An expert in the fields of charisma, trust, influence and persuasion, Olivia Fox Cabane gives people the skills and the self-confidence that lead to outstanding performance. From a base of thorough behavioral science, she extracts the most practical tools for business; giving her clients techniques she originally developed for Harvard and MIT. Olivia has lectured at Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT and the United Nations; she is a frequent keynote speaker and executive coach to the leadership of Fortune 500 companies. In addition to being a regular columnist for Forbes, she is often featured in media such as The New York Times, Bloomberg or BusinessWeek; and was recently profiled in The Wall Street Journal. A former Advisory Board Member of Columbia University’s AIESEC Council, Olivia has both French and American nationalities and is fluent in four languages. She is the youngest person ever to have been appointed Foreign Trade Advisor to the French Government. Her latest book is The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, published by Portfolio/The Penguin Group (2012)
Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Charisma Myth, a few general questions. Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Cabane: In my late teenage years I was such a socially inept and awkward introvert that I realized I really only had two choices: either exile myself to a desert island or figure out how to make this whole human thing work. I chose the latter– but I’m still keeping the desert island option open… By my late teens I had become quite anxious about my ability to ever smoothly function in society, and was therefore extremely keen to study anything that might help me interact better with other people.
Morris: All organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas. How best to develop that leadership?
Cabane: The one perspective that I can bring to the table is on how leaders can be charismatic; high charisma can certainly be useful in effective leadership. There are costs to be borne depending on what sorts of charisma you want to wield. Effective leaders need to understand what sort of charisma they’ve got, and the costs associated with that. A good leader might want to enhance their natural form of charisma or develop alternative forms, appropriate to the costs that they think are acceptable.
Morris: Many peak performers in executive search claim that they can make an accurate, almost definitive evaluation of a candidate within the first 3-5 minutes of an interview. Is that possible? Please explain.
Cabane: Whether or not such an impression is accurate, the fact is that people do make snap judgments in about two seconds, regarding other people’s education, intelligence, trustworthiness, and even their level of social success. This topic is explored in the book in some depth, including how you can take control of, and influence, such snap judgments
Morris: When asked why she wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, here is Susan Cain’s response: “For the same reason that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Introverts are to extroverts what women were to men at that time–second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to ‘pass’ as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and, ultimately, happiness.”
Do you agree? If so, how can introverts obtain “full citizenship”?
Cabane: One of the myths that get busted in the book is that introversion is a handicap for charisma. In reality, introversion can be a major asset for certain forms of charisma, such as Focused Charisma. Introverts feel no compulsion to be in the spotlight, which allows them to effectively implement many of the likability techniques described in the book.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to The Charisma Myth. When and why did you decide to write it?
Cabane: The honest answer is that the publisher came to me, because they’d heard about the lectures that I give and the consulting that I do in this area. They were interested in charisma explained from the science perspective, and they understood that there simply aren’t many people who know the hard science behind it, and who can also make it fun, and engaging, and practical.
Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.
Cabane: There were quite a few! Here are two of my favorites. The first has to do with just how prevalent the impostor syndrome is, and just how high the levels of business are that it reaches. The second is about how effective some real-life Jedi Mind Tricks are, in terms of achieving charismatic body language.
Morris: What are the most common misconceptions about charisma? What in fact is true?
Cabane: Long believed to be an innate, magical quality—the original Greek root χάρισμα refers to a gift of divine grace—charisma has in recent years come under the scrutiny of sociologists, psychologists, and cognitive, behavioral, and even neuroscientists who have found that, far from being an innate, magical quality, charisma is simply the result of learned behaviors. In fact, in controlled laboratory experiments, researchers were able to raise and lower people’s levels of charisma as if they were turning a dial just by asking them to adopt specific (charismatic) behaviors
One common charisma myth is that only extroverts are charismatic. In reality, research shows many charismatic introverts. In Western society, we place such emphasis on the skills and abilities of extroverts that introverts can end up feeling defective and uncool. But introversion can actually be an advantage for certain forms of charisma.
