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Patti LaBelle Leadership Lesson

Life sure can deliver a lesson in the unlikeliest of places.

What I learned about leadership from
Patti LaBelle was totally unexpected.

It’s sort of a sickness. Well, not really, but I tend to see team dynamics everywhere I look – even in my “down” time.  Remember that little boy in that creepy movie who whispered “I see dead people”? Well, thank God, I don’t see the undead, but I am very attuned to team dynamics and am always “observing” them. Recently, my all-time favorite singer, Patti LaBelle, came toKansas City’s Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts  I don’t mind telling you, going was one of the high points of my month…ok…my year!   I was super excited to hear her sing; but I got much more.  Patti LaBelle taught me a few things about leadership that night.

Training Kansas City Youth to be successful

Training Kansas City Youth for Success

I’m a better “aunt” than “mom” …when it comes to other people’s kids, that is.

Allow me to offer some context.

Training Kansas City Youth is my skill; ongoing opportunities and supports are not.

Over the years, I have developed a great reputation for  delivering engaging, effective and fun True Colors training in Kansas City.

I’ve trained the gamete – young, old and everything in between.

But, I recognized a long time ago that I am better with adults than I am

Dressing inappropriately for job interview

Dressing inappropriately for job interview

Dressing inappropriately for a
job interview should not be a  fatal career mishap.

I felt so badly.  I almost couldn’t rebound from that lurking, heavy, dark sense of regret.

It was like a gray cloud looming over my training and I couldn’t seem to shake it. I thought about what I should have said, could have said and ended back at the point of the scenario where remorse resided.

Let me get you caught up.

The other day, I did a mini-training for a friend. I usually am paid $350 an hour to train, but I like this person so much that I quickly say “yes” to support her.

Well, the training content was about making good first impression. The audience were teens.
Yes, kiddos! I love young people.


I had it covered!

I covered all the basics of making a good first impression and how to actually acquire the skills you admire in other people. It was a good training and my rapport with the teens was really good (for a Gen-Xer). We discussed dressing appropriately for various occasions and how one outfit doesn’t translate well into another one.  It was all covered and in record time!

After I had thanked the kiddos for their time, the unsolicited applause started.  I felt good. Really Good. Then it was interrupted.

An adult from the back of the room, went to stand behind a young man wearing a hoodie. After gently placing her hands on his shoulders she said “Could you say something about wearing hoodies”.

Ugh. Crap. Dang!

I sensed the young man’s embarrassment.  Heck, I was embarrassed for him. In my haste, I tried to say something like “he was  at a training – not a job interview -, so it was OK for him to wear his hoodie”.

Blah Blah Blah

The frustration and anger at the situation muffled my communication skills. I was a little flustered by the audacity of that person.  As you know, it’s never good to humiliate anyone; especially a young person in front of a room full of people.  I wished I had said more and that’s were the regret kicked in.

During break, the young man was standing near me. I had an opportunity to apologize to him and re-affirm that he looked fine for the setting in which he was in. After all, AGAIN he wasn’t at a job interview and no one had communicated a dress code prior.

He was a good kid

He was so humble, that he asked me softly “Should I take it off”, I said a strong “NO!” sighed and said “You’re fine, Honey.” Even though he was taller than me, I saw a six year old in his eyes – desperate for affirmation in a world that would judge him by a stupid hoodie.

I don’t pen this post to glorify myself. In the moment, I did and said too little. I’m writing this to remind us all that we cannot judge a book by its cover. I’ve sat across from clients who own large-scale Kansas City companies and many of them wore hoodies and sneaks. Guess what.  They were dressed appropriately for that setting (mainly because they owned the company).

I’m sure you’ve interviewed someone improperly dressed. Perhaps, they wore jeans, a mismatched outfit or were entirely too casual for a job interview. For years, I was guilty of judging such people and assuming they couldn’t do a job based on what they wore. This is a new world. Like it or not.

The truth is there are lots of reasons people may come to an interview (or anywhere) dressed inappropriately. Don’t miss out on a jewel because you judge to harshly … too soon.

So often people simply don’t know any better than what they do. Many young people grow up without proper coaching and support. As a result, they have no idea flip-flops are inappropriate for a job interview.

In some cases, you may have to catch the  fish before you can clean it. You can coach an employee on proper attire, but you cannot coach the exceptional skills, attributes and abilities one needs to be a good team member.


I know the lady that singled out the young man in the hoodie meant no harm at all, but she caused some.  Dressing inappropriately for an interview should not be a fatal career mistake.

Be careful with your, your staff and your interviewees. Cut people some slack and be a good person as well as a good professional.

Just so you know, I rebounded from my ominous haze of regret. Yes, dressing inappropriately for job interview is a huge mistake; but casual dress at a training is not.

My colleague and work buddy also attended that training. We chatted and she made me feel much better about the scenario. She also gave me a hug.

