Business Musings

What Makes a Great Leader

Photo Credit to stockimages via
Photo Credit to stockimages via

Throughout my work experience, I have had my fair share of less-than-stellar bosses, managers, you name it. Out of all the leaders I have worked with, there were only a couple who stuck out as exceptional leaders. These are the qualities I found that they had in common:

  1. Open, honest communication
  2. Fairness
  3. Streamlined workflow system

One boss I had was rarely physically present with us employees, but he had the whole system set up to where we knew what to do on a daily basis (this was a foodservice job): we knew how to get things set up, how to handle incoming orders and busy periods of time, and how to break down for the day. We were required to confirm inventory both at the beginning and the end of each shift, and our boss had set up many checks and balances along the way to make sure the inventory count was one-hundred percent accurate. Despite not being physically there with us, our boss taught us to be mindful of every detail so that his business could be run efficiently and effectively.

Another great manager I had at another job was very kind and honest. Although at times these qualities of his seemed detrimental to being a great leader, I beg to differ: he was open to hearing me out on any ideas or concerns I had about the business and allowed for me to do more than what my job title dictated by giving me the task to update marketing materials for the business. He made sure that our whole staff was on the same page by scheduling regular meetings with us all and letting us all voice our opinions without fear of criticism.

I hope to one day be able to emulate these two great leaders from my past work experience.

Business Musings

3 Ways to Diffuse Work Conflict

Uh oh. Confrontation time?
Uh oh. Confrontation time?

Bam: you have been at your company for a few months/years now. Suddenly, you are managing a small team….and suddenly, you have a conflict with one of your teammates. Here are quick, easy, and relatively stress-free tips to handle the conflict:

  1. Be proactive, not passive-aggressive – If the conflict arises slowly, bubbling to the surface, do not just let the situation simmer there: confront the situation with your teammate or the whole team before things get any stickier. Be clear about the conflict and talk about how to work things out…instead of feigning ignorance and letting the tension rise.
  2. If you feel emotional, do not confront during this time – I have mentioned this before in email correspondence etiquette, but this rule should especially apply to in-person confrontations. DO NOT confront when you are especially angry or upset at your teammate. You will most likely say something that will fire back at you, and maybe hurt the other party (or make them angrier).
  3. Map out a plan of solving the conflict – If the conflict is not time-sensitive, cool yourself down and think of some ways to solve the conflict. That way, when you bring things up with your teammate, you will be able to go about the conflict in a constructive manner.

And remember, always keep your cool. If you do lash out at your teammate, remember to apologize. This should not need to be written out, but oftentimes, we get lost in the moment of anger.

Happy work days to you!

Business Musings Entrepreneurial Journey learning

7 Lessons from #IncLeadership Forum, June 10-12, 2013

Dr. Brene Brown's autograph inside her book, "Daring Greatly".
Dr. Brene Brown’s autograph inside her book, “Daring Greatly”.

Last week, I had the privilege of attending Inc. Leadership Forum in Carlsbad (San Diego area), California. It was 3 days of learning and connecting, and I cannot thank Inc. Magazine enough for sponsoring my pass. There were many great speakers including Brene Brown, Lewis Schiff, and Chester Elton.

Below are my takeaways from the forum:

  • Lesson 1: Company culture is top priority. Felt like Day 2 (June 11) was so full of talk about company culture; it was definitely a big theme of the conference. If company culture is not tailored to you, the leader’s, style, then everyone makes their own micro-cultures. Make sure all leaders are onboard for compromising an effective company culture.
  • Lesson 2: Make hiring process effective from the very beginning. Vanessa Merit Nornberg rocked the stage during her session; some attendees felt she was “too scary”, but I really liked how straightforward she is about her hiring process. She takes no crap, and I feel more employers should take that route. Have a system in place to screen out candidates fairly; screening questions (your own, not auto-screeners) can help determine if the candidate is the right fit or not.
  • Lesson 3: Make company values & mission statement short and memorable. Chester Elton (among other speakers) talked about how these two components of a company’s credo should be easy to remember. Know your company values and mission well, but have it be short enough so that employees (both current and future) will be able to remember them.
  • Lesson 4: Know your priorities. Don’t get lost in the mess of your day-to-day work; remember your priorities and let those preferences fall into place throughout the day. Be true to yourself and your company.
  • Lesson 5: Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. Dr. Brene Brown was amazing, and really touched everyone with her talk: yes, it is time for us all to stop thinking vulnerability is a weakness. However, also be picky as to who you share your stories of shame/vulnerability to; people have to earn the right to know your stories.
  • Lesson 6: Reset throughout your days & weeks. Bonnie St. John–so inspirational for everyone! She reminded us of how entrepreneurs just go nonstop…when in reality, even pro athletes take time to recover. We entrepreneurs need to make time to recover as well, mentally and physically. Stretch more, meditate more; just take some time to relax.
  • Lesson 7: Recognize your employees for their great work. Employees (and everyone else for that matter) cannot read your mind; communicate your specific needs/tasks for your employees to execute successfully. When they do a great job, make sure to recognize them for their hard work; no general thank-yous. Make things personable. Thanks to Chester Elton for his royally entertaining yet insightful talks!

