No, 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men aren’t a diverse group

Friday, October 13th, 2017


It can be easy for practitioners in any profession to become so technical in defining what they do that they forget what they’re trying to accomplish.

Tech designers sometimes overlook the fact that the gadgets they produce must be user friendly. Defining what we do is essential to conceiving and developing the work, but it doesn’t help if we get so bogged down in definitions that we lose a sense of purpose. The latest example of this is the high-profile, high-powered vice president of diversity and inclusion at Apple, who said during a conference in Bogotá, Colombia this week that “there can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse, too, because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.”

Denise Young Smith was speaking on a panel moderated by the online news outlet Quartz at the One Young World Summit. It was Quartz that first reported her comments. Young Smith said diversity is “the human experience” and that she gets “a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT.” Quartz reported that her answer “was met with a round of applause.”

In a purely technical sense, Young Smith is correct. Background and perspective are important aspects of diversity and her 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room could come from different regions of the country, different socio-economic backgrounds, different religious viewpoints and different educational experiences. Beyond that, she seems to go out of her way to ignore the ultimate goal of diversity and to narrow the definition to one so technical that Apple needn’t do any more than it already has. She was supposedly hired to improve the tech giant’s diversity figures and ensure that hiring practices and retention are open and inclusive. But how do you do that if you predetermine that any group of people you bring together is already diverse, which she seems to have done?

Denise Young Smith

The human experience of which Young Smith speaks is going to be different for women, people of color and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities than the group she describes, but she ignores that fact. Twelve white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room are not a diverse group.

An in-bred sense of tribalism and desire for belonging can make diversity uncomfortable. Having to interact with those different from ourselves challenges our inherent biases and requires us to broaden our personal perspectives just to survive. In the workplace, diverse teams experience higher levels of conflict than homogenous work groups, but studies show they also produce better results when it comes to developing new processes, services and products. Thus, the business case for diversity is based on more than just a rainbow workforce. Its foundation is a need to reach an increasingly diverse population that is not only gaining in economic and political clout but that expects equal access to opportunities in the workplace. Ignoring the need to include underrepresented groups is akin to walking a narrow path wearing blinders.

Young Smith’s ideas undermine the very Idea of workplace diversity. This is especially disheartening given her high profile. It is dispiriting also because her undergraduate degree is from Grambling State University, a historically black university and sister Southwestern Athletic Conference institution to my undergraduate alma mater Jackson State University. She effectively tells companies they can ignore diversity and inclusiveness efforts – which were largely dismantled during the recession anyway – just as they are starting to discuss them again. It’s no wonder that right-wing information site Breitbart latched on to her comments.

Young Smith makes a strong case for her own expendability. If she really believes what she said she should resign because Apple doesn’t need her.

©2017, Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved.

Robert Naylor is a journalist, journalism educator, leadership and diversity consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, lectures, and commentary.

Connect with Robert on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook.

Elections and Grieving: The losers shouldn’t just “get over it”

Friday, November 11th, 2016








We grieve for more than the people we love and our furry (even scaly) family members. There are many things that can create a sense of loss in our lives and when that occurs grief is a natural response.

In her pioneering book On Death and Dying, Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first discussed her theory of the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These have become something of a standard for how we view and deal with grieving when it comes to everything from losing a loved one, to the end of a relationship, to losing a job, to having the candidate of your choice lose an emotional and hard-fought political race.

However, there is no right or wrong way to grieve and there are those who justifiably challenge the Kübler-Ross theory. A deeply felt griefloss – no matter the source – can be disconcerting and disorienting and there can never be a prescription or linear method for how to deal with it. The progression differs from person to person and situation to situation. The depth of loss matters, and that also differs for each individual.

No matter which candidate lost in Tuesday’s historic presidential election, it was inevitable that his or her supporters would find it unbelievable and feel an intense sense of anger. We are seeing that now playing out in both constructive and damaging ways. People move through the stages of grief at their own pace and they deserve the time to do so. Those who insist that they “get over it” and “move on” are doing them no favors, even if that is the intention.

