Category Archives: Leadership

What to Expect From Leadership Changes at the Top

Companies often get new CEOs. In fact, the median tenure of a CEO is only six years, so many employees are likely to experience this transition. What is likely to happen and what can you expect? I’ve not only studied this area in detail, but have experienced new CEO transitions firsthand throughout my career.

Technology is changing the way we lead.

Let me set the stage for you. Digital technology is having a profound effect on organizations. It is fundamentally changing the way we work, the way we manage, where we work, how we organize, the products we use and how we communicate — and the types of C-suite leaders needed to handle the new “organizations of the future.” Leadership, as a whole, remains a critical issue for companies. In our 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital report, nearly 80 percent of business and HR leaders surveyed identified leadership as a top priority.

New leadership may mean many changes to come.

The need for new leadership at the top of an organization happens for many reasons, but primarily because the company simply needed a change. In some cases CEO transition is orderly and carefully managed, but in many other cases the new CEO comes in to fix problems. In this latter case, you can expect the new leader to rapidly get to know the company, make changes as quickly as possible and likely change his or her top management team.

Once the new leader is in place, you are likely to see some or many changes in corporate culture. In many cases, the new CEO was hired because the company was struggling to grow, perhaps may have had a legal or regulatory problem, or the company’s strategy was not producing the right results.

When the CEO and founders at Sybase left in 1998, for example, and the new CEO John Chen joined, the company was struggling to grow and had failed to understand the rapidly growing market for enterprise applications. At the time, Sybase was primarily selling enterprise database and tools. Chen came in with a fresh perspective, brought in a whole new management team and took a skeptical eye to almost every product and sales strategy in the company. It took many years, but eventually Sybase became a powerhouse company selling mobile databases, and was later sold to SAP for $5.8 billion in 2010.

During that period of time, Sybase made many changes to the product strategy, many senior leaders from the prior regime left, the company headquarters were relocated and the target customer market changed. The company’s workforce had to get comfortable with new senior leadership, help shift and adapt the business to the new product strategy, and re-establish their own internal brand among management. While some in a company may take a “wait and see” attitude, generally the better approach is to get ready for change, work hard and take the time to meet new management, making make sure they know what you’re working on.

New leadership should understand how change affects employees.

One of the most stressful issues for employees to deal with might be the fact that their role, position and internal network may suddenly disappear overnight once a new CEO takes hold and starts making changes. They will need to have trust that the new leadership has the ability to steer them through uncharted territories. Only with that kind of confidence can employees feel safe enough to let go of some old biases about how the company should operate, quickly become comfortable with new product and go-to-market strategies, and humble themselves to the fact that much of the reputation and relationships they’ve built before may have to be rebuilt.

These are difficult issues to deal with, and are often why many employees consider leaving when a new CEO and regime change takes place. On the positive side, however, a new CEO often means new energy, business growth and opportunities to move in new directions. Gain the trust and confidence of employees and they will be energized with new possibilities.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that, in many cases, a new CEO will be disruptive and unexpected and employees will have to deal with the uncertainty that that can cause. New leadership should make sure that they take the time to communicate how and why new decisions have been made. If employees find the new leadership impossible to accept or understand, the company may soon find itself facing the costly consequence of high turnover.

Of all the things I’ve learned in business over my 40-plus year career, the most important is that we all should learn to embrace change. A new CEO is often an exciting and inspirational event: Roll up your sleeves, pay attention to what’s happening, and do your best to communicate the new agenda and win people’s trust and confidence.


This Former Freelancer Now Leads FabFitFun, a Subscription Service With Hundreds of Thousands of Customers

In this series, Leader Board, we speak with CEOs, managers, founders and others who lead organizations to learn what makes them tick, what they look for in new hires and even where they eat lunch.

Only one in 10 women hold leadership positions, and Katie Ann Rosen Kitchens says it is her is mission to change those numbers. Kitchens, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of subscription service FabFitFun, practices what she preaches, with a staff of more than 150 employees that’s 70 percent female.

We want to be setting the new standard of what a workplace can look like and what diversity or being a more inclusive office actually means,” Kitchens tells EntrepreneurIt’s easy to get a little bit complacent as we make those smaller strides but that means that we’re still not getting to that real equality and I think being able to have those conversations is really important.”

Back in 2010, Kitchens and Giuliana Rancic launched FabFitFun as a female-focused website. In 2013, the company expanded its reach, creating a subscription box with curated products across beauty, fashion, health, wellness, technology and more. Today, not only has the L.A.-based company become a community for fans, a subscription service and an online publication, but it has cast the net even wider with FabFitFunTV, an on-demand streaming service for workouts.

Before launching FabFitFun, Kitchens was a freelancer for a variety of publications including The LA Times and Art and Living. So being a leader and learning how to manage others and scale a company has been an education for her. “I am definitely a little bit of a type A personality, and it’s hard to let go when you feel like you’ve been able to control everything for so long,” Kitchens shares with Entrepreneur.

We spoke with Kitchens to find out how she’s successfully scaled and spearheaded one of the most popular subscription box services around, as well as get her leadership tips and tricks.

On the most important leadership traits:

“You really have to lead by example. I think it’s hard to ask people to do things that you’re not willing to do. We are very much of the startup mentality so [we] will always be a little bit scrappy, [and] that feeling really translates down to our entire team and it makes us a little bit better off.

“Transparency is also really important. When you are a team of five people in total, which we were for many years, it’s really easy to communicate what [your] goals are. It’s much harder when you pass that 100-person mark. We really want to do a good job of making sure that everyone is aligned and know[s] what 2018 is going to look like. We are a very fast paced business so what’s true on Monday tends to not be true on Friday. So you have to have really good communication in order to make people feel involved and up to speed.”

On leadership style:

“I was a freelancer for most of those years. So it’s really been an on-the-job learning experience. I am definitely a little bit of a type A personality, and it’s hard to let go when you feel like you’ve been able to control everything for so long.

“We have done a really amazing job of hiring talented, amazing team members who are, quite frankly, much smarter than I am and do their jobs incredibly well, [so] being able to trust them is what has led to [our] growth over the past couple of years. It’s their chance to either sink or swim, but by giving people that sort of responsibility they are able to rise to the occasion.”

