Save An Angry Customer With These Three Words And Other Trust-Building Moves

Labor-Community Coalition activists march down...

Trust is easy to lose in business, but can be recovered. Does JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon know how? (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

“How can I get my employees to be straight with me?” That question came from the back of the room a few weeks ago while I was delivering a workshop on leadership presence. We were addressing concepts of approachability and influence, and the participant raised a frequent complaint about the employee-manager dynamic. Often it’s a relationship that’s passable but not very open or rewarding.

And while we would all benefit from straightforward communications, there’s usually more static than clear reception. More often than not, the culprit is trust.

Trust is the gatekeeper in any relationship. But in those where an inherent guardedness exists, such as with sales or management, trust plays an even greater role. In my book, The Power of Presence, I dedicated an entire chapter to the concept of trust, based on my favorite model of trust from The Trusted Advisor. (More in this prior blog.) With its factors  of credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation, the authors’ trust equation is both a prescriptive and a diagnostic for enhancing trust.

I recently sat down with fellow Forbes blogger Andrea Howe, co-author of the Trusted Advisor Fieldbook with Charles H. Green, to discuss how to build more trust into relationships.  Howe travels the country helping organizations — including many professional services companies — lead with trust.

KH: What did you set out to do with your latest book?

AH: The goal was to create a book that combines inspiration and practicality. We wanted to further demystify and discern common issues that professionals encounter on a day-to-day basis, and define what trustworthy responses look like. For example, how do you build a trustworthy organization? How do you develop business with trust? How do you deal with a client who seems to be a jerk? We outline specific situations and show how you can look at them through the lens of trust.

KH: What does trust have to do with your career?

AH: Everything. If you look at all the angles of a career — your personal advancement, doing what you need to do to get ahead, creating connections, building a network, leading people, being a thought leader — trust has a greater and greater impact. I don’t know how you do those things in an extraordinary way without cultivating trust along the way.

Without high degrees of trust we can all muddle along. If you want to differentiate you need to make trust part of your everyday thinking and actions.

Being a trusted advisor is a term that’s used widely, like “Xerox.” But it’s really about setting yourself apart.

KH: What are some typical or recurrent trust-testing situations?

AH: I work with a lot of people in client-facing roles, such as in professional services. One big trust-testing moment occurs when you’re in a business relationship with someone and they confront you with a question when you either don’t know the answer or are unsure how your answer will land with the other party. Whenever this happens, this tests our ability to establish intimacy and take risks. While we naturally feel afraid about the outcome, this is actually one of our most important trust-building opportunities.

My co-author Charlie Green always says, “The thing we’re most afraid to say is often what will build the most trust.” Especially for leaders, this means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

In general, trust-testing situations happen when we’re afraid…of looking badly, losing the deal, stepping into a territory that’s outside our comfort zone. That’s what drives our high self-orientation. Fear kills trust in the moment if we don’t manage it and overcome it.

KH: Are there tips to take the trust path in a pinch if you feel that fear?

AH: First recognize you’re in that moment of fear. If not, you’ll be driven by it. How you manage it varies widely from person to person. This can range from taking a deep breath to acknowledging or thinking out loud. It’s okay to say: “Boy do I wish had a beautiful, articulate answer for that. Let me think out loud about it.”

Getting curious is a great antidote for high self-orientation, as it requires you to get away from yourself and into the other person’s world. If you can find ways to acknowledge what’s going on over there, and ask questions to find out more, this shifts your attention.

For example, if a client comes at you angry or dissatisfied, a typical reaction is fear or anxiety. Instead you could acknowledge that you’re disappointed in the result as well, and ask to hear more about the customer’s experience. Say, “Help me understand.” And be genuine. Set an intention in the moment to get the whole world of the other person.

KH: How do you handle building trust when it’s been eroded, such as from an undermining colleague or a deal gone bad?

AH: We all have examples like that, where things have gone south and we’re prepared for the worst. But it’s how we handle it that makes or breaks trust, not the circumstances.

