Are you taking a workplace lonely?

For millions of people worldwide, the act of taking selfies has become an integral part of the social media experience. Selfies are internationally pervasive and evoke strong reactions from those that encounter them.

In a hysterical clip about selfies, comedian Sebastian Maniscalco hits hard on selfie-takers. In his words, the act of taking a selfie should be called “taking a lonely.”

“Do you know how alone you got to be,” he asks, “that you can't find anybody to take a photo?”

As funny as Maniscalco’s rant is, there is a deep element of scientific truth in it. For many, selfie taking is, in fact, the product of being alone. "Not only do individuals who become obsessed with taking selfies tend to feel that their personal lives and psychological well-being are damaged, but they may feel that relationship qualities with others are also impaired," said lead researcher Peerayuth Charoensukmongkol.

Those researchers also found that a most people studied spent the majority of their spare time online in some fashion.

(Such people also use selfies to control their image. In the words of Dr. Charoensukmongkol, “Taking selfies allows individuals to control what other people see in the photos, it is not surprising that those who exhibit these narcissistic characteristics tend to like selfies because it helps them achieve this personal goal.”)

While we often think of loneliness as something that afflicts people when in “social mode” (becoming socially acquainted, making friends, deepening relationships, etc.), the truth is that it plays a significant role in the workplace as well.

Workplace loneliness is often measured by how many people surround and interact with you while at work. Some argue that the loneliest professionals in the world are those who toil in isolation, with limited opportunity for interpersonal communication. These include writers, poets and scientific researchers working in remote outposts.

Yet there are others who weigh loneliness not by the frequency of their interactions with others but rather by the quality of such exchanges. Therapists, for example, often feel lonely, despite the many deep conversations that they have on an average day. Because they tend to spend so much of their time listening and giving to others, they do not benefit from the balanced conversations and idea exchanges that meet their social needs.

The same could be said for teachers. I once read a book that posited that classroom teaching was the world’s loneliest position. The author argued that teachers were required to go into independent classrooms each day and spend many hours alone with students -- hardly a satisfying set of social partners. They often had little time to chat with peers and even less time engaging in meaningful learning and problem-solving activities with colleagues.

As a former classroom teacher, I know that it can feel lonely at times to occupy your day communicating with others who are not your peers and cannot relate to your experiences and passions. Still, I suggest that the loneliest job may very well be that of a leader, whether it’s the leader of the free world, a school principal or a CEO. 

Jeremy Cai/Unsplash

Most employees have others in the workplace that they can turn to for advice, feedback and/or companionship. They can ask questions on how to get things done and work through tough times with their peers without unreasonable concern that they will be unnecessarily or unfavorably judged (or worse). They can share a joke in the office, fill their March Madness brackets, and comfortably discuss what’s going on in their personal lives. They can also “hang” with their associates after work, as a natural extension of their time together in the office.

Leaders, on the other hand, have fewer people to turn to when things get tough. Who in the organization, after all, has had to sign off on the types of decisions that they must make each day? It can certainly be difficult to confide in and bare their souls to direct reports. And those who sit above them in the corporate or organizational food chain (such as the chairman of the board) are also not the ones to whom they want to display weakness or vulnerability.

Furthermore, it can be awkward and inappropriate for bosses to try to chum up with their co-workers. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with occasional out-of-work interaction. May times it can be both fun and healthy and offer all parties the chance to see each other in a different light. But at the end of the day, the boss is the boss, and that still spells social isolation for the guy calling the shots.  

For these reasons, I strongly advocate leader participation in peer learning and advisory groups. Not only do such settings provide leaders with meaningful learning opportunities to strengthen their skills and augment their toolkits, but they also offer havens for leaders to open up to people who can relate to their struggles and provide concrete suggestions, if not solutions. Oftentimes, these business convenings develop into social relationships that add balance to the lives of these execs.

Leaders should also make time to attend classes and trainings with members of their executive team and board of directors. Learning together and sharing ideas in a relatively neutral setting can open up pathways towards deeper bonding that may not otherwise occur. 

