shoes,” a giant shoe box that travels around the world and is filled with rows and rows of other people’s shoes. Participants can wear someone else’s shoes, like those of an Afghan refugee or a sex worker, while listening to a recording of the person speaking about his or her life and experiences. The exhibit has been to nine countries, and has upcoming exhibits in Slovenia and Italy.

“Everywhere we go, we collect new stories and new shoes,” Dr. Krznaric said.

One of the best ways to develop our empathy in everyday life, according to Dr. Krznaric, is by developing our interest in other people by having conversations with people we otherwise might not interact with regularly. He suggests making it a habit to have a conversation with a stranger once a week.

Credit…Palesa Monareng

Ever dreamed of having an empathy makeover? Karamo Brown is here for you.

As one of the members of the Fab Five on the Netflix show “Queer Eye,” Mr. Brown helps the subjects of the group’s makeovers find self-confidence and self-compassion by listening to them.

“I joke that I speak the least on ‘Queer Eye’ because I’m always empathetically listening,” Mr. Brown said. Empathetic listening, he said, is the reason strangers open up to him and share personal details in just four and a half days of shooting.

“I’m talking to them for hours,” Mr. Brown said, “and all I’m doing is asking small questions and listening.”

Empathetic listening is a concept Mr. Brown is trying to bring into mainstream culture. It’s the practice of clearing your mind and listening to what another person is saying without any preconceived notions or biases.

“I don’t think we do that enough as human beings, as a country or as a society,” Mr. Brown said. “Most of the time, people walk into situations already wanting to solve people’s challenges.”

Mr. Brown credited his more than 11 years working as a social worker for his ability to listen without judgment.

“We all look at people and start to clump them together,” he said. “Working in social services, you learn to remove yourself, and learn to say: ‘You’re not the same as the last child who was in here. You have your own story.’”

Mr. Brown added that he first understood the power of listening when his grandmother told him, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you can listen twice as much as you speak.”

Credit…Palesa Monareng

Leslie Jamison has worked hard to get empathy. In her 20s, she worked as a medical actor, impersonating people with medical issues and then evaluating how much empathy the student doctors gave her. She often played a woman whose seizures were caused by the traumatic death of her brother. The student doctors who displayed empathy and listened to her story got to the root cause. The ones who rushed her or made assumptions were stumped. The experience was the inspiration behind the title essay of her book “The Empathy Exams.” In her essay, Ms. Jamison makes an argument that even rote forms of empathy can have a powerful impact:

“Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us — a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain — it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow.”

Now a professor of creative writing at Columbia University, Ms. Jamison talks to her students about reframing empathy away from ideas of certainty and knowing.

“I’m approaching empathy as, ‘There’s so much I don’t know about the vast mystery of other people’s experiences, but what are the small ways I can act on that unknowing?” Sometimes the greatest extension of empathy, she said, is to tell somebody that you can’t understand what that person is feeling rather than to say something rote, like “that must be hard.”

If I asked your people how many would say you are their leader, not their boss?

A Vistage Article

While people may use the words “boss” and “leader” interchangeably, those who’ve made the journey from one to the other understand the key differences.

The differences may be best explained by Douglas McGregor, an MIT management professor. In the 1950s, McGregor drew on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — people must feel safe, loved and have esteem before they can grow — to theorize two styles of management: Theory X and Theory Y.

Theory X-style managers assume that employees have little ambition, avoid responsibility, and are only motivated by individual goals. McGregor believed that this style of management hinders satisfaction, as it ignores employees’ higher-level need for growth and experimentation.

Theory Y-style managers assume that employees are internally motivated, enjoy their work, and want to grow. With Theory Y, McGregor believed that managers could motivate employees to reach their fullest potential.

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The boss versus the leader

These two theories created a clear dichotomy: the boss and the leader.

Theory X managers are bosses — they control, dominate and intimidate. Bosses fear that they’ll lose their position, so they rule with an iron fist. They often make decisions with little or no input from employees.

Bosses are also low in demand, easily replaced, and often the butt of the joke. It’s no mistake that Michael Scott, the clownish lead character of the U.S. sitcom The Office, highly values his “World’s Best Boss” mug.