On the other hand, the winners have earned the right to celebrate and they need not moderate feelings of excitement and anticipation. Those on the losing side should recognize and accept this. However, celebration is very different than gloating and the victors are much more likely to win over those who are anguished by respecting the grief process as a natural outgrowth of loss.

Those feeling the same sense of loss should not try to pressure friends, family members or themselves into moving too quickly to the point of acceptance. That will come in time and trying to force it will only prolong the process and exacerbate any problems.


©2016 Robert Naylor Coaching & Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved.

Robert Naylor is a journalist, journalism educator, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, lectures, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact

Connect with Robert on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook.

Succeeding at this year’s resolutions

Monday, January 4th, 2016








Every year we do it: Begin the year with a spanking new set of resolutions. It’s ritual; ingrained in our culture. And so is failing to achieve them year after year after futile, frustrating year.

The start of a new year seems like an ideal time to begin creating a better version of ourselves. Dust off the gym membership and get in better shape. Eat healthier and loscanstockphoto32380192e some weight. Stop smoking. Find a job we actually like and pays what we’re worth. Have a social life.

But for as many of us make resolutions (by some estimates upwards of 40 percent of Americans do), only a small segment of us (an estimated eight percent) ever achieve these goals. Sure, we start off just fine. But by the third or fourth week of January, most of our resolutions are things of the past, just like those moldy holiday leftovers stuffed in the Tupperware at the back of the refrigerator. Yes, that’s about as far as we make it.

Why on earth do we continue to this? Probably because there are things about ourselves and our lives that we sincerely want – and doubtless need – to change. Resolutions can provide considerable motivation to (at least) begin a process of self-improvement or (at most) begin to reinvent ourselves. Each of us recognizes that succeeding can improve self-image and confidence. But repeated failures can undermine our sense of self-worth and make us less likely to challenge ourselves to be better than we are.

Psychologists and productivity experts suggest we fail at achieving our resolutions because we really aren’t ready to change our behavior patterns, however self-defeating they might be. Perhaps the biggest mistake is failing to understand how to effectively set goals, which is all resolutions are.

Start by making sure your resolutions address issues you genuinely care about and then borrow from a process long used by businesses for setting “SMART” goals. Make your resolutions:

  • Specific – What, exactly, do you want to achieve?
  • Meaningful – How will accomplishing this make a difference in your life?
  • Action-oriented – What steps will you take to realize your goal?
  • Realistic – Is this something you can actually do?
  • Timely – What’s your deadline?

If you’ve made resolutions for 2016, here are some other suggestions for succeeding this time around.

  1. Don’t go it alone. Making a significant change is easier if you have a support system and even more so if someone is taking the journey along with you. This might include working out with a partner or involving family members in something that requires a significant behavior or lifestyle change.
  2. Create a plan. Without a well-defined strategy, a goal is nothing more than a wish.  Your plan should include specific action steps, each with its own timetable for completion, and a way of measuring your success at various intervals along the way.
  3. Don’t be overly ambitious. Meaningful resolutions require a lifestyle change. Trying to do too many things at once will overly complicate your daily routine and make it less likely that you will achieve any of what you set out to do. Focus on one or two things that will have a positive impact on your life.
  4. Don’t give up so easily. Missing a few days at the gym, giving in to your pizza craving, sneaking a cigarette, getting a rejection email from your dream job or being turned down for a date doesn’t make you a failure. Keep plugging away, learn from your setbacks and reward yourself for achieving interim successes.
  5. Believe in yourself. If you don’t trust that you can achieve your goals you’ve already failed and resolutions are a waste of time. Document your efforts along the way with a journal or log so you’ll be able to see the progress you’re making, replicate triumphs, and avoid repeating disappointments.



©2016 Robert Naylor Coaching & Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved.

Robert Naylor is a journalist, journalism educator, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, lectures, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact

Connect with Robert on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook.

Who should tell our stories?

