The Human Side of Zuck

Articles pop up all the time about the importance of social media for C-suite executives. It’s a great promotion tactic for thought leadership, helps humanize a brand, and at its core, it’s a great way to network.

Enter Mark Zuckerberg, the 32-year-old CEO and Co-Founder of Facebook. I have a combined fascination and appreciate for Zuckerberg; in many ways, he paved the way for my career in social media strategy with the launch of Facebook. What’s fascinating though is his personality; he’s a textbook developer whose success has thrust him into the limelight since Facebook’s launch in 2004.

I work with a lot of digital people — most of whom would join me in a collective eye roll at being labeled “creatives.” The faces of our web design and development team are pretty fabulous, and while they’re definitely social, their work is so screen-centric that I find myself chatting with them on gchat or via e-mail more than in person.

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t strike me as much different — as a developer, but also as a CEO. He regularly updates his personal Facebook feed with major brand milestones, all of them so perfectly on-brand and message — ie: clearly vetted by someone on his comms team.

But here’s what special, and where he breaks free from the mold: he embraces the innovations that he’s invested in. From Oculus to Instagram, Zuckerberg has started to add a deeper layer of personality to his updates. Since adding dad to his resume, he’s even offered subscribers of his feed a glimpse into the life of his beautiful daughter Maxima.

Alongside Facebook’s investment in virtual reality, its not-so-new Live feature is perhaps one of the most important for the channel, and one that Zuckerberg has really embraced. My favorite broadcast was one that he aired before Sunday’s debate. Zuckerberg streamed live from his Palo Alto backyard, where he was drinking sparkling water and smoking meats. Commenters, myself included, began to dub the broadcast #GrillTalk, and I sincerely hope it takes off.

While Zuckerberg isn’t the only Facebook exec that I follow (I recommend following along with Boz and Ruchi Sanghvi, too!), I think he’s a game changer for C-suite execs who are open to letting the public in a little.

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On Being Human

After a tough day at work, or a rough day of deadlines, we tend to placate ourselves with reminders that our work, however important, is neither brain surgery nor rocket science. Ok, so I’m not my brother the radiologist, or my sisters the engineers, but with a job function that shapes how a brand communicates online, my work still tends to follow me after hours.

The communications industry has, over the years, contributed to a broader culture of people pleasers. As a perfectionist and overachiever, you’d think this would be a natural fit. Disappointing someone, or falling short in any which way, even if only by my own perception, can sometimes feel like getting that one B+ amongst an otherwise suite of straight As.

The reality is, though, when you’re your own worst critic, it’s easy to get lost in someone else’s reaction, feedback, or otherwise unfavorable opinion. Reading between the lines of an e-mail, a phone call, or worse yet a text, can set off a destructive spiral of self-deprecation.

I sometimes wonder if the solution is really about work-life balance more than anything. If we powered down, would we think a little more about what we say, how we say it? Would we be more enthusiastic if we unplugged after hours? Setting boundaries is definitely part of it — how people should speak to you, when they can reach you, what you’re actually able to do and responsible for — all of these elements contribute to a transparent — and most importantly respectful — working relationship.

Instead of devaluing the work that we do, it’s important that we remember to instead find ways to move on and move forward. After all, we’re all human, right?

 

The Feedback Funnel

Giving bad — or even “clumsy” — feedback reflects just as poorly on a manager as responding to feedback defensively does on a direct report. Feedback is crucial to career growth, and at its core is a very good thing. Receiving feedback shows that your work is being recognized and acknowledged, and that someone in a leadership position is invested in your success.

Part of making feedback feel natural is making positive and negative (stings just as much when we dress it up as “constructive criticism”) feedback more routine.

