Representation Matters

This month, Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the US Supreme Court – the first Black woman to be on the bench. A woman with way more qualifications and experience than any of the sitting judges. And yet she had to prove herself over and over, and was subjected to ridiculous questions, biased scrutiny and outright disrespect.

Some people may not understand why this is being celebrated, so let me tell you: REPRESENTATION MATTERS

We hear that phrase a lot, but what does “Representation Matters”mean?

It means having a seat at the decision-making table so those views and experience can be represented in important decisions. Studies show that diversity leads to better decisions.

It means others from that same group can see themselves in those same achievements and see what is possible for their own lives.  Representation provides validation and support for similar groups – especially children – that they, too, can accomplish those goals.”IÏf you can see it, you can be it.” 

It means educating majority groups to see such people in positive, non-stereotypical ways. For example, female scientists, gay doctors, hispanic academics, asian athletes.

It means seeing yourself and your story reflected in media, advertising, literature, and art to reflect on your  own lived experiences and normalize those experiences for others.

If we want to create a more empathetic workplace and world – and make better decisions for everyone – we have to start by having more diverse voices at the table (Tweet This!)

That is why representation matters.

Related posts and info for you:

We discuss the impact of seeing role models “like you”on the “What the Hell is the Patriarchy?!” episode of my other podcast Jonni & Maria Go There so please check it out.

Why Brands Need to Speak Up

The Empathy Edge podcast interview with Khalilah Lyons: DEI Done Right for Leaders – and Our Kids

Choose Your Words Carefully

Words matter.

Choose Your Words Carefully

How we name or articulate something defines how we see it. We often get lazy and use words in the wrong way (ever heard someone say “mute” instead of “moot” point?). But that can have a profound impact on how effectively we connect with each other.

If someone says they “love” you, it should mean something, Yet, I throw around the word “love” all the time whether I’m talking about my son, TV shows or tacos.

Studies show that language linked to gender bias differently impacts men versus women in performance reviews. Labeling men as “assertive” puts them in a  positive light, but women who are described as “assertive”are seen more negatively. Same word. Different meanings depending on gender.

Words have power. They can inspire, provoke, oppress, terrorize, mislead, persuade, or comfort. (TWEET THIS!)

We have to get better at intentionally choosing our words and not taking for granted that we know what we’re both talking about .

Speaking of love, the feminist writer and cultiural icon bell hooks wrote in All About Love: New Visions (Love Song to the Nation Book 1):  “imagine how much easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition. The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet all the most astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we use it as a verb.”

Words matter.

One person I follow on LinkedIn and who will shortly be on The Empathy Edge podcast is Suzanne Werhtheim, Ph.D. She talks about inclusive language and posts great content about different words and phrases related to inclusion and how you can say something better to be more inclusive of others.

When it comes to your message, don’t take words for granted. Have empathy for your audience so they can receive your message with open arms and take action.   Words are nuanced. Words evoke emotion, depending on the lived experience of your target audience. Choose wisely.

Stuck for words? This is my not-so-secret secret brand story weapon.

Some related posts for you:

Does Your Story Connect With Your Customers?

Go Beyond the Focus Group for Better Customer Insights

Say No…But Try it This Way

3 Tips to Differentiate Your Messaging

3 Lessons for Entrepreneurs – from an Accidental Entrepreneur

3 Lessons for Entrepreneurs

I never thought I’d own my own business. But here I am, just celebrating 14 years of Red Slice.

Whoa. It’s the longest job I’ve ever had!

My corporate career was very successful and I was on a good trajectory. I liked getting regular paychecks, benefits, clear goals and metrics (most of the time!). I thrived on working in teams. 

For those who want to know the nuts and bolts of how Red Slice came to be, check out this 3-part Behind the Scenes series from a while ago. In it, I shared a lot of very specific lessons at each phase. 

In general, here are 3 lessons for entrepreneurs – hard-won advice from this self-proclaimed accidental entrepreneur!

