How to Handle Frienemies

Sun Tzu wisely advises army generals, project managers, and leaders of any ilk to “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” But what about our “Frienemies?” Where should we keep them? I’m guessing anyone who has had an initiative derailed by a frienemy would recommend a location where the sun does not shine.

A frienemy is that confounding blend of a friend and an enemy. In business, the frienemy is best known for saying all the right things and doing all the wrong ones. Spinning meetings out of control with irrelevant questions or tangential diatribes, splintering teams and causing discord by ferrying ill will back and forth between disparate groups, smiling at you and nodding in feigned acquiescence all the while, frienemies are the hobgoblins of productivity. Sharp leaders intent on moving their organization toward a brighter future quickly recognize these black clouds looming over the path to success, patiently waiting to rain on their parade.

It is not enough to simplycategorize those surrounding and involved in an initiative as friends, enemies, or frienemies. Leaders must determine an appropriate strategy for each group. For  frienemies, step one is to objectively assess the downside risk to ignoring them in hopes that they either go away or cave in to the positive influence of the “friends.” This is not a time to get caught up in ego and insecurity. A leader does not have to be liked or supported by everyone all the time in order to be effective. Driven by a need for approval, pursuing a turn-around campaign to win the heart and mind of a frienemy could be a fruitless waste of energy.

However, given the objectives you are trying to achieve, if an honest assessment of the situation leads to the conclusion that the frienemy is a big enough risk to warrant an investment of time and attention, there are ways to press a fine wine out of sour grapes.

The frienemy to friend undertaking begins with a mile long walk in the other person’s shoes. Think about what keeps this person up at night; this gives you a better understanding of their motivation. Then, consider how they benefit from their agenda. Why are they not bought-in to the initiative? What do they stand to gain if your objectives are not met?

Now, comes the hard part. Armed with new-found insight into the mind of the frienemy, you have to find an area around which to grant this person your trust. Influential leaders know that they must trust in order to be trusted. Ralph Waldo Emerson eloquently stated, “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Easy enough to accomplish with friends. Painful at best with frienemies; but necessary nonetheless. Ralph and I are not suggesting that you share your garage door code with this person. Start with small steps that move you closer to common ground and mutual respect.

Consider ways you can leverage this person’s strengths while also assuaging their concerns. As Booker T. Washington said, “Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”

If you have other strategies for handling frienemies or a frienemy to friend success story, please share in the comments section!


Filed under Change, Frienemy, How To, Influence, Leadership

Becoming An Influential Content Marketer

The Fine Art of Content Marketing

DELL Dons Beret

credit: DELL

 Since the dawn of communication, man has been involved in the practice of content marketing.  The level of brand engagement that resulted from the uttering of those first staccato grunts in caves or around fires is unclear, but there was sharing, the message was behavior-driven and the content was geared toward a target audience.  Nowadays, whether you realize it or not, if you are actively involved in pursuing business on social media, then you are a content marketer.  This might not be the work you signed on for when you created your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts, launched your blog, or uploaded that first virtual commercial on to YouTube, but it is part of your job description today.

Business people and companies are competing for eyeballs like never before.  You don’t have to be a search engine savant to know that the Internet is swollen with content.  There is a lot of noise in the cloud.  The challenge lies in getting found, getting noticed and getting known.  Consider those that followed their dreams and staked their claims during the California Gold Rush.  They spent hours upon hours sifting through trays of earth just to find a small nugget.  The nugget was always there; the prospector’s tray just had to be in the right place.  Such is the case with your incredible article, white paper, blog post, landing page, video, or podcast.  Position it well and the right audience will find it.

Although the origin of the term is difficult to pinpoint, content marketing is now a vital entry in the mainstream social vocabulary.  I remember first hearing it in 2007, shortly after I swapped out my Website copywriter’s shingle for that of the LinkedIn consultant.  Today, content marketing is an industry unto itself, a sub-discipline of Internet science, and a staple strategy of social business.  I am amazed at how much content marketing is directed toward, well, content marketing.

 So what are the steps to becoming an effective content marketer?  Glad you asked.

Create a Visibility Strategy

 An all-out assault on the search engines doesn’t guarantee the delivery of a steady stream of spend-ready clients to your virtual doorstep.  Well-executed content marketing is inbound, yes, but who arrives is as important—if not more so—than how many.  Taking your offerings across multiple platforms and appealing to a wide variety of tastes and personalities within (and external to) your target audience will allow you to be a more versatile influencer and allow you to go viral in the right circles.  Build your content portfolio methodically. Depending on the context of your messaging, not all platforms will work.  First, decide what you wish to accomplish with your content marketing objectives.  Who do you most want to reach?  Set some parameters for topic, theme and style, keyword judiciously, and post accordingly.