There’s a poignant story in the Fieldbook that involves an unhappy customer who has endured significant staff turnover on his account. The project manager had to call the customer and say that, yet again, there would be a change in resources. In this instance, the project manager let the customer vent, acknowledged his frustration, and offered to help him find a better service provider. Not only did the project manager’s empathy and courage de-escalate the situation, but the customer, in turn, affirmed his loyalty to her firm.

Most situations are far more recoverable than we think. We try to recover by showing our competency, but instead we need to show more vulnerability. It doesn’t work as a tactic, but by being real. All kinds of situations can turn for the better in an instant. It’s normal to be convinced in our own minds that things won’t change, or to conveniently rationalize that it won’t make a difference because then we don’t have to lean in and do the hard thing. The only catch is it simply isn’t true that we can’t recover. The question, more often, is are we willing to do what it takes to recover.

KH: How can companies strengthen their ability to be trusted employers?

AH: Companies that have a trusted culture live the trust principles. They are other focused, collaborative, drive medium- and long-term perspectives, and are transparent. Many companies say they do this, but most don’t. The ones who have trust at their core live it out. For example, when a scandal hits, they say “we messed up.” They aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. They are willing to have faith in their employees and stakeholders. And their stakeholders tend to respect, value and trust people more who are real. It’s not about not making mistakes—because we all make mistakes—but taking responsibility for them.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersFind her at and @kristihedges. This post also appears on


How Social Media Icon Chris Brogan Would Run Your Virtual Team

Chris Brogan

Social media guru Chris Brogan offers ideas to make virtual teams hum with the right tools and communication.

Ah, the life of a virtual manager. You may not have asked for it, but chances are you have it. Research finds that 80% of managers lead virtually at least part of the time. Converging factors of telework, globalization, new communications technologies, and recurrent cost-cutting have made virtual life the norm inside companies. Yet, managers aren’t trained for it, and few do it well.

I’ve yet to meet a professional who says they prefer virtual leadership. Instead, it’s a part of the job generally endured and managed as best as possible. Death by meeting has been replaced by a long slow soul-crush by global conference call.

But what if, instead of simply coping with virtual management, we were inspired because of it? How could we reach more people, in authentic ways, and build stronger connection?

Sounds like a leap, I realize. But there are those who do this every day, and do it well — social media experts. And they have a lot to teach virtual managers.

Consider that some social media pros have been in the game of building virtual connection since the blogosphere was fringe territory. They’re the first to try new technologies and apply analytics to measure effectiveness. As companies adopt internal and external social networks to support productivity — and managers decide what works for them personally — we can learn significantly from the experts who call this world home. And at the top of that list of social media gurus is  Chris Brogan.

Chris is a social media pro’s pro. His blog is in the Top 5 of Advertising Age’s Power 150. He’s the New York Times bestselling author of  Google+ For Business: How Google’s Social Network Changes Everything, and Trust Agents, among others. He speaks and consults with the world’s premier companies about the intersection of technology, media and customers acquisition. Chris has more than 200K followers on Twitter (and that’s just one social network).

He’s also generous with his time. Chris recently shared his thoughts about virtual teams.

KH: I speak and coach around leadership presence and influence. One question that comes up frequently is how to influence virtually as teams are increasingly scattered across offices and countries. I have a theory that social media provides some lessons. What do you think about that idea?

CB: I think that social media is like Oreo cookies to virtual teams’ milk. It’s a perfect fit. If you can’t “be there” then be there. Flip open the Google Talk cam or the GoToMeeting with Hi Def Faces and you got something.

KH: You talk about the human digital channel. How does that apply to relationships inside an organization?

CB: The human digital channel as I talk about it is a sales channel, but inside organizations, the same premises relate. I talk about needing sustainable, relationship-minded business practices. Internally, this is true as well. We have a paperwork glut. We have a trust deficit. These things could be fixed, if people cared to fix them, and then ALL of business would function better.

KH: If you were running a virtual team, what would you do to make it cohesive and productive?

CB: Daily brief meetings with all of my team would be good (either via video or IM), and then I would do weekly or monthly check-ins where we talk through issues. Other times, I’d really promote the use of just having video cameras on and open while working so that you get that “random banter” element that’s missing in virtual experiences.

