Leading through example...

These days, reading the morning newspaper might be better digested with a strong cocktail rather than my usual cup of coffee. With the uptick of anger in civic dialogue, I was relieved when I turned the page of the Minneapolis StarTribune to find an editorial (“Business leaders are already standing up”) by Brad Anderson, former CEO of Best Buy Corporation.

From 2004 - 2007 I was the manager of Twin Cities Giving for the Best Buy Children’s Foundation. I was hired when the company decided that Best Buy would like to play a more active role in the Twin Cities with executive nonprofit board engagement and strategic philanthropy to benefit the community. Beyond orchestrating the company’s local giving efforts, I was responsible for guiding executive placement onto non-profit boards (to match personal passions with organizational missions); training employees on governance responsibilities; and helping Best Buy employees consider their personal philanthropic philosophies.

During this time, I had the honor of watching up close the executive team of Brad Anderson and Best Buy’s equally inspiring leader, COO Al Lenzmeier. I observed them during site visits, foundation board meetings, and in discussion with staff. Without exception, I found their leadership inspiring.

Numerous studies indicate that employees feel more secure and motivated to work hard when they witness their leaders living the company’s stated values. At Best Buy, I witnessed a culture of respect permeated with trainings on Servant Leadership and Results Oriented Workplace Environment (ROWE). Although my career up to that time had been primarily spent working in nonprofit arts organizations, Best Buy provided me valuable training and lessons about a positive corporate culture. Servant Leadership – using your position to support and empower those around you – continues to be one of my personal core values as does ROWE. The philosophy behind ROWE is that employees own their time. They are allowed to figure out how and when they will get their work done (within reason) which means that I, as a mother of young children at the time, was able to leave the office for occasional school events in the afternoon and finish my work later that evening or early the next morning, whichever worked better with my personal schedule. We all know that having control over our own time is one of the keys to workplace – and, consequently, personal – happiness. During my time as Executive Director of The Loft Literary Center, one of my proudest moments was when that organization won a “Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award,” given by the American Psychological Association.

At the Best Buy Children’s Foundation, I witnessed Brad Anderson treating everyone with respect, achieving results for Best Buy, while inspiring employees and the corporation to get involved in the community. I’m glad to see that he is still at it.


PRI CEO Alisa Miller remembers a compelling story

First in a series of thought leaders reflecting upon those stories that make an impact upon their lives.

We live successfully in a world through content and experiences, says Alisa Miller, president and chief executive officer of PRI, Public Radio International. “People want something compelling with a connection to a universal truth or challenge, triumph or tragedy. We’re wired to remember story rather than just data.”

Q: What types of stories do you tend to remember or connect with?

Stories with strong personal narrative, by which the protagonist overcomes a difficult challenge, enabling joy and resolution. I also tend to remember those stories that challenge me or make me squirm.

Q: Is there a story you heard or read recently that is still kicking around in your mind?

Yes, a story that PRI and GlobalPost featured last fall about the Syrian refugee crisis. We profiled a Syrian mother who was trying to provide for her family in a Lebanese refugee camp. She was not getting food, she was not getting help. She finally became so desperate that she set herself on fire and, subsequently, died. She felt that her death was the only way her children could be saved. I’ve reflected on that story as a mother, thinking about where would I have to be in my head to think that that action would be in the best interests of my children. That’s a powerful example of how a singular story can help us understand a broader issue or crisis.

Q: In its story-telling techniques, how does PRI separate itself from other public radio or podcast content providers?

PRI’s mission is to help people live successfully in a world through content and experiences. We’re looking for those stories and talents that have a universality to them and speak to broader truths. There’s a hopefulness to PRI, and there’s an interest in fostering people’s creative spirits as well as our own. It’s really an explorer mentality of looking at the world, rather than saying we’re sage and all knowing. To our audiences, we’re saying, “come along with us and we’ll explore these issues together.”

Q: How do you feel advances in technology are affecting storytelling?