On habits that help her lead:

“I am a very early riser. I love the quiet time in the morning before I go to work and before my kids get up [so] I can go through emails and send off anything that I was not able to the day before. I also try [to] be in the moment as much as possible. We all know that balancing work and family life is challenging, so I love having those two hours with my daughters and husband in the morning where I can cook them breakfast, read them a story, get them dressed and feel like I’m being an amazing mom. I think that sort of separation is necessary otherwise you’re going to drive yourself crazy.”

On challenges:

“When we were sourcing products for the box, it was a new initiative and we were constantly explaining who we are and why we’re so amazing. And I thought if we could only get to 100,000 members no one would ever be able to say ‘no.’ And then we got to 100,000 members, and then we got to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of members, and the problem changed. So now the reality is no brands other than FabFitFun are asking for a single skew of this many units. And it’s really hard for even the biggest brands to take on that kind of production. It is probably the best problem to have being that we have this amount of scale. But certainly that’s a challenge that we are in the process of overcoming.”

On the most important traits in a new hire:

“Number one is enthusiasm. We want people who really want to work at FabFitFun. Startup life can sometimes be challenging because it is so fast paced and there is so much change. The people who tend to be successful are the people who really want to be here.

“I also think that you have to be able to speak your mind. We do a really good job of team brainstorming because you never know where the best idea is going to come from. Even if [someone] has an idea and it’s not the right idea, [they] might inspire someone else to think of [another] amazing idea.

“And then experience. We certainly have a lot of young, fresh, eager talent and there is something really amazing about that but over the past two years we have invested in talent that comes with a tremendous amount of experience. People who have had 10 years in operations bring a true gravitas and understanding that somebody who just graduated college can’t. It’s really important to have that balance.”

On recognizing employees:

“When we were around 30 employees, two of our amazing team members decided to make a compliment box. They literally took a FabFitFun box, cut a hole in it and encouraged everyone to write compliments throughout the week. Then on Friday afternoon, we would open up the box and read out all of the compliments to each other. And I think it’s very much a part of who we are as a culture, as a brand. It becomes a little bit more challenging after you hit 100 but we translated it into a new format: we use Slack and have created the Slack compliment channel so people can go in and tag someone who has done an amazing job.”

On team-building:

“Any time you get out of the office and [have] fun together really helps to build team spirit. Two company-wide initiatives [are] happy hours or Dodger games. We do lunch in the office two times a week. Sometimes the different teams can feel very separate from one another so we like to have these company-wide events where everyone gets to know each other. At the end of the summer we did a FabFitFun Olympics — our wonderful HR team put together a variety of relays, hula hooping contests and balloon building situations. We are a very ambitious group and it was a good way to channel that ambition.”

On lunch:

“This is probably not my proudest moment but because I have two young daughters at home, I pack as much into the day as I can and I have a million meetings so I eat either at my desk in my office or in a meeting. I do not leave the office most days — but that extra 45 minutes that I can spend with my team or getting a meeting in helps me condense my day.”

On unique office rituals:

“We’re just all very kooky people so I think our personalities translate to a really unique working environment so much so that we don’t need to create them. I always say that we are very much like a family, sometimes a dysfunctional family, but always a family nonetheless. I spend more time with the people in my office than I spend with my actual family, and I love them. These are people who I genuinely care about and like seeing every day. That’s really special.”

On office setup:

“We actually just experienced a big change. We were previously all on one floor but we’ve now just taken over the bottom floor [too]. We were just outgrowing the space too quickly. It is a very open concept space. Everything is glass. It’s really easy to see and communicate with the team. We always want that sort of open door policy — [it] just makes everyone feel like they’re on one team.”

On a strong company culture:

“It is a team sport. We are all one working towards unified goals. Someone else said it better than me that you think like a customer and act like an owner. We hope that that is something everybody in our company feels like because everybody has such a direct effect on what we do. The people who are writing articles, their stuff shows up on the site. Our merch team is finding the products that make it into the box. The dev team creates this beautiful website that we see every day. We want everyone to feel — and they do — they own a piece of [the business].

“We’re over 70 percent women. We want to be setting the new standard of what a workplace can look like and what diversity or being a more inclusive office actually means, and it’s not just gender it’s also ethnicity. L.A. is the most amazing melting pot when it comes to culture and having people at our office being a true representative of the city is really important to us.”

On cultural mistakes:

“We do company-wide all-hands meetings. And I think it’s really important to be as transparent and communicative as possible and for a while, even though we were doing these all hands, we weren’t necessarily communicating the information that people needed. We were meeting as a group but not giving them the details and the high-line goals. We really had to revisit what that structure looked like so it wasn’t just a meeting to have a meeting, and [instead] an opportunity to feel like we are empowering the team and giving them the information that they need to succeed. Without that information nobody understands why they are there.

On her biggest cultural win:

“I’m sure this is not a 100 percent true. So I don’t want to give you an entirely inaccurate figure, but I don’t know that anyone has ever quit FabFitFun. But certainly if anyone has quit, we could count them on one hand. And I think that’s a testament to the fact that it’s a pretty amazing place to work, that we are very supportive of our team and we’re helping them to further their careers and enable them to become better employees.”

On her role models:

“Sheryl Sandberg is someone who I could listen to all day long. I think she has changed the way we talk about women in the workplace. We obviously know that we are making strides to better what those relationships or that equality looks like but it’s not enough. It’s easy to get a little bit complacent as we make those smaller strides but that means we’re still not getting to that real equality. I love that she’s keeping that conversation going and realizing that we’re not there yet and what it means to you to get us there.”

On her favorite leadership book:

Lean In.”

On where most leaders go wrong:

“Having been there before I think not being able to trust your employees is a huge issue. Trying to micromanage everything at every level becomes simply impossible as you grow. And also, nobody wants to be managed that way. No one’s going to feel empowered if their boss is looking over their shoulder every second. We all want to be successful and we want the best for our company but in order to make that happen you have to give your team the freedom to rise to the occasion.”


Thinking About a Big Career Change? Ask Yourself These Questions.

