Jul 21

Only the front office was white

This headline accurately reflects the near-total lack of diversity in the front offices of Major League Baseball teams AND is a play on words to one of the best books ever written about the historic Colored Baseball Leagues: Only the Ball was White.

So, how come there are so few minorities holding senior management positions in Major League Baseball? Wayne McDonnell, Clinical Associate Professor of Sports Management at NYU (aka Dr. Baseball), shares his thoughts on this, and other knotty subjects challenging baseball’s future, in the first of two Rep TV videos with co-hosts Paul “Scooter” Merchan and Steve “Choo-Choo” Cody.

Tune in for part two on Monday when Dr. Baseball predicts which teams will face-off in the 2018 Fall Classic. Sadly, he didn’t even mention the Mets. But hey, Dr. Baseball’s batting average for predicting World Series winners is below the Mendoza Line, so maybe there’s still hope for the Mets. Nah.

 

Jul 18

Loving your subject and your students is what separates the great teachers from the mediocre ones

This is the second of my two-part blog about Northeastern’s esteemed history professor, Dr. WIlliam Fowler. I had the good-fortune to study under him, and he had a profound impact on my life.   

In today’s blog, Dr. Fowler, who has just retired, shares the key attribue for a teacher at any level to be considered truly great.

“Love your subject and your students,” he said. “If you love your subject, as I did, then you cherish it, you embrace it, you want to hone in on what you think is particularly important about it and, critically, you want to share it with others.”

“I’ve been in places with teachers in which you hear them make comments about their students that are quite startling. Those teachers are the exception but, when you hear them speak in a derogatory way about their students you think, my god, the students will definitely pick up on that negativity.”

Students are like sharks, said Fowler. They smell the blood and know when you like them and you’re interested. They also know when you’re prepared and when you’ve just thrown together a couple of slides and are winging it. Students know good teachers from bad.

Fowler says it’s also critical to know one’s students. “When a student comes to you or it’s obvious he’s struggling, the great teacher needs to be a patient listener. When a student is having a hard time, there’s almost always a story outside of the classroom that’s at the root cause.”

“I never let a troubled student leave without my having made an attempt, in the student’s presence, to call someone else on campus who can help. That’s what great teachers do.”

Happily, Professor Fowler never had to make that kind of call for me. But, I would argue that the attributes of a great teacher are almost identical to those of a great leader. I wouldn’t pretend to say I’m the latter, but I do love my subject. As for the people, let’s just say I like them. A lot.

 

Jul 17

 Raise your hand if a teacher made a profound (and positive) change in your life


Over the years I’ve spoken to successful individuals about any teacher who ignited a spark that drove their success. In my case, that teacher is Bill Fowler, who taught three or four of my classes at Northeastern University. He changed not only the way I thought about history and life but also demonstrated a leadership style that I emulate to this day.

What separates this Renaissance Man from every other instructor is interaction.

I recently spoke with Dr. Fowler, who has just retired.

My goal was to learn, first-hand, how he perfected his particular style of pedagogy, what traits characterize the best teachers and how today’s crop of students compare with my generation.

Becoming Abraham Lincoln

Fowler literally brought historical figures, from James G. Blaine to Robespierre, to life. He did what stand-up comedians call “acting out.” So, you’d sit down in class and, boom, all of a sudden you were listening to Ulysses S. Grant, King Louis XIV or Andrew Johnson.

It not only made for superb drama. It made learning an experience.

Fowler stumbled upon this experiential technique working as a park ranger with the National Parks Service. “I gave talks at the Old North Bridge. There were barking dogs, jets flying overhead, all sorts of distractions and I needed to keep the group focused.”

In addition to shouting so he could be heard, Fowler had to communicate directly with individuals in the audience. “That’s where I learned direct eye contact could give them a sight, a sound and a smell. I wanted them to feel as if they were on that bridge on that fateful day long ago.”

Then & Now

As far as the difference between students in the 1970s and ‘80s and their modern contemporaries, Fowler refers to the latter as ‘The Wikipedia Generation.’

“They think everything they could possibly need to know is in Wikipedia. Period. As a result, they’re able to access information, but they can’t process it. They can see almost anything, but they can’t understand it.”

And, that’s where great teachers like Fowler fill in the blanks.

“The first thing I do, at the beginning of a new semester, is acknowledge they’ll be turning to Wikipedia for all of their answers and suggest we go there together, see what’s on Wikipedia, examine the information and analyze it.”

“My classes are journeys into the nuances of history that today’s students would otherwise miss completely if they relied solely on Wikipedia. Truth only comes from reflection and thought and analysis. And, that’s what the Internet is taking away from us. Good teachers need to intercept, interpret and, in effect, be a filter for what the students learn on Wikipedia.”