Meanwhile, Theory Y managers are good leaders — they trust, teach and inspire employees. Leaders always aim for the team’s success but allow for experimentation, even failure. Leaders inspire employees to succeed and never take credit for their success — instead, leaders celebrate.

Leaders are in demand, both in life and business. To have an effective leader can make the difference between success and failure. Businesses now want true leaders who focus on how employees are led, managed and motivated. They want a leader who is part of the team, someone who creates a culture while improving the bottom line.

Are you a boss or a leader? Here are eight key differences.

1. Bosses deflect mistakes, leaders own mistakes

In “Extreme Ownership,” a leadership book by Navy SEAL officers Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, they write that the best leaders admit to mistakes, own those mistakes — even if someone on their team could be blamed — and develop a plan to recover.

“The most fundamental and important truths at the heart of Extreme Ownership: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders,” they write.

And this may serve as an alternative definition for boss: a bad leader. A boss will more often cast blame, while leaders accept responsibility. Bosses want to avoid the hot seat, but leaders thrive in the heat.

2. Bosses command, leaders teach and listen

Bosses have a “just do it” attitude. We don’t mean “just do it” inspirationally, like Nike, but rather an attitude of “I command, you obey.”

Leaders teach — they want employees to understand everything. But the best leaders realize that they’re fallible, just like everyone else, so they show humility and ask questions when they don’t know an answer. This creates a culture of two-way communication, allowing for employees to both teach and understand.

A culture of two-way communication makes leaders, employees and teams stronger. As Peter Drucker once wrote, “No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.”

3. Bosses micromanage, leaders trust

There’s a simple difference between trusting leaders and micromanaging bosses:

A leader trusts their employees to create and finish their own to-do list.

A boss will create their employee’s to-do list for them, hovering over their shoulder as they work through it.

4. Bosses rule by authority, leaders rule by influence

In his book “Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman wrote that “Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal.”

To persuade takes emotional intelligence, an ability to manage one’s own emotions, communicate effectively, have empathy with other people, as well as overcoming challenges and conflicts.

Leaders have great emotional intelligence, while bosses rule by authority. Authority may get some results, but it won’t allow employees to grow, learn and trust in the company’s mission — emotionally intelligent leaders will.

5. Bosses have big egos, leaders are self-assured

Bosses want to look good for their own bosses. Leaders trust that they’ll look fine. Instead, leaders focus on ensuring that the work is up to snuff, being humble enough to know that the next mistake, error or obstacle is always lurking.

6. Bosses think short-term, leaders think long-term

A boss is often too focused on what may happen today. Good leaders, on the other hand, think big picture.

Leaders account for the present, but they also want to be sure that their decisions are adding up to something good next month, next quarter and next year.

7. Bosses want credit, leaders give credit

A boss wants the raise, the promotion, the credit. A leader, on the other hand, wants those achievements for their team.

This trait of leaders is best summarized by Drucker in his legendary book “The Effective Executive”:

“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I.’ They don’t think ‘I.’ They think ‘we’; they think ‘team.’ They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.”

8. Bosses foment fear, leaders build confidence

“Drive out fear, so that everyone may work more effectively and productively,” said productivity expert Edward Deming.

But this is the opposite of what bosses do — bosses want employees to fear failure. Leaders, on the other hand, know that errors, mistakes and failure will happen as sure as the sun sets.

Instead of fear, leaders work to build everyone’s confidence while staying on the right track. One big way leaders build confidence is simply accepting reality. When something has gone awry, leaders don’t hide from the problem, nor do they fear it. Instead, they own the problem as part of reality, working with team members to solve it.

U.S. Navy Admiral James Stockdale, a former prisoner of war, embodied this trait. He once said: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Good leaders drive out fear. They face the brutal facts of reality and keep going.

5 simple, yet not always easy, things RBG modeled to create a leadership legacy. What will your legacy be built on?