Monday, November 9th, 2015









This time a week ago I was recovering from nearly 20 hours of exhausting travel but still experiencing a mental, emotional and intellectual high after spending two weeks teaching journalism in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

My colleagues were some of the most exceptional storytellers – writers, photojournalists, and documentary film makers – with whom I have ever worked (and I have worked alongside some of the best). I felt blessed to share things I have learned in more than 35 yeaUnesco Journalismrs as a journalist.

I was the first of three writing instructors to arrive for the four-week “Pan African Workshop for Professional Media Product
ion,” which began Oct. 18 and lasts through Friday. The workshop was the brainchild of my former Associated Press colleague Russell Frederick, a gifted photojournalist with a growing international presence; Abraham Haile Biru, an award winning filmmaker who built a high-profile career in Europe before returning to his native Ethiopia to start the Blue Nile Film and Television Academy; and the brilliant Sasha Geist Rubel of UNESCO.

My task was to begin laying a foundation of storytelling essentials. I did not necessarily know what to expect from the students, but I soon learned that they needed no help from me in developing ideas, just the tools to share them with a global audience.

In many ways they reminded me of myself. I grew up in Mississippi at the climax of the civil rights movement. White reporters told stories of black homes, businesses and houses of worship that were bombed and burned. They told stories of black men and women whose bodies were left hanging from trees as terrorist calling cards. They told stories of peaceful black protesters being set upon with attack dogs, firehoses and police officers wielding nightsticks.

Their stories were delivered with such dramatic and grisly detail that they shocked the consciousness of a nation that thought better of itself, thus breaking the back of institutionalized racial segregation. The problem was, they were not necessarily OUR stories; more nuanced chronicles of people who found and shared moments of happiness and grace, never lost hope, and were willing to die fighting for what they believed so that their children could have better lives.

Similarly, my Ethiopian students want to contribute to the global narrative about a country no one knows quite the way they do: the national pride; the rich history; the remarkable art and music; the diverse culture; the rapidly growing economy; the fact that theirs is the only African nation never colonized; and the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews for more than 1,000 years. They know first-hand of its deficiencies: inadequate infrastructure, unsafe roads, soot-belching cars and buses, inferior emergency medical care and too few opportunities for women.

But they also know that the Ethiopia depicted in global media – plagued by famine and conflict – is not theirs. While I was there, a story in American media said Ethiopia is suffering a severe drought. That is true for a portion of the county, but no truer than saying the United States was suffering a severe drought based on conditions in California. Western media often exaggerate negative depictions and ignore everything else.

Why should we Americans (especially African Americans) care about helping Ethiopians and other Africans change the narrative of their county and their continent? Because in working with them, we learn things we might never have imagined and our lives can be transformed in ways we never imagined. Plus we can then share richer, deeper, more accurate stories about our own country, its people, and its place in the world.


©2015 Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved

Robert Naylor is a journalist, journalism educator, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, lectures, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact

Connect with Robert on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook.

Companies can blame themselves for skills shortages

Monday, July 13th, 2015








There was a time when trainers were considered indispensable members of corporate leadership teams. Smart senior executives knew that continual assessment of organizational capabilities by in-house experts who could develop targeted strategies to fill learning gaps would improve agility, competitiveness and profitability.

But that was before the economic downturn; before some short-sighted bean counters reminded cash-strapped senior managers of the ages-old lie that “those who can, do.” Corporate learning professionals were targeted as hangers-on who had outlived their usefulTraining Graphicness. Within a few years, practically every trainer I knew was unemployed, most unable to find work back in operational roles where they had previously excelled.

In this new organizational paradigm, managers are supposed to know what to do, and those willing to admit shortcomings are often shunted aside. The result is that mistakes, poor decision making and just plain bad management at every level often go unchallenged. More than that, overburdened and underpaid front-line and middle managers are left without a key resource for strategizing, problem solving and coping. Many are burning out because of high levels of stress and low levels of support.