  1. Define Your Goal, Purpose, and Definition of Success. You cannot skip this step. YOu might roll your eyes at this advice, but let me tell you. I did not quite hammer this out – as I said, my entrepreneurial journey was not quite super mapped out. I did have a vague idea of what I wanted Red Slice to be –  and ended up changing that vision 2 years later. You can always adapt and pivot. But start off with some kind of map of where you’re going and MORE IMPORTANTLY, why are you doing it? What is your motivator? This will steady you through some storms as you move forward. And never let anyone else define success for you. What does success look like for you? For me, it was creating more freedom in my life. It wasn’t about building a huge global agency. I was very clear on this from the beginning! In that respect, I have achieved immense success!
  1. Don’t Go It Alone: No one is an expert at everything. Starting out, it’s super important to have a good bookkeeper/accountant and lawyer. Set things up the right way to save yourself headaches later. Sure, you have to be scrappy at first. I didn’t hire my first virtual assistant until years into my business. And I paid the price in wasting a lot of time and doing things inefficiently. Know when it’s time to pay someone else for their expertise so you can operate in your own zone of genius. Don’t try to be a hero. When you need help, connections, referrals, advice – ASK! No smart business person will think any less of you. 
  1. Be Open to Change: What’s that they say about change being the only constant?! Don’t get so set in your plan that you miss out on opportunities – or that you make yourself miserable trying to make something work that just isn’t. I adapted my business a few years in and was so glad I did. It was a risk, but it was a smart one and it paid off. If I’d held on too tightly to my original picture of what I thought my work would look like, I’d be super miserable and not half as successful as I have been.  Never say never!

Entrepreneurship is hard, but it is such a journey of self-discovery. You get to know yourself, push your limits, and achieve your goals! (TWEET THIS!)

3 Ways to Start the New Year Off Right

As we close out on another year of a global pandemic, I’m struck by how much we’ve all learned about ourselves. How we rediscovered resilience, got creative, and finally started to live authentically. And by authentically, I mean getting real about issues ranging from racial inequity to mental health to standing stronger in our own political beliefs and convictions.

Can you relate?

As we kick off a new year, you will no doubt be inundated by the blogs, emails, and social media memes telling you, once again, how to live your best life. How to make your new year spectacular! How to reach your goals! How to have a kickass 2022!

I’m not going to do that to you.

What I am going to do is share 3 wise pieces of advice and encouragement with you. Golden nuggets that you can do with what you choose: Either pick up your shield and sword and run headlong into the fray, on a mission to MAKE S%&T HAPPEN!!!  

Or, glide gently into a new year, still a bit shaken from the last two years, but with hopeful expectations and optimism.

However you choose to enter 2022, or any new year, is the right way for you (TWEET THIS!)

3 Encouraging Pieces of Advice for the New Year

  1. Define Success on your Terms: We hear this all the time but in these times, it matters more than ever. Some of us want 7 figure businesses while others simply want to enjoy watching their kids grow up. Design the life you want, according to no one else but you. Be clear about your values and use them to determine where you will focus your time, money, and energy this year. Defining our values for the year matters more than a laundry list of resolutions we will most likely break by January 15!
  2. Prioritize your Mental Health: This is less a piece of advice and more of a plea. Especially after hearing of the tragic sucide of one of my friend’s son’s college classmates. It’s okay not to be okay. We are fragile humans, regardless of our socio-economic status, where we live, what we do for a living. We have been through a lot. Thankfully, the stigma around mental health is slowly disappearing. It’s actually hard to get a therapist these days! But there are apps you can use, or modalities like yoga, acupuncture or meditation you can try. More your body. Take a break. Call a friend and cry on their shoulder. Reach out for help and support and do whatever you need to do. Make your mental health as much a priority as charging up your phone.
  3. Love Your Loves: This gem is attributed to the amazing Diane Easley. She is an entrepreneur, coach, and friend who unexpectedly lost her husband several years ago and has been preaching this concept ever since. Take the time to discern who is worth your time and energy and hold those people close. Make them a priority. Tell them what they mean to you, every chance you get. Relationships are what matter in the end. We intellectually know this, but think we’ll never run out of time. We will. So make the moments you have count.

This year, I turned 49. That means, if I’m lucky, I will likely only get 40 or 50 more new years to celebrate. Think about that. 40 or 50 more new years, summer vacations, Christmases. 

What is your number? And are you going to make this next one count in all the ways that actually matter? 

If we hold fast to these guideposts, then our year will surely be full of joy, success, and delight, come what may. Happy New Year!

More advice for the new year!

4 Ways to Shift Your Brain and Get New Ideas

My favorite ways to look at setting goals

How to redefine success with empathy

Why you are called to create something that matters

Why Does Purpose Matter?

When was the last time you eagerly dived into a task you didn’t connect with, believe in or understand?

If I told you to spend hours creating a complex spreadsheet  but never told you why, or where your efforts would lead, how inclined would you be to do it?