KH: How does social media allow you to exert influence and build trust simultaneously?

CB: I try never to exert influence, but instead let people’s trust in what I’ve done before encourage them to believe that the ideas I point people towards will be of value to them and not always (or rarely) of profit to me.

KH: What technology tools would you say are best for team building?

CB: I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about the tools as the way to build a team. I’d say it’s a lot of touch that helps build a team. A Google+ business group or even a personal circle where everyone has cross-circled each other would work swimmingly for keeping a log and keeping communications in one place simply.

KH: Are there different rules for building a sense of community online versus offline?

CB: There are. Online requires more touches (contact with people) and it requires effort to ensure proper tone and inflection are understood. Some people scoff at emoticons but I use them quite often to point out that my mood when saying something is good and cheery. What’s missing the most online is body language cues, and people don’t realize just how much they need these cues. To that end, you can work extra hard to communicate conversationally (in tone), and people will start to understand that flavor.

KH: Can anything replace the impact of face-to-face communications?

CB: No. Face-to-face is still the gold standard and will be. It will never be the lesser of options. However, as business rules and global opportunities change, we might see the % of face-to-face time slip. I tend to work 70/30 virtual to in-person.

KH: You’ve made a career out of being at the forefront of social media. Tell us about your latest book, Google+ for Business. Should we all be flocking to it?

CB: Over 100 million users and growing in the first six months, run by one of the wealthiest companies in the world, and run by the #1 search engine (which drives almost all people’s business search efforts) in the world, and people are still saying, “I’m not so sure. I just started using Facebook.” To me, if you’re not actively working on your Google+ experience, you’re just asking to be left behind when the next wave hits. I don’t say this because I wrote a book. I wrote a book because I say this.

Have any inspired, creative ways to manage virtually? I’ll feature in a future post. Share here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersFind her at and @kristihedges.

How New College Grads Can Get a Great Job With Any Major

Despite the negative hype, the best new grads always find jobs regardless of major. Here’s how to be one of the best.

It’s college graduation time, but can you celebrate? Accordingly to recent news, 53% of recent college graduates are either underemployed or unemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. And the numbers are worse for majors like humanities, art history, philosophy or anthropology. It’s enough to make those just about to graduate feel hopeless. But don’t. This blog is for you new college grads — you can get a job, and a good one, no matter what any research says.

Even in the toughest job markets, the best candidates find great positions. You simply have to know how to be one of the best.

I get what an uphill battle this seems. I also graduated in a terrible job market, the early 1990s. I was the first person in my family to go to college, so higher education was my one golden ticket. I took out student loans readily, praying I’d be solvent enough to pay the bills. I was a communications major, with an English minor. I had zero personal connections to secure a plum job after graduation.

I heard all the same scary messages about student debt and the difficulties finding a job without a technical major.

And it all worked out anyway. Even perfectly.

The emotion you feel is fear — and you deserve to feel it. I could feel phantom anxiety pains just thinking of being a 22-year old, toiling away in a retail job waiting for real life to start, with no certainty except accruing student loan interest.

Which, as it turns out, isn’t that certain as Congress resorts to brinksmanship over student loan interest rates. The favorite storyline of national news is whether a four-year degree is actually worth the price.

It is absolutely worth every penny. A few years into a career, I’ve never met anyone who regrets their college education. It’s a core part of who we are as professionals and as people.

As an executive coach, and an employer who has hired many new college graduates, I can tell you that you have more control than you think. It’s normal to feel trepidation as getting into the workforce is one of the biggest life changes you’ll have. Feel it, and move on. Don’t let it incapacitate you or strip you of hope. Do not give up or get stuck.

If you want the best chances of landing that amazing job you’ve dreamed about, apply yourself to this advice.  You’ll be the star candidate everyone is clamoring to get.

1. Have a vision for yourself. Personal ambition is one of the most compelling qualities a young professional can display, and sets you apart immediately. Take the time to figure out what you want for yourself, and don’t be afraid to express it — even if it’s a goal you’ll build towards.

