The James Brown Guide to Injecting Soul into Work

When I was in college, my roommate and I started a band.

Our first gig was at the campus record store. Seven people showed up, our guitars were out of tune, and I’m pretty sure there was something green my teeth.

We didn’t even meet any girls after the show.

What a waste.

But the one thing I’ll never forget was what my roommate whispered to me between songs:

“Dude, you’re singing with too much soul. Take it easy.”

We never played out in public again.

And from that day forth, I vowed to never “take it easy.”

Because there’s no such thing as singing with too much soul.

Here’s how to inject more of it into your work:1. Clarify your definition. I’m not the authority on soul – that would be James Brown. But I do think it’s important that each of us consider what it means to inject it into our work.

Here’s my philosophy, as a writer, performer, artist and entrepreneur: To inject soul is to own your gift. To inject soul is to deploy intense humanity. To inject soul is to exhibit naked personhood. To inject soul is to stay in touch with your own story. To inject soul is to enable a near life experience. To inject soul is to widen the boundaries of your being. To inject soul is to create moments of perfect symmetry. And to inject soul is to show people what’s under your fingernails.

What’s your definition?

Because no matter how you define it, when you inject soul, you are impossible not to watch. When you inject soul, you become a voice worth listening to. When you inject soul, you make people who aren’t your customers, wish they were. And when you inject soul, you earn a permanent spot in people’s heart. Might be worth defining for yourself. What do you bring to your work that nobody else in your industry can touch?

2. Scare the hell out of yourself. Soul stockpiles when you embrace anarchy and break the barrier that shields you from naked experience. Nothing dangerous, obviously. I’d hate for you to scare yourself to the point that you wind up in the hospital. Or violate your values. Or contaminate your personal constitution.

But fear is the final compass for finding what matters. And you’ve got to give that fear a clear voice. Otherwise you’ll never execute anything worth talking about.

My suggestion: Only pursue ideas whose risk level is through the roof. Create a personal filter that gauges the level of danger in whatever you undertake. Otherwise your audience will yawn.

For example, as I writer, I’m constantly asking, “What do I risk in publishing this material?” That’s how I keep my writing bloody, relatable and remarkable. That’s how I dance on the edge of chaos on a daily basis. And that’s how I stay focused on the work that matters most.

Remember: Ideas become interesting the moment they start to scare you. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not there yet. What soul will your fear help you deliver?

3. Care about people’s experience when they’re around you. Being approachable isn’t just about how people experience you – it’s how they experience themselves in relation to you. That’s the next way to inject soul: Give people something they didn’t know they wanted. By taking them places they didn’t expect to go, you send them on mental journeys from which they never fully return.

In the immortal words of comedian George Carlin, “Even if they didn’t want go to there in the first place, once they arrive, they’ll be glad you took them there.”

That’s the secret nobody bothers to tell you: You’re not in business to provide a service – you’re in business to center on, and become known for – a unique way of interacting with the world. Maybe it’s the fastest. Maybe it’s the friendliest. Maybe it’s the funniest.

Doesn’t matter. As long as you repeatedly articulate your est, injecting soul will be a natural byproduct.

Remember: Every organization interacts with people – but not all of them brand it as their inherent, unique superiority. How could you speak to your market in a way they’re never been spoken to before?

4. Expect less from technology and more from each other. You can’t filter your entire life through pixels – not if you want that life to matter. That’s why approachability is not going away. In fact, it’s becoming more essential by the day.

If you want to inject soul, you have to make things unexpectedly personal. Instead of outsourcing the human function, practice interactional casualness. Compress your personality into micro moments of individual expression.

But not as calculated actions – as loving impulses. Otherwise you come across as cold and alienating. And your flat and inexpressive language will go unnoticed.

Believe me: Investing time and money to inject soul is always worthwhile. I challenge you to expose the place where you really live, fearlessly open the closed room and bring all of yourself to everything you do.

It might be inconvenient – but it’s never impossible. And people always notice. Where are you sacrificing experiences for expenses?

5. Pass the torch. Part of making a name for yourself is helping others make a name for themselves along the way. After all: People shouldn’t have to wait for permission to express themselves. Their unique light should shine bright and consistently.

Otherwise, crushed under the weight of can’t, they wind up delivering emotionless, forgettable non-service.

That’s the next secret to injecting soul: Petitioning the people around you to do the same. Helping them light their own fire. And giving people permission to express their personal brand unabashedly. Not only does this color their daily experience, it also reinforces their freedom and invites them to demonstrate their creativity.