Yet every day, employees are asked to produce deliverables, attend meetings, or spend time away from their families on work that means nothing to them – or work they can’t connect to how it makes customers’ lives better.

As humans, we all need purpose to keep us motivated and engaged. Otherwise, work is just drudgery. (Tweet This!)

I could cite thousands of books, surveys and studies here to back up my point. Like thisOr this. Or even this.

But we all inherently know this to be true! Employees who understand where their efforts lead, who can see a correlation between their efforts and external effects feel more satisfied, motivated, and positive about the work they do every day.

Who among you doesn’t have a story about getting “in the zone” and tackling a task where, at the end, you were rewarded with real impact and meaning?

And who among you doesn’t have a story about how miserable you were being a cog in the wheel, without any understanding of how the hours you spent led to something that really mattered to colleagues, customers, or community?

We want to matter. We want a destination to drive toward. When we find meaning, we are more engaged. And we also want a say in what that destination looks like and how we can get there. We crave autonomy.

And when we get it? Look out. Your employees will unleash massive potential the likes of which you’ve never seen.

So before you roll your eyes at launching a “Purpose Project ” or decide that all that feel-good stuff is a waste of time, think about what your organization’s goals, financial or otherwise. Would you rather spend a bit of time working together to define a purpose everyone can rally around, and thus operate at maximum capacity – increasing retention, innovation, and loyalty? Or would you rather limp along by cracking the whip and naively expecting soul-drained individuals to work at their best for you (which they won’t)?

Make the time. Articulate your purpose. Gather input. Share it. Live it. Think of this work as a fuel-boosting additive to make your company engine run better!

Does your organization need help aligning on and articulating your purpose, brand story and values? I have wrangled the most feisty teams to success with my unique and efficient process. Let’s chat.

Photo Credit: Darius Bashar on Unsplash

Empathy for Others Starts with Empathy for Yourself

Empathy seems like such an outward, selfless act. And in many ways, it is. You must focus on another person, make space for them, and get out of how you see the situation through your own eyes and hold space as well for they see it.

This all sounds very noble. Until a very broken person attempts to be empathetic. That’s like trying to help others put on their oxygen masks when you are about to pass out from lack of oxygen yourself.

As the Dalai Lama says:

If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able to develop compassion for others. An open heart is an open mind.

Empathy requires presence. It requires self-confidence to be able to make space and see someone’s point of view – without defensiveness or judgement.  If you are so caught up in your own insecurities, fears, doubts, and negative emotions, you will never be able to make space for another person’s point of view. You will never have the stable foundation needed to truly connect with another person and just be with them.

Empathy for others starts with empathy for yourself. (Tweet This!)

As I like to say, you have to have your own house in order before you can truly be empathetic to another person. Think about the most unempathetic bosses you ever had. Were they bullies? Insecure? Ego-driven? Just angry at life? Yep. You can bet their own “houses” were a hot mess. 

It’s truly hard to see that in the moment when those people are abusing you, but it requires us to have empathy for them as well.

You may very well have great intentions. You want to build a winning culture. You want to be an inspiring boss. You want to reap all the benefits of an empathetic brand and organization so you can succeed.

And I love that you’re here for it.

When people ask me where they can start building a culture of empathy, I always tell them the first step is to look inward. Practice presence and get really honest with yourself:

  • Why do you resist self-compassion?
  • Do you have empathy for your own imperfections?
  • Do you support yourself with self-care? True self-care, not just massages every now and then but care that nourishes your body, mind, heart, and soul?
  • Do you forgive yourself for your faults?
  • Do you need to bolster your self-confidence so you can be less defensive in the face of disagreement or conflict?

To show empathy to others, first start by showing empathy to yourself.

If you love this topic, please tune in and subscribe to The Empathy Edge podcast. In August, I’ll be chatting with Jamie Greenwood, life and leadership coach, about this very topic!

Photo credit: Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

3 Tips to Deliver a Great Speech

Maria Ross - 3 Tips to Deliver a Great Speech

Have you had to deliver this yet? That once-in-a-lifetime speech.

You know the kind of speech I’m referring to: the pivotal presentation that defines a person, cause or culture — that crucial communications moment your audience members will remember for weeks afterward. 

This could be a TEDx talk, like one I recently did for TEDx CWRU, or your first all-hands meeting as CEO, or your plea to the United Nations for funding, or your crucial VC meeting where the entire future of your dream and company are riding on a YES.

The best speeches are those where the stakes are high to inspire and convince (TWEET THIS!)