In this new organizational paradigm, orientation programs are being scrapped and entry-level employees are expected to arrive with skills that rival much longer-tenured colleagues. I was once approached by a manager who wanted to fire an intern, saying the college senior wasn’t as good as the experienced professionals on staff. Veteran employees who want or need to enhance skills are expected to do so on their own time and at their own expense. In too many companies, the idea of a learning curve for those taking on new assignments is all but a thing of the past.

Businesses of all types are scrambling to fill key workforce skill gaps, but they have only themselves to blame for the scarcity of many of the most desirable and essential abilities.

The elimination of trainers and training programs is – as the old saying goes – penny-wise and pound foolish. A March 2013 article in Forbes Magazine says a company’s learning strategy is one of its most important sources of competitive advantage. The Houston Chronicle says training programs strengthen the skills needed by each employee to improve and build confidence, they ensure that employees have a consistent experience and background knowledge across the organization, and they show employees that they are valued.

These are hardly intangible things. They directly impact employee morale and productivity, which directly impact corporate profitability. Senior executives looking to improve productivity need to seriously consider restoring or enhancing learning functions and they must not settle for people who have burned out in other roles. Corporate learning professionals have to be skilled operations practitioners. But they also need to be talented presenters, facilitators and teachers. They must be able to function as part of the senior management team, comprehend corporate goals and strategies, understand what skills are essential for organizational success and have the ability to assess where gaps exist. The Association for Talent Development says corporate learning professionals must have the ability to design and deliver training, manage the learning function, measure and evaluate the results of training, and manage organizational knowledge. They also need to know how to identify subject matter experts within the organization and teach them how to train others.

Companies struggling with such issues as productivity, execution, decision making, communication, collaboration, and development of employees and managers would do themselves a favor to consider enhancing training and learning functions. It will be money well invested.
©2015 Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved

Robert Naylor is a journalist, journalism educator, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact

Connect with Robert on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook


No creativity, no innovation

Monday, March 9th, 2015







Last summer I heard from a middle manager who seemed hopefully optimistic about a new innovation initiative at his company. He was excited about the high level of autonomy he and members of his team were being promised to develop new products and services, and he wanted to discuss ideas about managing in a suddenly less restrictive environment.

When we spoke a few days later, the enthusiasm had been replaced by frustration after senior executives followed up with multiple caveats that the manager knew would stifle creativity among team members.

No creativity means no innovation.

Innovation is the new buzzword and all the rage in corporate America. But too many senior managers seem to believe they can force innovation by locking project teams in conference rooms with pizza and soft drinks for brainstorming sessions. What they usually end up with is people with heartburn.creativity and innovation

I remain a fan of brainstorming meetings, even though a number of top leadership and productivity experts have begun to question their value. I consider them most useful in developing implementation strategies for ideas that are already fully formed. But the truth is, they don’t tend to generate much that would make us say wow. When was the last time you heard of something truly groundbreaking or life-changing coming out of a brainstorming session?

Innovation happens when people – and the teams on which they work – are given the time, the freedom and the support for their minds to wander into the realm of structured play. Too many senior managers can’t imagine such a lack of discipline. Nor can they conceive of so much individual and team autonomy. Their need to maintain control and structure, and to heavy-handedly manage corporate culture, inevitably crushes creativity and, along with it, innovation.

Not much more than six months after I first spoke with that middle manager, the new innovation initiative had already failed (as most do) and it has since been all but forgotten.

Some people erroneously equate creativity and innovation. While they are inextricably linked, they are not the same thing. Another common fallacy is that creativity is a special talent reserved for a few special people, when in fact most of us are capable of being creative on some level in the right environment.

Creativity is the ability to conceptualize things that seem unrelated or out of the realm of possibility and to make sense of them, based on experience and ability. It is innovation that transforms these concepts into reality via new products, services and processes that make a difference in our lives every day.

There is ample research to show that even the smartest, most highly skilled people do not achieve ground-breaking results outside of environments that foster creative problem solving. Such environments encourage team members to be imaginative in overcoming obstacles and improving workflow, decision making and other practices throughout the organization.