Many new grads don’t know exactly what they want because they haven’t experienced enough of the workplace yet. It’s fine to have a vision for now, i.e. I want to be in a position where I can be part of a team, contribute my problem-solving abilities, and gain exposure to the industry.  Some day I’d like to own my own business.

A very common mistake is to communicate that you “just want a job” in order to show you’re hungry. That makes you look unfocused and desperate. (This works a lot like dating.)

2. Embrace your major. Conventional wisdom suggests that unless  you’re a software engineer, nurse, or some other in-demand, specialized field, you’ll be out of luck. Don’t buy it. Never apologize for your major. You picked it for a reason, and own it with pride.

Many new hires at companies are generalists, who work hard, learn, and get trained on the job. Your goal is to figure out how your major helps you in your job seeking.  For example, if you’re a philosophy major, discuss how it’s helped you manage opposing viewpoints and complexity. (Great for sales and customer relations.) Or talk about how political science has taught you about getting work done in complex organizational structures, which is spot-on for management consulting.

Being well-rounded is still a positive. One of my most useful classes from college was art history, which I took on a whim. I can’t count how many times knowing a bit about art has helped me in everything from cocktail conversation to marketing design.

3. Network and don’t stop. I got advice in college to meet with every person who will give you a meeting. It hasn’t stopped working for me. Ask every professional person you know to meet with you, and explain your vision for yourself. Then ask them who else they would suggest you meet with, and reach out to the new folks. Follow up regularly to let people know how their intros have benefitted you. People are more willing to help young people than you’d guess. (And the worse they can say is no.)

From this, you’ll start building a solid network. Most people get jobs from connections, so this is the path to land your job. And as a side benefit, you’ll learn new information from each person you meet, and expand your knowledge of various professions.

This is key — keep doing this after you get a job! The average tenure for a first job is 1-2 years. You’ll want to keep making those key connections even when you don’t need them. In fact, that’s the best time to do it.

4. Milk your internships. Most grads have done internships, which don’t pay much (if at all) so this is where you can collect. Keep in touch with people at your internships and contact them when you’re in the job search — whether or not you can or want to work there. To point #3, ask them to lunch and let them know what you’re looking to do. Call them up on a regular basis to check back in. You want to be top of mind when they hear of opportunities.

If your relationship is particularly good, ask if the company will allow you to work from a vacant desk while you job search. It gives you a professional base of operations, and also allows you to be in the water cooler talk of the organization.

5. Don’t take one interview or meeting for granted. Approach every meeting with the utmost professionalism — you never know who will refer you for a job. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve met with new college grads and they’ve done little to no research, show up in rumpled, unprofessional attire, and seem to be doing me a favor.

Do a Google search of each person and know their backgrounds. Have a grasp of their company and industry. Come with great questions to ask. And by all means, be crisply dressed in professional clothes (and shoes), with an organized briefcase.

6. Use some old-school tricks. Everyone knows it’s important to send a follow-up email to say thank you. But if you want to make a lasting impression, go a few steps further and mail personalized thank you cards. Take the time to write a thoughtful note explaining what specifically was helpful about the meeting.

Another old-school idea is to bring reference letters to the meeting. These are written by someone who can speak to your work ethic, such as a former employer or a professor. Letters show that others are willing to go above and beyond for you. They are so rarely used they make an immediate statement.

7. Do a social media audit of yourself. Prospective employers will search your name online if they are serious about hiring you. Make sure all your social media privacy controls are set, and take down anything that shows you in a light you’d rather not share. Employers can’t say this, but if someone smokes, or looks like a partier, they’re going to pass. Who wants a new hire who takes constant smoke breaks or comes in hungover?

For some of you, this may sound like a lot of well…work. And it is work. In fact, it’s exactly the same behavior employers will want to see after you’re hired. By demonstrating it now, you’re showing them what kind of employee you’ll be — a star performer.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at and @kristihedges.