 Be Compelling and Relevant

Ours is an attention deficit society, one that is constantly demanding injections of fresh, topical content.  Given the accelerated timeline of social media—unique in that it can move light years in a single day—you won’t get much of a chance to and engage prospective clients unless you compel them at the front gate.  People are fickle.  Much as they might give you a courtesy scan, or even go a paragraph or two deep on what you have to offer, if you can’t keep ‘em interested, they’re out.  Moreover, the shelf life of a given post, update, article or tweet is fleeting at best.  Don’t let your output go stale.  Regular content flow ensures that your brand stays in front of people and, over time, you will get noticed.  Good writing, persuasive or otherwise, has an attractive force operating beneath the surface.  It does not happen without practice, purpose and focus. 

Don’t Sound Contrived

Not to downplay the importance of keyword density, but often, people will dilute their message by paying too much attention to coming up high in a specific search category and bombard their piece with certain words or phrases.  Yes, write for Google, but also write for your brand.  People recognize when a piece of content has been doctored for search.  Keyword spamming, or excessive mention of specific terms, is unnatural and actually works to your detriment.  In social, you have to give to get.  You’re going up against people and firms who want to be found in identical searches.  Decide on the text that you want to go after hard, and let the rest go. 

Devise an Appropriate Real World Strategy

Whereas content always has and always will be king, it’s the level of engagement that determines who wears the crown.  These days, it’s about reaching potential customers and clients on an emotional level.  Creating a favorable first impression, and converting that response into a profitable call to action, is the goal of any value-added content marketing campaign.  Ultimately, the dynamic shifts and you move from a position of content management to relationship management.   Over time, you will achieve brand recognition. Social networking, and its requisite skill sets, is the driver.  How you handle inquiries and advance conversations in the physical world will determine your success in business, let alone as a content marketer.  Walk your talk.

As you’re producing each individual piece of content, ask yourself the following questions:

 1). Does it promote my brand?

2). Does it detract from my message?

3). Does it create value for others?

4). Does it influence a call to action?

The once-level playing field has skewed in favor of those who write with clarity, present well, and live up to a perceived brand promise. 

What steps are you taking to market your content?


J.D. GERSHBEIN, CEO of OWLISH COMMUNICATIONS, is a specialist in the Art and Science of LinkedIn.  He is a trusted asset to top executives, managers, entrepreneurs, professional service providers, salespeople, and those involved in the search for their next great opportunity.  J.D. offers unrivaled strategic direction to individuals and firms—ranging from small to medium-sized businesses (SMB’s) to Fortune 500 companies— in using LinkedIn to build brand and generate revenue.  Dubbed “LinkedIn’s #1 Brand Ambassador” and “The LinkedIn Black Belt,” J.D. is considered one of the top LinkedIn strategists in the world and a pioneer in the design and delivery of LinkedIn educational programs.  Drawing upon his background in marketing communications, industrial psychology, neuroscience, improvisational comedy and broadcast media, he is helping advance the collective awareness of LinkedIn and inspiring opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business.  J.D. is a nationally-known A-list speaker who has been featured on FOX TV News, in the Chicago Tribune, and has guested on prominent coast-to-coast business talk radio programs.  He currently blogs for NBC Chicago and contributes articles on LinkedIn to numerous online publications.  J.D. is also an Adjunct Professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business where he teaches the school’s first-ever course in social media.  His first book, a treatise on social business communication strategies, is due out early 2012.


Filed under Business, How To, Influence, Social media, Social Networking, Uncategorized

How Leaders Can Build Up or Bring Down an Organization

The probability is high that a leader will be less effective than their boss. There are exceptions to this rule, but the trend is very clear.

In a study of 5,285 leaders from 5 different organizations, we examined the effectiveness of leaders at different levels of the organization. The measure of leadership effectiveness was derived from our research on Extraordinary Leaders. In that research we identified 16 competencies that best explained the differences between poor, good and great leaders.  49 items are used to measure the 16 competencies where assessments are completed by a leader’s manager, peers, direct reports and others.   Results from each organization were examined and the graph below shows the average difference by level.

When we look at the results, leaders at the top of an organization tend to be rated as more effective than their direct reports and their direct reports tend to be rated as more effective than their direct reports.

Leadership Impacts Outcomes

In extensive studies we have demonstrated the clear connection between the effectiveness of a leader and a variety of organizational outcomes.  Great leaders create more profit, higher customer satisfaction, high levels of engagement in their employees, lower turnover and substantially more highly committed employees.