A great resource:  “How to Dress for an Interview by Industry” from Monster.Com”

Another great Resource: “15 Tips for Improving Your Skills Interviewing Candidates”


Conversation Starters for Networking

5 Top Conversation Starters for Networking

Looking for conversation starters for networking?

Some people would rather stick a skewer in their left eye than enter a room full of strangers. I’m not that bad, but I am a little introverted. Most people who know or have met me wouldn’t believe it, but it’s true.

If you’re anything like me do what I do:  arrive at networking events early before the crowd begins to assemble. It’s more manageable watching a “room” grow [gradually] than walking into it with a hundred (or more) people.

Either way, networking is an unavoidable “must”. You never know what a friendly stranger has to offer your business/organization. Similarly, I guarantee you someone at the networking event needs to know about your services or product. Count on it.

Conversation Starters for Networking

This is from my other blog. This is so what I would wear to a networking event!

This goes without saying, but be sure to look to the part – dress professionally. like the outfit above from my hobby blog, www.my40somethinglife.com.

So, you look great, you have a strategy to arrive early, now how do you break the ice with all those people once you get there?

Here are 5 great questions  and conversations starters to ask a person at a networking event:

1. “What is your history with_____________________?”

This question leverages what you already have in common – you’re at the same event. Ask how they learned about the person/company hosting it. This is also a great time so share what you hope to accomplish by being there. You may get a lead or, at the very least, make a new friend or contact!

2.What do you do?”

Duh, right? This always breaks the ice with strangers. People love talking about themselves and what they do for a living. If they are happy or content, you can say something like:

“Oh wow! That sounds like so much fun! Tell me more about that.”

If they hate their job, this is an opportunity to say:

“hmmmm. I understand that. Have you been putting any “feelers” out?”

Either way, you can easily get a conversation going. You may also be able to connect them with a new job lead…or find one for yourself. Either way, it’s one of the best conversation starters for networking.

3.“Your name is pretty/interesting/fascinating. Is it a family name? What’s the story?”

This one is a guaranteed smile-starter. However, if their name is Bob, you’re in trouble. You’ll have to think of something else.

4. “Honestly, I hate attending events like this, but I know it’s necessary for my job as a _______”.

More than likely, you’ll find someone who agrees with you and can relate one hundred percent. Even the most confident professionals have the “teensiest” bit of angst about networking events. I think it revives memories of being on the playground as a kid with no one to play with. Everyone has felt that way.

5. “Hey, I know this sounds crazy, but I have a _________ JUST like that”. Take a moment to chill and scan the room. Surely, you can find something in common with someone there. It could even be as nominal as the same suit jacket (works better for women than men). Wait for the chuckle and introduce yourself.

What conversation starters have worked for you in the past?

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Distractions at work

Handling Workplace Distractions

Workplace distractions can be so…distracting! Here are a few examples:

  • People chatting while you’re trying to concentrate.
  • Your boss conspicuously walking around talking to you.
  • The incessant roar of conversation outside your cubical.
  • The copier.
  • That person playing her music across the hall. I could go on and on.

Handling workplace distractions is challenging, but not impossible.

Here is what helps me:

1. Earbuds. I mean the good ones. Frankly, never had a pair before I returned to the traditional workplace!  Now, I wear them most everyday. Personally, I prefer wireless earbuds to help me block out everyday office noise. I like this brand because the rubber tips expand in my ear canal and really keep the outside noise to minimum. I bought two pairs so I can keep one charging in my office.

If I’m working on something rather cognitive like designing a curriculum or training, I’ll play a “white noise” station on Pandora. I also like instrumental or classical stations when I really need to concentrate. Otherwise, it’s 70s and 80s funk all the way.

2. Hang a sign. I know it sounds weird, but, nothing works as well as a gently worded “leave me alone sign”. No need to write a white paper explaining your mental state, just a few words like “I’m working on a projector right now, please email me”. I like to make it a bit comical and say something like “SHHHH…BABY ASLEEP (not really just working on a project and can’t talk now 🙂 “Works like a charm.

3. Get away. This is especially important if you work in a cubical or close quarters. Sometimes, you simply need to remove yourself from the buzz of the office. If possible, work remotely from home or Starbucks. If that’s not an option, then reserve a conference room in your building and work in silence.

4. Stop the chatty people in their tracks. Before that chatty co-work gets started spilling the tea about the office, quickly stop him at the first syllable and ask “Can you email me? I’m swamped today”. If you let him get started, it will seem rude, so say it at the first sight of them.

Another benefit of this technique is that if topic was frivolous, he/she will quickly self-check and say “oh, no. sorry, I was just venting” and go find another chat victim.

Finally, this is so “shady”, but it also works: put stuff in “guest” chair in your office. I’ll throw my coat over it or block it in some way. That sense a message without saying a word.  What do you think?

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