Remember: Like a pocket full of fireworks waiting for a match, the people you work with would give anything for the opportunity to show you how much soul they really have. Be an enabler of that. Help people believe in their own possibility a little more. They’ll work their hearts out for you. Do you love yourself enough to get the hell out of the way so people can articulate their fabulousness?

6. Build virtuosic moments. Kid Rock has sold twenty three million records. This is not an accident. In the revealing book Music, he shared his philosophy of life and business:

“If it looks good, you’ll see it. If it sounds good, you’ll hear it. If it’s marketed right, you’ll buy it. But if it’s real, you’ll feel it.”

That’s what happens when you inject soul: People feel it. Down to their bones. And if you want to compete in today’s marketplace, that’s the price of admission.

Long gone are the days of interrupting people until they die or hire you. Long gone are the days of tricking people into buying something.

Now, you’re no longer just competing for people’s attention – you’re competing for their emotions. And unless you’re willing to loosen the tightness of your heart, you’ll never cut through the clutter.

Benefits, schmenefits. Your soul is what people buy. How are you leading with that in the sales process?

REMEMBER: Soul informs brand, and brand informs your bank account.

Inject it into everything.

James Brown would be proud.

Are you known for your sale or your soul?

For the list called, “10 Unmistakable Motivators of Human Engagement,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011!

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

7 Ways to Humanize the Workplace

Being human is good for business.


I have no data to measure this.
I have no research to prove this.
I have no statistics to support this.

Nobody does.

Humanizing the workplace is not a process that can be comfortable quantified.

And because of that, most organizations overlook it.

THE GOOD NEWS IS: You don’t need to look very far to find evidence of the profitability of approachability.

THE BAD NEWS IS: There may not be enough evidence to convict you.

Today we’re going to explore a list of ideas for making your organization more human, more approachable and more engaged:1. Learn to be an imperfectionist. Mistakes are a chance to make the company smarter. And if you’re not making them regularly, you’re not risking enough. As I learned in The Magic in Your Mind:

“When imperfectness enters a man’s soul, he is able to show that he does not live alone in the world, but with millions of others, in whose hearts exists the same animating spirit.”

You simply have to be willing to say: “This is me. This is all of me. There is no more. There is no less. Can you accept that?” And if people can’t, get new people. Don’t be the company who never shows any real ugliness.

Instead, boldly flaunt your imperfection. Endorse your own weakness. Not only does make you more human, more relatable and more approachable – it also establishes your acceptance of the imperfect humanness of others. Sounds like a nice place to work to me. Do you trust that your people want the real you?

2. Honor people’s capacity to express. Too many companies work overtime to eliminate employee initiative. And as a protective measure, they ask their people to edit themselves. Probably because they’re terrified of allowing employees to inject their personality into the workplace and, god forbid, be free.

The problem with this command and control approach is that it leads to impersonal, emotionless non-service where employees are objectified and quickly discarded. And nothing could be less approachable.

If you want to humanize the workplace, believe in people enough to let them find their way. Don’t make them feel guilty for their talents. Don’t block the spontaneity that colors their world. Instead of assigning instructions for performing every task, let them breathe. Stop hovering.

Instead, encourage people to suggest improved ways of doing things. That’s how you treat people like people – not like tools to transmit your directions.

Remember: People engage when they have permission to create – not just instructions to comply. How are you letting people live their truth?

3. Empathy is valuable, exertion is priceless. When people come into your office and bleed all over you, the default response is to fire up the empathy engine. Which is smart. Acknowledging people’s feelings, honoring their situation and affirming the courage it takes to share is an approachable, respectful response. And you absolutely want to show people that you care enough to be hurt when they’re upset.

But you also need to care enough to be responsive when they’re in need. Standing knee deep in the gushing rapids of the human condition only matters if you help people get to shore.

My suggestion: Stop empathetically listening to people’s concerns and start immediately acting on them. Remember: Not everyone needs a sound listener – they need a swift exerter. How are you promoting a humanely considerate environment?

4. Be friends, not just amicable strangers. Friendships at work are determined by their utility. We are friends primarily because we are useful to each other. It’s a convenience of mutual accommodation.

Unfortunately, these relationships are merely transactional. And if you want to take intimacy to a higher level, try this: Instead of sitting back and making commentary, try participating in people’s lives. Stamp out anonymity. You don’t need to wear a nametag twenty-four hours a day – but you do need to know that a person’s name is the primary installment of self-disclosure.

Face it: There’s a certain level of intimacy you’ll never achieve if you keep calling people, “buddy” or “big guy.”