Of course, there are other ways to reduce feelings of loneliness, such as by having a strong network of family and friends to turn to outside the office. Hiring a coach or therapist can also help fill a social void (besides for the other benefits that they offer), as can networking events, dinner parties, social clubs, religious congregations and volunteering in the community.

In the words of Dorothy Day, “We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.”

Collect inspirational quotes for when you need them. Read thought-provoking books about leadership as well as personal accounts of triumph and success. Many authors possess the gift of connecting with their words and building community through the printed or digital page.

Lastly, learn to distinguish between loneliness and solitude. Paul Tillich once said, “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”

Being alone is only a problem when we need others to fill the void of silence. Leaders who can dig deep within themselves for insight and self-encouragement will find the isolated time of solitude to be the most clarifying, purifying and rewarding time in their busy, hectic schedules.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) became an executive coach and organizational consultant following a career as an educator and school administrator. Check out his new leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog.

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Where brewers saw waste, this entrepreneur saw a business

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This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question "What is it like to be a leader?"

If you are a beer drinker, doesn’t the idea of being able to eat it sound cool? That is exactly what Dan Kurzrock and his friend Jordan Schwartz thought when they started ReGrained and created their first product, a bar made from the “spent” grain from the brewing process.

Well, it was more of a realization. Kurzrock was an avid home brewer and he noticed how much grain was left after the brewing process. For the small brewer and even for the larger craft brewer this grain was waste. He felt there had to be some way to close the loop

In this interview, we talk about entrepreneurship, the food system, and upcycling what was once thought of as “spent” grain.

How did the idea for ReGrained originate?

"I learned how to make beer when I was 19 and fell in love with the hobby. I was only making five gallons of beer, but filling up coolers 20-30 pounds of grain. I would soak it in water, drain that liquid and continue with my brew day. At the end of the day, we'd have to do something with the giant vat of food. It occurred to us: Beer leaves food behind." 

"This stuff smelled like bread. It tasted kind of like oatmeal, mild, not super sweet but definitely not bad. We didn't know much about the nutrition at the time, but we knew that we were left with something that shouldn't be considered trash, yet was ending up in the dumpster. I was raised to care about our planet and its limited resources. So, I wanted to think of something clever to do with the leftovers. I had an entrepreneurial mindset, and while I couldn't sell my beer to my friends, I figured that if I could sell food made from the waste from my beer-making process. If I could get them excited enough about that, every week I could brew beer for free!"

"The original concept was to have a closed-loop brewery/bakery. But, as we started doing our research by interviewing brewers and paying attention to what's happening in this space, we realized our idea could be much more meaningful. Sure, we could create a novel brewpub, but we also identified a larger opportunity to build a platform between the brewing industry and the food system. Craft beer had started to boom. As of today, there are more than two new brewers opening per day. A lot of these breweries are opening in cities, which is a different ecosystem than a brewery that's in a more rural area."

“What we learned is that they, like us as homebrewers, are left with a lot of grain and not a lot of demand for it. Whereas most big breweries, can sell their spent grain to farmers. It really highlighted for us that the opportunity went far beyond our passion for making great beer. There was this emerging waste problem that could be reframed as food opportunity.”

“We discovered a rich history of home brewers making their own bread, and other baked treats. We found scientific literature about the benefits of this 'spent' grain, how it's high in protein, high in fiber, because once it's been used to brew, it's lower in sugar. We saw an opportunity to try and really create a market for this as a supergrain ingredient. It's a very old idea to not waste. You look at a cheese making, and the byproduct that they have, which is whey, that used to end up in waste streams. Now it's a huge source of revenue for cheese makers. I once had an expert tell me that many cheese makers now produce the cheese as the byproduct of whey.”

What’s your vision for ReGrained?

“My vision for ReGrained is to close the nutrient loop between the brewing industry and the food system, at scale. What I mean by that is that we are going to be the go-to solution for breweries, for upcycling their edible byproduct, and we're going to be the platform between them and consumers. ReGrained is going to become a household name for the next supergrain that pairs superior nutrition with taste and environmental impact. We see ReGrained as this vehicle for enabling our food system to do more with less, and being one of the shining lights of example of what the circular economy looks like for food.”

What keeps you up at night?

