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What does it take to be a leadercommunicator?

The Grossman Group CEO and communications expert David Grossman shares his insights on the importance of meaningful leadership communication in today’s business climate. With high level tips on engagement and connection, insights into employee motivations and behavior, and firsthand stories from the frontlines of America’s leading companies.

The leadercommunicator blog is instructive, entertaining, and a must-read for leaders, communicators, and leadercommunicators.

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Guest Blogger David Rubenstein – Banning Naughty Words: Legal Implications of Email/Social Media Work-Place Policies


David Rubenstein photo

Never write when you can talk. Never talk when you can nod. And never put anything in an e-mail.” — Eliot Spitzer, (then) Attorney General, New York State.

During the work day, employees often spend time using Facebook to message their friends, Tweeting the latest updates to their followers, or just surfing the internet. Though these activities may decrease productivity, they likely will not result in any additional harm to the employer. In more extreme cases, however, employees may harass or bully their co-workers, reveal confidential company information, endorse/denounce products or services without proper disclosure, or engage in criminal conduct. In such instances, employers face far greater risks, including the following:

  • Disclosure of sensitive company information: Employees may inadvertently -- and sometimes intentionally -- reveal proprietary or confidential information on a blog, in an email, or on a social networking site.
  • Defamation of co-workers or clients: Employers may face liability for defamation based on electronic communications disseminated by employees. For example, employees can create turmoil by posting rumors, gossip, or offensive statements regarding their co-workers and supervisors. Negative comments by management about a departing employee may also create liability.
  • Harassment, discrimination, and retaliation: Social networking sites, email, and blogs provide employees with additional avenues for engaging in inappropriate conduct, especially during non-work hours. Employees may vent workplace frustrations by posting discriminatory statements, racial slurs, or sexual innuendo directed at co-workers, management, customers, or vendors.

Because of these legal landmines, employers have recently begun banning words that employees can use in communications.  For example, it was recently reported that General Motors instructed employees how to communicate with each other regarding possible safety issues by refraining use of certain words.  In particular, among the "Judgment words" employees were told to avoid: "Hindenburg," "powder keg," "Titanic," "apocalyptic," "You're toast," and "Kevorkianesque."  Less inflammatory words such as "safety," "safety related," "serious," "failure," and "defect" were also listed as words to be avoided. 

Likewise, Goldman Sachs has precluded its employees from using swear words in email communications as a result of fraud lawsuits and government involvement arising out of the mortgage crisis. "[B]oy, that timberwo[l]f was one s— deal," Thomas Montag, who helped run Goldman's securities business, wrote in an email, that was repeatedly referred to at a Senate hearing.  After such embarrassing and liable communications, Goldman banned all swear words to avoid them from ever being made public again.

In response to these issues, some companies are even taking the matters out of the employee’s hands.  New York-based media company Bloomberg LP says it has monitored emails for more than 10 years, using an application that scans messages for 70 words and phrases—in English and several other languages— considered profane. When caught, an offending Bloomberg employee gets a pop-up message warning him or her not to send the message, which highlights the naughty word. Depending on the severity of the word, some emails will be blocked altogether from being sent. (The same technology also is available for clients of Bloomberg's terminals.)

Regardless of the warnings or methods used to protect, the explosion of email use and social media has put companies at greater risk of liability than ever before.  Amidst this mounting pressure, it is best to communicate regularly with employees about these risks and to have legal counsel guide the company towards avoiding these dangerous, and potentially costly, pitfalls.


About David Rubenstein:

David Rubenstein is a business attorney who helps business owners solve problems.  In assuming the trusted advisor role, Rubenstein works hand-in-hand with Business Owners and Executive-Level clients to develop efficient business practices to help your business grow as well as to guard against problems and challenges facing your business.  By offering a global perspective to handle all the problems a business would face, Rubenstein sets himself apart from the competition to add value to your business. Rubenstein can be contacted at DRubenstein@RubensteinBusinessLaw.com.


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Time to Buy a Phrase?



No matter our role, we all face really challenging questions from time to time –those pointed, unexpected queries that can leave us squirming or wishing we could head for the door.

For leaders, some zingers are from investors shooting at you from multiple angles, like rapid fire. Why did earnings fall short? What are your plans to innovate? Where will you find the cost cuts?