This summary does not do the whole Inc. Leadership Forum any justice, but it’ll do.

Admittedly, this information is not new to the world or to myself. Still, it was great to listen to so many inspirational leaders and connect with other likeminded individuals. I made some really great connections and genuine friendships. Finally, I know people from Austin, TX!

I was telling my colleague about how going to a conference is like going to an academic class: we can all read/skim as many articles/books online as we can about a subject matter, but listening to speakers in-person really cements the lessons learned.

Then, it is time to apply what we’ve learned. I need more time to process all the information gained, but soon I will be ready to apply the knowledge.

Business Musings Entrepreneurial Journey

6 Lessons Learned In the First Year of Starting Up

Perhaps this is my calling with TAOpivot.
Perhaps this is my calling with TAOpivot.

As you can probably tell from the title, today’s post is focused on entrepreneurship. I have had TAOpivot since February 2012 and only started going full-speed with the business last June. Today, at the pre-conference talk at Inc. Leadership Forum, Norm Brodsky was telling the crowd about how “starting one’s own business is not easy.” Immediately, I heard my parents telling me the same thing throughout my young life.

So, before I gain more insight into how to be a better business owner and overall leader at the Leadership Forum, here are some lessons learned from this past year:

  1. Listen to the customer – No really; LISTEN. I have read this piece of advice many times from different sources, but I had to experience the lesson firsthand. I had originally priced all my services at a large premium because I did not want to appear “cheap”. However, the way my original pricing structure was organized, I wanted clients to pay the total service fee upfront with no guarantee of success rendering services. After getting rejected many times by different prospects over the price being “too much”, I changed the structure (and the prices) at the beginning of this year to include a nonrefundable deposit of a reasonable amount. That change has helped bring in many more clients than my original process last year.
  2. I do not have to do everything alone – Before TAOpivot came to being, I was already working with my idea coach, ideavist. During most of last year, I continued my work with him because I felt I needed help. There were a few periods of time this past year where I did not have help via ideavist nor intern. I was alone, and I thought I could do it all by myself. Nope. Luckily these days, I have more entrepreneurial friends so we can bounce ideas and advice off one another. Having others around for support and company assistance (interns) has helped me out a lot. I want to wear all the hats of the company, but I know I cannot.
  3. Know my weaknesses well & delegate – As mentioned above, I want to wear all the hats at TAOpivot, but I know I cannot. There are areas I have recognized as genuine weaknesses: even though I studied marketing in undergrad, I know I am rusty with different deliverables and seeing the big picture objectively. Also, the fact that I interact with foreign nationals as part of my business is another weakness I have found–sure, I communicate with all my prospects and clients in English. But I understand that my way of marketing to them is not so effective without someone from that same culture. Hence the reason why I have taken on interns from the majority client base’s culture (in this case, China).
  4. Be wise with my time – The entrepreneur’s forever task on the to-do list. There have been periods this past year where I would inundate my schedule with a lot of meetings. Granted, these meetings were set with good intentions: learn about possible partnerships and basically connect with more businesspeople in the community. However–having so many meetings in a short amount of time is so draining…and sometimes, the meetings would have been best done via email or shorter periods. I have learned that I must be more selfish about my time: set how long the meeting will last, have an agenda mapped out, and talk about just that. Lately, I have been shying away from meetings in general due to my ‘overdose’ early last month. Slowly easing back in…
  5. Agendas are important – I naturally like to stay organized, but somehow the part about meeting agendas had slipped through the cracks this past year. This relates to my time management issue above: I go to a meeting without a somewhat clear vision of what I want out of it and then end up babbling with colleagues over insignificant things. Last week, I had a meeting with my intern to check up on how things were going on his end and what we needed to do next. I drew up a small list of topics we were to talk about; the meeting went so much more smoothly (and faster!) with my preparation.
  6. Stay focused and on my OWN path – I admit, I love going to tech events and meeting tech entrepreneurs in Denver/around the country. There’s this electricity that builds up at tech gatherings that I just want to be a part of. However, over and over, I am reminded that TAOpivot is NOT a tech company. Nor will it ever be (at least, it won’t ever have a primary tech focus as far as I can see). Only a few days ago, I was mumbling about the lack of funding TAOpivot had. A colleague of mine put me in my place: “Your business is better off being a SMB (small- to medium-sized business). You want to be 100% in control, right?” That put my thoughts into perspective: why should I keep striving to be what I know TAOpivot cannot be? Play upon the strengths I know for TAOpivot; stop worrying about the tech industry and “not fitting in” with the crowd. Stay unique and focused.

