#WorkTrends Recap: Heart-Centered Leadership

Improving employee engagement is a constant desire for leaders. But instead of looking to employees for answers, the key might be to look at themselves first. Leaders who develop emotional connections with employees often see better performance and engagement. This heart-centered leadership style is centered on the concept that ethical leadership must start from within; it’s based on principles that promote trust, authenticity, caring and transparency.

On today’s #WorkTrends show, we talked with Susan Steinbrecher, leadership expert and co-author of Heart-Centered Leadership, about the seven principles of heart-centered leadership and why this philosophy has proven successful.

Here are a few key points Susan shared:

  • Leaders need to ask for feedback to know where to start
  • Heart-centered leadership is a learned skill and takes practice
  • Making an emotional connection with an employee will lead to increased loyalty, productivity and overall company success

You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here.

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Missed this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). Next Wednesday, May 25, we will be joined by the CEO of Worldwide ERC, Peggy Smith, to discuss how mobility is changing the workforce.

The TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following the #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

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5 “Foot” Steps To Creating Brand Humanization

I’m super passionate about the importance of Brand Humanization, that mix of culture, community and corporation which can create magic for employees and shareholders, or signal trouble, not only in the ranks, but in the larger world of brand reputation. There is so much happening in this arena right now. It’s very cool really.

On the one hand we have TOMS Shoes, the oh-so-hip shoe brand with a huge social network sustained by a very human brand with a cause. TOMS hits all the high notes in Brand Humanization. It leverages the power of social networks and attracts a growing community of consumers – brand advocates – who are continually energized by the brand’s charitable mission. TOMS fans trust the brand and its purpose; they see no conflict in spending money on TOMS shoes, because each pair sold triggers the gift of a second pair to a poor child. And the brand encourages social interaction, spurring the establishment of over 1,000 ‘campus clubs’, super-communities which not only follow the brand on social channels but are dedicated to amplifying brand messages across social channels. It’s a classic case of doing well by doing good. TOMS’ founder and his employees have enormous social and economic power and a certain level of moral authority. Combining commerce and charity without compromising his values might have been founder Blake Mycoski’s original concept, but the real engine of the brand is the community the brand has attracted and nurtured.

On the other hand we have a host of companies which have failed to link their brands with people in a way that drives value to the brand and its investors. Oracle, the software giant which earned the distrust and ire of the software community with multiple, predatory acquisitions and subsequent patent suits, is an interesting example. While Oracle ORCL +% has a strong brand, and loyal users and employees, arguably it has failed to demonstrate an ability to master the nuances of Brand Humanization. Let’s look at a few of the ways in which the company has passed on making its brand more appealing – areas where TOMS Shoes has succeeded.

  1. Persona: Oracle, dominated by the powerful personality of Larry Ellison, is a savvy organization, acquiring companies and software assets but in many cases destroying the human aspect of the acquired brands. While the company has enormous technical strength and deep pockets, it has not taken advantage of the social good will of the brands it’s acquired. And Ellison, while respected as an astute businessman, has failed to engage at a human level. Hard to compare with a charismatic CEO who gives away a pair of shoes for each pair sold.
  1. Community: Perhaps the sole exception to Oracle’s lack of brand humanization is the Java community, built by Sun Microsystems and still a force. But that community has been slow to warm to Ellison and the Oracle brand. Arguably Oracle, in its move to capture the commercial value of Java, has sacrificed the brand value of the Java community and missed a chance to humanize its brand. TOMS’ campus clubs bring more awareness and thus value, to its brand.
  1. Value: Traditional measures of brand value, often referred to as brand equity, include loyalty, affiliation, advocacy, information and identity. All of these translate into the world of social media and community, but new models, including Edelman’s Trust Index and the Social Currency methodology, help brands hone in more quickly on the emotional state of their constituents – which quickly affects brand value. It’s difficult to draw a straight line from these tools to shareholder value, especially with tech companies such as Oracle; service, food and consumer goods companies such as TOMS have an easier time tying this most important measure of a brand’s worth to the bottom line.
  1. Relevance: For Brand Humanization to take place, a brand must be relevant not just for the quality its services or products, but because it engages its constituents with relevant information and interaction at each point of contact. The Java Community is relevant to some of Oracle’s constituents, but not all. Oracle OpenWorld, the brand’s annual conference, makes efforts to stay sticky with a Facebook FB +1.47% page, You Tube channel and other social assets, but is it enough?
  1. Emotional connection: Tech brands may find this difficult, although TOMS has mastered the art, but forging an emotional connection with constituents is critical, and may require some direct experience that moves the target – TOMS current ‘One Summer to Change’ efforts and You Review video sharing site are shining examples.