As employees, the difficult questions often come from a client or customer. Clearly, the response has to be smart and on point. In those situations, it can be a challenge to catch your breath and answer clearly and thoughtfully. Still, it’s critically important to put your best response forward.

The solution? Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of using the right phrases to buy time to think.

I’ve worked with scores of CEOs and executive leaders who find just a few extra seconds can be the difference between the perfect response and a clumsy one.

The solution will vary based on the question, but consider these tried and true strategies:

  1. That’s a really great question.   Pause.  (This works best when used only once or twice.)
  2. Got it.  I need a moment to pull together my thoughts for you.  Pause. (Only use this once to maintain your credibility.)
  3. Pause and reflect back: “So, what you’re asking is (paraphrase question)” or “You’re wondering how we…..”
  4. I’m glad you asked about this particular subject because it’s important to me.
  5. That’s an excellent question, and something we’re constantly evaluating.
  6. Glad you asked.  Would you like a short or long answer?  (And you could joke that you’ve been told that every answer from you is long!)

Preparing for a big meeting? Which question or phrase might best help you buy some time?


-          David Grossman


Download our eBook Top 10 Barriers Communicators Face today!

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Weekly Round-Up: On Why You Hate Work, Two Major Influences on Employee Engagement & How to Create a Culture of Innovation


weekly round-up, leadership, communication, employee engagement

Welcome to my weekly round-up of top leadership and communication blog posts. Each week I read and tweet several great articles and on Fridays I pull some of the best together here on my blog. So in case you’ve missed them, here is this week’s round-up of top posts.

They’ll provide you with tips, strategies and thought-starters from many of the smart folks in my network. So whether you’re a new leader or an industry veteran there’ll be something here for you.

  • Why You Hate Work
    By Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath, The New York Times
    “The way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated…”
  • Are You Always The Decider?  That’s No Way to Grow
     By Peter Economy, Inc.
    “Every day, you and the people who work for you need to make decisions. Many decisions. As the leader, you may take it upon yourself to make the most critical ones, but for the company…”
  • The Two Transformative Influences on Employee Engagement
    By Andre Lavoie, Switch & Shift 
    “While you want to believe your team is working towards your company goals, the truth is they might just be working in the dark. A recent Gallup poll has discovered 70 percent…”
  • Nine Leadership Traits That Stand The Test of Time
    By Bruce Kasanoff, Forbes
    “Ten years ago, I was lucky to join forces with Andrea Redmond, Charles A. Tribbett III, and their team at Russell Reynolds Associates. We gathered leadership insights from…”
  • How to Create a Culture of Innovation
    By Faisal Hoque, Fast Company
    “There are many pieces to the innovation puzzle, and they will come together differently for each organization.  How one goes about building an innovative organization ought …”


What were some of the top leadership articles you read this week?

-          David Grossman 


Want more tips on how to be a more effective leader? If so, check out our CEO Resource Center, today!


Guest Blogger Meg Breslin: The Simplest, Most Underrated Communication Device for Today: “Look Up.”


Meg Breslin (2)

I was playing Frisbee with my 6-year-old daughter the other day. Actually, I was playing multi-task Frisbee, the kind where your phone is in your pocket and you text and answer calls between the flicks of your wrist.

Just one problem: Maeve was having none of it.

After I picked up the second call, she frowned, then sulked across the yard, shoulders in a dramatic dip.

“I’m sad because you’re not paying attention to me. Put your phone down,” she said.

Simple words, yet plenty of wisdom there.

I thought of that exchange after watching the instant YouTube video hit recently posted by British writer and director Gary Turk. It’s called “Look Up.”

“I have 422 friends yet I am lonely,” Turk begins. “I speak to all of them every day yet none of them really know me.”

Turk’s main message: Time to put down the phones, laptops and screens of all kinds and “Look Up” at the world around us. Maybe even have a live conversation. As of mid-May, his video had more than 38 million views.

Turk’s message certainly isn’t new, but it resonates because I think all of us realize at various points that the screens can become a crutch, that they sometimes hold us back from an otherwise enriching, productive conversation.

This is also very true when it comes to business. While email, twitter, social media and apps like LinkedIn can be a clear asset to workers and networkers, they also can easily be overused. Sometimes, it’s still just best to pick up the phone. Grab lunch with a client. Take a walk with a co-worker.

