How the Digital Age Requires New Digital Body Language Skills

In this post ‘How Effective is your Digital Body Language? Let’s find out…‘, Charlene Li reports on her conversation with Erica Dhawan, the author of a book on Digital Body Language. A passage in particular has attracted by attention: “reading carefully is the new listening, and writing clearly is the new empathy.”

Attention on reading is now very scarce as we see so many messages on our digital platforms and it is true that reading carefully is akin to modern listening skills.

The authors goes on to recount how proper skills at digital communication is also essential in the field of empathy. Since communication is now going through the written word on electronic messages, conveying empathy through this medium is now an essential skill.

You can’t get away with showing empathy in traditional body language only. We must master the skills of digital body language to build a culture of empathy and respect and showcase that we’re listening and that we value each other.

The post goes on to highlight 3 recommended practices:

  • Assume good intent
  • Practice virtual water cooler moments
  • Show your vulnerabilities

The digital age requires new skills and we’d better pay sufficient attention to developing those to remain effective in communicating in particular to the younger generations!


How Courage, Anger and Rage fit together

Austin Kleon – a famous author on creativity – writing about ‘What to do with your feelings‘ mentions in particular the issue of courage. “People often ask me how I got the courage to put my work into the world. I’m not sure I have any courage, but I do have rage.”

He continues explaining how anger can be channeled in an useful emotion (although this requires quite some control) in a situation where there is a need to react to something out there which is not quite right.

Whenever you are out of ideas, there’s someone, somewhere, with bad ideas that need to be corrected. But you don’t necessarily have to talk about the bad ideas, or take them on directly, you can just articulate the good ideas that cancel them out.”

Anger could thus be the source of positive alchemy, if used right. And it is true that more often than not, ‘courage’ requires ‘rage’ to express itself.


How to Improve Personal Projects

Seth Godin in his post ‘Five useful questions‘ advises us to ask some fundamental questions on our personal projects so that we address the right things and so that we don’t let us being distracted by less important stuff.

  • What’s the hard part?
  • How are you spending your time?
  • What do you need to know?
  • What is the scary part?
  • Is it worth it?

Having the right answer to those questions enables us to identify which projects are really those that will make us evolve and improve.

I like in particular the questions about the hard part and the scary part. It is those parts we will struggle to address, not necessarily because they are so hard, but because they are beyond our comfort zone and usual capabilities. Still if we want to progress we need to address those and make sure we increase our comfort zone reach. This is particularly true about getting the right data and the right interactions to reach our goals.

It is really useful to interrogate our projects with some fundamental questions about alignment and whether they will effectively lead to self-improvement.


How We Need to Be Able to End Things Gracefully

In this post ‘Ending it gracefully‘, Seth Godin reminds us how it is important to anticipate that most initiatives will end and probably “fail” at some stage. And it is typically at those moments that we need to be able to remain graceful.

You can pull out every stop, fight every step of the way, mortgage your house and your reputation–and still fail. Or, perhaps, you can quit in a huff at the first feeling of frustration. The best path is clearly somewhere between the two. And yet, too often, we leave this choice unexamined. Deciding how and when to quit before you begin is far easier and more effective than making ad hoc decisions under pressure.” 

However, more importantly I believe is the capacity to be grateful to what happened before the end, and be graceful to all of those that have supported and participated to the adventure. The worst is when the end is the start of a long-winded drama.

Most initiatives we take will end eventually, and not always in the best of situations. Let’s learn the skill of ending gracefully and moving on.


How to Motivate People in AI Environments

Motivating people working in AI-rich environments (where many operations are actually driven by AI) is a new challenge. Some researchers work on this issue though, as explained in this interesting Fast Company article ‘Why organizations might want to design and train less-than-perfect AI

While it is clear that in the future, value will be created by close collaboration between humans (very strong for creative tasks) and AI (very strong for repetitive tasks). Refer to our post ‘How We Need to Learn to Work with AI‘ for example. What is new here is the idea that AI itself must be adapted to fit this human interaction in the way it behaves.

Giving too much authority to AI systems can unintentionally reduce human motivation.” How can we retain motivation? According to some Stanford research, the trick is to rely on the fact that “decision-making authority incentivizes employees to work hard“. Therefore, “there may be times when—even if the AI can make a better decision than the human—you might still want to let humans be in charge because that motivates them to pay attention

The deal is not to have the best AI, but a slightly imperfect AI or an AI that asks humans for directions and instructions are well timed moments may be the best approach for a harmonious human interface.


How Leaders Are Needed to Overcome the Status-Quo

This excellent Seth Godin post ‘Living on the delta‘ was a great inspiration. The first topic is about how to deal with status-quo, with those little inadequacies and wrinkles we can’t really get to deal with, because they don’t seem so important.

Status-quo can be invasive. I sometimes meet people who have been managing their small company or organisations for decades in the same way and are desperately outdated in the way they do things. While it is obvious for an outsider it is not for them, and that’s because they have just been managing it, not looking at it from the point of view of a leader.

Leadership – doing the right things – is different from management because it takes a step back to ask whether what is being done is really the right thing to do. Leaders challenge the status quo, managers don’t. And that makes a world of difference. And in today’s world we obviously need more leadership than management!


How to Leave a Current Client in the Midst of a Services Project

In this post ‘On quitting a freelance gig‘, Seth Godin tackles the issue of how to leave a current client because the relationship is not satisfying. For me, the principles of this post do not just apply for freelancers, they do also apply to all professional services firms.