“Oh man, lots of things. I worry that we're not moving fast enough all the time. Sometimes I worry that we're moving too fast. That one cuts both ways. Right now, we're up against making a co-packer transition. I worry all the time that something will go wrong with that. Really what it comes down to when I think about what I'm actually concerned with, it's that we know that we are the first brand to put out a consumer product with this upcycled grain at its core. This is really exciting, but we're still a small company, and I hope we can continue to stay out in front."

What’s been the biggest obstacle?

“One of the things that has been really interesting is how you frame a food waste product to your customers. It's less an obstacle and more of a challenge. We make healthy, really delicious products that are also sustainable. We want our customers to know that every bar that they buy is making an impact, but we also don't want to yuck their yum.”

What would your current self tell your former self?

“Walk across to the other side of campus and find a food science person to be one of your co- founders with you and Jordan,” Kuzrock said with a chuckle. 

Would you do it again?

“Oh yeah, for sure. I love what I do. It's great. I can't imagine doing anything else. People ask me all the time, ‘Do you think you're going to start a bunch of companies?’ If this fails, sure, I'd probably start another company. I try to come up with ideas all the time, I love it, but I really believe in this one. I believe wholeheartedly that someone is going to successfully close this loop, and that it will be us. The ReGrained concept makes way too much sense. It's something that is so black and white in my mind that I could never imagine going back and not pursuing this opportunity." 


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Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on accelerating the growth of emerging food and beverage brands. He helps clients gain distribution, build velocity, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Food Dive.

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How well are your people’s incentives aligned with your organization’s strategy?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How well are your people’s incentives aligned with your organization’s strategy?

  • Very well: there’s a clear link between strategy and incentives: 14.0%
  • Well: incentives are generally linked to strategy: 30.5%
  • Not well: it’s unclear how strategy is tied to incentives: 37.8%
  • Not at all: our incentives have nothing to do with our strategy: 17.7%

Incentives drive behavior. Behavior drives strategy. An alarming percentage of you report there’s no link between your strategy and your incentives. That’s a problem. People do what they get paid to do. If you want your strategy executed, you need to align incentives with achieving those strategic goals. The stronger the link between strategy and incentives, the more likely you are to drive behaviors consistent with your strategic direction. When you notice misalignment between incentives and strategy, drive clarity quickly. Involve your compensation and HR teams in the conversation when you set strategy. If you don’t, don’t be surprised when people are working on things that have nothing to do with your strategy.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

How to recognize and stop toxic time-wasters

Every workplace has a little drama, but knowing how to identify and stop drama is key to elevating your own productivity. 

The first step is to define the three toxic time-wasters: blindsiding, monopolizing, and negativity. The second step is to identify the common behaviors so that you can take charge of the situation. This article offers a description, a checklist and what to do if you get engaged with one of the top three toxic time-wasters.


Those who blindside use timing to their advantage, not to yours. For example, they smile before telling you something that sounds like vicious gossip, like you are the laughingstock of the office. They finish with “I just thought you needed to know.” Or they invite you to a friendly lunch but have a hidden agenda. For example, early in my career, I was invited to lunch by a friend who said he wanted to introduce me to someone who would benefit by some of my corporate training. The real intention was to get me into a network marketing downline.

A five-point checklist to identify blindsiding

  1. You are often caught off-guard by the conversation or the language.
  2. The other person discounts or belittles you.
  3. You don’t feel safe around this person.
  4. You don’t trust this person.
  5. The person gossips about others behind their backs.

What to do: Ask for the agenda before the conversation. If you are invited to a phone call or a lunch meeting, ask in advance, “What is our objective for the meeting?” Then at the phone call or meeting if you see the conversation heading in another direction, say this: “I thought our agenda was to discuss ...” When caught off-guard, take a five-second pause and then question the intention of their statement. Take control of blindsiding by preparing in advance.


The Monopolizer is long winded and can’t get to his point.  You wonder if there’s an end to the story. Caller ID was created for those who want to avoid the Monopolizer. If you ask the Monopolizer a “yes or no” question, he starts out with “It depends," and then goes into a 20-minute story before the story. You can yawn, you can tap your fingers but the Monopolizer is like the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going.