In many ways, narrative storytelling hasn’t changed at all. The forms can and do change based on technology, for example virtual reality. However, social media has dramatically impacted both the volume of stories as well as the types of stories coming our way, through algorithmic logic. We’re seeing more stories that play to our already-existing notions; serendipitous discovery is decreasing. This places more responsibility on us to fully understand where these stories are coming from, and to be mindful of what we are or aren’t seeing. I would be concerned if we allow the algorithm alone to make our choices for us. We have to take responsibility for what we click on and what we don’t click on.

Q: What's on your nightside stand? On your audio.com playlist?

I’m reading “Obliquity” by the economist John Kay. It is about how our goals are best achieved indirectly. He says that when you’re trying to achieve large goals or systemic change, you can’t create a road map to that, you have to come to it from the side, through a series of small risks and discoveries. We have to think about the circumstances that are necessary for the bigger goal to happen, and focus strictly on those. It’s the philosophy that states that everything is connected. It’s a mindset that has impacted my approach to work.

Next in our series: Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.


Quick-Tip sheet for your upcoming on-camera interview

You have been scheduled to be interviewed in a corporate video. Depending upon the size of your company and your position within it, this may be happening with greater frequency given long-term trends in corporate communications.

Nervous? Of course, you are. No matter how proficient you might be in communicating key corporate messages in various venues, the presence of cameras, studio lights, and crewmembers tend to induce butterflies.

When I first began producing corporate videos, I would encourage my on-camera clients to allow for a rehearsal period, either immediately prior to the scheduled session or, preferably, the day before.

“I give presentations all the time,” would often be the response. “I don’t need to rehearse.”

That might be true if the skill sets required for live presentations were the same as those for on-camera delivery. Fact is, they are quite different. One requires an expansive, more formal method of delivery; the other, an intimate and relaxed approach.

Over the years, I have developed a tip sheet for on-camera interviews that clients find helpful. They include the following:

1)  Understand that the pressure is not on you, it’s on the interviewer, your producer. The best producers have done their homework and have structured the interview so that they are assured of obtaining the best soundbites from you. Though the camera may be aimed at you, the producer is the one in the hot seat.

2)  Tune out the lights, the camera, the microphone. Focus only on your producer, the person asking you the questions. Regard the process as a comfortable conversation with a trusted friend rather an interview.

3)  Show enthusiasm. You’re ultimately trying to sell something. Within any conversation, you display enthusiasm and passion by:

·      Smiling

·      Using facial muscles

·      Modulating your voice

·      Moderating the speed in which you deliver key sentences

·      Speaking naturally – this is a conversation, not a presentation

4)  Body language speaks. We’ve heard these rules since we were 5 years old: Sit up straight, don’t hunch over, open your chest. By doing so, you are improving your speaking performance, as well as increasing the enthusiasm and animation within your answers.

5)  Lose the “um’s,” “er’s,” or “ah’s.” People often say, “I can’t help it. That’s just the way I talk.” These fillers are often the result of speaking too quickly and being uncomfortable with pauses. Slow down and allow for the pause. Which brings up our next point…

6)  Wrap it up. For the most part, producers are looking for answers in the one-minute range – or less. Anything longer might be overly detailed or rambling filler. Your producer should be asking bite-sized questions that allow for a limited range of answer. If the question is effectively answered, you’re done.

7)  Avoid jargon. Assume your soundbite will be viewed by an audience who does not know as much about a topic or your industry as you do. Avoid acronyms, industry slang, code words, etc. Pretend you are talking to your neighbor or a relative, who is interested in what you do, but may have little understanding of the industry itself.

8)  “What should I wear?” A common – and important – question, with no easy answer. Like any form of nonverbal communication, clothing speaks. Make sure you discuss this in advance with either your producer or your communications manager.

And, perhaps, the most important tip: Have fun. You are broadening your skill sets and widening your comfort zone. Any new experience allows for personal growth.

