Become a 21st Century Executive

Serving as a guiding inspiration to help the next generation with making the right career choices, The 3 Minute Mentor team have created a new book, Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack. This easy-to-read and clear-cut manual for any worker, manager, and leader of any sort who finds themselves muddling through their job and career.

In each chapter, Become a 21st Century Executive provides practical advice on how to avoid being a stuck-in-the-middle manager, and how to start behaving and becoming a 21st century executive.

Avaialble at now.


Not answering questions – don’t try this at work


I remember an episode of the British comedy program Yes, Minister (it could have been Yes, Prime Minster) where the civil servant schools the Minster in how NOT to answer a question. As I remember it, there were six ways not to answer any hardball questions that might come your way. By the way, I have not been able to find any reference to these six ways anywhere on-line but below is how I remember them.

At work, it’s a bad habit to get into that has you avoiding answering questions. It looks like you have something to hide. Even when you don’t know the answer, transparency is always the best option. Think of these 6 ways as traps not to fall into. 

Of course, as we approach an Election in the US, all six of these are very visible. Watch the next political debate and make it a drinking game – when you see one of these used, take a shot! Actually, you better not. You may

find yourself very drunk - and quite quickly.

1. Questions Queried

The fastest way to buy yourself some time is to question the question. What do you mean by that, you ask? Can you define the terms? Over what time period did you mean? Ask them enough questions about their question and they will either forget what they asked or get bored. The best example ever was when Bill Clinton said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.’

2. Answer Ambiguity

Of course the classic way not to answer the question is just to talk yourself and the audience in circles. Avoid giving any real specifics and tell a story with no real linkage. You might get called on it but you can probably just keep talking. At any point in a debate when a ‘red light’ means time up, you will see someone ‘running out the clock.’

3. Data Distortion

You say the glass is half full and I say it’s half empty. It’s all in the telling. 

A favorite of almost any politician is to selectively use data to prove their point. Luckily they can always find a study or a new clipping that makes their case. You never know if the data is accurate or really representative. 

4. Fact Fudging

A branch off Data Distortion is fact fudging, or lying as we used to call it. Of course it’s not really a lie but a half truth. In this election we are going to be told that one person or another has voted for or against some piece of legislation which proves they either hate something or love something else. A deeper dive will probably show that what ever is being called out was a minor part of a law or was an amendment to some bill or other. Well, some will say “that’s politics”. It’s also disingenuous.

5. Moral Maneuverability

Moral Maneuverability solves one of a politician’s hardest problems – how do you change your views on something and get away with it. Basically, it’s the perfect ‘flip-flop’. The answer is to change your moral position on something and do it so sincerely that anyone challenging you comes off as the loser. For example: you were pro-choice but you watched the videos about Planned Parenthood, so now you are pro-life.

6.    Emotional Elasticity

When all else fails – use an emotional appeal. Where this works well is to be outraged at something that doesn’t really outrage you. Again, it would take a brave soul to challenge you. We see President Obama do this often when he thinks he can end a debate by being offended that his motives are being challenged.

Bottom Line

It is worth remembering that 70% of the effectiveness of any speech is what you look like and 23% is what you sound like. That means only 7% is actually what you say. The challenge in any debate on TV, as Richard Nixon found out years ago, is not to let the physical get in the way of the verbal. Beware the fake laugh, the mean stare and the look of frustration.

At work you will not get away with any of these ploys. You need to be honest, open and answer the question you get asked. In real life, not knowing the answer is not a ‘fail’ as long as you can come back and answer it later. While it’s fun to watch our politicians, as they say on those action TV ads, don’t try this at home.


For more content like this please check out my book called "Become a 21st Century Executive" or visit me at



VW – It can happen to you

So what are some of the lessons for us from the VW debacle.

1.    It’s not about where you planned to go, it matters where you end up.

 "When the map differs from the terrain, go with the terrain." Kevin Plank, CEO Under Armour quoting one of his Board Members on CNBC

For most of us, business lesson number one was MBOs. We are trained in ‘Management By Objectives’. We turn our objectives into milestones. We live or die by our milestones and we reward our people based on their ability to hit their milestones. Yet as important as our milestones are, they are not the ‘be all and end all’ of our work. They are, well, milestones.

What matters is where we end up.

Too often we get distracted by the fact that the market did not respond as we wanted it to. We try and look for short-cuts and fixes to achieve our milestones. How much are we willing to compromise? What are we willing to overlook to achieve our goals?