My question is: How many people did you go out of your way to ignore yesterday? How many people went out of their way to ignore you yesterday?

Two many. Stop focusing on transactions and start investing in real relationships. Do you like people for who they are or what they give?

5. Be a stand for other people’s greatness. If you want your people to fall in love with you, help them fall in love with themselves first. That’s what being approachable is all about: Not being the life of the party – bringing other people to life at the party. And not solely focusing on who you know – but bragging about whose life is better because they know you.

The secret is to give people a front row seat to their own brilliance. Which is easy to do, considering most people don’t realize how brilliant they are. They’re simply too close to themselves to see it.

Here’s what I do: Be people’s permission slip to be smart. Puncture their delusions of inadequacy. Show them their words have weight by emailing them with notes you took during your last conversation. It’s reflective, respectful, revelatory and reinforcing.

Plus it’s fun. And it proves that recognition isn’t just an interactional gift – it’s an emotional release. If you’re so smart, how come you don’t make other people feel smart?

6. Bear the burden of the human need to belong. That’s what I never understood about immigration law: No human being should ever be illegal. Ever. Last time I checked, we’re all humans – which means we all belong here. Period.

If you want to bolster a sense of belonging, here’ a few ideas:

Invite people before they have to ask. Listen to and actually incorporate people’s ideas. Give people the freedom to do what they believe is right. Prove to people their daily effort isn’t another silent symphony. Reflect people’s thoughts back to them in a way that they feel understood, but not mindlessly repeated. And look people in the eye and, with a fundamentally affirmative attitude, tell them how great their ideas are – no matter how big or small.

Remember: Belonging is the price of admission to people’s hearts. It’s the very oxygen they breathe. And if you don’t make a conscious effort to reinforce it in your organization, people’s loyalty will vanish like a fart in a fan factory. How are you oxygenating the workplace?

7. Root out any sense of entitlement. Here’s where big organizations screw up: They build impenetrable walls to separate the leaders from the people who matter most. And because they’re caught up in rigid identifications at the expense of their humanity, employees rarely work their butts off – much less their hearts out.

Take Zappos, for example. When you take the company tour at their Las Vegas campus, you’ll notice a lack off offices. According to my twenty second conversation with president Tony Tshei:

“We don’t have an open door policy – we have a no door policy.”

Doesn’t get more human than that. And if you want to jolt people awake, try putting hierarchy to sleep. Instead of hologramming your humanity behind the mask of a title, put your person before your position. Values before vocation. Realness before role.

That’s how smart, approachable leaders relax into humility: By releasing their posture of pretense and by staying brave enough to tell people they don’t know everything. How will you keep humility in tact?

REMEMBER: Love is not a combination lock.

If you want to humanize the workplace, you don’t need a formula.

You need to capture heartshare.
You need to treat people like people.
You need to make them feel essential.

That’s how approachability converts into profitability.

If your company were charged with the crime of being human, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

For the list called, “10 Unmistakable Motivators of Human Engagement,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011!

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

6 Ways to Make People Feel Essential

Congratulations. You remember names. You celebrate birthdays. You memorize preferences.

But that’s not what makes people stay.

Making people feel valued, important, special, needed – or whatever other simplistic leadership instructions you read in How to Win Friends and Influence People – is pretty much expected at this point. It’s the baseline requirement of being a leader.

But that’s not what makes people stay.

If you want the people who matter most to show up in full voice, work their hearts out for you spread the organizational love like a fever, you have to make them feel essential.

Essential meaning, “Your work matters.”
Essential meaning, “We would crumble without you.”
Essential meaning, “If you were gone, people would notice.”

Are you a practitioner of essentialism? If not, try these ideas:1. What do you see when you see people? That’s the question approachability hinges upon. For example, last week I met a woman whose specialty was securing venture capital funding. Neat lady. She was sharp, aggressive and energizing. But when she learned about my work, she confessed that her clients and colleagues historically perceived her as being unapproachable.

“The problem is, only one out of a hundred people I meet are ideal clients. And my default programming is to uncover – as quickly as possible – whether or not they’re one of the ninety-nine. Otherwise I lose interest.”

Which makes total sense. Especially from a prospecting point of view: You don’t want to burn your days chasing non-economic buyers. But while it’s one thing to qualify – it’s another things to compartmentalize everyone you meet into convenient little boxes.

Turns out, if you approach people as unique individuals – as human beings – they remember feeling essential. But if you exploit them as a means to an end – as integers – they remember feeling small. Are you memorable for the right reasons?