Here are 3 tips on how to deliver a great speech (Adapted from an original article I wrote for Entrepreneur)

1. Make your first words count.

“First words matter. Make them better,” communications catalyst Dia Bondi reminds us. Bondi helps women ask for more in their careers and lives and has helped executives, humanitarians and government officials prepare compelling speeches. She knows the deal.

Dia understands how to bring crucial communications moments into stark relief: “Your time on stage will be defined by the first words you utter into the mic,” she says. “Starting strong tells us what the rest of your time will be like, who you are and what you’ll be expecting of us as you move through your content.” 

Dia advises: “You’ll know how best to start if you write your first words last. Get your story out on paper, speak it through once or twice and then ask yourself, What is the most compelling verbal entry point for your time on stage? A metaphor? A personal story? An image on the screen that provokes?”

2. Use emotion and logic to motivate.

We are humans. And even the most tech-driven B2B companies re now learnding that you hav to appeal to emotion as much, if not more than, you appeal to logic if you want to persuade people. 

When you’re delivering a high-stakes speech, your No. 1 goal is always to get someone, somewhere to act differently. Never lose sight of this goal. 

Ghostwriter and editor (and my fabulous writing partner!) Sally McGraw warns you to not mistake persuasion purely as presenting data and facts. 

McGraw has helped authors around the world craft compelling proposals and pitch letters to successfully secure deals. “In my experience,” she says, “persuasion is more about the heart than the mind. If you want to sway someone to your side, you need to convince them emotionally as well as logically.” 

Authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath heavily researched the best ways to convince people to make a change. They use the metaphor of the Elephant and the Rider. Every human in your audience has an emotional Elephant side and a rational Rider side. To move them to act differently, you’ve got to address both sides.

3. Succeed at being you.

When I was prepping my TEDx talk, I asked successful speaker, activist and entrepreneur Taylor Conroy, “How can I avoid delivering a cliche ‘TEDX TALK’, to avoid being a parody of them all??” He smiled and replied, “Be yourself. That’s how you avoid being a ‘typical’ TEDx cliche. No one else presents like you.” Wise words! Get your head in the game, prepare, leave yourself time, practie presence and then just go in there and BE YOU.

Structure your talk like a story and remember that the audience is there specifically to be inspired, to be persuaded. They want you to succeed just as much as you do. They don’t want to waste their time listening to a failed speech, either. You are both after the same goal.

Giving the speech of a lifetime is an amazing opportunity. While it might feel like intense pressure, know that if you are well prepared, the odds are good you’ll hit it out of the park. Take these tips with you. The next time you step up to speak, you’ll deliver a speech that gets things moving.

Do you need a dynamic speaker that can knock it out of the park for your next workshop, conference, or corporate event? Let’s inspire and ignite your audience! Discover what I can offer you as an empathy speaker, brand speaker or motivational speaker. Would love to chat!

Photo Credit: 

How to Redefine Success with Empathy

Modern market trends, as well as the pandemic, show us that leaders and brands acting with genuine empathy are winning right now. When companies have been there for the community, valued employees, even made tough decisions like layoffs or closures with respect – the market has paid attention.

Just look at the media attention lavished on Zoom for offering free K-12 access to schools, Salesforce offering extended paid family care leave, or Starbucks increasing employee mental health benefits.

Beyond that, Research shows that Millenials and Gen Z demand a new kind of work culture. 71% of them want their workplace to feel like a second family. Top talent will no longer accept workplaces that don’t see, hear, and value diverse viewpoints. They’re demaniding respect. Work life balance. Empathy.

Companies and leaders ignore this shift at their own financial peril.

But why? Is it simply because you are too caught up in the day to day fires and stress to strengthen that muscle? 

Sometimes we avoid developing good habits because it’s easier to stick with the bad habits we know. Don’t let this happen with your leadership style. (TWEET THIS!)

There are so many organizational benefits to adopting an empathetic lens. Even if you need that kind of external motivation to ignite internal change, that’s fine. Just get there….before it’s too late.

Don’t wait for your CEO or “others” in your company to issue some decree. Start where you are. Be a new model of success in your own sphere of influence, wherever your sit. If you act with empathy through genuine curiosity, active listening, practicing presence – you’ll be able to get more done and be successful. You’ll reap all the rewards that research and experience shows empathetic leaders enjoy.

And when others see your path to success, you’ll start that ripple effect “Wow, look at how she operates. I can find success that way, too”  

You redefine success for others when you show them a model. They now see it’s possible to be compassionate and competitive. Ambitious and empathetic, Representation matters.  