There are many other lessons I have learned, but those can be for another day. For now, I hope these lessons I have learned will help you with your venture as well.

Business Musings Internet

10 Rules for Business Email Etiquette


Have you ever received a supposedly professional email before and find out how crude and unprofessional the other party is? How about receiving an email essentially yelling at you for something small? We have all received at least one of those kinds of emails. Has etiquette gone by the wayside with technology? I outline ten rules below of what to do and what NOT to do with email in the business world (and beyond):

  1. DO NOT write an email when you are emotional – This just happened to me last week; a colleague of mine had emailed me, stating some terms of service to me, but essentially wrote the email in a threatening tone. This colleague was just trying to get a point across, but I found the email had no tact (and was terribly rude). The person was probably emotional about something else in life and got triggered by something I had done improperly. I understand; we all get emotional sometimes. But that is when we really SHOULD NOT write any emails, when we are upset, angry, etc. Next time, check your mood before you send out an email to someone; you do not want to come across as hostile.
  2. DO follow up within 24-48 hours with contacts – Nobody likes waiting around for a response to a job application, an interview, a request, and so forth (this is one of my biggest pet peeves). Make it a habit to reply to emails with 1-2 days, even if it’s just to say “No, not interested”. The other party may appreciate just the simple fact that you took time to let them know.
  3. DO NOT use slang or jargon in messages outside of your industry/work – Sure, you might have learned some pretty cool terminology at your previous or current job. Using that terminology outside of your job or industry is pretty pointless though: you may think you are trying to sound smart, but you are just confusing the other party more. Use terms that everyone can understand. Also, use professional writing at all times. You do not want to receive an email that says, “Yo what up?” from your co-worker, do you?
  4. DO spell-check and read over your messages before sending – The email is “just” an email, right? Yes…and no. You are still writing something for someone else to read, and leaving big, ugly typos will not help your cause out at all. Read over your message; even read it out loud if you can. Look for spelling errors not captured by your resident spell-check tool. You do not want to send an email about “the coroner office” to your supervisor.
  5. DO NOT use fancy fonts or formatting – You may think your email editor is super awesome and you want to show the fancy fonts off to your colleagues. Save that for personal emails; fancy fonts and weird formatting will not help you get your point across. At the very least, it will just be annoying for your colleagues to read through the email.
  6. DO break up your email into paragraphs – Should go without saying, but you would be surprised at how many emails we receive that are all words and no break in between thoughts. Nobody wants to read a big long blurb of text on a blog post; who wants to read that in their inbox? Break up topics in your email message so the other party can digest each bite slowly.
  7. DO NOT USE ALL CAPS – See what I did there? And this is another no-brainer/goes-without-saying rule. But there are still people out there who will write all in caps, not realizing they are, in fact, yelling at the other party. Do not be that person.
  8. DO make sure you are sending the email to the right person – There should be a rule to not write any personal messages from an email account primarily used for business…but I realize not everyone wants to check several inboxes. Best alternative–pay attention when your email client auto-guesses who you are sending the email to. You do not want to send an email talking about embarrassing yourself at a business gathering over the weekend to Ted, your supervisor, as opposed to Terri, your sister. Also, if you are copying and pasting a form email to several of your colleagues, make sure to change the name in the salutation so you are not exposing your mass email effort.
  9. DO NOT reply all – Another irksome late 20th century/early 21st century broken rule; unless you are replying all to your friends about a party or a gathering, I highly advise not replying all in a company message. If you are the sender of a mass email, please add people to the BCC line instead of the CC line.
  10. DO keep your emails somewhat short and to-the-point – Yes, there is rule #6 talking about breaking up paragraphs. But this rule is stating that, although your email might run long, make sure the details are supporting what you are requesting/asking for. Do not beat around the bush on a request. Make it short, and, if details ARE necessary, make sure it only makes your case stronger, not weaker.

And there you have it; email etiquette you can apply to both professional and personal usage. If you have other rules you would like to add, feel free to leave a comment below.