But, don’t get the idea that Fowler is down on Millennials and Generation Z. He isn’t. “Every generation suffers amnesia. They think what they’re doing today, in the here and now, is the only thing that matters. And that holds especially true for our political leaders. They want you to believe the world began on the day they took office. Millennials are just a reflection of our nation’s leadership. There are no more Harry Trumans, JFKs or Teddy Roosevelts who studied and wrote about history,” he observed.

Fowler believes his job was to make students think about what came before and put what is happening today into a frame of reference for them. He certainly did that for me.

Note: In part two, tomorrow, Dr. Fowler will address the key attributes that a great teacher (or leader) should possess.

Jul 14

Just the facts’ ma’am

I was fortunate enough to catch former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on MSNBC this morning.

Ballmer was appearing on @POTUS’s least favorite network to plug his new gig, www.usafacts.org and, if you haven’t paid it a visit yet do so ASAP.

USAfacts provides exactly what its name suggests: facts, and nothing but facts. The site is an aggregator of no fewer than 70 different sources of facts from various government departments, bureaus and agencies. There are no opinion pieces. No editorials. No speculations. Just facts and figures.

It’s a safe port in a storm-tossed TrumpWorld of fake news, bogus claims and outrageous lies.

Ballmer says the site was created in response to a recent Harris Poll survey that says 88 percent of Americans crave facts as well as a trusted source of information.

The majority (Democrats and Republicans alike, BTW) cite the national news media as their go-to source for news and information, but a staggering 75 percent of Millennials count, instead, on Facebook (knowing full well that FB is a miasma of lies, half-truths and stories that would make the editors of The National Enquirer blush in embarrassment).

I’ve already bookmarked USAFacts.org and subscribed to their daily report.

As Ballmer said, numbers don’t lie. And the numbers on USAFacts are fully vetted by responsible career professionals who’ve devoted their careers to serving the country. In other words, there’s no Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow filtering and spinning breaking news.

I want facts. I think all Americans want facts. And, right now, all we have is interpretation.

So, three cheers for USAFacts.org. My only hope is more Americans, ranging from “the base” to Bernie backers, include it in their daily news consumption.

I can’t speak for you, but I agree with the 88% of Americans who believe a single source of information is critical to an informed debate. Ballmer’s new baby may be the closest thing available to satisfying that need.

 

 

Jul 10

Gee, I Wonder What the Results Will Be?

Taking a page right out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, five major beverage manufacturers are ponying up $67.7 million to prove that a glass of wine, beer or cocktail every day will increase one’s chances of avoiding a heart attack and live longer.

Yet, other research has begun surfacing to suggest that even modest alcohol consumption can lead to increases in breast cancer and changes in the brain.  Holy conundrum, Batman!

So, the National Institutes of Health is stepping in to determine, once, and for all, if alcohol is good or bad. The total price tag for the multiple clinical trials? $100 million. So, that means Big Alcohol (or Big Al, as I like to call them) is funding two-thirds of the entire effort.

That’s like letting McDonald’s and Burger King pool their monies to prove there’s absolutely no link between their high calorie junk food and virtually every disease known to man.

Big Al’s serious investment is troubling to researchers who track influence-peddling in science (talk about a cool job!).

“Research shows that industry-sponsored research almost invariable favors the interests of the industry sponsor, even when investigators believe they are immune from such influence,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at NYU.

Needless to say Big Al’s lead spokesperson vehemently disagrees. George F. Koob, director of the Alcohol Institute (yet another way cool job) said the trial will be immune from industry influence and will be an unbiased test of whether alcohol “in moderation” protects against heart disease.

In case you’re interested (or, like me, want to volunteer) the study will recruit and follow nearly 8,000 volunteers age 50 or older at 16 sites around the world.

As was the case with Big Tobacco, Big Al may end up not liking the study’s results.

Imagine if every bottle of wine, IPA or Stoli suddenly contained the warning: “Drinking has been proven to cause numerous adverse ailments including shortness of breath, uncontrollable leg twitching, constipation, heart attack, stroke and death.” That might give the average consumer pause to think twice, unbend the elbow and exit the bar stage left.

Not me, though. No one’s keeping me away from my Sancerre at poolside. Uncontrollable leg twitching and research be damned.

Jul 06

Focusing on the Good Part II: The Invisible Illnesses

And, here’s the second of two guest blogs from Peppercomm’s Taylor Shawver…

Focusing on the Good Part II: The Invisible Illnesses

“Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there” – The Invisible Illnesses

Breaking the stigma around mental health has been a topic of conversation in recent years. There have been more people trying to bring down the biases against mental illnesses.