When I read The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, what struck me was not that they necessarily set out to break the law, but that it was where they ended up. A small lie. A minor ‘fudge’. A little misdirection. What starts as a minor problem grows into a legal nightmare. Then you worry about people covering up what they find rather than being honest about what they found. As Martha would tell you, the cover-up is always worse than the crime.

2.    It’s about the culture stupid

I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game. Lou Gerstner, former CEO IBM

So what happened at ENRON? Why didn’t anyone stop what everyone knew was bad behavior?  The answer is culture. It is always about the culture.

Entrepreneur Magazine recently covered 10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures. When you read the stories of Zappos, Google and the rest, there are some common themes. Among them is openness and clarity of purpose. While many of these 21st Century organizations may want to convince you that there is no politics, all organizations have politics. The question is, does the culture encourage the employees to do the right thing and speak out? Does your company’s culture reward people who speak out and say the tough things, or does it reward people who say nothing and go along to get along?

3.    Integrity Matters

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” Alan K Simpson

I remember an incident at work where one employee knew another employee was breaking the rules. When it was discovered, both employees were let go. As a management team we discussed why the employee who knew and said nothing was also punished. The discussion ended up being about integrity. One of the team questioned this and said that the two players had demonstrated different failings of integrity, implying that there was a scale to integrity or lack of it. There is not. Integrity is binary – you either have it or you don’t.

So as much as we might want to blame our company and its culture, in the end it comes to your personal integrity. Someone at VW knew what they were doing and chose not to say anything. Yes, doing so would risk their job and their livelihood. You can decide to say nothing but if you do, then it always comes back to bite. At some point, you have to lay your head on your pillow and sleep. It is always easier to sleep knowing you did what was right and acted with integrity.

Bottom Line

My guess is that what happened at VW did not start as a plan to deceive the market, but that is where it ended up. The best way to avoid this at your company is always to act with integrity, regardless of what others around you are doing.


For more content like this please check out my book called "Become a 21st Century Executive" or visit me at and watch the episode covering Honesty, Integrity and Transparency


Don't be the Donald - it doesn't work at work.

Five lessons for speaks from GOP debates

So we have had a number of lengthy GOP debates on our television recently. Who do you think did well? Wonder why The Donald is being so effective?

Let us put aside for the moment whether we are left or right of center politically. Ignore that we might want one of these people to be President and let’s see what we can learn from these events. What have we seen on TV that we could use to make ourselves better speakers? Here are five lessons from the early debates.


1.     How you look matters 

Ever wonder why politicians on stage dress similarly or why Donald’s hair is such a feature of discussion?

One of the realities of debate is that 70% of the effectiveness of any speaker is what they look like. About 20% is how they sound and just under 10% is what they say. If you want people to focus on your content, then you can’t have them distracted by your appearance or how you sound. When Trump focused on Jeb Bush’s “low energy”, he was implying that people would not be able to see past how he looked and sounded to listen to his message.

At work we need to think about how we look and sound when we present. Do you want to come off as professional and organized or risk coming off too casual and unprepared? When I present, I make sure to have practiced my first few sentences – not to make sure the content is perfect, but to make sure I am not distracting people from my message.

2.     But you still need to have content

If you are not distracting by look or sound, your audience can then be impacted by your message.

After the second debate, Jeremy Diamond from CNN declared his winners and losers. Marco Rubio was one of his ‘winners’ and about Rubio he said “…he can weave his strong handle of policy with a compelling personal narrative.” In other words, when he needs to show he knows something, he takes an area where he is strong (say an area of policy) and connects to the audience by connecting it to his own story. Contrast that approach with others who talk about themselves without connecting to the content of a policy. It can make them sound like a ‘wind-bag.’

When we present, we are often more focused on the 10% content than the other 90% of the effectiveness. This is important in a work environment because most of your audience probably already knows and has opinions about you. That means they are ready to focus on the content of what you say. If you want that content to be the most effective, make sure you talk about things you know and can relate to.

3.     Beware of humor 

Rule number one of speaking: if you are not funny, don’t tell jokes.

Shoot anyone who tells you that you ‘should always open with a joke.’ Do you remember how much trouble Mitt Romney got into when he tried to tell a "humorous" story about his dad shutting down a factory. Even though he tried this on The Tonight Show, it backfired. Trust me, if you are not funny, don’t tell jokes. Even worse, don’t tell someone else’s story that’s old and often repeated. If you are not sure, ask someone quietly before if they’ve heard “this one before.” If they say yes. Don’t use it.

A good presentation is made better with humor but only when the humor is natural and fits in. It works well as a quick aside and not as a ‘that reminds me of a story.’ Better your presentation be clear and concise. Outside a comedy club, audiences tend to reward brevity over humor.