A five-point checklist to identify monopolizing

  1. You use caller ID to avoid this person.
  2. This person often wastes your time or interrupts your agenda.
  3. Your energy feels depleted after being in this person’s high energy.
  4. You’ve heard the same stories time and again.
  5. You can’t get in a word edgewise.

What to do: Before calling this person, say “I only have five minutes and I have a question that requires either a yes or no.” Also, set good boundaries when you are interrupted. Say, “I can’t talk right now. Can I call you back at 2? When you call back, model the behavior you want from them by saying, “Is this still a good time? Great, I only have five minutes, but …”

Good boundaries and setting appropriate expectations empower you and diminish your negative emotions toward this person.


Negative Nellie always has a complaint. Every conversation is about what is not working and what someone else did wrong. If you try to help solve the problem they defend the problem, telling you that you don’t understand, and they’ve already tried everything you have suggested. They make you feel obligated to listen when they say that venting helps them feel better.

A five-point checklist to identify negativity

  1. You know the problem inside and out.
  2. There’s never a win, only complaints.
  3. You feel drained being in this person’s presence.
  4. “I already know that” or “I’ve already tried that” is their mantra.
  5. Their problem has become their identity.

What to do: Stop feeding the beast. Don’t give advice, and don’t discount. Simply say, “I’m sorry. It sounds frustrating.” Avoid the urge to make it better or to listen more than five minutes.

The reality is that venting only creates new neuro-connections for the purpose of venting. Don’t fuel the fire by joining in, advising or discounting. When they are ready for solutions, you can coach them to empowerment, but if they are dead-set on beating the drum of their problems, you need to be one less band member.


Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of "Stop Workplace Drama" (Wiley 2011) and the author of "No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion 2015). Visit her website, and connect via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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Confronting the jerk: What else can we do?

Accounts of egregious workplace behavior are suddenly all over the news – again. Harvey Weinstein and Mark Halperin are just two of the more notable figures recently identified of being guilty of such behavior.

Does such behavior exist in all organizations? Consider the male manager who’s known to be a ladies’ man, a bit of a flirt. But he’s harmless, right? Not necessarily. Then there’s the manager who’s a “bit” of a bully, who can harshly cut down people he doesn’t like.

So just stay on his (or her) good side and no harm done, right? Not necessarily. While this behavior may not sink to the level of Weinstein’s or Bill O’Reilly’s behavior, it’s there and it’s egregious, nevertheless.

Whether it’s sexual harassment, sexual assault or bullying, all of these behaviors have one thing in common -- power or perceived power, and the perpetrators are engaging in power plays, big time. Individuals who engage in such behavior are abusing their power or perceived power. Does that mean that everyone else is powerless? No.

Organizations can start by heightening awareness. Training won’t necessarily stop the behavior, which is often more pervasive than individual employees realize.  In sexual harassment training, the obvious behaviors are often discussed. In open conversations, the subtleties should be discussed.

Instead of training sessions, leaders have to encourage open conversations and nurture cultures where everyone -- employees and managers alike -- are encouraged to be up-standers. These are people who speak up and take a stand, rather than bystanders, people who observe the behavior but ignore it or do nothing.

Comments and behaviors that make anyone uncomfortable should not be accepted. Not accepting destructive behavior, denies the actors the license to engage in them. Let people know that it’s OK to respectfully confront both the behavior and the individual. For example:

  • I don’t appreciate it when you do/say that.
  • I don’t appreciate being spoken to in that manner.
  • Those comments border on vulgarity. Please stop.
  • Comments like the ones you just made are demeaning and belittling. You must stop making them, even in private.
  • We can’t accept this type of behavior at work. It attacks the very base of who we are as an organization.

What about policies on sexual harassment or bullying for example? Is having policies in place enough? Not necessarily -- not if there is no enforcement of the policies. Anti-harassment and bullying policies, for example should include, among other things, a clear complaint process and a clear investigation process to assure there is no excuse for ignorance on the part of management.

To strengthen these processes, organization can consider contracting with, for example, third-party whistleblowing firms to assist employees who report behavior. Outside investigators -- independent consultants or law firms -- can provide an objective look into the reports.