During my time at the College of Charleston (CofC), I had the opportunity to work with a woman who is now changing the world with individual’s stories and education. A fellow CofC graduate and Student Government Association colleague created The Invisible Illnesses, a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing the mental health stigma one story at a time. Founder, Emily Torchiana, initially created the organization as a project with her photographer Jesse Volk. The project shared weekly stories from College of Charleston students regarding their struggle with mental illnesses.

The impact of these stories quickly grew, and The Invisible Illnesses nonprofit organization was born. The Invisible Illnesses provides a public platform for individuals who suffer from mental illnesses to share their stories and connect with others.

It has truly been amazing seeing the development and growth of Emily’s success and The Invisible Illnesses. When her project kicked off on the CofC campus, many people were moved by the stories and were unaware of how many classmates suffered quietly. It is inspiring to watch how Emily and her team have expanded the awareness from the CofC campus to now, world-wide through 70 feature stories and 30 campus representatives at universities across the country.

Emily travels around the country to speak at different schools, events, and conferences about her experience with cyber bullying and mental health. Her courage to share her story has allowed many others to follow and open up about their experiences. This year at the Jefferson Awards, Emily received the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Public Service. This is an award won by some of the most prestigious public figures including Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs.

Emily shared the most rewarding aspect of creating The Invisible Illnesses Organization: “The entire mission of this organization is to help those silently struggling to know they are not alone. So, it is incredibly rewarding because we have been able to create a support system for those who share and let those who are still hiding their struggles know it’s OK to get help.”

A recent college graduate is on her way to changing the world and has already affected the lives of many individuals. Remember, you are what you put your mind to, and you can accomplish anything no matter your age.

If you’d like to learn more about The Invisible Illnesses, please visit https://www.theinvisibleillnesses.org/.

Jul 05

Focusing on the Good Part I: Believe in Yourself

There are many, many worthwhile projects one can participate in, and truly make a difference.

Today and tomorrow, Peppercomm’s Taylor Shawver will talk about two in particular that are near, and dear, to her heart (and should be of interest to you as well):

Focusing on the Good Part I: Believe in Yourself 

With so much craziness in the world around us, it’s easy to forget all of the good that is happening.

This two-part blog post series is dedicated to those who are doing good things and making this world a better place.

Sometimes, the most important conversations have a tendency to get lost in the mix of breaking news and “hot topics.” Conversations such as positive body image and cyber bullying are not always at the forefront of our daily news. Thankfully, there are people out there who, despite all of the other “stuff” going on, remember the importance of these topics and strive to raise awareness about them.

Sam Sisakhti, CEO of UsTrendy, a popular online shopping site for young women and juniors, created the Believe in Yourself Project after growing increasingly concerned about the cyber bullying and body shaming he sees online.

As a young woman, this topic hits close to home for me. Positive body image is not a main subject covered in school or health class. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard friends and strangers comment on how they wish they looked like a celebrity, model, or Instagram influencer. The feeling of needing to compare yourself to others can be stronger than ever with the use of social media, and the models we constantly see as society’s “ideal” women.

The past few months, Sam has traveled throughout the United States delivering dresses to underprivileged girls as well as bringing in guest speakers to talk with them about building a positive body image. With hundreds of dresses already donated, the project is on its way to donating 10,000 dresses by the end of the year.

This summer the project is beginning its national mentoring programs. These programs will feature weekly interactive meetings in various cities across the country as well as in online seminars to reach girls all over the world. The meetings will include open-table discussions where women will mentor and have conversations with girls about creating and maintaining a positive body image, and how to combat and deal with cyber bullying.

The increasing emphasis on social media emanates higher levels of bullying and body shaming. People are more apt to compare their life with someone else’s on social media. Sam saw this issue and decided to take action, helping girls all across the world by opening the conversation. I believe this open dialogue will allow for greater awareness as well as help young girls to realize the importance of these issues and how to deal with them.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Believe in Yourself Project, please visit http://www.believeinyourself.org/.

When people have problems, they come to Uncle Bo

Image

I never thought I’d see the day when a New York City mayoral election bore a striking resemblance to the nightmare that was the 2016 presidential election. But, I have. And, it’s beyond frightening.

In one corner we have the abysmal, incumbent Mayor, Bill De Blasio who, a la Hill, promises more of the same (which included alienating the entire NYC police department and enabling the city’s homeless problem to rival levels we haven’t seen in 20 years).

In the other corner is a bold, brash, belligerent dude who, rather than promising jobs, guarantees a major crackdown on crime (in spite of NYC’s having recorded its lowest crime rate in years). The Trump clone is named Bo Dietl, and he is a real piece of work.