While talking with a group of leaders recently, the question was asked, “How many great leaders do you need in order for an organization to be successful?” One of the leaders commented, “At least one!” While it’s true that one is much better than none, our data clearly shows that the influence of a leader is significantly diminished from one level of the organization to the next. In fact, the influence of a person’s direct manager will always overpower the effectiveness of another leader in the organization. The correct answer to “How many great leaders are needed,” is thatthey all need to be effective. Poor leadership at any level of the organization will have a very negative impact.

High Ceilings

In many organizations, there is an assumption that the top management group does not need much development. While it is true that senior leaders tend to be more effective, executive leaders in our study ranged from the 68th percentile (a little above average) to the 93rd percentile (extraordinary). Thus, not all top management is at the top of leadership effectiveness.

Between each tier of management, a leadership effectiveness “gap” exists. The higher tier of management usually has a higher level of leadership effectiveness. The average gap is 14.5 percentile points. Using that as an average metric, if an organization wanted leaders in the 4th tier down to be at the 50th percentile (just average) the top level of leaders would need to be at the 94thpercentile in terms of the average leadership effectiveness. Keep in mind that these leaders establish the height of the ceiling. If their average effectiveness is at the 68th percentile then the next level will be on average 14.5 percentile points lower.

Top management sets the example for the rest of the organization. In the organizations we have studied, those who have the best leaders always have top management groups fully engaged and participating in leadership development programs. Those with lower levels of leadership effectiveness assume that the top leaders are “good enough.”

Reducing the Gap

When looking at the differences between levels, not every gap was large. Some organizations only had gaps of 3 to 5 percentile points. This small gap created a dramatic shift upward in the effectiveness of leaders. It became apparent that the small gap was a function of several issues.

The first issue was selecting the right people as leaders. When filling various job positions, organizations that analyzed how, rather than what, results were achieved selected more effective leaders.  These talent management processes also emphasized a clear set of desirable leadership competencies and created a common language around those competencies.

Second, the top manager of the organization believed that a significant part of the job was the development of their direct reports. They felt it was their responsibility and not a Training or HR responsibility. Because of this belief, feedback was frequent; training was welcomed and encouraged.

Third, the direct reports of the senior leader felt the same way about their direct reports. In the organization there was a strong emphasis on development of every employee.

Fourth, the bar for effective leadership was set high. The expectation was the leaders needed to be great and not just good.

Cup Half Full or Half Empty

There are two ways to look at this research. The “half empty” view is that leaders are typically less effective than their bosses. This view focuses on the tendency of leaders to hold people back from realizing their potential. The “half full” view is that the more effective a person is as a leader the more effective their direct reports will be. There is a very positive message from this that leaders can pull up the effectiveness of others in the organization.  A good example has a very positive effect in any organization. If you desire great leadership in your organization, then be committed to set your own bar high and be willing to look for ways to improve. The quickest and easiest path to improvement comes from getting focused feedback and then looking for opportunities to build on existing strengths.

Post Written by Joe Folkman

Joe Folkman is the co-founder and President of Zenger Folkman, a leadership development firm focused on building strengths of individuals, teams, and organizations. Joe is a co-author of the recent Harvard Business Review article “Making Yourself Indispensable.” To learn more leadership tips from Joe, subscribe to his leadership blog or follow him on Twitter: @zengerfolkman.

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Filed under Business, How To, Leadership, Uncategorized, ZengerFolkman

How to Find a Mentor

Formal learning and work experience provide the knowledge necessary for success in a given field. Finding a good mentor can further strengthen your skill set and offer valuable contacts for your future. Learning from someone who has years of experience can provide unique guidance and learning opportunities. A mentor can impart a competitive edge and lead to a more clear and efficient path of success.

When seeking a mentor, begin with research. Talk to successful people that you know and ask about their mentors or people that they’ve mentored. Ask specific questions about how the mentorship started, what made it work and other ways the mentorship influenced them. Think of what you are looking for in a mentor and make a list of potential candidates. The more informed you are about what you want, the easier it will be to find the right mentor to suit your needs.

Being active in your field will make it a lot easier for a strong mentor to find you. Remain approachable at work, in and outside of your department. The more people that you interact with at work, the better your chances are of finding a mentor there. Take time to get to know people at your company that you don’t work with each day. Take on new projects to showcase your abilities. Be sure to show how much you care about your job. If you are apathetic at work, it will be difficult for someone to want to take the time to teach you.

In addition to utilizing contacts at your present employer, online professional networking sites such as LinkedIn allow you to build networks of contacts throughout your career. Through putting the feelers out for specific mentoring needs, your contacts may be able to suggest one of his or her associates to you. Aside from immediate contacts, consider engaging in more face-to-face contact time. Going to professional conferences may be just the environment you need to find an ideal mentor in your field. Civic organizations that bring professionals together in community projects or regular meetings may also present an opportunity to meet a potential mentor. 