2. Decide how you want to leave people. Approachability is about how people experience themselves in relation to you. And while you can’t control people’s emotions – outside of manipulation, punishment and coercion – what you can do is be more intentional in how you walk away from them.

For example:

Want to leave people laughing? Help them evoke the humor in their own lives.

Want to leave people inspired? Enable them to give birth to their own realizations.

Want to leave people heard? Reflect their reality by taking.

Your challenge is twofold: First, to identify the baseline emotion you want to leave people with. Second: To remind yourself of that emotion on a daily basis. Because in the end, it’s not about being the life of the party – it’s about bringing other people to life at the party. And it’s not who you know – it’s whose life is better because they know you. When you walk out of a room how does it change?

3. The speed of the response is the response. Marshall McLuhan was right: The medium is the message. And when you hold a leadership position, that principle seeps its way into everything you do – especially now.

Because culturally, “good, fast and cheap” has been replaced by “perfect, now and free.” How are you adapting to that shift?

Here are three examples: First, questions. Because it’s not just about being askable – it’s about how quickly you let people know that you’re searching for an answer. Second, responses. Because it’s not just what you say – it’s about how long you make people wait before they hear it.

Third, troubles. Because it’s not just about fixing the problem – it’s about how well you communicate to people as you fix it. Without that kind of “speed sensibility,” your people end up suffering in silence. And instead feeling essential – they feel evaded. Do you return calls faster than your competitors?

4. Preserve people’s fingerprints. As an artist, I make a conscious effort to alert people when they’ve inspired my work. Not with a thank you note. Not with a one-word text message. And not with some insincere compliment they forget by lunch. I physically gift them a copy of the finished product they helped created.

Whether it’s a book, an article or a limited edition art piece, I want them to own it. Forever. Because it wouldn’t have come into existence without them, and they deserve to see it live.

Notice I said gift – not give. Huge difference.

If you want to make people feel essential, don’t gift expecting reciprocation – gift to let people to know their words have weight. Gift to keep your art in motion. Gift to bring yourself closer to the recipient. Gift to help people remember that their existence matters.

Remember: Success never comes unassisted. Learn how to thank or get out. How do you pay homage to the voices that shape you?

5. Recognition is the mainspring of motivation. People crave recognition. It’s a universal human need. And it’s one of the chief determinants of employee engagement. But, whether or not people satisfy that need depends on if they can answer, “yes” to the following question:

Is my voice heard here?

My friend Derek is a master of this. His marketing agency, goBRANDgo, has a “Win Wall” in their office. Every time an employee achieves a victory of any kind – from landing a new client to delivering ahead of schedule to killing that pesky mosquito that’s been buzzing around since August – they write it on a sticky note.

And the cool part is, each employee has his or her own color. Then, at the end of the week, they aggregate all the wins onto a blog post for the entire world to see. Totally awesome.

And the lesson: It’s not about just praising people publicly – it’s about being a stand for people’s greatness. It’s about giving them a front row seat to their own brilliance – while inviting the rest of the world to sit in the audience with them.

That’s the secret to recognition: Isn’t corporate initiative – it’s a constitutional ingredient. How are you making gratitude palpable and recurrent?

6. Increase your mental flexibility. Have you ever worked with somebody who went out of their way to pretend like they cared? Like the boss who thoroughly listens to your input, thanks you for your suggestion, and then goes back to doing exactly what he planned all along. Geh.

Nothing makes people feel smaller. I’m reminded of a classic Scott Adams cartoon in which Dilbert undergoes a performance evaluation. Sitting across the table in complete silence, his manager says, “I’m not going to comment – I’ll just look at you until you agree with me.”

If you want people to feel essential, let them experience that they can change your mind. Be quick to ask for their opinion, and be slow to interrupt when they give it. This shows them that you can bend. That you’re vulnerable enough to admit that your perceptions might be misguided. And that you’re willing to shelf your ego and approach everyone as your mentor. Do you treat people like vestigial parts, helpful additions or vital components?

REMEMBER: Making people feel important isn’t that important.

What matters is that they feel essential.

That you honor their essence as a human being.

And that’s something you’ll never learn from a Dale Carnegie book.

How committed are your people?

For the list called, “10 Unmistakable Motivators of Human Engagement,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011!

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

How to Set the Stage for Employee Commitment

I recently struck up a conversation with an Apple employee in the food court.

He was clearly on lunch break, but didn’t mind talking shop.

“Actually, I wear my blue Apple shirt even when I’m off the clock,” he said.