In this series, Open Every DoorEntrepreneur staff writer Nina Zipkin shares her conversations with leaders about understanding what you have to offer, navigating the obstacles that will block your path, identifying opportunity and creating it for yourself and for others.

It can be difficult to make a big change. But while circumstances can sometimes be out of your control, what you can have is mastery over the skills and the confidence you bring to the table. Kristi Knaack Riordan says that both of these things can be taught.

Knaack Riordan is the COO of the Flatiron School, a company dedicated to teaching people to code to help them launch new careers as software engineers, while also developing a community of peers to help them succeed.

 “One of the things that is really special about Flatiron School is our mission statement: helping people transform their lives through education,” Knaack Riordan tells Entrepreneur. “That’s a pretty powerful thing.”

In the world of STEM, that opportunity can be tough to come by, especially for women pursuing these careers. According to data assembled by LinkedIn in 2013, representation of women in software engineering roles on average struggles to hit 30 percent.

But this is a gap that the team at Flatiron School is cognizant of and working to bridge. The school has seen 1,200 graduates, with classes that have ranged from 35 percent to 60 percent women. Not only that, but 48 percent of the school’s employees are women, and 55 percent of department heads are female.

 Read on for more insights from Knaack Riordan about the difference between transparency and trust, how to own your leadership style and how to go after opportunities with passion and conviction.

What are your responsibilities as COO of Flatiron School?

I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about communicating our strategy and making sure that people understand it and feel connected to it. I move information across the organization and I close a lot of gaps. I also get to spend a lot of solving problems.

From a more specific basis, I oversee education. For us, that is the operation of the business in many ways. I have our head online instruction and our head of in-person instruction reporting to me and I have marketing people and finance reporting to me. So that gives me a broad part of the organization that I get to work with and thinking about how I can help make all of those individuals and their teams successful.

What is a misconception that you think people have about education and opportunity?

The job that our instructors do is not just about conveying technical concepts and helping build technical fluency. It is [also about] about motivation and confidence building. When you set out to learn something really hard, you need to not only [understand the] technical elements of that topic, but you need to be able to not get frustrated and discouraged. We talk about perseverance, because if you keep at something long enough, regardless of what your preexisting aptitude was, you will eventually learn it.

There are a lot of parallels between instruction and great management. Great managers help people develop and thrive by also building their confidence. There’s a concept that we talk about education of your initial learning zone, your stretch learning zone and then your panic zone. What we do — and this is also what a good manager should do for people — is we don’t want people to be in that safe zone. We want to push them to their stretch zone, because that’s where you learn.

How have you grown and changed as a leader in this role?

Coming here [from my previous roles], the approach to doing business was so fresh and different. There was an integration of technology in virtually everything that we do here that I didn’t have in my last organization, even down to recruiting.

A word that is thrown around a lot is transparency. I have actually tried to strike that word in exchange for trust. Because I think that what people really mean when they say transparency is they want to have a trusted relationship, which means they have an opportunity to ask the questions they want to ask. They believe the answers they’re getting back are truthful and are candid, and that there’s actually a desire to develop the organization together in a collaborative fashion. We seek to develop a lot of trust in the organization in everything that we do.

When was a time in your career when you made a mistake? What did you learn from it and how did you move forward from it?

When you’re going through something that you know is going to change a lot of things, — it’s easy to go off, develop a plan and then come out and say, ta-da, this is a great plan. You shouldn’t be worried about it because we thought about it a lot. Without a doubt, I have done that in my career.

 A phrase that I talk about a lot is we have to bring people along with our thinking. You can’t expect someone to go from 0 to 60 with you in a one-hour presentation, when it’s taken you 90 days to do that. When you’re in a growing organization, things are changing all the time. We’ve tried to find ways to create time for [constant] conversation, to talk to people about what are some of the biggest problems that we’re wrestling with right now.

Treating people like adults and realizing that as leaders of the organization, words carry a lot of weight and have a lot of power. We try to be thoughtful about not seeing things in isolation and giving the broader context about what it is and bringing people along with our thinking in real time, rather than waiting for these moments in time where we feel like we have all the answers. People care. That’s why they are here. They want to be a part of that process. And when you give them an opportunity to raise their hand to express their opinion, you get more perspective along the way and make better decisions.

When was a time in your career when you had to advocate for yourself? How did you approach it?

My [leadership] style tends to be one where I ask a lot of questions and I do a lot of listening. I don’t to tend to make snap decisions. [In the past I worried that I came] across as someone who didn’t have conviction.

Now we’re starting to get into gender stereotypes, where women are not assertive, are not decisive, aren’t aggressive enough. I don’t remember why it had come up, but somebody had said something [to that effect to me]. I went to one of our founders and I asked him, “Do you think that I walk away from issues too soon? Am I a pushover?”

 He happens to be a very reflective person as well. He said, “I think that what you do is advocate for matters to a certain point, and then you walk away from it. But when you really care about it you come back to it. You always come back to it.” [After that conversation I realized] this is who I am. This is the way I operate. When I have conviction on something I will advocate [for it] but I’ll do it in my way.

What is your best advice for someone who is about to make a career shift?

I think everyone needs to create focus on what really matters to them. What are you willing to do? What are you willing to sacrifice? And what do you want? What are the three things that matter to you?

I think you really have to sit down and say, “What do I want and what am I willing to sacrifice? What am I willing to put out as my effort and what am I willing to give up?” There’s always trade-offs. I have three children. When I had babies, I was taking positions where I never worked at night and never worked on the weekends. I went home and I was with my kids every single night. Those are real trade-offs that we have to make. And it’s not like you make them for the rest of your career. Think about the next two to three years, not the next 15.

Be honest with yourself about what is most important to you. And whittle it down to a short list so that you can then evaluate opportunities and go after them with incredible amounts of passion, because you’ve really [have] the discipline in your own thinking about what’s most important to you. And when you find a work opportunity that really aligns with that, your passion for it and your desire to be in that role is really going to come through. And that’s where you’re going to thrive.


