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Showing posts from August, 2014

5 Management Lessons From My First Year At NARA

Screenshot via LeadershipFreak
When I took the job of Digital Engagement Director almost exactly a year ago I had in mind to "live blog" the experience of being a senior, second-level executive with two dozen staff. I thought that it would be cool to make the experience transparent, in all its ups and downs.

Quickly I learned that this was not a good goal to have, because in a job where you're essentially focused on management as opposed to communication content, you need to think about organizational dynamics a lot. And if my experience/training has taught me anything, it's that if you're constantly turning the kishkes (intestines) of a place inside out, it ceases being able to function. Nevertheless, I think the following 5 lessons are both generic enough and specific enough to be meaningful:

1. A person is happy in a job if it suits their personality.  I like mine because I am "commanding, problem solver, want to make a difference, collector of data, adaptab…

At JFK, A Lesson In Diversity

I'll be honest. I miss New York.
Spending time up here today wasn't just a throwback to the sights, the smells, the culture.
I miss the sheer variety of people. Literally every nation on earth, hanging out at the Welcome Center at JFK. Or so it seemed.
There was the usual array of "interesting" behavior. 
One guy kept yelling, "Where's Air Train 3?"
There was PDA.
And the usual "I'm staring at me staring at you," suspiciously. (Are you hovering over my backpack for a reason?)
But the nicest thing about today's visit was...how nice the people were. Not rude at all, like I remember.
I accidentally ran luggage over someone's toes and he didn't yell at me.
A lady gave my daughter plastic cutlery across a crowded line. She couldn't reach it but hadn't asked.
A waitress let us sit in the diner longer than we should've, and gave us two scoops of vanilla ice cream, the second complimentary.
Amid all these different people stood the El…

Inner Shame, Your Greatest Career Asset

I hate vampire shows, but for awhile they were a monster, moneymaking trend. 
A few years ago, Maureen Dowd wrote about her long-ago "suppressed" passion for these fanged fiends (sorry!) in her New York Times column. She concludes: "Sometimes the thing that’s weird about you is the thing that’s cool about you." And she offers some career advice: "What needs to be nurtured is the stuff that’s different, that sets you apart from the pack, rather than the stuff that helps you blend in."This is Branding 101. Relevant differentiation. Positioning.
She says: "Let your freak flag fly."Mary Lambert is riding the trend with her song "Secrets," which just hit the Billboard charts.


Here are some of the lyrics, via AZLyrics.com. When I heard them on the radio I was literally startled.

"I've got bi-polar disorder/ My shit's not in order/ I'm overweight / I'm always late / I've got too many things to say/ I rock mom jeans, cat earr…

The Future of New Media (In Government) - In 20 Quick Hits

This week I gave a talk for the Potomac Forum on the Future of New Media. We ended up covering some classic ground so maybe we should just think of this as a moment in time.

Most of the clips are to a YouTube playlist with clips from the event.

1. Openness is an attitude not just the content of what one shares. Government communication needs to open up in order to be more engaging, and get away from the traditional idea that to be "proper" and "dignified" we should be boring.

2. Boring communication doesn't get read. The marketing communication model is better. Your goal is to get the customer's interest directed at what you want to say. The only way to do that is to be engaging.

3. Accept that great communication generates flak. You either need a lot of courage or a great corporate culture to support it.

4. The taxpayer is the customer. If we're serving the public, communication should never be seen as a burden. The insecurity of private sector jobs also in…

What Great Corporate Cultures Have - 5 Short Personal Observations

1) A very strong sense of purpose. The idea being that we are a unified force in a "war" to achieve something under incredible odds, pressure, etc. 
2) A 50-50 focus on people and operations vs. 90-10 operations vs. people. (I get that it's hard to trust because you don't want to get hurt; trust issues are why most organizations prefer to focus on technical things and hard numbers.)

3) A commitment to process - order, fairness, clear expectations, etc. I've worked in the private sector where literally, you would walk in one day and someone was gone, and you wouldn't know why. It was horrible. People need to have a sense of fair play in order to feel safe enough to work.
4) Emotional intelligence, inclusion and diversity - freaking hard even for the experts, but deliberate attention is required, because often an employee's strengths are not immediately apparent on the surface. When you harness everyone's skills you have genuine, not token inclusion, and i…

Here, Let Me Check That Tweet For You

Today I was thinking about work, and how some people just find it easy to roll through it, just take the money and run. I wasn't ever one of those people. 
It's insane to watch from the outside, actually, because I work in the government and very often the people who do best are quiet, they have some kind of passion outside of the job, and they do what they need to do without getting worked up about it. 
They know that the red tape can kill you if you take the time to get tangled.
But I have never been too bright. 
And so here is a story, a true one about an experience I had some years ago with Twitter.
There was a crisis that day, I recall. I'm a dramatic sort and the crises always marshal my attention.
"We've got to Tweet about it," I told my boss at the time. "Say something!"
So she crafted an artful status. Much thought went into those few words.
It had to go to her boss for approval.
9:00...
10:00...
11:00...
By noontime still no word.
I don't know what…

