Smelling Like a Rose: Organizational Leadership Author Shares Insights

Brian M Harman, MBA is the co-author of Learn Laugh Lead: How to Avoid a Huge Leadersh*t. This interview touches on the major themes of the book and his professional experiences. Harman will be presenting a seminar at Golden Gate University, along with his co-author, Stephanie Taglianetti, on Wednesday, August 15, from 12-1pm (Room 5210).

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What smells so bad in the business world, as your title suggests?

In my four or five serious corporate and academic jobs, I’ve had only one decent boss. After asking around, it appears this is way too common. Leaders have a responsibility to be better and set better examples. Today’s politicians and celebrities in media don’t help matters. Name ten role models, quick! Good luck…

Why do leaders need a story?

By creating your story you learn a lot about yourself through self-awareness. It forces you to articulate your values and goals. Once you have written goals, you are a leader. By telling your story, you are leading.

How do you develop into a leader if you are not “the type”?

In the book, we spend a lot of time discussing emotional components. Leaders are highly intelligent with their emotions so I would always start on self-esteem and emotional intelligence. The advanced leaders work on things like humor and negotiation — also known as the “X-Games” of leadership.

How do you get the stories across?

Practice in every possible moment. Every meeting is an opportunity to practice storytelling. My coach at the gym, Emily, says: “If you want a six pack, turn everything into a core exercise.” The same advice applies here. You need to be disciplined and vulnerable to try, always. Turn everything into a moment to practice.

Many leaders come out of a technical field or have training in a given profession. What if they don’t know what their story is?

Read a book about it. Seriously. In this book or any book. This year, in Lima, Peru, I taught a week-long intensive course on storytelling to a class of grad students (engineers and doctors). We start with a purposely vague question: “Tell me your story of the world.” Slowly, we get past surface level banter into deep conversation about who they really are.

“Learn” is one of the three words in your book’s title…

Learning is about listening, which is the most important leadership skill. We interviewed many executives for the book, including a college president. The first time I met this guy, he was staring at my lips; and I was so confused that I stopped and asked if he could not hear me. He said: “I am just trying to absorb what you’re saying.” Instead of interrupting or talking, he said things like ‘tell me more.’ Open-ended. This kind of listening works in business and personal relationships. Also, you can’t listen with your mouth open.

How do you build a story for a presentation?

Many researchers that study stories find that structure matters more than content. The PowerPoint can become that story, if you picture mountain shape. The left is the setting and context of the story, and the top is the emotional climax. The slant up is the struggle to the top. It builds tension, so it increases our cortisol levels at the peak of the mountain. After that moment of climax, you can come back down with examples or confirming statements. At the bottom right part of the triangle, you get to the call-to-action or next steps. People also do not prepare enough, and they are left with a PowerPoint that does not create an emotional response. You need to make your presentation a work of art that connects our hearts.

What’s so funny about business?

Everything about life is funny if you find the funniest part about everything in life. Always remember that the universe does not care about you, so it is OK to relax and enjoy things. Find the funny.

If I walk into an office and see people working, how would I know that it “smells good”? Would I know there is good leadership?

Thinking of leadership as a smell is a good idea because, in many ways, it is. Great leaders make you feel better instantly, with a smile, with a comment, with a story, or with inspiration. Back when I had neck surgery in 2014, I returned to work and one day walked into a meeting. The COO was sitting closest to the door at the end of the long boardroom table. He saw me trying to “robot” my way through the big doorway and struggling with the heavy door. He jumped out of his seat, grabbed the door, and insisted that I take his seat. He then told everyone to move down one so he could sit next to me. Everyone was a lot nicer to me after that day, because he made it clear that we take care of our people here. That type of compassion and assertiveness to demonstrate values is what good leadership “smells like” — and you can feel it right away.

Learn more about the MS in Leadership at Golden Gate University or send a request information.

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