You May Not Realize This Divide Exists Between You and Your Co-Workers

For many people, their perception is their reality. But when it comes to leadership and advancement in the workplace, a recent study illustrates how people working in the same office — even sitting next to each other — can have two highly divergent views. This is especially true when it comes to ideas about the gains that women have made in the working world.

LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company recently released their annual Women in the Workplace study. Researchers surveyed 12 million people employed by 222 companies about their HR practices, as well as 70,000 employees about their experiences at work dealing with topics such as career, gender, opportunity and work-life balance.

 Female workers are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male counterparts, according to the report. However, in addition to the disparity in compensation and promotion between men and women, there is also a sizable perception gap between the genders, the researchers found.

“Men are more likely to think the workplace is equitable; women see a workplace that is less fair and offers less support,” the researchers explained in a summary of the findings. “Men think their companies are doing a pretty good job supporting diversity; women see more room for improvement. Given the persistent lag in women’s advancement, women have the more accurate view.”

The numbers tell the story: Thirty-seven percent of women surveyed agreed with the statement, “My gender has played a role in missing out on a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead,” while only eight percent of men said the same. Fifty-seven percent of women agreed that they “have equal opportunity for growth as [their] peers,” while 62 percent of men reported the same.

Forty-nine percent of women (vs. 63 percent of men) said, “my company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity.” And while 58 percent of women reported that gender diversity is an important priority, only 47 percent of men agreed.

Even women’s perceptions contrast sharply with reality. When considering companies where only one in 10 high-level leaders is female, roughly 50 percent of men said they thought women were well represented in leadership. Yet a mere one-third of female respondents said they found women to be well represented when presented with this same one-in-10 ratio.

If perceptions differ so starkly when it comes to what must be done to create an equitable workplace, think about what other divides might exist between you and your co-workers or employees. You might have opposing views on the direction in which your company is going, who your customer is or what product will make the most impact.

As you grow your business and hire new members to your team, make sure that you are in constant communication about top priorities and values — and work to get everyone on the same page to move forward.


You Can’t Do Everything, and If You Try to You’ll Do Even Less

It’s almost a badge of honor amongst entrepreneurs to claim that one has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I remember many year ago, when I was starting out as an entrepreneur, reading about many successful entrepreneurs who had ADD, or at least thought they did, and feeling left out, almost jealous.

I was actually happy when, in my mid-thirties, my parents revealed to me that as a child I had been diagnosed with ADHD, they simply never told me about it. However, there’s a reason they call it a disorder — it can lead to a lot of chaos. In my case, ADHD seems to manifest itself in what we often call “shiny object syndrome.”

In simple terms this means the temptation to get distracted by all the great opportunities floating around. If you’re all like me, you have difficulty resisting these ideas and tend to involve yourself in too many activities and projects — becoming overcommitted beyond your ability to deliver.

But it’s not just the number of ideas that swirl through our entrepreneurial brains that are the issue, it’s how we react to them. The primary force working upon us is FOMO, or “fear of missing out.” For me, FOMO has become a particular challenge. If you’re going to try to become a thought leader you need to overcome FOMO.

During the past week I turned down these opportunities:

  • Speaking at a TEDx event in China.
  • Taking my family to Israel with me on a trip for the Video Trends for 2018 conference where I’ll moderate a CMO panel (I’m still going, it’s leaving my family at home that’s the hard part).

It’s not that these things are bad, they’re good, but the heart of strategy is choosing what not to do. Only by choosing not to do these things was I making space for other things that are even more important.

A year ago I didn’t have the tools I needed to resist temptations like these. I would have given in, for sure. Today, here are some of the techniques I use to forsake the good, and even the better, in favor of the best.

1. Compare any choice to two equal alternatives.

Inspired by the book Different by Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon, I learned our brains don’t work well with “Choice A or nothing,” scenarios. Of course choosing something is more attractive than choosing nothing.

Would I rather speak at a TEDx event, or not? Would I rather take my family to Israel, or not? That’s like asking a kid “Would you rather have ice cream or nothing?” Everything changes when “Or not?” is replaced with an attractive alternative.

Would I rather take my family to Israel, hire a new team member, or buy a RED camera? Whatever the choice is that you’re considering, find two other options that are just as alluring and ask yourself which one you would most prefer.

I find that when I do this often I don’t choose any of the three, because it awakens my mind to the possibility there may be a fourth option I haven’t yet thought of, and maybe I should wait for it to manifest itself.

2. Remind yourself this is probably not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I will have more opportunities to speak at TEDx events. I will have more opportunities to go to Israel and take my family along. This is not the last chance I’ll ever have in my life to eat a cream puff — how many times has that thinking led you to eat more than you should?

3. Get a second opinion.

“I’m thinking of doing XYZ, what do you think?” Asking this question to a trusted advisor, friend or family member can lead to insights you would never have on your own.

One mistake many make about FOMO is thinking of it as a bad thing. FOMO is not your enemy or a foe to be vanquished, it is a power to be controlled, like fire. It can lead us astray and cause us to miss out on maximizing our potential, but it can also be a tool that helps us find our genius zone and our greatest joys in life.

If you want to live abroad, use FOMO proactively to find increased motivation to do your research, buy a plane ticket, and move. If you want to spend more time with your family use FOMO to remind yourself that once your kids are 18 they’re gone forever and those opportunities to have them as little kids in your home will never come back.

FOMO = not good, not bad, just a tool for you to use for good or bad, as you choose. Once you understand the power of FOMO and how to control it, you can reduce the number of things you’re working on, improve the quality of your work on what remains, and get control, rather than letting poor choices control you.


10 Tips on How to Become a Thought Leader

People often ask me how I became a contributor for a major platform like Entrepreneur. In fact, every time one of my articles get published, I get Facebook and Linkedin messages and emails asking, “How do I get published there?” I also get asked how I got to be a contributor on national TV news programs or how I get quoted in articles or interviews.

The simple answer is that I became a thought leader.

A thought leader is someone whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential, and it’s not easy to get yourself in that position. However, through hard work, dedication and creativity, almost anyone can be a thought leader. It requires a powerful and visible personal brand and then taking one or more of the aspects of your personal brand to an even higher level.