What I Would Have Said To Robin Williams

Hey, there is sunshine ahead of that bleak tunnel.
We think of you as our family. We being everyone, just...all of us. 
You are still with us.
I am sorry that it was lonely in there. That your head and your heart were too big for this world to contain.
You aren't the only one to look at things with such sad eyes.
You made me laugh and the thought of you makes me cry.
We would have done anything to save you, had you just told us what was going on.
Please rest your eternal soul in peace. You have earned it.
* opinions as always are my own

Cross-Cultural Illiteracy, The Invisible Engagement Barrier

Tyrantis a character-driven show about a fictitious country in the Middle East that is painfully lumbering toward freedom. Every episode shows the characters confronting some external conflict that brings up painful memories, unresolved conflicts, and inner motivations they'd rather not confront.
As an adult raised cross-culturally, the most interesting thing about this show is watching the difference between how Americans think and how people from the traditional Middle East do. 
For example, Tucker, a "State Department" official, is stationed in the country to represent U.S. interests. Leader A, Leader B, what's the difference, he seems to think, as long as it looks good on TV.
From an American perspective, the diplomat's mode of operation is perfectly legitimate: Westerners separate  the professional and the personal. But from a traditional Middle Eastern perspective, he is sleazy, amoral, and self-serving because professional and personal are indistinguishable. 

5 Laws of Social Media You Aren't Following Right Now

This past year has been a stunning opportunity to learn from the highly skilled people on my staff at the National Archives about what social media excellence is. I'm participating in an educational panel (in my own professional capacity**) in D.C. next week and will be drawing on some lessons they've taught me about how to do social media well. Here are a few key highlights:

1. Start with the subject matter, not the method of delivery.

My agency is essentially in the business of preserving our nation's cultural heritage artifacts and then making them as widely available as possible. Interestingly, the most successful social media efforts at my agency such as the wildly popular Today's Doc on Tumblr, begin with a passion for history, not an obsession with social media. Kudos to Darren Cole who heads that up.

2. Master the tools at a microscopic level.

Just because you studiously avoid obsessing about a particular kind of social media outlet doesn't mean that you ignore…

When The Client Just Won't Listen

A few weeks ago we were walking around the neighborhood and a little girl ran up to us.

"I'm lost!"
She was about six years old and very cute even though she was sobbing. She had these little tears and a little stream of snot near her nose from the crying. She kept wiping her face through her sobs, and talking through the wiping. 
"I'm lost! I'm lost!"
Her little brother stood next to her. If this kid was cute he was even cuter. He had mosquito bites all over his legs. One shoelace was untied. He seemed less unnerved than she was at the situation. He was scratching his head and looking around as though he'd never seen that street before.
"What's your name?" She told me her first name.
"Is that your brother?" "Yes." "What's his name?"
She told me.
"Where do you live?"
"In Brooklyn." (Geographically not close.)
I stood there worrying that we were talking to two very little children absent two g…

On The Distinction Between Messaging & Branding

I just thought I would spend a couple of minutes clearing this one up as the terms tend to be used interchangeably. They're related but somewhat different.
Messaging = saying something in a very specific way. As in: "We are working with local authorities to ensure citizen safety."Branding = creating an impression in people's minds. As in: When you walk into the fitness center, it's glass and mirrors and every employee looks skinny and 22.
Messaging and branding both need to be consistent:
When different people explain an event the same way, they reinforce one another and increase credibility. (Unless of course they are lying.)When all parts of the company, the individual, the product or the service leave you with the same impression, branding can be said to be taking place in an integrated manner. (Doesn't mean it's a good strategy or that it's working.)
The distinction though is how messaging and branding are carried out.
Messaging = top down, and from th…

Control Your Emotions, Control Your Brand

All great comedians have one thing in common. They see the world in a crazy way. And they make you see it their way, temporarily. But they don't lose control of their emotions in the process.

Think of anyone: Howard Stern, Roseanne Barr, Howie Mandel, Joan Rivers, Russell Brand, Jerry Seinfeld, Lucille Ball. They're neurotic. But they've sharpened it to a fine point. You know what's coming, and you laugh.

Laughing with, not at, is the mark of a relevant brand.

Branding is conveyed through a lot of things. We call those "touch points" - how you look, what you say, color, font, a consistency of process.

And yet all of those things can be copied, which is why they are essentially worthless in the end.

The one thing that cannot be copied is your emotion. It's like your fingerprint - it makes you unique and uniquely valuable to the people you touch. Nobody, in the end, can truly be you. Which gives you a tremendous advantage.

So far so good. But the next part is whe…

Is it all just random? No, it isn't random, I say.

So the rabbi says to me that she thinks bad things are "random." (The philosophy of Woody Allen and his very expensive "shrink.") But what do I think?
I say they happen to me because I am bad. It's not that G-d hates me, but I am messing up and I need to learn.
She resists this explanation. I find her blessing comforting though, enough that it elicits heaving sobs.
What is the point of it all? The other day we had a conversation at home. I said the same thing and my husband goes, "No preaching now. Please!"
I get it. I just can't focus on anything other than why.
Sometimes I get the answer in a dream. Other times it comes to me naturally. Most of the time it has to do with a character flaw, with something lousy and stubborn and painful in myself that needs work.
It hurts all the time to face it but it feels better when you grieve the self you wanted to be, but somehow failed at. And come out the other side.
* All opinions my own.