Anti-harassment policies should also include assurances of corrective action when harassment is found to have occurred. There is an obligation to remediate the behavior, to fix the problem. If the behavior doesn’t change -- can’t or won’t be fixed -- termination of the employee responsible may be the only option. If these things occur, and employees witness them occurring, then the anti-harassment policy becomes more than just a paperwork and compliance exercise.

Destructive people in the workplace have costs. Spell out the costs. Harassment and bullying behavior may be controversial, but it’s important, for starters, to understand the financial jeopardy with such behavior. Put a dollar figure to it. The costs associate with legal fees an litigation may be obvious, but before an organization gets to that point, there are costs of egregious behavior.

They include costs associated with:

  • absenteeism if victims are avoiding coming to work to avoid the perpetrators;
  • lost productivity and eroding employee morale;
  • turnover, especially frequent turnover;
  • health care -- egregious behavior has an effect on the victim’s health and welfare;
  • investigating complaints -- a use of managers' time, employees’ time, HR’s time;

Beyond the above costs, there are the costs associated with negative public relations if accounts of the behavior go public. You want to assure that your organization does not become a business-school case study in how ignoring the bad acts of employees can put an enormous strain, not to mention liability, on your organization.

The reputational blowback can be vast within your industry and community. It can affect client and customer loyalty as well as your brand.

Don’t excuse bad workplace behavior. Don’t accept ignorance of the behaviors or turn a blind eye to them just because the employee is key or a rainmaker for the organization. Step up and take action both as individual leaders and as organizations.


Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem are the authors of "The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book" (2017) and "The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook" (2015). Gamlem is president of GEMS Group. Mitchell is managing partner of The Mitchell Group.

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Make your inner voice your friend, not your foe

The Lead Change Group is a global, virtual community dedicated to instigating a leadership revolution, one leader at a time. Lead Change Group, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Brenda Wensil.

Our career journeys encounter many obstacles. Surprisingly, the biggest of these is not the external kind: money, resources, time. These are significant. But turns out it’s the internal barriers that can make us or break us. These are thinking patterns that create doubt or downright inaccurate perceptions of ourselves and our situations. 

This internal barrier is our inner voice. And it can be our biggest foe. It is the voice in our heads that sends messages, sometimes subtle other times blatant, that sound like this: “What if I fail?” “What if I’m not ready or not good enough?” “What if I can’t handle this?” “What if I’m not as smart as the next person (insert any name here)?” 

We call these messages limiting beliefs because they can hold us back from achieving our goals and operating as our best selves. A leading authority on the power of positive intelligence, Shirzad Chamine, says beliefs and how they influence our behavior is why only 20% of team and individuals actually achieve their true potential. Or rather, why 80% do not.

A woman we recently coached was in line for the next chief operating officer role for a large technology organization. Despite being the lead candidate for the role, she seemed hesitant. When asked what was holding her back, she said she didn’t think she’d had enough experience in her current role and that her colleague Ted, who was also in the running for the job, had more time with the company and knew the C-suite. He might be a better fit for the job, she determined. 

Her limiting belief of “I’m not qualified, not ready, and someone else is better” nearly eliminated her from the role before she’d even stepped into the opportunity.  Fortunately, she changed those beliefs to “I have great experience with this company and know the industry as well or better than anyone else. I am the best choice for this role.” She began to “see” success on her own terms. She was promoted into the role and has operated at a high level with less anxiety for some time.

The mind affects behavior. Our thinking patterns are like well-developed muscles. It takes time and focus to train and adjust them to new movements, new thoughts and messages.

Make your inner voice your friend by changing out the old messages for newer, more powerful and enabling ones. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Think back to a time when you were successful. Remember what it took on your part to create that success. Write down the key message or takeaway from that success, such as, “I am really good at leading the team” or “I bring years of experience in this area (strategic thinking, or planning, or risk management, whatever area you see).”
  • Pull out old feedback or a 360-degree report. Read through and focus on what others have identified as your strengths. Craft a new message to replace an old limiting belief.
  • Keep an accomplishments log. Do you have a "brag folder" or a place where you can save glowing/complimentary feedback emails? If not, start one. If so, pull them out and read. Develop new and empowering messages. Each time the old, limiting messages surface in your head, stop and insert the new message.