In my own work experience, face-to-face conversations have always been the Holy Grail. In 20 years as a journalist, the best stories never came from email exchanges or research reports posted on the Internet. It was always about the people and the stories they shared in their living rooms. Or the stories that unfolded in classrooms, courtrooms, on job sites and in public meetings.

The same is true when interacting with business leaders and clients. So much more can be shared or understood when talking live or in person. How many of us have spent hours back and forth via email, only to discover we still missed the point of the exchange? There’s power in the face-to-face interaction, the simple phone call.

And when it comes time for Frisbee with your 6-year-old, there’s no getting around it. It’s time to “Look Up.”

When do you need to “look up” at work?


About Meg Breslin:

Meg McSherry Breslin is a Senior thoughtpartner at The Grossman Group. She works with leaders to support communications efforts and to tell compelling stories that engage and motivate employees.  Meg has more than 25 years’ experience as a journalist, including 10 years as a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune and as a freelance writer for Crain’s Chicago Business. She has also served as a strategic communications consultant to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Chicago area nonprofits and universities. 


Download our latest eBook The "Secret Weapon" Every CEO Needs Today!

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What’s that Group Really Saying to You?


codigital logo

We’ve all been to the classic planning meeting, at a conference or in an executive’s office, to think through a compelling issue or crisis at an organization. Flip charts and sticky notes flow, ideas get jotted down, and ultimately you arrive at a consensus -- the path forward.

Or do you?

While such planning sessions can be great exercises for employee teams, they have clear limitations. Everyone may be swayed by the loudest voice in the room, or the opinions of the boss. Some of the best ideas may never get much airtime. And how about those shy, quiet souls who barely utter a word?

While I’m not in the product promotion business, I was so impressed by a new crowd-sourcing technology I recently encountered that I can’t resist sharing my experience. In my view, it can turn a decent brainstorming session into an incredibly powerful one.

The cloud-based tool was developed by Codigital, a U.K.-based firm that aims to harness the collective intelligence of groups in real time. The network allows groups to gather and prioritize content to arrive at the true wisdom of those in the room in a matter of minutes or hours, depending on how in-depth the discussion is.

I was recently a co-presenter at a conference with James Carr, the co-founder of Codigital, who runs U.S. operations out of Denver. I was struck by how quickly James and I could generate the collective views of a group of business communicators with Codigital’s technology. It’s such a great option for any forward-thinking business that values insights from all its employees, not just the vocal ones.

Here’s a quick snapshot of how it works: Laptops or tablets in hand, participants present their responses to a simple question, such as “What are the biggest challenges communicators face in getting access to their CEO?” With anonymous responses flashing across a big screen in front of them, participants submit ideas, suggest edits to improve others’ ideas, and vote on the competing ideas. In that way, ideas are rapidly evaluated, improved and ranked.

In the end, you can see what the entire room thinks and what the challenges are. You can then launch into a second quick session to identify the best approaches to the dilemma. As I saw in Denver, the whole process engages everyone in the room in a way that traditional brainstorms can’t do. The vibe moves from power points and talking heads to a much more engaging session, in which everyone feels heard.

There’s scientific benefit to the process too, as a mound of research points to biases within groups, with groups tending to follow the direction of the loudest or most respected voice in the room. Introverts tend not to participate in the discussions as well. 

As Carr puts it, his technology leads to decisions that are more likely to get buy in from the entire group because more people feel they’ve been heard.

“We call it co-creation,” Carr says. “If the boss is saying, ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ it doesn’t matter how good the strategy is; it won’t be well executed.”

I couldn’t agree more.

What creative tools or approaches are you taking to transform the traditional brainstorming session?

-          David Grossman


Download our eBook Top 10 Barriers Communicators Face today!

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Weekly Round-Up: On Creating an Aligned Workforce, the Importance of Feedback, & Maximizing Your Productivity


communicators, leadership

Welcome to my weekly round-up of top leadership and communication blog posts. Each week I read and tweet several great articles and on Fridays I pull some of the best together here on my blog. So in case you’ve missed them, here is this week’s round-up of top posts.

They’ll provide you with tips, strategies and thought-starters from many of the smart folks in my network. So whether you’re a new leader or an industry veteran there’ll be something here for you.