Creativity has three main components:

  • Expertise, which includes technical skill as well as knowledge of processes and corporate culture.
  • Flexibility and encouragement for team leaders and members to seek unconventional solutions and take calculated risks. They must also be given the time to explore and develop the resulting ideas.
  • Motivation, with intrinsic motivation more important than extrinsic motivation. While high performers need to be properly rewarded, senior managers must understand what gives them a sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction, and tap into that.

Many companies have gotten out of the business of helping employees develop expertise through training and development, seeing only upfront costs as opposed to long-term investment. They see flexibility as downtime and unproductive. They often believe employees should be motivated just by drawing a paycheck. But senior executives who overlook or exclude these components, who impose too many rules or who manage processes too tightly undermine the ability of their teams to produce innovative products and services. No number of corporate-sponsored initiatives will ever change that and these efforts will continue to fail.


©2015 Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved

Robert Naylor is a journalist, journalism educator, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact

Connect with Robert on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook

Why the front runner never looks back

Thursday, January 1st, 2015








Watch sprinters tear around a track and you might notice their high level of concentration and singular focus on reaching the finish line. They can appear oblivious to hyped-up crowds and just about any other kind of distraction. They always look ahead and no matter where opponents are, the front runner never, ever looks back.

Turning to see an opponent’s position slows forward momentum and can allow a runner to drift into another lane, which can be disastrous. Sprinters know that losing even a fraction of a second can mean the difference between winning and losing a race.FrontRunner

It’s not that they are unaware of surroundings. Quite the contrary, sprinters learn to rely on things like peripheral vision, hearing, and intuition to know where their opponents are at all times.

Leaders and those who aspire to leadership roles can learn a lot from sprinters.

  1. Be prepared. Every runner on the track has already put in countless hours of training. Even naturally gifted athletes need first-rate training, coaching and support. The same is true with leaders.
  2. Shut out the noise. Avoid distractions and remain focused. Know where you stand, who’s surrounding you, and where they stand. Learn to rely on instincts and intuition, but don’t over rely on them. Apply what you’ve learned and trained to do.
  3. Don’t lose sight of your goals. Before a race, sprinters can seem to be in their own world. They don’t want to lose focus. Organizations of all kinds have internal politics and power struggles. It’s easy to get caught up in them and sometimes they are unavoidable. But never turn to look back and engage those whose goal is to take you down. If you do, you can easily lose sight of where you’re going and stray off course.
  4. Don’t underestimate adversaries. Top athletes make a point of knowing how good their opponents are. They study their performance to understand their strengths and shortcomings. Pretending rivals lacks talent and ability doesn’t make it so. It just makes you more vulnerable.
  5. You’re part of a team. All of us think of sprinters as individual achievers. We love star performers, whether in sports or business. But behind the scenes are coaches, trainers, colleagues and support staff who constantly and consistently challenge and push them to be their best.
  6. Know who your real friends are. When you’ve emerged victorious, it seems logical to surround yourself with the people who supported you. But make sure those people share your vision and they are competent enough to help you develop and execute solid, smart strategy based on that vision.
  7. Learn from your mistakes. Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said: ” If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.” Everyone makes them but too many leaders are slow to admit to it.  Owning your mistakes opens the door for others to help you avoid making the same errors again. Rivals won’t quickly forget the things you’ve done wrong, so it’s up to you to show what you have learned and how you’re putting it to good use.
  8. Learn from your opponents’ mistakes. This might seem obvious but you might be surprised how many people in leadership roles never pay attention to the mistakes of others, especially rivals.
  9. Forego the bravado. Perhaps the only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner. While you’re busy taking a victory lap, your detractors are probably regrouping and studying your vulnerabilities. As tempting as it might be, gloating and sticking it in the eye of your adversaries will only increase their resolve, undermine future coalition building opportunities and cause supporters to question your leadership.
  10. Get over it, already. Internal organizational politics can often leave everyone involved bruised and embittered. It can be easy for everyone to forget or abandon shared goals and objectives. This is no time to sulk. And as much as you’d like, you can’t always smooth everything over. But you can, and should, make a sincere effort to reach out to rivals and mend damaged relationships.