  • Be Direct: Speaking directly to the source — the person for whom the feedback is intended — is a sign of respect. Trafficking feedback up to a senior leader without having shared it directly with the employee shows a lack of commitment to your working relationship, and signals that you’re not interested in fixing the problem. Reserve the red flag for repeat issues.
  • Schedule Regular 1:1 Meetings: Feedback shouldn’t be saved for a performance review, and isn’t always appropriate to share during team meetings. Block off time on your calendar for your team members to regularly engage with you, and use this time to address any issues that might require more attention.
  • Celebrate the Small Wins: I’ll never stop championing the idea of small win recognition. I don’t necessarily believe that negative feedback should always be couched in a positivity sandwich so to speak, but regular positive feedback helps foster productivity and pride, as well as trust and respect between a manager and direct report.
  • Focus on the Future: Feedback is often hard to stomach because it’s related to one particular issue versus being communicated as part of a bigger picture for improvement. When giving feedback, or even when processing it from the receiving end, consider the role it plays in the broader context of your work so that you can demonstrate ongoing improvement.
  • Foster Two-Way Communication: Giving feedback means you have to be willing and open to receiving it. Soliciting feedback from your direct report(s) or even from lateral colleagues will make you a better manager.
  • Be Available: It’s easy to settle into a closed-door comfort zone, but it’s critical to over-communicate your availability to your team so that they know you’re there when the desire for feedback or guidance may be more abrupt and off-the-cuff.

The Power Pose

I lead a busy – albeit boring – life. As an under-30 Vice President in the agency world, I’ve spent a lot of time on my personal brand, and creating a career of confidence. But I’ll let you in on something not-so-secret: I don’t really believe in the “power pose.”

Non-verbal behavior, as social psychologist Amy Cuddy dubs it, can be telling, sure. But does it tell all? That’s where I’m not so sure.

In relationships — both business and personal — we read into body language — a limp handshake, stiff posture, blank stare — to assess a person’s character.

My goal isn’t to discredit, or even to offer a head-on challenge to the highly credentialed work that Cuddy has done. I do believe, though, that we don’t focus enough on the verbal communication of power in business.

Communication skills are age-agnostic. Some of the most seasoned business people I know have vocal quirks that, if I didn’t know them as well as I do, might spark skepticism about their abilities. Filling sentences with “you know” or “um,” awkward inflection or vocal breaks, and reciting facts as questions — these are mostly breakable habits that can impact a professional impression.

So perhaps it’s not about achieving the perfect power pose, but instead, finding the pose and other nonverbal cues that best complement, enhance or correct your verbal communication skills.

I’ll Stop to Collaborate. But Are You Listening?

People like me are everywhere. Young, ambitious, digitally-savvy professionals who churn out strong, creative work that yields impressive results. But are people really listening to us?

I often describe myself as driven; my career is always top-of-mind, wedged somewhere between my health, my dog, and my husband. A self-starter and leader by nature, I’m also no stranger to collaboration. In fact, I thrive off of it. I’m also among those who call out companies that create collaborative, creative facades by way of a measly open workspace.

Collaboration is among a long list of jargon to describe how people work, but what does it really mean? When I collaborate with a team, it means that I respect each person, their ideas and the physical time they’re investing in our work. From an agency perspective, time is truly money — hours are classified as either billable or non-billable, and without respect for time, and by extension, respect for process/protocol, the system can easily fall out of sorts.

In the same way that I won’t ever apologize for my success, I also won’t apologize for my thirst for order. I’m not a textbook “creative” — a term I have to put in quotes because I oh so seriously resent it. If you never establish a process, the collaborative energy is broken from the start; expectations aren’t set, people aren’t held accountable, and there’s no room for anyone to develop and earn a sense of ownership of their work.

Establishing a bit of structure isn’t a bad thing, but it does require sincere effort and commitment. It’s critical to stop before you even start to ensure that you’re listening to each team member so that they feel empowered to take on their brunt of the work with clear direction and a strong support system.

Vanilla Ice may be a failed rapper, but his “stop, collaborate and listen” lyric is a call to action that is often overlooked. Oh, and I should clarify, Ice is not back with a brand new invention.