Once you have found a potential mentor, make sure that you are prepared before you ask for a meeting. Your mentor is most likely a very busy person, so be organized with your approach. You will want to have a current résumé available. Be sure it is up to date and accentuates your current success.  You may also want to prepare a brief report that outlines your current professional development plan so that a potential mentor can easily see the benefits of investing time in you. When meeting with the potential mentor, let your enthusiasm for your work show through. Be ready to describe how you show your commitment to your professional projects through concrete examples that illustrate your accomplishments in clear professional language. You will want to show your mentor that you bring a unique contribution to the organization and that you have a track record of putting in the time, effort, creativity and commitment it takes to be a success. 

As a protégé, your job is to actively engage your mentor in a partnership that he or she will also find meaningful. You want to show your commitment to the longevity of the mentorship. Having precise goals can assist both parties in remaining clear about expectations and time commitments. Keep an ongoing dialogue to gauge the effectiveness of the mentoring process. 

If you make yourself visible through proactive networking that, prepare your presentation with supporting documents and allow your personality to shine, then you might end up with a variety of mentors from which to choose!

University Alliance submitted this article on behalf of the online programs at Villanova University. Many people find subject matter experts (SME) as ideal mentors. Villanova University offers leadership training courses led by SME’s with years of experience. In addition to leadership courses, Villanova also offers project management certification and six sigma certification courses for professionals interested in these disciplines.


Filed under Business, How To, Leadership, Uncategorized

Team Building Carrot-Style

Not so long ago, if you’d asked me whether high performing teams could exist without strong leadership, I would’ve given you an emphatic “No.” Well, go ahead and ask me that now, go ahead. Now that I’ve read The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization* by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, I’m changing my tune to an enthusiastic “Yes!”

For the last twenty years in training and organizational development, whenever I am called upon to create and/or facilitate a team building workshop, it is always at the behest of a manager interested in transforming his/her team into a paragon of performance and productivity for the organization. All along, I have assumed that high performing teams were borne out of a leadership vision and brought into reality by team members who bought-into that vision.  The challenge with this belief is the assumption  that high performing teams bloom only from a vision planted and nurtured by the leader. The Orange Revolution reveals how teams can bloom where they are planted and of their own volition.

“…We’re not saying that the managers of teams don’t make a difference–or even that top management doesn’t play a vital role…But the fact is that most people in breakthrough teams report their highest loyalty is their relationship with one another–the other team members” p. 12

Acts of respect, kindness, and support are a fabulous source of power and influence in organizations. By using your talents, resources, and time to recognize others who appreciate and desire such recognition, you build loyal relationships founded on trust and integrity. The beauty of recognition is that it is a gift that can be given by one peer to another just as easily as it is something a manager can endow upon a subordinate.  Following the formula laid out in The Orange Revolution, team members can leverage the power of recognition (among other “goodies” I’ll let you discover for yourself when you read the book) to tighten the weave of the team, increase their degree of influence, and ultimately contribute more to the organization.

 “We all have more influence than we’ll ever know if we exert that influence for good in our teams. Each revolution starts in the mirror.” Scott O’Neil, President of Madison Square Gardens Sports(p.86)

The Orange Revolution is rich with practical ideas for developing breakthrough teams in conjunction with or even in spite of (sad reality sometimes) the organization’s formal leadership structure. It’s truly empowering–not like those “fake” empowering books that espouse unrealistic actions and activities that don’t stand a snowball’s chance in Flagstaff without management approval. An Orange Revolution can be started by a leader with his/her team or by a team with or without a supportive leader (although the most productive teams are those with high levels of camaraderie and a supportive leader who provides valued recognition).  Thanks to Mr. Gostick and Mr. Elton, there are no more excuses for being “stuck” in a miserable situation or for leading an unproductive team. Get the book. Get unstuck because today is as good a day as any to start a revolution!

*Full disclosure

About a year ago, New Marketing Labs contacted me to be a guest blogger at They also sent me a copy of  The Orange Revolution. Luckily, it’s a terrific book that I enjoyed and from which I gained tremendous insight. Blogging about it (though about a year later than I had originally intended) is easy because I believe in the book’s tenets and the integrity of the authors. That said, the situation forced me to determine a policy for blogging about books that are sent to me from publishers, publicists, authors, etc.

I will only write about books that:

  • I like
  • Have merit
  • Have a philosophy or set of tools related to the overall intention of this blog (promoting positive influence as the most effective way for leaders to get things done in organizations)
  • Are enjoyable to read (there are some books I like but that took such acts of sheer will and determination to finish  I wouldn’t inflict them upon my worst enemy)

 In a nutshell, the Saying What You Mean book review policy is “Picks Only. No Pans.” If I don’t have something nice to say, then I’m not saying anything at all.


Filed under Business, How To, Recognition, Team Building