©2015 Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved

Robert Naylor is a journalist, journalism educator, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact

Connect with Robert on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook


12 leadership lessons from Ferguson and Staten Island

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

I included in my monthly newsletter (Click here to sign up), sent out earlier this week, a short piece called “10 lessons in leadership from Ferguson.” I didn’t assign any of the lessons to an individual, group, or incident because I believe those involved on the front lines – state and local officials, the prosecutor, the police, the community activists, the protesters and the media (with its absurd lack of diversity) all share fault and credit for everything that went wrong, and everything that wasn’t as bad as it could have been.BlackSuitC_2

I want to share the list, but I also want to add two things that stem from the decision Wednesday by a grand jury in Staten Island, N.Y., not to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choke hold death of 43-year-old Eric Garner last July.

An indictment is a formal charge of a crime. It’s an official accusation, not a conviction. Indicting Pantaleo would have made him no more guilty than he is today, and given the deference juries show to law enforcement officers, might not have resulted in a guilty verdict.

What it would have done is set in motion a thorough, thoughtful investigation that allowed us to learn all the facts of how and why Garner, a father of six, was killed with a procedure banned by the New York City Police Department. Indicting Pantaleo might have helped the public understand why another unarmed black man died at the hands of a police officer, this time for allegedly selling a few loose cigarettes from his pocket.

There were conflicting and sometimes confusing witness accounts about the series of events that led to the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown last August by then-Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson.

However, as Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” pointed out: “None of the ambiguities that existed in the Ferguson case exist in the Staten Island case, and yet the outcome is exactly the same.”

Indeed, the confrontation and eventual scuffle that led to Garner’s death was captured on videotape in eerie, morbid, bone-chilling detail.

So, what’s the leadership lesson here? Don’t ignore the obvious.

The second comes from a statement made by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., during an interview with CNN Wednesday night. King, who has a talent for the absurd, blamed Garner’s death on his physical condition, saying: “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died for this. “The police had no reason to know he was in serious condition.”

Let’s stay a mugger unintentionally cuts a victim who takes blood anticoagulant medication. Let’s say the victim bleeds to death from what would be a flesh wound for most people. The mugger has no reason to know about the victim’s medical condition, but is nonetheless charged with murder, and rightly so.

King, who has a law degree from Notre Dame, knows this as well as anyone. So what’s the leadership lesson here? Don’t create a distraction to divert attention from the real problem.

Here, now, is my list of 12 lessons from Ferguson and Staten Island

  1. Don’t ignore the obvious. Sometimes it really is just what it looks like.
  2. Don’t divert attention from the problem. It doesn’t go away and you only exacerbate it and create new ones.
  3. When mishandled, a bad situation will always get worse. Never underestimate the broader implications of what might seem like an isolated incident.
  4. Someone has to be in charge. There must be clear lines of authority and accountability up, down, and across the organization.
  5. Sometimes you need a different approach. If what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t hesitate to try a well-thought-out alternative.
  6. Let your best people take the lead. Different situations call for different leadership styles and approaches. The fact that you happen to like an individual’s leadership style shouldn’t be the deciding factor.
  7. Know your team. Be aware of what your people are capable of doing, and what they actually are doing.
  8. Look for opportunities to build bridges and forge new partnerships. This is a continuous job. When things go wrong, it’s too late.
  9. Trust is fundamental to building and maintaining relationships. When we feel under siege there is a natural inclination to metaphorically circle the wagons, which only increases mistrust.
  10. Have a plan. Too many organizations have scrapped planning processes because the plans quickly become outdated. But it’s not about the plan; it’s about understanding what the future might hold and preparing to address multiple possibilities.
  11. Have an objective. Too many people act without knowing what they want as outcomes. Yogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” Enough said.
  12. Listen more than you talk. Listening is a leader’s most important communication skill. Smart leaders know that communication is more about engaging than being heard and it is engagement that allows people to find common ground and build consensus.