That’s rare. Usually employees throw on a jacket the minute the step out of the store to avoid any work-related conversation during break time.

Not this guy. Matt told me that strangers still came up to him all the time with their computer questions – even when he’s not in the store.

“Doesn’t that get annoying?” I asked.

“I love it. And I’m happy to answer customer questions because this stuff is my life. That’s the best part about working for Apple: They make me feel like a walking genius bar!”

HERE’S MY QUESTION: Are your people that committed?

If not, consider these suggestions to set the stage for commitment at your organization:1. Hold up a mirror to yourself. People fundamentally disconnect from their work for a variety of reasons: When they’ve done the exact same thing for too long, when they feel like they can’t succeed no matter how hard they try, when they’re forced to conform to what you want them to be and when their effort is no longer worth the reward.

How many of those issues run rampant in your office? My suggestion: Tell the truth about your organization’s current level of commitment:

*Are your people grudgingly conceding or gratefully crusading?
*Are you telling people what your demands are or asking people what their dreams are?
*And do your employees come to work every day because they love it, or because you’ve degraded them into obedient soul dead conformist worker bees?

When you begin wakening to these truths, you’ll gain a greater understanding what it’s going to take to get all of your people singing off the same page. How many people on your team willingly provide discretionary effort on a consistent basis?

2. Intrinsic pride creates emotional commitment. People who work for Google don’t tell their friends they’re computer programmers. They say they work for Google. And why wouldn’t they? They work for Google – the coolest company on the planet. Of course they take pride in their job.

That’s the lesson: If people answer the question, “What do you do?” with the name of the organization, that means their self-esteem and identity is connected to the sense of belonging of that organization. It’s a vital part of their sense of self. They’re committed and involved. Their affiliation to the company reinstates their sense of pride.

And, because their identity is intimately connected to – and invested in – the organization itself, they’ll commit to doing whatever it takes to make that organization succeed. Even down to the most basic level.

That’s what a worldwide survey from Towers Perrin proved: Organizational symbols or logo are visible manifestations of pride. Think it’s an accident that all those geeks in Palo Alto wear Google hoodies? Nope. And you would do the same. How much company pride do your people have?

3. Don’t dismiss your organizational heritage. To set the stage for commitment, the leaders of your organization need to help the people connect their actions to a larger story. Otherwise employees will continue to wonder, “Is this effort worth the effort?”

As David Armstrong wrote in Managing by Storying Around, “Storytelling is the primary medium for passing along corporate traditions and recognize leaders within the organization.”

There’s only one problem: Company leaders usually confuse “knowing the company story” with “memorizing tired, flat language on laminated mission cards.”

What matters is that every employee absorbs the organizational why. What matters is that every employee freely talks about company roots. Otherwise emotional attachment remains remarkably low. And it becomes harder and harder for people’s work to invoke a sense of gratification in their company history. When was the last time you waiter at Olive Garden spent ten minutes telling your table about the origins of authentic Italian food?

4. Update your theory of motivation. You can’t motivate anybody to do anything – ever. Motivation is intrinsic. As such, there are two approaches: Either you hire motivated people and then inspire them to motivate themselves; or you rid the environment of demotivators and then let people access their natural motivation.

Either way, you still have to tune into their frequency. You have to deliver messages that resonate with their emotional reality. And you have to give them room to express commitment in their own unique way. Otherwise their level of engagement will remain at noncommittal cautiousness at best.

Look: People are bound by emotion to the things and behaviors they love. As much as your ego wants to think otherwise, they’re not showing up for you – they’re showing up for themselves.

Remember: People comply with what you want– but they commit to what they want. How are you helping people fall in love with themselves?

5. Set your own stage first. If you truly want commitment to cascade down from the top, you have to be over the top yourself. We’re talking pathologically and unquestionable committed. As in, “I have the company logo tattooed on my ass” committed. That’s what shows people you truly believe what you say, and that’s what inspires people to rethink their own commitment.

The cool part is, the moment you definitely commit yourself with both feet – and, more importantly, communicate that you’re fully committed – the people who matter most follow suit. It all depends on whether you’re courageous enough to wear your instrument of commitment proudly.

The point is: What you are communicates everything people need to know. The question is: What do they think when they hear your life speak?

REMEMBER: You don’t need to work for Apple to be committed.

If you want to set the stage for commitment at your organization, start treating it as a lifestyle – not a policy.

Maybe then your employees won’t mind answering customer questions when they’re off the clock.

How committed are your people?

For the list called, “10 Unmistakable Motivators of Human Engagement,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011!

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

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