We can bring influential leaders on board by showing them how empathy positively impacts the bottom line. And their behavior can have an exponential impact in redefining success.

Check out The Empathy Edge podcast to discover more real-world stories of leaders and brands that are redefining success through empathy.  

More reading for you about empathy as a new model for success:

 3 Leadership and Innovation Lessons form 50 Interviews

3 Ways to Show More Empathy to Your Customers

Does Empathy Make You A Better Leader…and Thought Leader?

Photo Credit: @smartworkscoworking via Unsplash

How You Can Look At Innovation

While all the talk of “pivoting” these days is turning into a drinking game for some entrepreneurs, it’s important to remember one important thing: 

As a business owner, creator, entrepreneur, it has always been your responsibility to innovate. This is not new. 

Show me a business that never adapts, and I’ll show you an extinct business. 

Show me a leader who fails to evolve, and I’ll show you someone who’s never had a real impact. 

Many businesses big and small have shown remarkable ingenuity in how they are adapting to change. Some have gone after new markets. Some have changed their sales strategies or service delivery models. Some have reimagined their product lines. I shared some great examples here in this article on five ways to pivot and thrive

And not all of it is about “technology.” 

In fact, innovation requires more than tech. It requires humanity. Empathy. Mental space. New relationships.   (TWEET THIS!)

Wanted to revisit two classic posts from the archives with you on this important topic: 

Make space to innovate. 

When you strain and struggle, you don’t leave yourself enough space to get creative. This is why an empathetic team culture leads to more innovation: People are free from fear and pressure and can focus on creativity. They feel safe. Their heads are not full of so much extraneous junk. They are free to see things in a new way and imagine new possibilities. Years ago, life coach Danelle Dowling shared her formula for innovation: Think Less, Bitch Less, Push Less = Create More. If you need some tough love on how to get more creative, check it out. 

Times are tough. Stress is high. It’s on you as a creator to take care of yourself and make the space you need to reimagine possibilities and adapt quickly. 

Redefine innovation 

Innovation is not simply about inventing something no one has ever seen before. True, that is part of it. But can you innovate your processes, service delivery, product usage? Can you adapt how you interact with customers, how to design products, and even which markets you serve? 

And can you simply conduct business in a whole new way? Break the mold of how “things have always been done. This past post shows why redefining success IS innovative. And companies like Zoom Communications, AirBnB, and Ford are showing that empathy and compassion for employees and customers is an innovative (and profitable) way to do business. This was the entire point of my book, The Empathy Edge. The way you do business can be what sets you apart and creates a whole new standard of success. 

Want to rethink your own brand and business? Let’s chat in a 90 minute strategy session to get the juices flowing on what’s possible with what you already have to work with. 

Use Your Platform for Good

Use Your Platform For Good

Whether you reach 5 people or five hundred thousand. Whether you are CEO of a global brand or an entry-level manager or a solopreneur whose office staff consists of you and a lazy Black Lab who lounges next to your desk all day. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, work for a big corporate giant or a small scrappy local business. 

You have influence. You have a voice. Use your platform for good. (TWEET THIS!)

We are in a crazy time right now, where the lines blur between work and home (how can they not when you’re Zooming in on your boss in his guest bedroom/makeshift office as his 5-year-old wanders in, demanding a cupcake?). The façade is gone. We are vulnerable and real. There is no longer a “work you” and a “personal you” just YOU. A whole being, with all your complexity, obligations, life circumstances…and values, ethics, and opinions. 

Now is the time to speak up. Now is the time to align your work with who you are and to use whatever influence you have. 

If you have expertise, share your thought leadership generously. If you passionately support a social justice topic, be visible. Post. Tweet. Share articles. Donate money. Raise awareness. Get involved.  

In my twenties, I used to believe in “Work Maria” and “Personal Maria.” Personally speaking, back then,  it was probably a good thing to have those boundaries!  

But we cannot continue to be one person in business and another at home. Not that we don’t have rules and etiquette for the workplace, but you need to be whole.  

You can impact change by raising your voice and standing up for something. Regardless of the size of your sphere of influence. 

So whether you are a website design, or coach, or software engineer, or marketing executive or whatever….you have a brand. You have a community. Make work that matters. Be a light. Speak out. Use your work, your voice, your platform for good, not evil.  

No one is going to ask for credentials or limit you because you are not famous or have less than a million followers. Make the impact, one person at a time.  

That is how change happens.