Here’s how I did it: In 1999, my company was one of the largest wholesalers of photographic supplies in the country. We had a five-share of the film market, meaning that we sold five percent of all the single rolls of film in the country. Our customers consisted of small and medium-size retail stores, including camera stores, located in all 50 states.

By 2006, though, my company was failing. Digital cameras had replaced film cameras at a meteoric rate and were being sold everywhere, driving margin to near zero. Film sales went to near zero. The small stores were being bought out by large chains or put out of business by them. People started buying on the internet and Amazon started taking over the photo business. The number of camera stores decreased from more than 10,000 to a few hundred, and almost none were still profitable. I had to do something, or my 60-year-old business would also be done.

So, in 2008, I opened a 5,000 square foot retail camera superstore in New Jersey. Everyone thought I was either crazy or a fool or both. But, I had a new idea — a different concept than anyone had thought of for a camera store. My store’s operation was based on an experiential-educational concept and on the power of photography itself.

Within five years, we became a recognized brand in New Jersey for camera equipment and photography supplies, and we became one of the largest, single-location camera stores in the country. In 2013, we were picked as the best camera store in the country by DIR Magazine. Our education program became the largest and most successful of its kind and is frequently copied by other stores across the country.

How did we make our camera store so successful so quickly? It was, in large part, the way I used social media to build my personal brand in conjunction with our business brand. And when I sold that business in 2015, I was able to focus my attention on bringing my powerful personal brand, which I had worked on for years to build, to an even higher level, and eventually into thought leadership.

So, here are the top 10 tips that I used to become a thought leader in social media, personal branding, photography, retail and parenting:

1. Love your topic.

In order to become a thought leader, you are going to have to write, speak, produce video, get interviewed and come up with original ideas about the topic you want to specialize in. You are going to have to do this for years, and you are going to have to repeat the same ideas over and over again.

If you don’t love and believe in the topic you are talking about, you will surely not last long enough to become a thought leader. I have given similar speeches on social media and personal branding over 30 times, have been interviewed more than 50 times and have written numerous articles on this topic. There’s no way I could do that if I didn’t believe, with my all my heart, in what I am talking about.

2. Be authentic.

When you try to be something you are not or say things you don’t believe in, trust me, the audience will know it. Thought leadership can only be achieved with authenticity. Period.

So be yourself.

3. Get experience.

To become a thought leader, you must establish yourself as an authority. That means you have to have life experience, produce valuable content and then promote it and yourself.

Do it repeatedly over an extended period. To become a thought leader on fatherhood and parenting, I had to raise five kids on my own for 20 years until they became successful adults, produce tons of articles, podcasts and videos and write book, a memoir, Leader of the Pack.

4. Write, write, write.

I said it three times for a reason. The process of taking your thoughts and transferring them to a blog so that others will see is transformational and necessary for you to develop your unique voice. Your voice will determine your success or failure at thought leadership.

When I decided to write about my journey as a single father, I had all sorts of ideas about what I wanted to discuss. It was only when I published my writings and saw my audience’s response that I understood what I was actually trying to say and what was valuable to others.

Plus, the best way to get to be a contributor on a top publication is to have written many successful articles on your own. Over the past three years, I have written over 100 articles.

5. Ask for help.

I was a math major in college and grad school. I wasn’t a writer and I didn’t like it, but I knew I had to do it. So, I reached out to a branding expert to help me with my writing and formulating a voice that was powerful and avoided getting me into trouble by saying the wrong things — something easy to do when writing about divorce and ex-wives, as I do. It wasn’t until I got very good at writing that my articles were accepted into major publications.

6. Be social.

Pick your best social media platforms (you don’t need every one of them) and be social every day. Social media is not something you do in your free time — it’s a lifestyle. A great way to get recognized as a thought leader is to have continuous, high-engagement posts on your topic.

You should also interact with other influencers and thought leaders. It helps your engagement and you can learn things from them.

And make sure you regularly engage with your audience. Don’t make being a thought leader all about you. Make sure to regularly like and comment on other people’s posts on social media. Your audience will love you for being an active member of their community. Doing so enables you stay top of mind with your followers by being visible and making thoughtful contributions on posts from others.

7. Use live video.

It’s possible to become a thought leader without live video, but you are putting yourself at a disadvantage and not using an amazing free tool that exists on Facebook, Instagram, Periscope and now on Linkedin. If I get an idea for something valuable to share with my audience, I can now do it instantaneously, even on the street.

And within a few minutes, I have content that can bee seen by thousands. Here are three examples I recently recorded that illustrate how an informal live video can get thousands of views:

  1. Has Amazon lowered Whole Foods pricing?
  2. My birthday thoughts inspired by a question my daughter asked me last night
  3. Live video has made LinkedIn and Social Media fun again . . . and more powerful.

8. Network in person.

This oft-neglected activity is very important to your ability to test your thought leadership in person. Collect new ideas, find people to interview (or to interview you) and build your confidence. Get off your butt, get dressed up professionally and network in-person.

9. Pitch yourself to media.

Even if you can’t afford a publicist, you can pitch to media yourself. Write them, tweet at them and pitch a coherent and completely polished story (don’t make the reporter or producer work), and you have a good chance — assuming you have established yourself.

Be bold about it. I received a Linkedin connection from a TV host in England and immediately emailed her asking to be put on her TV show. She responded that I was “cheeky,” looked at my social media and writings and immediately scheduled me.

10. How badly do you want it?

That’s my personal slogan for a reason. The biggest complaint I hear when I speak about becoming a thought leader is how long it takes and how hard it is. My answer is simple: If you want the huge benefits of becoming a thought leader, you have to put in the time and effort. If it was easy, everyone would be a thought leader.

I know that doing and completing all 10 of these tips can be a daunting task — especially if you are just starting out. But, if you want to be a thought leader badly enough, you can do it.


The Leadership Lesson I Learned Waiting for My Flight to Crash Land

What could the guy next to me possibly be thinking? We were both on the same American Airlines flight. And it was doomed.

The flight, which took off on a grey afternoon from Buffalo, New York, was headed to Philadelphia. It was just a short flight and for the most part conditions were fine. I was in Buffalo for a business trip and looking forward to getting home. The plane was one of those smaller regional jets typical for routes like this.

