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Sometimes You Hear the Bullet: A New Take On The Brian Williams Affair

For anyone who remembers the show MASH, you will undoubtedly recall the episode about Hawkeye’s friend from home named Tommy.

He was a soldier on the front lines writing a book titled “You Never Hear The Bullet”, discussing how, unlike in the movies, death on the battlefield can be sudden and without drama. In a sad irony, Tommy is later shot during an exchange with the enemy, and moments before dying on Hawkeye’s operating table, tells his old friend that he had actually heard the bullet that hit him.

You might be asking yourself why is Roz writing about an episode from an albeit great but old television series?

The Brian Williams affair.

Beyond the immediate and obvious parallels in terms of both stories being set during an armed conflict, the fact that truth as the saying goes, is the first casualty of war, seems appropriate.

But, about which version of truth are we talking?

Contrary to Tommy’s book in which he contends that you never actually hear the bullet that brings about the end, Williams’ downfall appears to have been precipitated by a well intentioned PR announcement at a hockey game.

That’s right, a hockey game. In January of this year, Williams and Command Sergeant Major Tim Terpak, both of who were on the chopper that was allegedly attacked, attended a New York Rangers game together.

Sometime during the proceedings, a camera cast the two on the arena’s big screen, at which time the Rangers PA announcer recounted a story of how Terpak saved Williams and everyone’s life when they were struck by enemy fire in Iraq. The crowds cheered and gave both Terpak and Williams a standing ovation – which both graciously stood up and accepted.

Of course it should be noted that the story doesn’t begin at Madison Square Garden. Over the years there have been seemingly contradictory versions offered by different people – some present at the actual event, of what actually happened to the chopper that day. Williams himself has been somewhat vaguely elusive at times.

However, the January Rangers game – upon which I will focus today, represented the flash-point for an old story that ignited the public’s furor, and tarnished the newsman’s creditability.

So what happened? Did Brian Williams intentionally seek to deceive the public by acquiescing to a more heroic version of the story he has always told to elevate his own image? Or . . . did he remain silent even though he knew that the PA announcer’s version was inaccurate so as not to detract from his guest’s moment in the spotlight?

What is the actual truth?

While I believe that Williams did not intend to deceive, he did make an error in judgment by allowing the story to stand unchallenged both now, as well as in the past. In short, he was caught up in an unexpected series of moments that came back to roost at the most unfortunate of times. Of course, when would have been a good time?

Even if Williams was not directly involved in the ground to air firefight, he did put himself in harms way in an effort to report the news from hostile territory. Things just quite simply got away from Williams, and he failed to respond despite several opportunities, in a manner that set the record straight.

Though Williams finally heard the bullet by way of the PA announcement, he chose not take corrective action. You don’t always realize that what you put out there in the social media world can come back and hurt you . . . until it does.

I have actually written about this “getting away” phenomenon as I call it, in my 2-Part post The Wildfire Effect or How Social Media can destroy a brand as fast as it creates one. Here are the links to both Part 1 and Part 2.

In this ultra connected world where the flow of information and misinformation moves as fast as a lightning bolt, we have to be ever vigilant in terms of protecting our brand. The fact is, social media can stir up public opinion before all the facts are known. In this regard, we are sometimes the author or co-author of our own misfortune, and at other times we never see it coming.

My family and I have been a huge fan of Brian Williams for many years, acknowledging him as a trusted source of information as the face of NBC News. Today, it is truly unfortunate that many people have concluded that he intentionally lied. Even if Brian William’s errors are just casualties of a faulty memory, through a single and unexpected event, his reputation has now been impacted and his credibility is questionable. Whether it is fair or not, we usually only remember the soundbite moments and flashy headlines as the enduring representation of an individual’s life and accomplishments.

BUFFETT CREDIT

While we should all strive to show compassion for those who stumble – especially when it is unintentional or through an aberrative error in judgment, vigilance with regard to your own image or brand should always be the order of the day. Even at a hockey game.

TIPS FOR MANAGING YOUR BRAND REPUTATION:

  1. Be diligent: Devote the time to make sure you have the correct information or evidence
  2. Validate: Seek insight from others to make sure you are all on the same page
  3. Research the past: Don’t confuse memories with facts
  4. Invest in passion, not exaggeration: Make your content come alive using your personality

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Does Sandberg’s “ban bossy” campaign help or hurt women by Roz Usheroff

You would probably have to be on another planet – maybe even in another galaxy – to not have heard of the recent call to arms of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to eradicate the word “bossy” from our everyday vernacular.

According to a Forbes article by Micheline Maynard titled “Dear Sheryl Sandberg: There Are Far Worse Things Than Being Called Bossy,” the writer recounts a slight suffered by Sandberg when she was a junior high school student.  Apparently, a teacher told Sandberg’s best friend, “Nobody likes a bossy girl. You should find a new friend who will be a better influence on you.”

While there are certainly no shortages of women jumping on the ban bossy bandwagon, including notables such as Beyonce and Condoleezza Rice, I found Maynard’s position to be most interesting.  Specifically her Tweet which proclaimed “I’ve got news for Sheryl Sandberg: there are far worse things for women than being called bossy.”

