Networking and Career Management

Leadership and Branding Lessons From The Cub Scouts

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What can you learn watching Cub Scouts sell popcorn?  Marty Brej, my friend and former boss at Thomson Reuters, recently helped his son sell pop corn for his scout troop.  As he explained it to me over dinner:

  • Actively Engage: Briefly & confidently explain to passers-by who you are and what you are doing
  • Wear The Uniform: Be official…YOU are really the product people are buying!
  • Exemplary Behavior: Behave in a way that show respect for the uniform
  • Always Say “Thanks”:  Especially when someone declines to buy; you never know who will come back
  • Market Your Best: Display your best selling products prominently and effectively
  • Up-sell: …but have a fallback plan if people can’t afford it
  • “The Cub Scout Gives Good Will”: Support what others ask of you as you are asking them to support you

It struck me that these are all essential lessons in business and leadership.  These are also key concepts in networking, self-marketing and building your professional brand.  I thought about breaking each out of these down further, but I think the message is pretty straight forward: be genuine and exemplary in your conduct, providing value for value.  Also, buy some popcorn.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

A Quick Test Of Your Brand and Influence

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Try this test to gauge the strength of your brand and influence at work.  Assuming your firm has Caller ID, call a few people that you know are in the office:

  • THEY PICK UP: A good sign; they know it’s you and they answered
  • YOU GO TO VOICE MAIL: Assuming they’re not on another call or stepped away, you may be suffering from “bad branding”
  • YOU GO DIRECTLY TO VOICE MAIL: You may have been diverted altogether; this is not a good sign

While this test isn’t fool-proof, it may give an indication as to how you are perceived, which has a direct impact on your effectiveness.  Any comments?

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

Just The Facts: Writing to Get Your Problem Resolved

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To get movement in resolving a problem, you’re probably going to have to write to someone.  Whether you’re trying to get justice from the airline or hotel who wronged you on your last business trip or if you need to reach out to a peer to clear a log jam that’s blocking your team, written communication is sometimes the best path forward.  Here’s a simple framework that I’ve found effective over the years for resolving personal and business issues:

  • What’s Wrong: Clearly and concisely state the problem. Keep it factual – not editorial.  No emotions and no speculating on someone else’s frame of mind.  Just the facts.
  • Impact to YOU: Be very specific and unemotional about how the problem impacts (or will impact) you or your team. Again, be concise and factual with no editorial comments.
  • Impact to the READER: Make it clear that you realize you may not be the only one impacted and that this isn’t 100% about you. How might the reader also be impacted?  Beware of sounding threatening; you probably won’t need to connect all the dots for the reader.  An overview of the “dots” is enough.
  • Propose a Solution: Never dump the problem on the reader, as he may well “solve” your problem but not in the way you’d hoped. This can leave you negotiating your way out of a solution that you asked for.  Instead, give the reader a quick and graceful exit by proposing a solution that can be accepted or countered.  Clarify how your proposal benefits all parties.  This way, you stand a better chance of getting the result that you want or at least negotiating something close enough.
  • Follow Up: Let the reader know when you plan to follow up, proposing a reasonable amount of time and then do so.
  • Respect: Be smart about cc’ing others if you’re trying to resolve a business issue. Ask yourself what impact this may have on the reader and on getting the results you want.  Will cc’ing others truly help or will it “give the reader something to think about?”  Don’t give them something to think about.  Get the problem solved.

I like to say that it’s always better to give someone a printed sheet and a red pen than a blank sheet and a black pen.  Applying this approach, along with some respect and common sense, should allow you to quickly solve your problem and move on.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

ATTENTION “TALKERS”: Learn How To “Fence With Control”

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As an executive, being able to communicate effectively at all levels is important.  Equally important is the ability to effectively listen.  If you’re a Talker like me (and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am definitely a Talker!), you have to find a good technique to balance the two and be an effective “bi-directional” communicator.

I was talking about this very topic with Mark Hall, a friend and mentor of mine.  Mark likens communication to the sport fencing, knowing when to lunge, parry, feint, attack, etc.  I think it’s a good analogy.  Depending on the type of communication, the various aspects of the analogy have merit.  For example, in a negotiation there is a time to listen but there may well be a time to cut your “opponent” off with a lunge.  On the other hand, in a coaching session, one is far more likely to “disengage.”  Different techniques for different scenarios.