The guy next to me was an American Airlines pilot – but relax, we weren’t sitting in the cockpit. It was one of those times when pilots take empty seats to “jump” from one city to another in order to make their next assigned flight. He sat next to me a few minutes before the door closed and, after a quick greeting, he tipped his cap over his eyes and settled in for an off-duty snooze.

We took off.

You know when your plane takes off and you feel it go up and up and then you hear the little “bong” which indicates you’re over 10,000 feet and then the flight attendant comes on to welcome you, remind you of the rules and tell you how to use the in-flight internet? Unfortunately, none of that happened. Within a few minutes of takeoff, I noticed something odd. The plane wasn’t gaining altitude. It kind of hung around a few thousand feet off the ground. For a while.

My curiosity didn’t last long. The pilot came on the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said in an even voice. “As you’ve probably noticed we haven’t reached out cruising altitude. That’s because we’re having a problem with the landing gear.”

Uh. Oh.

“The landing gear,” he continued. “Well…it hasn’t come up all the way. We think it’s stuck but we can’t be entirely sure. So we’re going to fly around for about 45 minutes so that we can…” (and this is the part no one wanted to hear) “…burn off some fuel before we go back to Buffalo and…” (he actually said this) “…attempt to land.”

Interestingly, my fellow passengers seemed to take this horrific information in stride although there was an obviously strained silence throughout the cabin during those 45 minutes. But what really caught my attention was the guy sitting next to me — the jump pilot. He just kept napping. He showed absolutely no reaction whatsoever. And trust me — I wasn’t the only one watching the guy. Every set of eyes was on him. I’m assuming if he so much as frowned — let alone reach for a parachute — all hell would break loose. But no, he just kept quietly snoozing away.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, everything turned out fine. The plane landed without incident, albeit amidst a cluster of fire trucks and ambulances with their lights flashing on the runway. As we taxied back to the gate, the jump pilot next to me stirred and tapped me on the shoulder. Showing me his phone he said “Hey, just wanted you to know that I got a message from the airline that this flight will be delayed two hours.”

“Are you kidding?” I asked him. “That’s what you’re concerned about? We almost died! Were you even aware of what was going on here?”

He paused for a moment. And then he said this: “Sure, I was aware the whole time. And I guess I can tell you now: I was shitting myself.”

I had no answer to that. But after a minute or two of silence he turned back to me. “But one thing I’ve learned in this job,” he said with a wink. “You never let the people who are watching you see you sweat.”

I hope to never have to have that kind of situation again. But, as someone who runs a company and employs people who are constantly watching me, I took the American Airlines pilot’s advice to heart. I know that other difficult challenges still lay ahead for my business. But whatever those challenges are, I intend to behave like that pilot. My rule is that I will never let my people see me sweat either.


The Normalization of Mean Leaders: A Recipe for Disaster.

Many of us are wondering in these glory days of the Kalanicks, Shkrelis and Cagneys how we got here. How did so many mean men get power and maintain it? And how do some of them continue to do so?

I researched these questions for my book Mean Men(released September 5, 2017) and have found the answer to be multifaceted, touching upon the economic and cultural developments of the last few decades:

1. Explosion of Entrepreneurship.

As the American economy has shifted away from manufacturing and toward the information and service sectors, the cost of starting a business and the time it takes to scale up have fallen significantly. At the same time, investors have changed their horizons dramatically, looking to ride innovations for short-term profit and a quick payout. This shift in the investment economy has created a business environment friendly to creative people with entrepreneurial tendencies who would rather pave their own way as soon as possible. Why trudge through the ranks of a large corporation when you can sell a vision that promises to change some element of our world?

Until the tech boom at the end of the 20th century, established corporations offered the vast majority of business world opportunities for young workers. Ambitious people needed to “pay their dues” for at least a decade before launching a disruptive start-up on their own. And, while this gave most an education in how effective organizations should be led, it was not for the impatient. In contrast, someone with the requisite entrepreneurial personality characteristics can now speed through an incubator workshop, develop a business plan, and immediately start pitching it to attract investors. Seemingly unheard of barely two decades ago, one can land millions in angel funding, and the early stages of venture capital investment dollars, to become head of a company before he – or she! – would have graduated from college.

Spend time to learn how to build and work in a team? Nope. That’s just the “soft stuff.” Build up emotional intelligence through seeing it modeled in other contexts and have a chance to receive feedback on one’s interpersonal skills? Just more seemingly irrelevant “soft stuff

2. Booming Venture Capitalism

Further fueling tech start-ups in particular was an expanding venture capital industry. With hundreds of millions and then billions of dollars sloshing around in their coffers, investors demanded quick – and high – returns. What’s a VC to do? Get that money working to first stand-up these firms and then put enormous pressure on them to “get big fast.” Scaling up a disruptive enterprise tests the entrepreneurial personalities of the CEOs being told to deliver on the promise of fast growth under considerable pressure.

Unfortunately, a less-noted consequence of this pressure is increased tolerance of toxic behavior in entrepreneurial leaders. As the outsize prioritization of profit at the expense of

healthy organizational cultures has taken over the market, mean men in control of profitable start-ups feel that they can do anything they want to as long as they keep investors happy. They are mostly right. By-and-large, the investor community and those who sit on the boards of these new firms have still not digested data from academic research showing this is not a winning strategy. Often, even in the very short run.

3. Indispensable Creativity

The transition to a knowledge economy has allowed brilliant inventive thinkers to shine as it requires a steady supply of new ideas. The result? Those who can consistently deliver disruptive innovation are often held to a lower behavioral standard because they provide this particular necessary edge.

But there are other necessary “edges.” Founders are also seen as crucial to keeping the integrity of a company’s creative vision alive, so when they exhibit alarming behaviors, few alarm bells start going off. Bad behavior rarely results in any lasting consequences. Often, wildly abusive and unethical – or immoral – behaviors go unchecked because of the perceived need for the Founder’s ability to stay focused on the vision and the growth train roaring down the tracks. “Get big fast” takes precedence over “upstanding corporate citizen building a firm to last.” It may be short-term thinking but it’s short-term investing that’s actually calling the shots.