“That wasn’t so painful,” one client told me, relieved. “In fact it was kinda fun. Let’s do it again!”

Our Mission: Creating the perfect team for your project

In the 1960s television drama Mission: Impossible there was a scene that played out at the beginning of each episode.

Just after opening credits, Jim Phelps, the lead agent charged with executing the challenging mission, would be seen moving through his luxurious condo, fireplace lit, designing a brilliant solution for the problem at hand. He knew he needed top talent. He would flip through his dossier of photos, separating those who were needed on the team from those who weren’t. Team assembled, the work would begin.

Even as a child I understood that the team would, largely, be comprised of the same members as the week before. There was, after all, a regular cast. But, occasionally, there would be room – both on the team and within the production budget – for the special guest agents. But beyond the practical matter of extended actor contracts, I knew that Agent Phelps had those teammates he trusted implicitly, whose talents were the best in the field, and with whom he could speak in short-hand due to the number of projects they had worked on in the past.

At MillerHale Associates, we bring this same approach to all client work. We assemble the exact team of professionals to best serve our clients’ needs. There are ‘the regulars’ who are brought back project after project due to their work ethic, their artistic creativity, and their professional rapport with executives. As needed, our team expands and contracts per client expectations and project scope.

Our clients realize the advantage in this approach. Projects are competitively priced and the most creative and talented personnel, not those on-staff who happen to be available, are assigned to projects. Creative departments within corporations are becoming increasingly rare – a luxurious overhead – which is why they are turning to nimble companies such as MillerHale Associates. As a result, it is common for individual artists in the creative industry to come together to form a “temporary team” in order to flawlessly execute a client’s project. Likely as not, these team members have worked together on scores of previous projects, allowing them to speak in the short-hand with one another that creates top-notch scripts, videos, or  live event productions.

So, whether your next project appears to be an impossible mission, or, perhaps, just a difficult task, consider going with a team curated just for you.

While I was away...

When I stepped down as executive director of The Loft Literary Center last August, I knew I needed to create a bridge for myself from the intensity of my Loft years to… well, I wasn’t sure.

I’d eventually continue working but was unclear on where I wanted to land. I decided to go on a retreat of sorts but struggled with whether to call this transition time a gap-year, vacation, or an endless weekend. I landed on sabbatical (without the paid or returning to the Loft part).

A sabbatical is precious time but it can be a failure if you let the days just flitter away. Like all situations, you have a better shot at succeeding if you can envision what success looks like. I know I can be Type-A, but I created a strategic plan for my sabbatical with goals and tactics to achieve my mission of finding my metaphorical breath.

Eight months later, I can announce that my sabbatical was a success, meaning: I’m feeling rejuvenated. I stepped out of my usual world to catch up on sleep, hike in a dozen National Parks, read novels to the final page, and travel with family and friends. I avoided my routines and when I wasn’t exploring the world, I was cleaning our garage, basement, and closets. Clutter cleared, I spent time peacefully staring at the horizon.

I was surprised how long it took to rewire my brain and not feel guilty for moving through my days at a slower pace.  As my brain quieted, I started to notice more around me and also get back in touch with my reflective side. I did not write (everyone asks that), but spent time reading and marveling at the writings of others. Sparks are flying through my brain.

I’m refreshed, so now what? As I hiked along beaches and through old-growth forests, I realized it’s unlikely I’ll love an organization as much as the Loft Literary Center. The Loft felt like my professional soul-mate. That said, I’m eager to continue working with nonprofits and organizations focused on improving our world. 

On April 1, I joined producer and writer, Glenn Miller (my favorite collaborator) to form MillerHale Associates. Our focus is to help clients tell their stories -- Glenn, through the lens of television production and corporate communications, and I through the perspective of nonprofits and foundations. If we can’t help you, we’ll recommend one of our associates who can.

If you aren’t refreshed from a recent sabbatical, the next best thing is to hire someone who is.

Jocey in Moab, UT.

Jocey in Moab, UT.