Brand Humanization is incredibly powerful. To ignore it is to ignore communities who care about your products and services; to forgo building bridges through social channels and networks, and to miss opportunities to create new brand interactions driven by social channels. In today’s densely-networked, highly social world, it seems a terrible waste, and a real business risk, to ignore the value and power of Brand Humanization. Rock your brand – Give it a try.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 5/22/12.


photo credit: DSC_0002 via photopin (license)

5 Leadership Toys For The Multigenerational Workplace Sandbox

The multigenerational workforce; you’ve heard about it. There are about six generations that live in America today – three to five of which are in the workplace, with another set to enter within ten years. You’ve probably heard most about Generations X (30-50 years of age) and Generation Y (Millennials, 11-29), with the occasional reference to Baby Boomers (51-68), the group arguably hit hardest by the recent Great Recession.

Please note that these age brackets vary from resource to resource but this gives you the general gist. Thanks to a global economy which stubbornly refuses to improve in any meaningful way for many anxious holders of 401Ks, we’re unlikely to see Baby Boomers retiring at rates previously expected.

The short story is this: at least three generations can be found in most workplaces, which not only is a potential source of workplace friction, but also a real puzzle for leaders, HR, brand marketers and talent management pros looking to humanize brands.

It’s really not something we can afford to ignore.

This shift in the meaning of brand is seismic, as they say. Where my parents bought a car for the brand’s reputation, and I wouldn’t buy a car for any one reason, my niece might buy a car if its infotainment system is seamlessly synchronized with her Bluetooth and iPhone (or Android).

For Millennials, brands must have social capability and social identity, or allow the individual to use the brand’s product in a social context. For Gen X, the brand must be multinational. And for Boomers, well, snob appeal still works – one measure of brand reputation. Note: I’m a Gen-Xer and I sometimes want each of these offerings above so it can be misleading to go on statistics alone. Honestly, I often think stereotyping generations can be very limiting in this way but it’s useful to gain a macro-perspective on just how much the world of work is transforming now.

In workplace brands, as with multigenerational teams, a lot of adaptation and flexibility is called for if success is the goal. As I wrote last week, Brand Humanization is of increasing importance. This holds for workplace brands as a well. If you’re a CEO, HR person or a hiring manager for new and retained talent, you’re probably wondering how to keep the wheels on the bus with three, potentially five, age groups on staff.

Here are five suggestions to keep your workplace and leadership brand aligned with the needs of three or four very different groups of workers:

1) Relevance: For all groups of workers, work must be relevant. This matters for someone who’s 60 as much as it does for a 23-year-old, although the meaning of ‘relevant’ might be different for each. Leaders always need to communicate a task’s relevance. If a task is relevant, it will make the brand relevant too.

2) Accountability: Some people are accountable by nature. They’re performers. Lots of other people have to be made accountable. A lot has been written about the lack of accountability in Millennials, but I think it’s more a question of communications again: leaders must be very clear about what it means to be accountable in the workplace. A 45-year-old may see his or her work as contributing to the bottom line, a 25-year-old may see it as a task and miss the big picture, and a 60-year-old may see a task as a dead end. Leaders have to show everyone why everything they do in the workplace counts and helps build a good brand. Mind, employees have a responsibility to look beyond themselves too, but that’s a topic for another day.

3) Motivation: First cousin of accountability and relevance, motivation can be a mystery for a leader. A conventional boss may see a paycheck as sufficient motivation, while a strategic leader will see motivation as the key to a productive workplace. Taking the time to understand what motivates workers is a huge investment, but it’s absolutely necessary. Unmotivated workers won’t care about the brand, and that’s the first step down the path to brand destruction.

4) Trust: As the work world becomes increasingly driven by social media and social technologies, trust becomes more important. Old-school companies and leaders may think trust is embodied in a paycheck, but it’s not. Trust is earned, like respect. Workers who trust management will also trust the brand.

5) Emotional connection: I’m a big proponent of the workplace value of Emotional Intelligence. The leader with emotional intelligence understands the need for an emotional connection with everyone in the workplace. No, you don’t have to be best friends, but you do have to be sensitive and aware to the emotional tenor of the workplace. Ignore emotional connection and no one will care about your brand, or your workplace.

Can we all just be happy in the multigenerational workplace? Not all the time, certainly, but it will be much more achievable if you’ve taken the time to humanize your brand. Your workforce will be a community, just like in real life, where the players are all at different stages but are working to stay more or less in synch with one another. The alternative? Look around you at the dead or dying brands, the legions of un- or underemployed and the dispossessed.

Attracting and retaining talent takes a lot of work and persistent effort to be better. So please get to it and start thinking about being a human leader.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 3/23/2014

Photo Credit: Knoll Inc via Compfight cc