  • 5 Ways to Focus Your Mind and Maximize Productivity
    By Marla Tabaka, Inc.
    “You may believe that you're productively multitasking as you bounce between your smartphone, tablet, and laptop. The fact is that you're just being distracted. The words…”
  • 7 Things Good Communicators Always Do
     By Jayson DeMers, Forbes
    “Communicating is easy, but communicating well takes skill. Thinking beyond basic language rules and facilitating effective, positive exchanges of information…”
  • Why Feedback Is a Business Imperative
    By Matthew T. Fritz, Switch & Shift 
    “True Story: I had been tasked to provide a briefing to a leader whose reputation had preceded him by a wide margin.  This particular leader was extremely powerful in his…”
  • 5 Steps To A Completely Aligned Workforce
    By Andre Lavoie, TalentCulture
    What on earth is Talent Alignment? If I had a dollar for every time I heard that question, it honestly wouldn’t matter because it’s an answer I love giving.  Talent Alignment is a…”
  • 4 Things Successful Businesses Do to Get Consistent Results
    By Lindsay Lavine, Fast Company
    Ideas are easy, execution is hard,” says Jim Sullivan, CEO of Sullivision, a Wisconsin-based marketing, sales, and leadership consulting company that counts …”


What were some of the top leadership articles you read this week?

-          David Grossman 


Download our new eBook The "Secret Weapon" Every CEO Needs today!

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Starting Thought: Absolutely Avoiding Absolutes


Adam Silver

A common verbal crutch that many people naturally reach for is speaking in absolutes.  You never use them?  Think again.

Absolutes are descriptors such as “always” and “never” or “none” and “everyone.”   There are situations where using an absolute tone can be effective, such as in Adam Silver’s announcement of the lifetime ban of Clipper’s Owner Donald Sterling.

“Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA. Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices. He may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.”

In this case, the absolutes add emphasis and underscore the outrage Silver felt over Sterling’s insensitive comments.  However, in many other cases, absolutes should be avoided as they detract from the intended message and the speaker’s credibility.

Why not to use absolutes

Seemingly simple language can generalize the topic in a way that makes the speaker appear uninformed, unprepared or naïve. Worst case, it can potentially offend the listener.  Simply put, avoid absolute words because they can:

  • Divert the listener’s focus from the topic at hand to finding the exceptions, often weakening important and well-informed points
  • Make an otherwise valid claim that can be interpreted as “no exceptions”
  • Raise doubts about the credibility of the speaker and their understanding of the topic

To be persuasive and influential, your communications should reflect a reality that’s accurate; situations are rarely black and white.

Here are words to avoid and the substitutes to consider:

Try to Avoid

Other Ways of Saying it


Uncommonly, Rarely, Infrequently, Under Few Conditions, In Rare Circumstances


Few, Little, Rare, A Small Number, Hardly Any


Not Really, Not Entirely, Not in the Slightest, By No Means


Most, A Good Amount, Many People, General Population, The Majority, All Inclusive, Multiple Segments,

Nobody/No one


Very Few, A Small Number


Usually, Frequently, Consistently, With  Few Exceptions, Routinely

Which absolutes do you use often and what words might you substitute?

-          David Grossman

New ebook – The “Secret Weapon” Every CEO Needs: 11 Pieces of Solid Evidence That Prove the Value of Effective Internal Communications


Secret Weapon FINAL 1 (2)

CEOs are under more communication pressure than ever before.  Information spreads quickly and there is less time to make an impact with what leaders say.  What is the “secret weapon” that all successful CEOs always make time for?  Internal Communications.  They know that this under-used principle can have a positive impact on their company, if done effectively.

Our latest eBook –The “Secret” Communications Weapon Every CEO Needs: 11 pieces of Solid Evidence Proving the Value in Communications— will help you understand the importance of internal communications for your organization.  It provides the facts about its benefits along with some questions you can use to build a winning case for your own approach to internal CEO and senior leader communications.

Some key facts covered include:

  • Internal communications helps drive organizational financial performance and other key business results
  • Internal communications helps drive employee engagement
  • CEOs who are adept at explaining business conditions and clearly laying out financial objectives drive superior financial performance and employee engagement
  • Employees want to hear about organizational strategy from senior leadership—not just their immediate managers or supervisors

Everyone wants to hear from the CEO—customers, employees, investors, analysts, policy makers—but there’s only so much time in the day.  It is critical to make sure the time that you use to communicate pays off in your business results.