“She’s the closest thing to a superhero I know,” women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem says at the start of the film “R.B.G.”. Despite her tiny stature, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has become a larger-than-life-figure in recent years. She has been given a hip-hop moniker—the Notorious R.B.G.—that is featured on everything from coffee mugs to tee-shirts. She has become a recurring character on Saturday Night Live. She is a genuine icon.

However, if you study her life closely, there is no mystery or magic to her rise to the top of the legal profession. She got where she is today through quiet persistence and an unwavering commitment to making a difference in the world.

I can think of no better way to end Women’s History Month than to reflect on some key takeaways from the life of an inspired and inspiring individual who was the second woman to be named to the United States Supreme Court.

1. Be strategic

Make no mistake about it, Ginsberg had an ambitious agenda to take on sexism and discrimination in the law and society at large. Her years in law school opened her eyes to what she was up against. The dean of the Harvard Law School invited all of the first-year women to a “lady’s dinner” and asked each one of them what they were doing taking a seat that could be occupied by a man.

Later, as one of the first lawyers chosen to participate in the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, she was extremely picky about which cases she decided to take. She looked for strategic cases that would translate into a meaningful, lasting change in the law.

Similarly, business leaders should be picky and strategic when recruiting an executive team, working with collaborative partners, or acquiring companies. We can relate this to the Pareto Principle, which holds that we get 80% of our results from 20% of our efforts. Every choice we make involves a commitment of energy. We want that energy to yield optimal results.

As my former boss and mentor Steve Jobs put it: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

2. Be focused

Focus is about being selective and strategic. It is also about filtering out distraction and creating an environment where we can commit fully to the task before us. Ginsberg has been a master of this art, sometimes under difficult circumstances.

While she was a third-year law student and already caring for a two-year-old daughter, Ginsberg’s husband fell ill with cancer. She recalls working wholeheartedly on her studies during long days at school, and then coming home and turning her full attention to her daughter and husband. Once her daughter was in bed, she worked late into the night not only on her studies, but also taking the time to type up class notes for her husband, also a law student.

In today’s collaborative and digitally-driven business environment, we must navigate a steady stream of communications and meetings as well as other demands on our attention. It can take enormous discipline to carve out distraction-free blocks of time.

Focus is not just about work and professional achievement. My goal as an executive wellness coach is to help my clients be fully engaged in every aspect of their lives. Ginsberg is passionate about opera and talks about how the rest of the world fades into the background when she is at a performance. She is not thinking about a case, only what is before her in the present moment.

3. Take the long view

As an advocate for gender equality under the law, Ginsberg did not try to overturn the status quo overnight. The first case she argued before the Supreme Court, about gender discrimination in military benefits, was seen as a relatively narrow matter. However, Ginsberg took the occasion to broadly criticize the prevalence of gender-based assumptions in the law.

Essentially, Ginsberg was making one massive argument—for total gender equality under the law—out of a series of smaller debates. A law school classmate commented that observing her make this argument, case by case, was like “watching someone knit a sweater.” She prevailed in five of the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court.

All too often in today’s business world, executives fall prey to short-term thinking. They worry about quarterly returns and about whether the company’s stock is up, at the expense of building long-term value.

I work to help my clients keep an eye on the long view. Sometimes an over-stressed executive needs an independent sounding board in order to see the forest from the trees. Purpose is critical if we want to think clearly about long-term strategy. When we have an authentic mission and are passionate about it, we will be in it for the long haul.

4. Find common ground

Although she holds strong opinions, Ginsberg also prizes good manners and the tradition of collegiality that is a crucial part of the judicial culture. For most of her years on the Court, she has been a consensus-builder.

Her unlikely friendship with ideological opposite Antonin Scalia is evidence of her skill at finding common ground. The two shared a love for opera and attended performances together.

Business leaders need to learn to find common ground amongst their colleagues. In a world ruled by volatility and uncertainty, your competitor today could be your partner tomorrow. You must learn to build bridges and not burn them. The ability to create rapport and connection with other strong personalities, often in high-pressure situations, is characteristic of the greatest and most influential leaders.

5. Persist

Setbacks and disappointments are inevitable. We cannot control unforeseen difficulties, only our response to them.