As a Talker, I want to share a few effective techniques that I’ve learned that help me keep my mouth shut and “off the attack” when attacking isn’t helpful.  The goal of these techniques is to avoid cutting someone off when they’re talking, which sends the dual message that 1) you’re not listening; and 2) that you’re not interested:

  • Smoke Detector: We talkers are intimately familiar with that overpowering urge to just cut off the other speaker and SAY SOMETHING!!  I refer to this as the “Smoke Detector”.  Use this urge as a signal NOT to talk.  The few times when this may be the wrong approach will be far outweighed by those times where this technique will benefit you.  Don’t overthink it – when you “hear the alarm” get out of the building!
  • Count To Three: When the urge strikes you, first wait for the other person to STOP speaking and then deliberately and slowly count to three….and THEN speak.  I learned this technique from a former boss/colleague of mine, Ann Weaver and it is extremely effective.
  • Finger Tap: An alternative to ‘Count to Three’ is the Finger Tap.  It’s basically the same approach but you make the physical effort of tapping your finger three times on your knee.  This technique came from Mark Hall.
  • Remember The Goal: Remember the goal of your conversation and ask yourself, “is what I am about to say REALLY going to help me get to my goal?”  (and you have to ask it exactly like that, by the way).
  • Reflect: If you’re not familiar with reflective listening techniques, Google and learn them.  It’s standard “communications stuff” with which most of us are familiar but if applied diligently, these techniques work.  It’s a good way to make sure you are RESPONDING to the other person and not just talking about their question or concern.

We Talkers need to be on a constant vigil to keep ourselves in check and strike a balance between effective speaking and listening.  Only by doing so can we be the effective communicators that our executive roles require of us on both a personal and professional basis.  Whether communicating up, down or laterally, the ability to “fence” with style and grace will allow you to not only be successful in your own right but to be a strong example to your teams and colleagues.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese

Two Simple Things You Should Be Doing At Work TODAY

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Brand Networking

Most people agree that managing your brand is an important part of managing your career.  Books such as David D’Alessandro’s Career Warfare outline strategies to do this very thing.  Most of us also realize the value in building, maintaining and leveraging a personal network and we do so with LinkedIn, networking groups and through events within our professional communities.  But how often do we apply this thinking to our day-to-day activities in the office?

Ask yourself whether or not you are doing two key things:

Managing Your Brand:

You’ve established your brand outside of work, but are you also managing your brand inside your current firm?  First off, what IS your brand at your current firm?  Do others associate you with success?  Are you viewed as a strong team player, who will do whatever it takes to get things done?  Are you sought out at your firm as someone who knows how to deliver results, both personally and through your teams?

Ask a few “trusted advisors” within your firm to give you their candid perception of your brand and LISTEN.  Is your internal brand the same as your external brand?  More importantly, is it the brand you want?  Be conscious not only of how you are perceived within your firm but whether your words and actions exemplify the brand you wish to establish.  Seek  congruence!

Managing Your Network:

Your ability to get things done at work relies not only on your scope of authority, but more importantly on your scope of influence.  Having a strong scope of influence is the result of having a strong internal network.  Are you taking the time to get to know people who do not report to you and who are not your peers, making sure you understand their roles, goals, and pain points?  Are you making sure that you know who is who before you need to ask someone for a favor?  To turn it around, do others know who YOU are and what YOUR role, goals and pain points are?

Making sure you build, maintain and leverage your personal network is important in getting things done and in establishing and strengthening your brand.  Your ability to successfully influence others to achieve both your and their success says a lot about your ability to manage both your brand and your network inside your firm.

Thus, in the choice between authority and influence, always choose influence.  Authority is given and taken away by others but influence is yours to earn or lose.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese

Staying Focused On Your Agenda

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I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, as I’m working on a post about the importance of having and working a strategic agenda that I haven’t yet posted.  However, a recent post on Morgan Hunter’s Lotus MBA blog made me think about this simple test that I’d like to share. 

Keeping your professional and personal long-term objectives in mind:

  1. Ask yourself, “What do I REALLY want?” (you have to ask it like that, with the emphasis added)
  2. Then ask yourself, “Is what I am about to do/say/write really going to get me closer to what I really want?”
  3. Finally, ask yourself, “HOW?

This is a good way to make sure you are advancing your strategic agenda while not saying, writing or doing something that you’ll regret.

© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese


The Power of Indifference

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Preserving our sanity is an important part of being a leader.  Part of any good ‘Sanity Preservation Program involves understanding and properly embracing the ‘Power of Indifference’.  Let me start out by telling you what this is NOT.  The Power of Indifference does NOT mean being indifferent to the quality of our work, our team’s work, or our business partner’s and BT partner’s work.  Nor does it mean indifference to the consequences of our decisions, our partner’s decisions, our actions, the actions of others…hey, I could go on (and often do) but not now.

There is power, liberation and sanity in being able to “let go” and not let things bother you.  It’s only a job – it’s not life.  Just because work is part of your life (the part that provides the funding, anyway), doesn’t mean that work IS your life.  It’s not.  So don’t treat it as such.  You owe it to yourself to keep things in perspective and to preserve, protect and defend your sanity.

For most of us, almost nothing we do at work really matters.  Our work doesn’t end
war, doesn’t cure cancer and doesn’t make a better world for our children.  Some day in fact, all of our work will be thrown away and mocked by people who never even met us and life will go on.  Ultimately, there are only two things that matter at work:

  1. The relationships we build; and
  2. The deals we broker

Both of these help us grow as people and increase the value we can bring to our teams, each other and our partners.  So in the end, work is but the stage upon which we play out the drama of our careers – the value lies in your ability to keep things in perspective and to control events, rather than letting events control you.  When you are on the cusp of frustration, anger, or fury of the Russel Crowe or Mel Gibson variety, ask yourself this
question (and you have to ask it exactly like this):

“What difference does it REALLY make?”

Keep this in mind: Always be passionate about work; NEVER be emotional about work.

© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese

The Next Change In IT Leadership….Are You Ready?

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Hello and welcome to my blog.  My purpose in writing this blog is to explore the changes in our industry and how such  changes will impact us including how we must change ourselves, our teams, how we interact with our business partners and how we manage our careers.  I’m hoping that I can share some of my observations, getting some good feedback in the process and also create a friendly forum for other authors and readers to share their thoughts.
My focus will be on IT strategy in the business environment, including how we introduce, implement and manage change (both operational and cultural), how we organize our teams, how we execute our work, deliver services and partner with the business.  This is my first forray into the blogosphere, so bear with me as I figure out how to get the blog set up and looking presentable.  Enjoy your visit and thanks for stopping by!


Much has changed in the world of information technology and the changes show no signs of slowing.  In recent years we’ve seen a very quiet but significant change in thinking about IT leadership.  Where at one time, a strong technical background in application development or infrastructure was a non-negotiable prerequisite, more recently the trend has been toward a focus on business knowledge.  I expect this will only continue.

Part of this trend is based on the business’ desire to control costs.  C level executives in IT are expensive – less so Director level management.  Where at one time, CIOs and CTOs reported directly to the CEO, more and more technology leaders are again reporting to COOs and CFOs, causing many to question the need for C level technology executives at all.
Another part of this trend comes from the maturation of our workforce.  With much of the workforce already having a basic technology background (and increasingly more than just a basic understanding of IT), the mystery around understanding technology is seen less as a challenge requiring a highly paid former-geek and more an opportunity to recruit someone with strong business knowledge and a working appreciation of technology, such that this knowledge can be leveraged to improve business operations and drive revenue.
Technology is being seen less and less as a separate and distinct expense that one must incur and instead is being seen as a business investment from which management expects a return.  This paradigm shift not only impacts how business and technology interact, but also will require a change in the type of leadership required.  IT leaders will be seen less as technologists who work with the business, but as business leaders who specialize in technology.
The essence of this change is the shift from ‘information technology’ to ‘business technology‘.  More than semantics, this change in mindset requires technology leaders to think of themselves as business resources first and foremost.  The ability to understand the connection between business operations and revenue retention and growth and to leverage this knowledge in developing and executing strategic roadmaps is where the value of the future IT leader lies.
This said, the need for IT leaders to both understand and embrace this change is essential.  As we come out of the Great Recession, I expect we’ll see a major shift in IT leadership and management across all industries.  We as technology leaders must be able to successfully navigate this change, understanding what it means to us today, tomorrow and how we’ll adapt.
Change has always been the essence of IT.  Unfortunately, people are not hard-wired to embrace change.  We like things very predictable and systematic.  Since we’ve chosen this industry, it is incumbent upon us to first manage ourselves and our own resistance to change, then as leaders, help our teams navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology.
In the months ahead, I hope to delve deeper into some aspects of what we do, how we do it and how we can be effective.  Comments are ALWAYS welcome and patience, as I get better at this, is definitely appreciated!