4. American Hyperindividualism

The mythology of the United States is filled with stories of men with grand ambitions, big dreams, and crazy inventions. We love hearing about an individual overcoming adverse circumstances to do something great. Huck Finn’s radical independence, Ben Franklin’s

bootstrapping from modest means to international Renaissance-man fame, and the humble origins and impressive biographies of the Founding Fathers serve as larger than life symbols of American social mobility and opportunity. However, until the 1960s that prizing of individualism was tempered by strong communal ties among neighbors, church-goers, coworkers and family members.

While that pre-60s social order widely accepted and perpetuated injustice and discrimination against many social groups, it had the temporary advantage of holding in check some very strong individualistic impulses. The counter-culture revolution allowed much social progress in our society by bringing attention to and fighting oppression. But the distrust in authority that it engendered also frayed communal ties and paved the way for the unfettered individualism a vast swath of the business world lives by today. This is the ideal mean man habitat—we are quick to forget their misdeeds and put our faith into them again, because we think this is just how people get things done now.

5. Weak Checks and Balances

Many assume that a corporation’s Board of Directors serves as a natural counterweight to the CEO’s authority. Were the CEO to make dubious choices, we assume the Board can step in and take action. However, the modern CEO — with gobs of special-classed stock shares — has the ability to not only select most members of the Board but may now enjoy the luxury of knowing the board can never truly fire him. Mr. Zuckerberg and the Google guys figured this out quickly and, fortunately for both firms, they are rather upstanding leaders. Kalanick thought he was immune but, as we saw, he was so toxic as to bring down the wrath of a particularly strong member of his board. These newer governance configurations can and will compromise a Board’s ability to serve as an effective balance when the CEO engages in behavior harmful to growth and long-term sustainability. Additionally, many CEOs also serve as the board Chair (often referred to as The Royal CEO), reducing the level of oversight and, in turn, the fear of repercussions for any missteps.

6. Normalization of Mean

Mean men in power outside of the start-up world (or other worlds that require the entrepreneurial personality) are similarly quite free to continue to exert power in spite of behavior others find distasteful or harmful. They may be clever enough to avoid any actionable offenses and stick to their guns when confronted with their wrongdoing, bending reality to fit their needs. But, as hard as this may be to hear, we the public that accept their lousy apologies, look past abuse and harassment as long as possible because denial feels more comfortable, and subconsciously admire meanness in our leaders, are also responsible for its proliferation. (Exhibit A: Lance Armstrong.)

When did mean become so normal that we make excuses for it to ourselves when we see stories in the news of yet another man having abused his power? He was just trying to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. Or, when you work at that level, you have to be ruthless. We now take it for granted that our self-interest is a fine compass by which to set upon life’s journey. Popular culture reinforces this with reality TV where competitors talk smack, undermine each other, and form cliques against undesirables in an attempt to ‘survive.’ We relish the spectacle of the crushed singer on a competitive show where a hilariously mean judge gives them a reality check as much as we long for that triumphant moment when the Susan Boyles of the world get to shine. This is the culture we live in. Is it any wonder we don’t raise the alarm when real-life powerful men embody the meanness that the popular culture nourishes within each of us?

What all this adds up to is a recipe for disaster — a perfect environment for the mean man to take and maintain power in the business world and outside of it. Culturally, economically and politically, we accept mean as the norm and even a necessity. This implies it is also up to all of us to resist this tendency and speak up against damaging actions, especially when they come from the top where they have been allowed to thrive for so long and with so little resistance.



15 Ways to Lead With Effective Communication

Too many entrepreneurs become estranged from their teams, turn off partners, and lose deals, all because they lack basic communication skills. Often this lack of skill gets passed down to teams and the problems are perpetuated through the organization.

Does your employer know how to communicate? Do you?

As important as these skills are, somehow they don’t teach this stuff in schools. Now, according to Simon Sinek, when our educational system and parents create graduates who lack basic social graces, it falls on employers to make up the difference.

But what if you’re an entrepreneur with no one to help you build the soft skills? Or an employee trying to advance with no mentor in sight?

The journey starts with these 15 tips to build your workforce communication skills, offered from working entrepreneurs, speakers, authors and coaches. The first one is mine.

1. Ask more than one person to do it, and nobody will.

In psychology it’s called the bystander effect.

When someone else is present, before I act I’ll stop to consider if my actions are socially appropriate. I run a marketing agency, and when I ask a group of people in my agency to do something, as in “Hey, will somebody copied on this email take care of XYZ task?”, it’s much less effective than asking a single person to take responsibility.

Being a passive bystander is virtually hard-wired. This is why individuals who take emergency training are directed, when someone gets hurt, to point at someone and say “You in the red shirt, call 9-1-1!” Rather than, “Someone call 9-1-1!”

2. Say what you mean, mean what you say.

Leonard Kim is the founder of Influence Tree, and says that meaning what you say is hard. “In order to do this, you have to show compassion and empathy, and talk to the other party like they matter to you. Because guess what? They do.”

Your actions after you speak are just as important, because if you didn’t follow through on what you said in the past, people won’t trust you really mean what you say in the future.

3. Use simple global communication.

More than ever we’re doing business across cultures, and simple language is key, says Jan Smejkal, the China & APAC Community Director of Startup Grind. “If you are building a business in a country where the knowledge of English is relatively low, and where the cultural differences might cause additional difficulties, focus on:

  • Using simple language to deliver the message. (Note, simple does not mean simple minded.)
  • Avoiding sarcasm, which can easily be misunderstood.
  • Getting the right partner and employees who will help you bridge the language and culture gaps.”

4. Don’t rely on your device.

“A real conversation is almost always more valuable than a digital one,” says Carl Woolston of “Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or set up a real meeting.  Relationships are about connection, and connection is an investment.”

5. Study your body language.

Robyn D. Shulman of EdNews Daily says: “Your body language can have greater power than words.”

Here are four places she says to get awareness:

  • Eye contact — pay attention and check if your listener is checked-in (or out).
  • Posture — get relaxed and open.
  • Your arms — decide what you’ll do with them.
  • Vocal tone — sound warm and approachable.