Another myth is that charisma requires attractiveness. Yes, good looks do confer some advantage; but they’re not a necessary condition. In fact, charisma itself makes people more attractive. When instructed to exhibit specific charismatic behaviors in controlled experiments, participants’ levels of attractiveness were rated significantly higher than before.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Olivia cordially invites you to check out the resources at her website.
Here is an excerpt from an excellent article written by Paul J. H. Schoemaker and featured online at the Inc. magazine website. To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain deep-discount subscription information, please click here.
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The best problem solvers see a complex problem through multiple lenses.
Here’s how to become a better strategic thinker and leader yourself.
In 2009, J D Wetherspoon, a chain of more than 800 pubs in the UK, was facing declining sales. Demand for beer had been down for five years. In addition, pricing pressure from super market chains was intense, and higher alcohol taxes further squeezed its already tight margins.
Most people see it as a sales problem and recommend better marketing and promotion. But this reflex may be wrong. In Wetherspoon’s case, the company examined the problem more deeply, looked at data, and framed the situation from multiple angles. In the end, they found the real problem: A subtle but profound shift in consumer preferences. As a result, the chain responded with much bolder actions, transforming all its pubs into family friendly cafes during day hours.
The strategy worked. Wetherspoon saw its earnings per share jump by 7.1 percent in the first year. Two years after this frame shift (2011), it has maintained its earnings per share and, with the investment in this new strategy, its free cash flow is up 12.9 percent. Exploring multiple problem framings, by zooming out rather than in, gets you to the root of issues and more creative solutions.
If you fail to do this, you risk solving the wrong problem.
Ironically, the more experience you have, the harder it will to break from conventional mindsets. Leading companies often get stuck in old business models. Kodak engineers developed an early version of the digital camera, while the rest of the company remained focused on chemical film processing. Microsoft executives doubted the value of online search as a revenue model. Barnes and Noble seemed convinced that people would always want a physical book in their hand.
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman attributes shallow framing to people substituting easy questions for hard ones. We often miss the crux of the issue by drawing imaginary connections between what we see and what we expect to see. As our own book Winning Decisions explains, the essence of critical thinking is to slow down this process, learn how to reframe problems, see beyond the familiar and focus on what is unique in any important decision situation. Here are [two of] four ways to hone these critical thinking skills:
1. Slow down. Insist on multiple problem definitions before moving towards a choice. This doesn’t need to be a time consuming process – just ask yourself or the group, “How else might we define this problem – what’s the core issue here?” This should become a standard part of every project scoping conversation you have, especially when the issue is new or complex
2. Break from the pack. Actively work to buck conventional wisdom when facing new challenges or slowly deteriorating situations. Don’t settle for incremental thinking. Design ways to test deep held assumptions about your market. Of course, different is not always better so seek to understand the wisdom inherent in conventional wisdom as well as its blind spots.
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This article was co-authored with John Austin and is second of in a series examining the key components of strategic aptitude: anticipating, thinking critically, interpreting, deciding, aligning, learning. For an overview of all six skills see 6 Habits of Strategic Thinkers.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Paul J. H. Schoemaker just published Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success at the Far Side of Failure (Wharton Digital Press). He serves as Research Director of Mack Center for Technological Innovation at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches strategy and decision making. He was previously at the Univ. of Chicago, from where he spent an extended sabbatical with the scenario planning group of Royal/Dutch Shell in London. Paul is also the founder and chairman of Decision Strategies International, Inc, a consulting and training firm specializing in strategic planning, executive development and technology solutions. He has written more than 100 academic and applied papers, and is the (co)-author of several earlier business books including Decision Traps, Decision Sciences, Wharton On Managing Emerging Technologies, Winning Decisions, Profiting from Uncertainty, and Peripheral Vision.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Russell Goldsmith, chairman and chief executive of City National Bank in Los Angeles. In its “Story Idol” competition, he says, employees talk about “what they did that promoted teamwork or helped a client by going the extra mile.”
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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What’s Your Story? Tell It, and You May Win a Prize
Bryant: Tell me about the culture of your company.