Maynard then goes on to say “bossy isn’t only a word that applies to women. It’s gender neutral. There are plenty of bossy men out there, too. Bossy is bossy — dictatorial, unyielding, telling people what to do and expecting them to do it without any input.”

I tend to agree with this last point, as men too get called bad words for being pushy.  However, in my many years of coaching both genders, I have never heard a man being referred to as bossy, but rather “aggressive”.  There are two questions to consider.  If a man is referred to as “aggressive”, is that perceived as positive or negative?  The second question is more related to how women and men react to a negative and even unwarranted comment.

Maynard ended her article by saying that the word bossy “reflects more about the person who said it than it does about you,” and that one should not “take it personally.”

Once again, there is truth in Maynard’s position that is worth considering beyond gender.

For example, I met with a female several weeks ago who has a very senior position.  However, her boss doesn’t seem to believe her collaborative style warrants a higher position in leading people.   She has led groups, transformed organizations outside of this company yet her credentials don’t seem to matter.  Her boss’ perception is that she is is not strong enough to manage challenging people, yet her results demonstrates the contrary.

On the other hand, I also know a guy who everyone loves.  He’s hoping for an EVP role and to sit on the leadership team.  His boss says that he isn’t demonstrating leadership qualities like his peers. He’s seen as too nice a guy.  Go figure!  He brings in the results.

What’s interesting with the above two scenarios is how each responds to what appears to be a harsh and somewhat unfair assessment by their respective bosses.  Or to put it another way, what would be the best and most productive way to deal with these situations.

Does it make sense to stand up on a soapbox and proclaim that being called “weak” or being “too nice” should be banned from our language?  Alternatively, does it make more sense to receive the feedback, understand the basis for why you are being seen this way and, figure out a way to deal with it so as to remove the obstacle?

Perhaps the answer is found in Sandberg’s own success in that as Maynard put it,  she didn’t let the teacher’s comment “stop her, since she’s a billionaire and a best-selling author.”

I can’t help but wonder if Sandberg would have achieved the same level of success if she had chosen to launch her ban campaign when she was starting out, as opposed to using the teacher’s slight as motivation to ascend the corporate ladder to the lofty position she now holds.

In other words, by placing an emphasis on a word or words as opposed to rolling up your sleeves and focusing on getting the job done, is Sandberg hurting or helping the next generation of women leaders?

Last, if by chance you do receive feedback that suggests you are either “bossy” or “aggressive”, I would encourage you to ask the person to explain what that looks like.  At best, you can decide if his/her perspective is valid.

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Defending Your Legacy: The Peyton Manning Effect by Roz Usheroff

While I am the first to admit that I am hardly what you would call a dyed in the wool football fan, one would have to be on another planet – perhaps even another galaxy – not to have gotten somewhat caught up in the hype that was this year’s Super Bowl.

Even though I usually write about the most interesting ads that are run during football’s game of games, I was drawn more to the lengthy and at times monotonous debates surrounding Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s legacy.  Specifically the sharp contrasts between how this one game would forever define his long and illustrious career.

Even before the final seconds of the game in which the Seattle team utterly and completely decimated the Manning-led Broncos had ticked off the clock, one question that repeatedly crossed my mind was this; do people define you by your failures or your successes.

I know, on the surface it seems like an easy answer, almost perfunctory question.  After all, when you win you are elevated to the upper echelons of fan adoration.  When you lose . . . well let’s just say it is a place that few of us want to visit let alone experience on a personal level.

Even though losing the biggest game of the year in such a ignominious manner does little to create the kind of legacy one would want associated with their name, does one game make or break Manning’s reputation?  Is it even fair to confine his legacy to what amounts to 60 minutes out of 14,400 minutes (not including playoffs) of playing time over a 15 year career?

To some the answer is yes, followed by the explanation that if you can’t win the big one then you are just not that great of a quarterback.  Others of course will point to the fact that it is a team game, and that while Manning is a big cog in what until this Sunday was the Bronco juggernaut offence, he alone does not win or lose games.

Regardless of what you think, one thing is certain . . . would we want our legacy to be cast based on a bad day at the office?

Turning this kind of scrutinizing lens on ourselves, I wonder if we would want to be judged by a single albeit critical failure or, by our years of successful service to either our company or our clients?

Do not get me wrong, as I am not writing a post that is designed to elicit empathetic acceptance of a less than stellar performance.  What I am trying to say is that while failures have the power to overwrite everything we have accomplished to this point in time, failure also provides us with an opportunity to redefine ourselves.

In short, it is not what failure does to us but how we use it to build an even greater legacy.  You simply have to look at former Bronco great John Elway’s career in which his teams not only lost 3 consecutive Super Bowls, but lost them in a similarly humiliating fashion to what occurred on the field this past Sunday.

Rather than give up and fade away into a what might have been history, Elway persevered and eventually led his team to consecutive Super Bowl victories.  In the end, Elway used failure as a stepping stone to success and did not allow it or others to define him.

Even though it may be hard for the Broncos and their fans to see it now, what happened last night may prove to be the needed springboard to achieving a level of success that at the moment seems unfathomable.  Or is it?

My question to you is this; how have you dealt with failure in the past?

A springboard for future success?

Is Sunday’s disappointing loss a springboard for future success?

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