Get to know executive coach, trainer, and speaker Stephen Friedman.

LifeSpeak expert Stephen Friedman

What is your favorite topic to talk about and why?

My favorite topic to talk about is social perception and social cognition. This refers to the ways in which our social environment influences what we think, how we reason, how we communicate and how we make decisions and how we make judgments of situations and people. I like this topic because it brings us down to earth so to speak – it helps us get in touch with our humble humanity. I find that when people see beyond the veneer of our professions, status, ego, etc., we are more willing to do the kinds of things that make work and people easier to manage. For example, when we know that our emotions influence what we see in others, as opposed to believing that we are objective in our views of others, we are more willing and better able to consciously make adjustments to our behavior. Knowing our limitations helps us be more real and makes us more likely to focus on getting along and doing the work as opposed to focusing on being right and winning.

You talk a lot about finding meaning at work.  Can you explain what that means in a practical sense?

In a practical sense, finding meaning is about making the best of our incredibly valuable time. In Western society, we will spend much more time in work/career related contexts than most anywhere else. As such, it just makes sense to be sure that you find some semblance of meaning in that time. What could be more practical than that?  As I say to my students, nobody has “met sales targets” in their eulogy.  Finding meaning does not necessarily mean that we should save the world, work only in a charity or even to follow your passion – that’s not realistic. What it does mean is that at least half of the time, we should be doing work activities that involve activities, products or services that we like or can connect to in some way. Who wants to dedicate their live to activities that we see no meaning in?

Can you give us some thoughts on “recognizing” employees appropriately?  I have read a lot about the wrong way to do it, but what are some tips on the right way?

Let’s start with the most simple stuff. Recognition need not be about elaborate programs (although those can be good too). It really is about doing things like reinforcement and reflection. For example, if you ask a staff member to do something new, to develop or grow in some way, we need to be sure that if they do rise to the occasion, we comment on that by noting (verbally) that they have improved. It’s about “catching people doing good” as opposed to just catching them doing something bad. Too many leaders do the “no news is good news” approach. I don’t love that.  It is also about knowing about and showing an interest in people as people. That is, to ask about and comment on things like life events/milestones, vacations and the like.

Do you have any rules about providing feedback to employees?  What are a few things that a manager should always keep in mind?

Yes! Never blindside people – make sure they know when feedback is coming so they can prepare too. Make feedback part of management not just an add on or a form that HR has you fill out. Be sure when you give feedback, the manner in which it is delivered (tone, words) is actually helpful to the other person. So, just telling someone that they failed at something or have a deficit does not give them much to act on other than to defend themselves. Instead, be sure to be prepared to offer a suggestion for improvement and/or give them a chance to focus the meeting on their own solution.  Any feedback that does not result in improvement is a failed attempt at feedback. Take responsibility for the delivery of feedback yourself as opposed to thinking only that effectiveness of our feedback is the employees’ responsibility.

I love what you say about developing a personal brand.  Please share with the audience what this means and how one markets one’s brand after developing it?

Every successful product or service has a definable and distinguishable brand. A brand communicates a promise of consistency and uniqueness. This formula is behind all the great brands that we all know. Like anything that we wish to “sell” or that we want others to “buy”, it makes sense to find a way to show that who we are as employees and as individuals and which promises something which is consistent, reliable and unique. As is the case with a product or service, a brand can help when we want to show who we are and how we can add value.  As opposed to the use of common buzz words – team player, strategic thinker – a brand is more articulate, compelling and unique.  Marketing you brand begins with thinking about your unique, value added offering and then clearly communicating it to your team, boss, organization. Then, it requires us to live it and be sure the work we do taps into it.

There is so much out there about how to be a good leader.  It is so overwhelming!! If you were to share 2 or 3 of your most useful tips on being a leader, what would they be?

The first is to choose to be flexible and adaptive.  Effective leaders are able to adapt their approach and style to what the context requires as opposed to sticking to preferences.  People are different and we need to treat them different – they are not the same as us.

Secondly, take the time to develop rapport with your employees. Work is personal and people have dynamic lives. Showing that we care – at least a bit – about their lives outside of work, their vacations, their hobbies/interests – makes solving problems, giving feedback and getting buy-in, much easier.

Thirdly, despite the old adage that “it doesn’t matter if people like me as a leader, only that they respect me” does not work so well. You will get further if you try to be positive, approachable and likeable.  I find that thinking not just about what we want to say to somebody but also thinking about how it will be received, helps a great deal.

What is the single best practice/action that helps leaders and managers become more effective?

The best managers I know begin by learning how to be a great boss by asking each employee how they can be great/better as opposed to just telling them their own expectations.

How can managers and leaders deal with “those pesky Millennials” who are entitled, constantly want feedback and expect too much?

The first step is to accept that you are not going to change them and that this is who you have. So, endless complaining about them to each other will be draining, frustrating and useless.  Every generation has commented on “kids today” so this phenomenon is not so unique. If we continue this, we will end up sounding like a crotchety old person – you don’t want that. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to be more flexible and to learn how to accommodate differences.

Anything about the world we live in that irks you right now?

Intolerance, war and blaming others for our issues.

Which inanimate or natural object do you identify with most?

I strive to be like– water. Why? Because it flows, is adaptable, clear and flexible.

Do you have a motto you live by?

Everyone is fighting a battle that we don’t understand so be kind.

If you were able to snap your fingers and be anywhere in the world with your family, where would it be?

Home. More often.

Fruits or vegetables?  Why?

Is chocolate a vegetable?