The gist of the problem: “Freelancers need to worry about doing the right thing as well as maintaining their reputation. Leaving a project in midstream hurts your reputation, and your promise needs to mean something. But sometimes we express our fear of change by sticking around longer than we need to and longer than we promised to.”

It can happen that there is a client mismatch between what we can offer and our values, and how the client behaves or simply, how his needs evolve. This mismatch can be from the start and not have been identified in earlier business development stages; or it can develop over a longer intervention. In any case, it is important to be able to decide to stop the relationship if it can be damaging.

First, to avoid this situation, there needs to be a thorough assessment of the client culture before taking the job. This is not always easy, so we also generally start with a limited intervention which serves both for us and the client as a discovery. This gives the possibility to part ways without having to terminate a longer contract. Similarly it is important to make sure your contract has a regular meeting clause at each stage of the project, where it can be stopped by any party after having assessed the results so far. And finally should you decide to part ways, it is nice to provide the client with a contact or a reference of someone that can take over.

Leaving a client in the middle of a services project is not the best situation. It needs to be prepared and properly timed. Still sometimes this is unavoidable to escape destructive relationship, and we need to recognize the possibility.


How We Need to Be Graceful in Times of Crisis

I like this quote attributed to Dustin Poirier (an American martial art artist): “When times are good, be grateful, and when times are tough, be graceful“. I find it fits particularly well with the current economic crisis.

I was of course particularly touched by the recommendation to be graceful when times are tough. This is hard, and requires a lot of awareness. Too many people tend to focus on their own interest and lose gracefulness in tough times. This can be observed every day in the current Covid economical crisis.

I realize however through the quote that the appropriate mindset to deal with tough times also comes with the need to be grateful when success hits. It comes to recognize that we are not the sole cause of our success and that many others have contributed; and that is also why it is important to be graceful when times are tough with everyone and everything that surrounds us and contributes to our being.

Gracefulness in crisis is not easy when stress is high and the horizon is blocked by unknown factors. I still believe it is a good mindset to strive to. Are we all sufficiently graceful in the current crisis?


How to Change Your Leadership In Times of Disruption

This useful post by Charlene Li ‘5 Ways To Change Your Leadership In This Crisis‘ propose some useful hints at what needs to change to be more effective in this climate of disruption.

The suggested changes include:

  • Developing a disruption mindset
  • Establishing stability and security with structure and process
  • Using openness and transparency to create accountability
  • Communicating in 3D to nurture relationships
  • Identifying opportunities for the future

I like this point of combining driving for disruption while creating some sort of safe space for people not to get lost (through processes and structure). Those recommendations in fact combine assuming leadership for change with providing comfort, thereby creating a fine balance to get everyone onboard.

This balance exercise between leading change and disruption and at the same time providing reassurance to the team is exactly what is required by a leader in those tough and strange times – and that’s certainly quite a rare set of capabilities.


How Company Culture Is Essential To Prevent Long-Term Catastrophes

This interesting Forbes article ‘Avoid A Company Catastrophe With A Culture-Focused Approach‘ explores the issues of inadequate company culture in terms of long-term catastrophic outcomes, taking the specific example of Boeing and other previous catastrophic failures and major accidents.

A common topic emerges which is the capability for the organization to properly consider divergent opinions. When looking at the changes that are needed within Boeing, the most difficult appears to be “intellectual inclusion — a willingness to actually listen to other people’s opinions. It’s a difficult change that most companies aren’t willing to make. When incorporated correctly, however, it’s very powerful.”

Many organisations I know tend to have a ‘shoot the messenger’ attitude and have tremendous difficulties addressing diverging opinions. However it is quite true that this is an essential capability, even more so today when the world proves unstable and ripe for disruption.

Both on the short term and in the long term, a healthy corporate culture is an essential investment to navigate the hurdles of an uncertain world. It should probably be much more the focus of attention of senior leadership when building a company meant to last.


How the Collaborative Age Requires A New Leadership Mindset

This MIT-Sloan paper ‘Leadership Mindsets for the New Economy‘ takes the perspective that the new economy requires a shift in leadership practices.

It starts with the excellent quote by Patty McCord, former chief talent officer, Netflix: “In today’s world, everyone has to adopt a leadership mindset. We have to think of ourselves as members of a leadership community“. This means that it is recognized that in the collaborative age, leadership capabilities need to be more widely spread inside organisations.

I find the rest of the paper a bit disappointing and too MBA like, with the identification of four key traits of leaders in the modern economy – producers, investors, connectors, and explorers. It does not go back to the question of how to make everyone in the organisation a leader – and how to make sure everyone plays the part he or she is the best about among those four traits. And that’s clearly the most important.

While this issue is recognized (“building a collective leadership capability is the strongest route to competitive advantage in today’s fast-paced world“), tomorrow’s determining leadership trait is indeed to allow the growth of leaders in all levels of the collaborative organisation. I’d rather see research exploring that direction.


How Excellence is a Moral Decision

In this Gapingvoid post ‘Creating excellence is not a job. Creating excellence is a moral act‘, the point is made that “Excellence is not a law of physics. Excellence is a moral act. You create excellence by deciding to do so, nothing more

This means that excellence is what you do when no-one is looking, and it is a personal commitment. It can even become one way to define onself like Horst Shulze co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton Group is quoted saying “And life becomes much more valuable. It becomes much more fulfilling. It becomes something where you’re using your time to define yourself, and the first one who will see it and will be happy about it is you, yourself.

This also means that striving for excellence can’t just be imposed from above by a manager. It is a real leadership act and requires leaders to demonstrate their commitment too in everything they do.

Excellence is not a quick recipe and a buzz word. It is a moral decision and requires strong leadership to spread.