Four Steps to Recover After You Lose It at Work

Tears, frustration and anger are common in the workplace, but you don't have to let an accidental outburst derail your career. Here's how to recover. (Image credit: David Castillo Dominici)

One of the most useless pieces of advice out there is to not take work personally. Work is inherently personal. It’s your ambition, capability, intelligence, and likeability intertwined, at play, every day. It’s better to consider that given how personal work is for most of us, what’s the best way to manage and cope when things don’t go as we desire.

Because sometimes they don’t. And though we struggle to do our best, we lose our composure.

I regularly coach through how to repair damage from these blow-ups (whether my client is the cause or the recipient). These stress-filled moments happen anywhere and to anyone. It can be a manager who hurls anger at a politically motivated colleague, or lashes out in frustration at an employee. Or the outbursts take the form of tears. (And no, not just from women.) People sometimes cry in response to negative feedback or out of sheer aggravation. We’re human; it happens.

Most of us have been in this emotional neighborhood. And we feel awful afterwards. The last thing we want is for our credibility to be permanently damaged.

We want to recover from the  incident, but we’re often paralyzed over anxiety that we’ll make matters worse. After having an emotional outburst, you can temporarily lose trust in yourself to communicate dispassionately.

If you find yourself in this situation, here are some guidelines to follow:

1. Let the steam leave the room.

Give yourself enough time and distance to collect yourself. For many situations, letting the issue rest overnight is a good rule of thumb. If the issue hits a duller nerve, an hour away at lunch might do the trick. Be intentional about giving yourself some space but be mindful of not using it as an excuse to dodge the issue.

2. Make amends quickly and decisively.

We all understand that dust-ups happen, but all the same, they leave a wake. You want to circle back to the person as soon as you’re relatively calm, and apologize for the behavior. Key note: this  is not the same as apologizing for the reason for the behavior. You may be entirely justified in your feelings. Don’t get stuck on that point.

You don’t have to say a lot. You can deliver a simple “I want to apologize for raising my voice earlier today. It’s not how I wanted to approach this issue.” If it’s highly charged, you may want to make the apology quickly, and set a date to circle back later to discuss the wider issue.

3. Repair interpersonal relationships.

There are certain people that set us off more than others. You may even find yourself gearing up for conversations with them because they cause you to react to negatively. As management consultant Steve Tobak explains, these are exactly the people with whom you need to proactively strengthen relationships. Even though it seems scary and intimidating, if you need to work with them, you’re better off expanding your perspective by getting to know their motivations. You may even learn that you’ve been misinterpreting their behavior.

4. Figure out what’s behind the emotion.

Tobak also cautions to explore where the frustration comes from. Some people are prone to anger — researchers have even identified an “angry gene” that hotheaded people have. We also know from neuroscience research that humans have universal triggers that put us into fight or flight mode. Author David Rock calls this set of emotional derailers SCARF — status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. When we feel threats to them, we overreact from instinct.

I find that it can be helpful to cross-examine yourself. Start with the incident and repeatedly ask, “What’s that about?” For example, if you blew up at a colleague the first answer might be, “He made me angry by ignoring my request.” Then ask again, “What’s that about?” The second answer might be, “I feel like people here don’t respect me.” Keep going until you get to the root issue.

When you figure out what the core issue is, then decide how much merit it has in the first place. Often times, it’s more unconscious emotional trigger than fact. If you recognize and label it, you can gain the wisdom to help avoid outbursts in the future.

Share your comments here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. More at

Why Public Speaking Training is Often A Waste of Money

Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone 4 at the...

If you want to present like Steve Jobs, you're not going to learn how to do it in a public speaking training. (Image Wikipedia)

My career has been focused on helping executives communicate more effectively. For a good part of it, I ran a  PR firm where I personally trained leaders to be better presenters and speakers. I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs and professionals down the chain, individually and in groups. I’ve videotaped, massaged talking points, managed body language, and provided all the best practices.

Then, several years ago I stopped. I took down that part of my shingle entirely. Because I realized that for most people, public speaking training is not worth the time nor the money.

Now, some of you might argue that it’s been useful for you. You get feedback on your style and mannerisms. You may find out if you’re doing anything that’s overly distracting. And you practice speaking, albeit in a forced setting that doesn’t resemble real life.