A retired NYC policeman and private detective, Dietl’s claim to fame is doing whatever it took to defend his highly controversial clients, and bully those who had initiated lawsuits against them. The end result?  The accuser either settled out of court or dropped the lawsuit entirely.

Dietl, who bills himself as “the tough cop”, has hounded people who say they’ve been traumatized and victimized. He’s been accused multiple times of intimidation and harassment. Check out this Times piece for a complete overview of Mr. Dietl’s life and times.

So, for whom has Dietl done dirty deeds for?

  • Sean Bannon (alleged spousal abuse)
  • Bill O’Reilly (workplace harassment)
  • Roger Ailes (see above)
  • Don Imus (see: Rutgers women’s basketball team)
  • The Trump family

But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In his quest for City Hall, Dietl has “made a racially-charged comment involving the mayor’s wife, sent an obscenity-laced text to the chairman of the Reform Party on Staten Island and been criticized for failing to pay $477,000 in state taxes.”  Remind you of anyone?

Dietl even represented the pre-POTUS himself.

It was a case in which Mr, Dietl said someone was causing “trouble” for a Trump Casino in Atlantic City. Dietl’s solution? Simple. He called “the man” and threatened to release compromising information about him if the problem did not go away. The problem went away.

All of this would be mildly amusing if the Times article didn’t suggest that Dietl has a legitimate chance of winning the election.

We already have one leader playing loose and fast with reality. The last thing New York City needs right now is a localized version of the above.

But, hey, since I see this as a problem, maybe I can take it to Uncle Bo?

Jun 26

You’re a C+ Leader – Now What?

The Betsy Plank Center at the University of Alabama has long been seen as one of the true sources of thought leadership in our industry. Their most recent report shows a yawning gap between how industry leaders perceive themselves versus the rank-and-file reporting to them. A special shoutout to Bill Heyman, the Babe Ruth of executive recruiting, who helped spearhead this seminal report.

Peppercomm’s Culture Czar, Sara Whitman’s has written today’s guest post with her take on the findings: 

The grades are in and it looks like we will see each other in summer school.

This year’s Plank Center Report Card on PR Leaders shows slipping grades in key categories like work culture, job engagement and job satisfaction. Overall, our industry leaders fell from a B- in 2015 to C+ in 2017.

Add to this an increasing gender gap between the perceptions of men and women from 2015 to 2017 in every area evaluated. Yes, that’s across the board and in every subject. Among them, engagement levels – while surprisingly high compared to national averages for engagement – took a hit, dropping from 59.7% in 2017 to 57.2% in 2015 – with female employee engagement levels driving that number down.

And then there’s this doozy: industry leaders gave themselves an overall grade of A-, while their employees say their leaders are more like a C+. Even worse, that discrepancy was exactly the same in 2015.

Ouch. Have we learned nothing?

Bill Heyman, CEO and president of Heyman Associates, co-sponsor of the study and long-time Peppercomm friend, said: “Social tensions in our world today have likely exacerbated these issues. We need to be bigger leaders to close these gaps.”

So what do these bigger leaders need to do? Here are three places to start:

1. Face the firing squad. Clearly we’re not listening if we’re consistently viewing ourselves as performing at a higher level than employees think we are. The trouble is we need to be willing to look in the mirror to close this gap. The best ways to do so – and some of what we do at Peppercomm – is to solicit anonymous 360-feedback, ensure you have anonymous suggestion boxes (digital of course!) and occasionally bring in a third-party resource to gather and deliver feedback.

2. Don’t be fooled. PR is an industry with an exceptionally high percentage of female employees. Leaders can’t trick themselves into believing this means equality and declare success in conquering the gender gap. Despite the numbers, gender disparity still exists and has deepened over the years, at least according to this report card. A concentrated effort on helping female employees lift each other up and to have a voice is incredibly important. Organizations need to do a thorough analysis of pay structure and pay gaps, and make a plan to address any issues. Instituting unintentional bias training is another smart investment. It’s 2017 and this issue shouldn’t be on the list anymore. Let’s get on it and move forward.

3. Practice what you preach. The whole shoemaker’s children analogy is getting old. We’re communicators. Let’s communicate. It’s unacceptable that some of the best communicators on the planet are leading organizations where shared decision-making is an exception and not the rule. Or where two-way communications is inconsistent at best. Isn’t that the foundation of the entire industry? I don’t have to give recommendations on how to address this. All PR industry leaders know the best practices. It’s time to practice them.

The good news – if there is any – is that we’re not failing yet. But if we don’t start studying and applying what we learn, that’s exactly where our industry leaders are headed.