I’m interviewed about micromanagement

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Check out this 16-minute podcast by Local Jobs Network Radio host Jenna Connour, in which she interviews me about one of my blog posts on the effects of micromanagement in the workplace.


Leadership, media, and the angry black woman

Friday, September 26th, 2014








Those who often find themselves on the wrong side of stereotypes become sensitive to them − sometimes overly so. We see that when someone takes offense to something supposedly offered as a compliment.

It’s no wonder then that a New York Times critic created a public furor by referring to television producer Shonda Rhimes as an “angry black woman.” Writing about Rhimes’ newest show, How to Get Away With Murder (which premiered last night), Alessandra Stanley said in a Sept. 18 piece that the producer’s autobiography “should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.’” Rhimes retorted via Twitter that she didn’t know she was angry and pointed out that the creator of the show was a white man, Peter Nowalk. The ruckus only grew after that.

Women seeking to enter and rise through corporate leadership ranks can be castigated for behavior that wins praise for male counterparts. A man is assertive; a woman is … well, something else. A man is a risk-taker; a woman is reckless. This is especially true for women of color, who often must overcome multiple negative labels.

The term “angry” is considered a harmful stereotype among many African Americans − women and men alike − who believe it is arbitrarily slapped on those who are  confident, assertive and dare to speak up. It can bring an upward career trajectory to a screeching halt because angry equates to temperamental, volatile, difficult to work with, and someone we just don’t like being around.

It was surprising then to see the term applied to Rhimes − whose obvious talent has earned her ABC’s entire Thursday night prime time lineup − by an opinion writer for the nation’s How to get away with murdermost influential newspaper. The Times has since backed away from the review, with Public Editor Margaret Sullivan calling it “astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch.” But Stanley herself initially took exception to the condemnation, insisting she intended to compliment Rhimes. Stanley did praise the producer for doing “more to reset the image of African American women on television than anyone since Oprah Winfrey.” Still, she either ignored or was ignorant of the stereotype she made the centerpiece of her review. It only made matters worse that she deemed the dark-skinned Viola Davis, star of How to Get Away With Murder, “less classically beautiful” than some lighter-skinned black actresses.

In writing about characters played by Davis, Chandra Wilson in Grey’s Anatomy and Kerry Washington in Scandal, Stanley said Rhimes had “embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast it in her own image and made it enviable.”

Stanley reviewed shows with strong white female characters but didn’t see them as angry. She described Téa Leoni, who plays the lead role in the new series Madame Secretary, as having “a loose, engaging manner.” She called Alicia Florrick, the character brilliantly played by Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife, as having “guile as well as gumption.” I’m inclined to agree.

Stanley’s opinions − and those of influential writers like her − both reflect and sway public opinion. That may be the biggest problem with her review. Many of the perceptions we develop about people who are different from us come from what we see, hear or read in media reports. Given that, it doesn’t require much of a stretch to imagine a hiring manager or senior executive seeing a Téa Leoni as engaging or a Julianna Margulies having guile and gumption but a Viola Davis, Chandra Wilson or Kerry Washington as angry.

If Stanley wants to compliment Rhimes and the characters she creates, she should look beyond trite but persistent (to use her term) labels. The things we see on television and in movies influence our perceptions about people, and imaginary characters create real-world consequences. No one deliberately hires or promotes someone they perceive as angry for no apparent reason. A hiring manager who believes Stanley − that Annalise Keating, Dr. Miranda Bailey and Olivia Pope are all angry − might be unlikely to hire someone with similar qualities.

It’s easy for labels to stick, but they can be very difficult to shake. Those seeking to shape public opinion need to be careful about when, where and how to apply them.


©2014 Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved


Robert Naylor is a journalist, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact

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