We are bombarded with negativity, and those tapes are easy to hear especially when we are stressed or facing big challenges and opportunities. You have to go in search of the good stuff. So, find it, have it ready, craft a new tape, and let it make you more confident and assertive.

Don’t let the old tapes limit you. There are more than enough external hurdles in our path.

Prevent your thinking patterns from being the formidable foes they can be. Make your inner voice your friend -- and win.


Brenda Wensil, a partner with Flynn Heath Holt, is an executive leader and certified and accredited coach with expertise in building collaborative partnerships, developing teams and leveraging cross organizational structures to improve leader performance and drive results. Flynn Health Holt’s new book, "The Influence Effect: A New Path to Power for Women Leaders," explores the effect of self-doubt and other barriers while providing strategies to women to drive their success.

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Strategy by metaphor

Each month, When Growth Stalls examines why businesses and brands struggle and how they can overcome their obstacles and resume growth. Steve McKee is the president of McKee Wallwork + Co., an advertising agency that specializes in working with stalled, stuck and stale brands. The company was recognized by Advertising Age as 2015 Southwest Small Agency of the Year. McKee is also the author of “When Growth Stalls” and “Power Branding.”

SmartBrief offers more than 200 newsletters, including SmartBrief on Leadership and newsletters for small businesses and marketers and advertisers.

If I said that the next 700 words contain the Uber of business advice, would you believe me? Probably not. It’s a big claim. And these days, a common one.

Forbes’ Daniel Newman writes, “[T]he Uber chapter in tech history has probably inspired far more copy-cat businesses than any other in recent memory, with Uber-inspired laundry and food delivery, hair styling, and even flat-tire service.” A quick Google search turns up references to the Uber of rental services, the Uber of tutoring and even the Uber of bathrooms. (Not sure I want to know more about that one.)

Despite its overuse, however, there’s good reason people (including me) are uber-referencing Uber. Metaphors work. Sometimes even more that we realize.

For instance, I was in a strategy session where the talk was all about supply chains. We were seeking a different way of understanding our client’s business when it dawned on us that “supply chain” itself had become so ubiquitous we failed to recognize that it’s already a metaphor. The simple exercise of revisiting it unlocked a breakthrough new idea.

In another case we were struggling with the positioning for a company that was respected but (there’s no other way to say it) boring. One direction felt particularly correct, but nobody was very excited about it.

After an awkward, pregnant pause someone said, “You know, we’re not the kind of company you want to date, but we are the kind you want to marry.” The tone of the room transformed as the perception of the positioning shifted, and it was adopted with enthusiasm (and I’m happy to report has been proven a winner).

And then there was the tech startup for which we were raising seed capital from existing industry players. The closing statement in the pitch presentation was, “You all are bookstores. This idea is Amazon. The only question is whether or not you want to own it.” As you might suspect, we raised a lot of money.

Metaphors work for the simple reason that they make the unfamiliar familiar. In brand strategy, for example, there’s a standard approach by which one first determines a brand’s “frame of reference” and then identifies its “point of difference.” Usually the frame of reference is a category of similar products or services -- insurance belongs with insurance, soft drinks with soft drinks, and industrial machinery with industrial machinery. This approach works well when you’re trying to differentiate a brand within an existing framework.

But when the task is bigger than that -- such as the need to reposition or even resurrect a company -- it can be helpful to examine different frames of reference using the power of metaphor.

“How would we sell our insurance in the soft drink aisle?” “What would we call our soft drink if it was an industrial machine?“ How would we position our industrial machine if it was insurance?” These examples are a bit far-fetched, but then again perhaps not. You never know where a helpful parallel will arise.

A good metaphor helps you pour the confusion you’re facing into a container you can examine and see if anything settles out. It can be used to understand a challenge, frame an opportunity, define a market or identify a new direction. It’s a fruitful way to generate strategic options you may not have thought of before, even if some of them are nonsensical.