After helping her husband through a cancer scare early in life, Ginsberg has weathered her own serious health issues over the past 20 years. She was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 1999. Soon after finishing her chemotherapy treatment, she sought out the physical trainer she still trains with today. She beat cancer a second time 10 years later. At the age of 86, she powers her way through workouts that would put a person half her age to shame.

These qualities all work to feed and support one another. When we are focused and strategic in service to a long-term vision, we can persist and meet tough challenges. When we maintain grace and humor and are always on the look for opportunities to create connection, we ensure that we will have others to share both our victories and our struggles.

Like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, we can both flourish and do good at the same time.

Naz Beheshti, Contributor
CEO-Prananaz, Executive Coach, Corporate Wellness Consultant, Speaker

Planning for 2021: 5 key questions leaders are asking

A Vistage article

In the face of our new reality, many businesses remain closed or operate under restrictions. Business CEOs are thinking strategically about how they can keep their companies moving forward in the current environment while planning for the future. And the decisions leaders make now will define long-term success both for their businesses and employees.

As they look ahead, CEOs are asking themselves hard questions that shed light on their company’s biggest challenges and help form a plan for 2021. In conversations with current and former CEOs from organizations representing industries around the world, I’ve gathered five common questions CEOs are asking themselves in preparation for the year ahead:

1. How long will we be operating in short-term sprints?

In the midst of the pandemic, many companies have found themselves focusing on short-term performance metrics, so that they can quickly pivot and develop new strategies based on their results. When leaders focus on KPIs they can successfully measure and track in the near term, they are able to channel all of their resources toward driving key initiatives. Leaders are still referring to their long term strategic plans as a reference point that can be adjusted as needed, and adhering to their organization’s mission, vision, purpose and values as their North Star.

2. Where are there gaps in skillsets among members of my leadership team?

Many leaders are realizing how important it is to have a team who is comfortable with and can thrive in the midst of a great deal of change. Change is hard, and it’s coming everywhere. CEOs are actively working to ensure their teams are developing the capability to succeed in a constantly shifting environment. Communication is a big part of this. The most resilient leadership teams are in consistent communication with one another, rather than leaving what and how they communicate to chance. They also remain curious and open minded, listening to feedback from all levels of the organization as well as outside perspectives to inform their strategic decisions.

3. How will my team want to work in the future?

The reality is many companies, including your suppliers, partners and customers, will likely be in a virtual environment at least in some aspects for a long time. Vistage research shows that many leaders are offering flexibility to their employees, with 55% of companies allowing their teams to work remotely during the pandemic. We all now know that for companies in many industries, it’s possible to successfully work remotely. Now leaders are focused on how to maintain the energy and connection in a long-term remote or hybrid work environment. They are also looking ahead and thinking about how their team will want to work long term, and what that means for recruiting and retaining talent, as well as for their business and work environment.

4. How do I bring more value to customers to over-deliver?

One thing hasn’t changed during the pandemic: The most successful leaders are laser focused on staying close to their best customers and understanding the strength of their relationship with them. Just as the best leaders have constant, clear communication with employees, they do the same with their clients. Leaders are taking these key questions into consideration: What specific challenges are my customers facing? How will my company adapt our resources to address customers’ current and future needs? What are coverage plans for servicing customers? The strongest leaders are determining how they can add more value and consistently over deliver.

5. How do we maintain/revive culture in 2021?

From an employee perspective, it is clear when a company’s culture is driven by its mission, vision, purpose, values, and most importantly, demonstrated by executive teams. It can also be apparent when culture has been strained or when values have been pushed to the side. Effective leaders are transparent and consistent in communicating with employees; they don’t resurface only to share the good or bad news. It is so important for leaders to keep their teams engaged and informed on challenges that lie ahead in order to maintain the culture they’ve built.

To be a CEO or a leader does not mean you must be omniscient. In a period of change, like the present, there will be bumps in the road. But adaptable CEOs are leading right now with commitment, transparency and flexibility. They are forming a team of people who are comfortable with change. And they are examining their leadership styles and asking key questions to identify necessary changes to propel their companies into 2021.

This article was originally published on Small Biz Daily.