Goldsmith: We talk a lot about stories. They’re a really important part of how we teach and reinforce the culture, and how we reward behavior. Maybe it’s because I came out of the entertainment industry. If you had talked to me about a project when I was at Republic Pictures, I would have said it’s about story. With movies, if you don’t have a great script, forget it.
One of the things I noticed at City National is that we have a lot of great stories to tell. If you look up City National, one of the stories you will see is the story of Frank Sinatra’s son who was kidnapped. The first C.E.O., Al Hart, was a real friend of Frank Sinatra’s and famously opened the vault on a Saturday and got the ransom money. That happened in the early ’60s, but people are still telling that story. It’s a source of pride.
We brought in consultants to teach people how to share stories in a more organized way that underscored the culture. We do something called “Story Idol,” and every quarter there’s a competition among our 79 offices. It’s a way to give colleagues a pat on the back and a moment in the sun for doing the right thing, and it democratizes and decentralizes positive reinforcement. We then have a Story Idol competition for the year in a big meeting with the top 300 people in the company. People tell stories about what they did that promoted teamwork or helped a client by going the extra mile. It’s like telling stories around a campfire, but they’re doing it around conference tables.
Bryant: How does Story Idol work?
Goldsmith: It’s all online, on our intranet. People make submissions — about 50 to 100 each quarter. It’s kind of crowdsourced, and people vote on the best one.
Bryant: And the winner gets what?
Goldsmith: The people who submit the winning stories all get iPads. The winners themselves — the colleagues who are singled out for going the extra mile to help our clients — they get significant cash awards. But what matters most is the recognition, and the respect from your peers as you stand on the stage in front of 300 people.
Bryant: Let’s shift to hiring. What questions do you ask?
Goldsmith: By the time somebody gets to my office, they have been vetted for their skills. So I’m looking for the character of the person — the energy, the enthusiasm, the creativity. But I also want to know how focused they are on how this job would fit into their career. And I always ask people, what are your expectations for this job? I tell them, “If we make a mistake here in hiring, it won’t be good for us, but it’s going to be dreadful for you. So it’s a lot better if you get all your expectations out on the table and we get all our expectations on the table. And if there isn’t a good match, we are both better off, especially you, if you don’t come here.”
That tends to work well. People usually open up and say: “Well, here is what I’m looking for. Here’s what I expect. Here is what I want.” And then I will tell them, “Here’s what I want.” It’s about me making sure we’re clear about what they are trying to do. And people do give off signals that you can pick up.
Bryant: Like what?
Goldsmith: Recently, somebody told me about how he wanted to get involved in a lot of community work, and his examples were kind of obscure. They weren’t going to help generate business, and I could just tell that that’s what he really wanted to do. He didn’t really want the job he was applying for.
Bryant: What else do you look for?
Goldsmith: I also ask if they have questions for me. That’s important. Not because I want them to kind of butter me up or something. It tells me several things. Sometimes people don’t have a single question. And if you have any curiosity, here is your window. I mean, you are thinking of changing your entire career and you have 40 to 60 minutes with the C.E.O., and you don’t have a single question about the company?
Bryant: That’s happened?
Goldsmith: More than once. That’s not somebody who is going to fit in our company. Then the interview is over. It’s impossible. If you have questions but are too intimidated to ask, then you’re in the wrong company. If you have no curiosity, then you are in the wrong company. Then, if you do have a question, I can tell a lot by the kind of question. Is it a fawning question or is it a real question?
I also give candidates a no-politics speech. It’s pretty simple: We don’t put up with politics in this company. If that’s the way you operate, this is the wrong place for you, and we’ll figure it out and you won’t succeed here.
Then I try to draw the person out. Are there politics in the company you are in now? I can tell a lot about somebody by the way they react to that. Do they embrace the no-politics rule? Do they say that’s fantastic, or that’s the way it is where they are now and they really like it? Or do they say their current company is not like that and they’re unhappy about it. We don’t have a perfect batting average on hiring. Nobody does, and that’s O.K. And when I’ve found out that somebody I hired turned out to be political and deceptive, I’ve fired him.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.