Creativity is often simply the combination of two previously unrelated ideas, so it can indeed be enlightening to ask, “How could we apply the Uber model to our industry?” Or “Could we develop a pricing platform like Amazon Prime?” Or “How would Apple package our product?” The possibilities are limited only by the comparisons you can conceive, which is why metaphors can be such a helpful tool.

You have to have a sense of adventure and be willing to go down a variety of different avenues, some of which may be dead ends. But it’s also kind of fun. It may feel odd at first, but strategy-by-metaphor is a vehicle that can take you wherever you need to go. Kinda like an Uber.

What will you do when things go bad?

There’s a lot to be worried about in business: the political climate, robots and automation, the future of entrepreneurism and innovation, the promise or peril of the gig economy. But imagine if we weren’t in an economy that’s been growing for years!

Like it or not, these are the good times, and that should make us concerned about how prepared we are, as leaders and companies, for the inevitable downturn. Maybe that time won’t arrive tomorrow or this year or even this decade, but it will. There’s always a downturn.

Why am I starting this post with such dire thoughts? Because leadership in these times is easy. You hire, you expand, you can talk all about motivating for excellence, building industries and helping people find a career and maybe a fortune. Technology is only a force for good (and productivity)!

This is also the time where you see many articles, books and TED talks about great leaders talking about why they are so great. Notably, they'll throw in some tale of hardship, but it's mostly about only success going forward, sprinkled with positivity and win-wins, maybe even win-win-wins.

In the bad times, none of that is the case. Revenue and profit suddenly are harder to come by. Customers leave you, if they even survive. You might be getting smoked by the competition, but that competition isn’t necessarily peer companies. It could be upstarts, regulation, foreign actors, a financial crisis, technological upheaval or even just terrible luck. Worst case, maybe you have no idea why things have gone bad.

Then, you’ve got to cut costs. That means laying off people, and not just the “bad” ones. Maybe your organization tries some new strategies and tactics, with varying levels of business intelligence behind these moves. All throughout, you’ve got to somehow keep yourself going, your team united and your company a going concern, when there isn’t a whole lot of optimism bubbling about.

Anyone can build and execute a strategy when money seems to be falling from the sky. It’s harder when none of the fundamentals seem to be going your way and everyone is distracted, angry, demoralized or all three.

On a personal level, how great is it to manage stars who do no wrong? A little more difficult when you need to ask the impossible of them because times are tough, when you need to lay off a good performer who’s done nothing wrong. How about when you have to pull back on perks, or training, or bonuses, or career growth? How about when you are automating their job – and they know it?

What to do before the crisis

Unfortunately, there aren’t easy answers, or else there’d never be recessions, bankruptcies or panics. All I can say is, start preparing now. This isn't about being pessimistic just because. Enjoy the good times! Grow, invest, develop, and go big! But also, try and examine contingencies while deciding what kind of leader you’ll be in tough times.

At a strategic level, try thinking about mindsets, questions to ask and self-examination (Steve McKee’s series is a good place to start). Think about what you’d do if your organization started losing customers, or if a new competitor rose up or threatened to displace you. What if revenue fell by 15% and your main product was being commoditized? Would you just slash costs and people while grasping at any new product? Or, would you think about a better, more sustainable way to fight through tough times and come out ahead?

Likewise, play out similar scenarios that could hit you and your direct reports. What if automation could do 50% of your job, or your team’s? What are your options? What if you or your organization started losing great talent because of bad managers, or a lack of growth potential, or because they don't believe in the organization anymore? What if you weren't allowed to replace the next two people who leave?

Will you let frustration or doomsday thinking reign? Or, will you get to asking questions, trying new things, being that creative force that a leader is supposed to be? (Julie Winkle Giulioni’s written about career opportunity, the difference between robots and humans, and overcoming bad systems.)

Preparation is a big part of why people can keep calm during a crisis. Start now so that you can lessen the pain of hard times  -- not just for yourself, but for many others.


James daSilva is the longtime editor of SmartBrief's leadership newsletter and blog content, as well as newsletters for distributors, manufacturers and other professions. Before SmartBrief, he worked in newspapers for four years, where he witnessed the industry's ongoing struggles with digital amid the great recession. Find him at @SBLeaders or email him.