But you could have nearly the same information (and save thousands of dollars) from reading a presentation skills book on your own and taping yourself with a Web-cam.

Presentation training can even do more harm than good.

For those who’ve been through speaker training, you know the drill. You leave feeling less authentic than ever, with piles of “correct” postures, gestures, and speech effects to practice.

Don’t tilt your head! Stand up straight! Don’t pace too much! Walk more! Make eye contact with more people! Make eye contact with a few people! Gesture bigger! Gesture smaller!

(And I’d be willing to bet that after you leave the training, you’ll forget 90% of what you learned after a few short months.)

I say this not just from my own experience training, but from talking to scores of executives who have been through training conducted by others — often some of the best brand names in the business. (Usually former TV journalists, actors or other professionals who haven’t worked inside a business.)

Speaker training is helpful — if you want to be a professional speaker.

But for nearly all executives, you’re not training to be perfect orators who can mesmerize a room. You’re trying to develop presence to connect with and inspire others. You want to build trust and credibility, and be clear and energetic. You want your seat at the table to count.

This type of presence does not come from perfect, robotic gestures and words with lyrical  cadence. As I discuss in Power of Presence, the type of presentation ability that propels careers and builds followership comes from the inside out. You can learn it — but not in a training class on superficial attributes.

Presence comes from developing intentionality and making individual connections. These days, as a coach, I’m often in the position of having clients “undo” many best practices they learned in public speaking training. Only then can we work on what engenders trust and respect.

So if you’re considering taking the requisite speaker training class, or have participated in one in the past, please keep these thoughts in mind:

There’s not one right way to present.

Even among presentation trainers, there’s widespread opinion about what techniques are actually most effective. The studies behind these claims even contradict themselves. That’s why some trainers will tell you to make large gestures and others will say they’re distracting, for example.

This simply echoes the interpersonal reality that what appeals to one person doesn’t appeal to another. Two colleagues could watch you present in a meeting and have completely different opinions about your effectiveness. In the end, much of your style has to be what works for you.

Great presenters don’t follow the rules.

While there are general truisms like speaking while glued to notes is boring, beyond a very few behaviors, you can view a wide range of approaches from great presenters. Steve Jobs didn’t gesture with proper technique or follow the most recommended speech framework. Watch a few TED talks. You’ll find plenty of reticent, wonky presenters who are fascinating. What makes a person a strong presenter is that their presence shines through, showing their passion and expertise for their topic.

Authenticity overrides form.

We are used to observing a diverse set of human behaviors, and have adapted well to reading authenticity. We readily sniff out a person who cares, and we hone in on that. Authenticity creates a trust bond and establishes credibility. The rest becomes superfluous.

Further, when you focus on presence and authenticity, you calibrate your style to the occasion. It’s alienating to have a speaker present in perfect speechifying form to an intimate group more suited to a seated back-and-forth dialogue.

You already know how to do this.

People know how to communicate authentically, and present ideas in their own naturally effective way. You do it all the time with friends and family members. It’s when we’re under stress and in anxiety-filled situations that we forget what we already know.

The next time you’re discussing an issue in a relaxed situation, notice your own body language. That’s what you should be repeating when presenting — not trying to adopt someone else’s — no matter how much they charge. Then put yourself in real-life opportunities, starting small, where you can practice and build confidence.

What’s your experience with presentation training? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersShe blogs at

Why I’m Following Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

LONG BEACH, CA - OCTOBER 26: Howard Schultz, C...

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is showing how to do well by doing good. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

For most leaders, the middle of the road is an alluringly comfortable place. It’s safe, well-trodden, and known. Unfortunately, what it isn’t is inspiring. Consider any inspirational leader and you’ll notice their proclivity towards the unconventional, the creative, and the tough choices. The great leaders eschew the middle of the road for the road less taken. And the best take the high road while they’re at it.

One of the benefits of our current age is that you can be a student of leadership wherever you are. Simply find a leader who builds both considerable success and followership — and you relate to — and thanks to the Internet you have a ready-made  teacher. I’m personally learning quite a bit lately about inspiration from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

In fact, any manager today should be engaging in their own Schultz stalking (from a respectable distance, of course) to learn how to use their personal presence and platform to create a virtuous cycle. Yes, Schultz is insanely successful at what he does. And he’s done it by taking gutsy stances — many of which he does not because he has to, but because he feels they’re right.

