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Life in the cloud

Conversation CloudIn a world increasingly influenced by social media — the 21st century equivalent of the elusive perpetual motion machine — connected people face a continuous barrage of comments, observations, images and opinions.

Tweets, LinkedIn updates, Facebook postings, text messages, old-fashioned e-mails, web sites, Google searches and numerous other sources of information in the ether that us 30- and 40-somethings haven’t yet discovered from the young ‘uns. There is no shortage of stimulation to shape (cloud?) our interpretations of modern life.

Without question, there are benefits to having this smorgasbord of content at our fingertips — and the immediacy is incredibly gratifying.

We no longer have to guess whether some famous person is dead or alive (a friend’s 1991 idea of “1-800-Who-Dead?” seems amazingly anachronistic today), which athlete was the “best” in her sport by various statistical measures, whether Donna Summer or Patti LaBelle was the bigger disco diva in 1977. Each of us can be an expert in the moment!

Yet, the stakes increase as we collectively shift to broadcasting our own content through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and others, commenting on other people’s posts and engaging in very public conversations instead of simply pulling information from vast databases in the cloud — Wikipedia, IMDB, journalistic sites.

Perhaps better informed, those clouded conversations about dead celebrities, sports stars and disco divas are no longer private. Indeed, the interactions represent an endless trail of bread crumbs that potentially misrepresent who we truly are, making social media a very real threat to our reputations.

Consider: A friend asks you in a crowded bar to “Name a city in Washington that does not have an ‘e.'” Without giving it much thought, you quickly answer “Portland,” mistaking the state for Oregon or Maine. (Never mind that it is an odd question for a friend to ask in a crowded bar, but it’s especially common for friends to ask this of one another on Facebook.) Besides an immediate laugh, the mistake in this context follows you only to the extent that your friend chooses to remind you of your gaffe.

But online, that otherwise innocent error exists in perpetuity for anyone to see. And, when combined with other similarly innocuous examples or, worse, comments that border bad taste or seemingly “inside” jokes that lack the proper context or an accompanying wink, these online interactions potentially present an unflattering picture that follows — or precedes — you with friends and family, as well as prospective customers, clients and employers.

So, how can you live in the cloud without clouding your judgement?

First, remove your finger from the hair-trigger. Some sites allow users to delete their comments and posts, but people still see them and they can always be retrieved. Better to avoid trouble all together by pre-empting the problem.

Second, keep your feet on the ground even if your head is in the clouds. Just as one should never respond immediately to an annoying e-mail, be deliberate about what you say when you tweet, post or check in. Consider this the social media’s “measure twice, cut once.”

Third, reread your post before clicking tweet, share, post or send, and make sure you’ve said what you mean and that you mean what you say. Being first to say something or the most clever poster in your posse is meaningless if it’s not authentic and reflective of the true you.

A paradox of life in the cloud is that most of us live on the ground. As a result, it’s important to remember that our physical and online lives intersect eventually.

The goal for social media should be to create an online identity that complements the real-world you, so that friends, business prospects and other people you meet in the cloud recognize you when you cross paths on the ground.

What do you think? Continue the conversation….

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Last(ing) impressions

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, the saying goes.

That’s what my father told me, at least, and it’s a principle I’ve tried to live by throughout my life and for the past 20 years as a working professional.

More recently, however, I’m reminded that the last impression — the one you leave — is as important, if not more so, than the first.

In The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner examine the actions and behaviors of “managers” and “leaders” in a variety of situations.

Based on interviews with 60,000+ business people, Kouzes and Posner determined that managers enforce policies to ensure organizations operate as efficiently as possible; leaders drive change in organizations. Management is a control function; leadership is a transformational process.

Working from the perspective that leaders are made, not born, Kouzes and Posner conclude — as I recall through my muddled memory of b-school discussions and two corporate leadership seminars in the early naughts — that leadership takes place through conversations with the people they influence. As a result, a leader is only as successful at driving change and transforming organizations as his or her last conversation.

Likewise, our reputations — the parts that precede us and the impressions we make during subsequent interactions — evolve over time and dramatically affect our short- and long-term success.

Yet as I think about it, my father’s advice somehow sticks with me more than Kouzes and Posner’s conclusions.

I always try to make a good first impression, but I rarely reflect on the impressions I leave. And, when I do it’s only after I’ve observed a startled look, a confused expression or some other non-verbal cue that makes me question my actions — or when someone I know brings it to my attention.

What about you? When you reflect on the personal and professional relationships that are most important to you, what impressions do you leave? What lessons have you learned? Continue the conversation….