Smart traffic helps improve quality of life

By Edgar Almeida, Product Manager, Intelligent Traffic and Parking Solutions, Verizon Smart Communities

As cities work to better manage traffic and flows of people through strained infrastructure, implementing intelligent traffic systems can help create better understanding of current needs and make adjustments.

Data collection technology streamed to transit departments in near real-time and stored in the cloud offers more robust information about intersections, travel time, congestion and other metrics that are important for making decisions about resource allocation.

But how do these intelligent traffic systems actually work?

Some of the technology relies on buried sensors that gather information about the intersection or traffic corridor. The data is transmitted wirelessly via access points and stored in the cloud. Traffic departments then use a data analysis system to make decisions about light timing, flows of vehicles and congestion relief.

These intelligent systems provide a wealth of information and data to help cities make informed choices about resources, traffic patterns and congestion easement. And while these drill deeply into problematic intersections, there are other smart offerings that can help bolster the information available to city planners at a higher level.

In order to create a fuller picture that captures data across large areas of a city as well as from side streets, including bicycle, pedestrian and mass transit usage, cities can also tap into the wealth of information available from cellular networks.

New technology, like Verizon’s newly introduced Traffic Data Services, will allow cities to create cellular fingerprints of roadways and transit systems using the movement patterns of anonymized cellular subscribers that can be leveraged to better understand traffic in near real-time, such as slowdown detection and local speeds.

By gathering data through systems like Traffic Data Services, city managers can export data in XML, text and map overlays to get a more complete view of traffic patterns and mass transit movement as well as better create an alternative means of getting around.

For example, a cluster moving at roughly the same speed at the same time can denote a bus or other mass transit vehicle, while a single, slower signal is likely a bicycle. This view allows for traffic management, transportation management, transportation planning, congestion mitigation, tourism management and emergency management to gain more insight into how people use streets and then to make necessary adjustments.

At this week’s ITS World Congress 2017, where global leaders in intelligent and transformative transportation showcase and evaluate the latest innovative concepts, active prototypes and live systems, Verizon Smart Communities is demonstrating its traffic solutions with its technology partners.

On display will be Verizon’s Intelligent Traffic Management Solution and Verizon’s new Traffic Data Service. In addition, Verizon Smart Communities will be at the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Designing Cities Conference Oct. 30 - Nov. 2 in Chicago. To learn more about Verizon’s Intelligent Traffic portfolio, visit our website.


Edgar Almeida is the product manager for Verizon's Intelligent Traffic and Parking solution portfolio and has been at Verizon since Sept. 2016. He came to Verizon from Schneider Electric where he was Director, Strategic Intelligence for the smart buildings and power solutions business unit and prior to he was with Cisco Systems' Converged Buildings Systems business unit. He has more than 30 years of experience in automation and information technologies with a bachelor's degree in electronic and eelecommunications, and diplomas in project management and software technology. He is a Certified Measurement and Verification Professional. 


At Verizon, our goal is to improve the quality of life for people living in cities around the world and increase the ways and efficiency in which cities operate. It’s not just about smart technology, connectivity or applications; it starts with a focus on the people and their basic wants and needs. We partner with each city to design infrastructure, systems and processes that elevate the way they provide services in new and cost-effective ways.

When you take on a new role, how effective are you at quickly establishing trust with the team?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

When you take on a new role, how effective are you at quickly establishing trust with the team?

  • Very: I can build trust quickly: 58.8%
  • Somewhat: it takes me a little while to build trust: 37.6%
  • Not very: I struggle to build trust with the team: 2.8%
  • Not at all: I don’t know that they ever trust me: 0.8%

Building trust takes time and effort. Getting your team members to trust you needs to be a deliberate endeavor. If you leave it to chance, it’ll take a while to build that trust. The trust you build serves as both a foundation for the efficiency of your team and a way to improve loyalty and morale. There are plenty of great techniques for building trust. Find other leaders who do it well, and ask them how they’re doing it. I can almost guarantee it’s something they focus on and take action toward on a regular basis. The faster you build trust, the more you can empower your people and expect them to deliver great results.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."