6. Keep quiet.

Joseph Lazukin, Founder of calls this expert positioning.

“If you’re not the expert,” he says, “don’t insert yourself into conversations and discussions where your untested advice may backfire and discredit you from future relationships and opportunities.”

“The power of listening and of being a quick study in the presence of others when communicating in a private or group setting is often underestimated,” he says, “but remains easily one of the most powerful traits for advancement and growth you can possess.”

7. Listen to listen.

“We are trained to listen to reply,” says Virginia Phillips, author, speaker and coach at Academy of Entrepreneurial Excellence. “But if you can listen to gather data about another person’s situation, perspective, and personality, you can apply a greater level of emotional intelligence and increase your chances to influence the conversation and the individual.”

8. Simplify, simplify.

Murray Galbraith is CEO at Myriad, a landmark tech and innovation event based in Queensland, Australia. He says to do the hard work of streamlining your communication before you deliver it.

“Filter your message down to its core elements before attempting to communicate it to others. Reducing cognitive load is the greatest gift you can give a modern professional, and they’ll be far more likely to acknowledge — and ideally, accept — the value you’re offering.”

9. Boost your emotional IQ.

Cydni Tetro is a high profile tech entrepreneur and co-founder of the Women Tech Council. She says the best communicators have an emotional IQ, or the ability to understand and influence the emotions of ourselves and others. “Learn to read people and situations so you can navigate the complexities to find positive outcomes,” she says.

10. Be willing to say no.

“Unfortunately, most of us want to be liked by others so we tend to agree, even if the right thing is to disagree, or more importantly, to say no,”  says David Politis, a marketing and communications professional.

How do you say no?

“Be nice about it,” says Politis. “Explain why you’re saying no, while providing an alternate solution at the same time.”

11. Talk with people — not at people.

Dave Davies, CEO of Beanstalk Internet Marketing says “we all find ourselves falling into this trap, and as a marketer I have to try to stop myself AND clients from tumbling in regularly.”

Business owners often tell people what the owner wants them to know, without interacting to understand what the other person wants. Rattling off technical specs, or cluttering pages meant to be helpful with what THEY want to sell, as opposed to focusing on what the visitor is looking for…This is one of the biggest obstacles in communication I see on a regular basis.”

12. Be concise.

Whether you’re writing or speaking, author Josh Bernoff says that fewer words are better. For example: “Put the key conclusion or ‘Ask’ in the first two sentences.”

13. Add value.

“You should look for a way to add value every time you communicate,” says Jeremy L. Knauff, CEO at Spartan Media. “That creates more impact and makes your message memorable.”

A handy tip for how to practice adding value? Before opening your mouth, ask yourself “What value will the person I’m speaking to get from what I’m about to say?”

14. Be consistent.

“When you’re consistent in your words, tone, and all other forms of communication you begin to create a personal brand,” says Daniel Marlin, an entrepreneur and marketer from Cape Town, South Africa. “You’re influencing somebody to work with you, trust you, remember you.”

15. Be honest.

“Integrity in communication is being the same person with the same opinion all of the time, no matter who’s asking, says Cheryl Snapp Conner, CEO and Founder of Snapp Conner PR. “You should be 100% honest; always. It is possible to be both honest and tactful, and this is a trait you should hone.”


6 Reasons You Don’t Need a Business Partner

People starting off on their entrepreneurial journey often feel the need to partner up before they launch a company. That’s what I did when I started in December of 1999 and as I learned, partnering can actually create more stress and difficulties for you and your company than if you flew solo from the beginning.

In my experience, entrepreneurs are far more likely to get into trouble or fail if they make someone a business partner for the wrong reasons: believing that the person has a certain expertise that they feel they lack or simply because they’re afraid to do it alone.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t hire people who have special expertise or reward people who make special contributions. And I also know how lonely the entrepreneurial path can sometimes be. But none of those reasons alone justify making someone a business partner.

There is no more expensive way to finance a business than by giving away equity, although you probably won’t realize it until your business starts succeeding. Giving equity to the wrong person will wind up creating all kinds of problems that will distract you from what you should be doing — namely, building the business.

Here are some of the big issues that can face you if you pick the wrong partner:

1. Different work ethics

Many entrepreneurs find themselves working with partners who don’t share their enthusiasm or passion for the business. Partners who can’t meet deadlines, follow up with clients or follow through with their responsibilities can bankrupt a new venture. Unethical partners can also contribute to the downfall of a business. Although you hope to know your partners beforehand, you may not realize their true colors until they have damaged your reputation, stolen money or disappeared on you when it’s crunch time.

2. Lack of experience

Some business partners don’t have the experience or skills to do their job successfully. You need to count on your partner to deliver results and when they don’t, that leads to angry customers and angry employees.

3. Disagreement on direction

On the flip side, a motivated, talented and brilliant partner can cause problems if you don’t agree on the long-term goals for the company. This can lead to weeks and even months arguing over key decisions. Disagreements consume time, resources, cause stress to confused employees and lead to inconsistent business practices.

4. Sharing profits

Entrepreneurs happily share profits with partners when they bring additional value to the company. If your partner does not increase business enough to justify their involvement, however, they shouldn’t receive a share of the profits. If you make the same amount of money with a partner as you do without a partner, you may have selected the wrong person to help you run your business.

5. Liability for your partner’s actions

You take responsibility for whatever happens in your business. If your partner violates any laws, you may end up in court, too. This can lead to fines, expensive lawsuits and liabilities for damages you had no part in.

When you have a business partner, you have the added stress of making sure you know everything your partner is doing. Even if you and your partner trust each other, you have to monitor your partner’s work to avoid negligence, misuse, or violations. You have to make sure you both understand applicable laws and establish a set procedure for running the business.

6. Your reputation is on the line

Even if your partner doesn’t break the law, his or her actions may come back to haunt you. A shady or dishonest partner can lead to widespread distrust of your company which could do real damage to your business and personal reputation.

Carefully consider whether you need a business partner and what benefits they’ll bring you and the business before you sign on. I am much more successful, happier and creative without a partner. In my mind, when you build a business alone, you truly have succeeded!