Download— The “Secret Weapon” Every CEO Needs: 11 Pieces of Solid Evidence That Prove the Value of Effective Internal Communications – and get the supporting evidence you need to make a case for internal CEO communications at your organization.

Weekly Round-Up: On Making Everyone Feel Valued in the Workplace, What Great Leaders Say in Times of Change & How to Mentor for Success


leadership, employee engagement

Welcome to my weekly round-up of top leadership and communication blog posts. Each week I read and tweet several great articles and on Fridays I pull some of the best together here on my blog. So in case you’ve missed them, here is this week’s round-up of top posts.

They’ll provide you with tips, strategies and thought-starters from many of the smart folks in my network. So whether you’re a new leader or an industry veteran there’ll be something here for you.

  • Most Workplaces Don’t Make Everyone Feel Valued—Here’s How To Fix That
    By Gwen Moran, Fast Company
    “In the debate over whether inclusive workplaces matter, another study points to “yes.”  Catalyst, a New York City-based nonprofit focused on expanding opportunities…”
  • 8 Things Great Leaders Say In Times of Tumultuous Change
    By Geil Browning, Inc.
    “Change is one of the few certainties an entrepreneur can count on in business. It comes in many different forms--from hiring a new employee to moving to a new office to merging with another company…”
  • 6 Indicators of a Great Manager
     By Gary Magenta, Switch & Shift
    “We all talk about the impact that strong leaders have on successful businesses and ways in which you can become a good leader. Many corporations spend exorbitant amounts …”
  • The Unrecognized Action That Kills Engagement
    By Sebastian Bailey, Forbes 
    “We are all fluent in the small things that make us feel excluded – being interrupted, having our name constantly mispronounced, failing to gain eye contact, the joke we are not included in.…”
  • Building a Foundation for Mentoring Success
    By Susan Bowen, Todd Nielsen Blog
    “I want to start a mentoring program.”  You may have said this.  You may have heard this.  You may have been tasked to lead this effort. Mentoring programs are quite popular…”

What were some of the top leadership articles you read this week?

-          David Grossman 


Download our eBook Top 10 Barriers Communicators Face today!

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Further Inspiration: Lessons Learned from a Motivational CEO Commencement Speech


sheryl sandberg 2

Yesterday, I offered praise for the brilliance of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s May commencement address to graduates of the City Colleges of Chicago. Posted online, the full speech moved me.

Today, I offer some specific lessons learned from Sandberg’s speech that can be applied to any corporate leader looking to engage and capture an employee audience. Using a slightly different lens, her thoughts resonate just as well for new employees, or long-term ones looking for fresh evidence that their contributions truly matter to the company’s overall mission.

Sandberg offered three specific motivational points for her audience. Here’s a look at them and advice for how applying these inspirational messages to your own employees:

1. Sandberg: “First and most important: Believe in yourself. Believing you can do something is the first step to doing it. … I’ve seen over and over how much self-belief drives outcomes. And that’s why I force myself to sit at the table, even when I am not sure I belong there.”
  • Translated for your employees: “We hired you because we believe in you. Be empowered to do the great work we know you can do. Be bold. Be creative. Take risks to advance our mission and values.”
2. Sandberg: “Plan and chase your dream. Getting from point A to point Z can be daunting unless you remember that you don’t have to get from A to Z. You just have to get from A to B. Breaking big dreams into small steps is the way to move forward.
  • Translated for your employees:  Share your own experiences for how you’ve already taken the company from point A to point B, and your vision for getting it to point Z.
3. “Know that the world needs you to change it. Last year, I wrote a book called “Lean In” about inequality between men and women. It turns out – get ready for this shocker – that men still run the world. And I’m not sure it’s going that well. I believe that the world would be a better place if it were more equal.”
  • Translated for your employees in two possible ways:
    • I became the leader of this company because I believe our products can transform the way people communicate every day. We can make a difference and we present a very exciting alternative to our customers. We want you to join us on this exciting adventure.
    • Every perspective at this company matters deeply to me. I know it’s the key to our long-term success as a business. What more can we do as a company to ensure that all of the diverse opinions at this organization are collected and incorporated into our thinking?

What stories can you tell that will help inspire your workforce?

-          David Grossman


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