Schultz also strikes the delicate balance of being decisive, assertive, and approachably real. And unlike iconic leaders in the vein of Steve Jobs or Jack Welch, he’s the kind of leader you’d like to have a beer (or yes, coffee) with.

So how does he do it? What can leaders of all stripes take away?

Lesson #1: Schultz defaults to being open, and willingly shares his story.

Many have heard Schultz tell his story. He grew up in the Brooklyn projects, the son of a struggling blue-collar worker who held a variety of service jobs with no health insurance. Schultz went to college on an athletic scholarship, worked for Xerox and other companies in sales, and eventually went to work for the tiny Starbucks company.

After seeing coffeehouses on every corner in Italy – places that not only served coffee but also served up a meeting place for the locals – he ended up buying the company and building his idea into the multibillion-dollar Starbucks brand. He did it despite the chorus of naysayers who were certain no one would ever buy a $4 cup of coffee.

Schultz is refreshingly forthright about all of it — giving ample opportunity for others to see themselves in his struggles.

Lesson #2: He’s not afraid to create a company that’s more than — even if there’s no precedent. What Schultz had in mind was more than a $4 cup of coffee. He envisioned Starbucks as “the third place” that people spend their time between home and work. Schultz’s goal is a “customer experience,” not just a good cup of java. That idea is so well-rooted in our culture today that it seems as if it were always a foregone conclusion.

Schultz’s vision could have stopped there, but it didn’t. As he told an audience at UCLA in September 2008 in this video, his goal from the start was to build a “different kind of company” – one with a “social conscience” and a “soul.” He believes in a balance between making a profit and being a benevolent employer and a benevolent part of community.

Schultz incorporated a number of revolutionary concepts others thought financially unwise, including comprehensive health insurance for part-time workers and investing in the communities where it does business. We all know how that turned out — it became a major part of the Starbucks brand.

Lesson #3: Schultz admits failure, takes accountability and keeps learning.

Schultz is quick to own up to his own missteps, and a much publicized near disaster. When Schultz resigned as CEO (but stayed on as chairman), Starbucks grew so rapidly that it lost the signature “neighborhood feeling” that had made it so successful.

Schultz came back as CEO in 2008 and realized he had to take drastic action. He scaled back, closing 900 stores. And he took action to regain the “neighborhood feel,” shutting the remaining 11,000 U.S. stores for one day to retrain 115,000 people. Next he took 10,000 managers to New Orleans for a business meeting to galvanize those on the front lines.

The managers (and Schultz himself) also contributed more than 54,000 volunteer hours in projects such as painting, landscaping and building playgrounds in Hurricane Katrina’s wake.

Lesson #4: He lives by the adage, “to whom much is given, much is required.”

Schultz doesn’t hesitate to use his influence to spread his ideas about corporations with a social conscience to the wider world. His activism earned him the No. 1 spot on Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year list for 2011.

He also gets people to respond. When Schultz called on corporations to join him in a moratorium on political contributions until Washington politicians came up with a bipartisan plan to address long-term fiscal issues, more than 100 signed on, including the CEOs at Pepsi, Disney, Intuit,  Whole Foods, J. Crew, AOL,  the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ.

Even the president took notice. David Kaplan of Fortune magazine reports that President Barack Obama called Schultz personally last September to discuss the issue.

In late 2001, Schultz once again showed his willingness to use his platform by announcing his Create Jobs for USA Program. The grass-roots private fund makes loans to small businesses in underserved markets nationwide. The Starbucks Foundation seeded the project with a $5 million donation, and asks its customers to contribute. For a donation of $5 or more, they receive a red, white and blue wristband with the message “Indivisible.” More than 100,000 wristbands were sold in the first days of the launch, a testament to Schultz’s clout and the trust behind the brand. Corporate partners Google Offers and Banana Republic have since joined in the effort.

Lesson #5: Schultz understands his job is to inspire others.

Schultz is often described as self-effacing, and it’s clear that he’s not doing this for pure ego gratification. (Note how quickly he dispelled rumors he was running for president late last year rather than reveling in the attention.)

But Schultz does understand the importance of being visible for the right reasons, and of using his spotlight. We expect to see our leaders and it’s a gift to be able to learn from them in real time. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Schultz does next.

Have a favorite leader you follow? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at

Can You Spot These Mad Men Behaviors In Your Office?

Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Mad Men)

Think Mad Men office behavior is a relic of the past? Don't be so sure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m all in for Mad Men. The show had me at the pilot episode. There’s something about creator Matthew Weiner’s subtle characterizations juxtaposed against the stark realities of culture that get me season after season. The viewer knows how the era ends — it’s only the characters who remain in the dark, wrapping themselves around ideals which are about to implode.

And so it continues as Mad Men recently kicked off its fifth season. The generational shifts were more apparent than ever, and the broiling culture change that’s about to alter the nation’s identity is starting to emerge. Don Draper in bell bottoms? Give him three years.

I don’t write about TV shows (alas), but about leadership. And that’s one of the reasons I love the show, because it’s also a workplace drama. Generally, I watch it and thank my lucky stars that “girls” are no longer relegated to the secretarial pool, managers have to show decency, and people can’t smoke in the office.

For my Gen X brethren, even if we feel safely distant from such bad corporate behavior, our parents can certainly validate it. In the New York Times, writer Elisabeth Donnelly discussed how her mother didn’t find any of the throwback culture entertaining as she was more than happy to leave it behind.

But have we actually left all of it behind? As I watched this week’s episode, I was struck by how many of the themes are still relevant to today’s workplace. Yes, we’ve come a long way and here’s what has stayed the same:

The old guard can’t see the change that’s coming. Whether it’s the coming from the flower children or the millennial generation, when there are cultural, ideological shifts, those in charge refuse to believe. The ones creating change know with certainty what will happen — they have informed intuition and a sense of destiny on their side. But those in power dig in their positions with the time-honored idea that “this too shall pass” — especially since their generation knows better (thank you very much).

But of course change is the only constant. Everyone does get with the program eventually. Notice how no one is trying to deprogram millennials anymore? Rather, we’ve shifted to incorporating their ideas and embracing their work styles.

An inequality in work distribution is felt acutely. In Mad Men, Peggy and Pete are frustrated that they’re doing most of the work, while the senior partners are slowly checking out. This same storyline could be written for today. We don’t expect senior leaders to produce in the same way they did in earlier job functions — in fact, they shouldn’t. However, the need to show value falls on everyone. When it’s not there, even for a short duration, we all know it and respect is lost.

Nepotism makes everyone squeamish. In the Mad Men office, employees are on pins and needles trying to navigate working with firm partner Don’s new wife, Megan. Whether nepotism is as overt as promoting your spouse, or as subtle as surrounding yourself with cronies, it makes people uncomfortable. It upset the dynamic, prevents honest discussion, and stifles ambition. This may happen less now, but it’s hardly dead. Last week I was in two separate conversations with executives dealing with it in their offices.

Working mothers with young children need major organizational support. Watching the ultra-poised Joan  struggle to come into the office and fight for her job was enough to make any working mother sigh. (Perfect symbolic scene, by the way, as she awkwardly balances getting the stroller through the front door and we see the lost ease of her movement.)

While much has improved for working mothers, much has stayed the same. More companies have policies to help women combine motherhood and work, and yet, we still see far too many competent women dropping out because they can’t work it out to their satisfaction. Organizations that offer flexibility with an ambitious career track are all too few. For women who do manage successful careers with kids, when we talk about it common descriptors are “hard” and “exhausting.”

Ultimately, the reason Mad Men has such a fiercely loyal following is because the characters speak to us, and we can relate to them. Perhaps the enduring lesson of this season will be how cultural patterns of forty years ago are eerily familiar.

What did you think of Mad Men’s premiere? What workplace themes did you pick up? Comment here or

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersThis post also appears on

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