4.     Insults are cheap 

Insults are the ‘empty calories’ of debate – they give you a boost for a few seconds and then quickly leave you empty.

Think about how Donald Trump led the debate. Pointing at Rand Paul he wondered why he was even there because “he’s number 11.” It was not funny or that clever. It looked like a cheap shot that to many would have made Trump look mean not clever. Trump may get away with it in GOP-debate world but in the real world, insults tend to look mean and you look small for using them.

The better approach is to bide your time and respond with something clever that’s not rude. Something that raises yourself rather than lowers someone else. Think about how Carly Fiorina responded to Trump’s insult about her face and whether it was about her looks or her politics. “I think woman all over this country,” she said, “heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

5.     Talk to the audience not yourself 

The best presenters talk about what the audience wants to hear, not what the presenter wants to talk about.

One great moment of the second debate happened when there was a back and forth between Trump and Fiorina. At one point Chris Christie jumps in and refocused the debate on the audience. He chides them both with “…you're both successful people, congratulations.” Then he refocused the debate. “You know who's not successful?” he asked. “The middle class in this country who's getting plowed over by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.” Ignoring whether you agree with him politically, my guess is that people who wanted to hear content probably cheered for Christie.

At work we could sometimes use a Chris Christie type to help us. We can be so eager to show how much we have learned and so excited by what we know, that we forget to think about what the audience needs to hear. Ask yourself, if I was in this audience what would I want to learn from this presentation? Make sure you are delivering that as your primary objective. 

Bottom Line

The truth is that political debates are as much about theatre as they are about anything else. That is probably not true at work. What is more, our political leaders are doing a dozen or more debates between now and the election. Lots of time for learning and fine tuning.

At work, you may not get a dozen times to get your message across. You might only get one chance to impact or change a strategy. Watching these debates can help us learn both good and bad behavior. We can each take that learning to our next presentation to make us more effective communicators.




A Q&A on Diversity

I was asked to do a Q&A for Real Business. They used some of the answers here but bellow you can read the unedited Q&A

Why is diversity is not just the “right thing to do," but also the right thing to do for business?

There is Too much cynicism exists around diversity. Much of this stems from a stereotyping of diversity as a way to be PC or politically correct. The reality is that diversity involves making sure that your business reflects the markets you live in. It is about maintaining your employee base as diverse as your labor market and your customer base. It can also change the way your business thinks. Having a diverse team means you can gain access to the broader set of skills and experiences.

Finally, with by the year 2020, 50% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials. This next generation has grown up in a diverse world and will expect it at work. At some point all businesses need new blood and making your environment appealing is important if you want to compete for the top talent.

Why is it essential for a company to have a diverse workforce in order to truly understand its market?

If all your customers come from a 1-mile radius of your business, then you might be able to argue that you shouldn’t have to argue for Diversity. Chances are that in this case you know all your customers by name. Even when you know them by name you know also know their likes and dislikes. You try and cater to those difference with products and offers you know will attract them.

Most businesses don’t have their customers in a 1-mile radius and are likely not to directly know their customers their customers directly. In this case, how do you know what products to build, what features they should have or how to make them attractive to your market. One of the best ways is to ensure the team making these decisions reflect the market you are trying to serve.

Of course you can guess or spend money on market research. While you might be lucky, a broader more diverse workforce will help you make decisions that are more sensitive to cultural wants and needs of your broader marketplace.

What are the best ways for a company to improve diversity? Does this change with the company's size?

A company’s approach to diversity will depend on its size. A company with thousands or even tens of thousands of employees can more easily establish targets for diversity hiring based on race, ethnicity, ability and age. These targets can be tracked and managed by the Human Resources department and reported out at team and departmental levels. If you work in an environment like this, it is important to be supportive of the company’s diversity practices and procedures. There is little benefit to be gained from resisting or fighting these policies.

Ensuring diversity in smaller teams within a large company can be difficult. In such cases, it is important not to force or mandate diversity. Diversity is even more difficult for a small business that does limited hiring. Even so, these companies should do their best to make sure that their employee demographics reflect the customer base.

One of the best ways to improve diversity is through recruitment. Small changes when targeting job advertising and where the company gleans applications, such as job fairs and universities, can improve diversity by providing a more diverse pool of potential hires. If you only go to one place to get new recruits, even if that is an Ivy League school, you are only ever going to hire one type of person. Even considering carefully who should conduct interviews for specific positions can help to increase diversity.

How can diversity naturally improve your business?

When you have a diverse workforce it changes the way people in the company think and work. In a diverse workplace, you are more likely to be around different types of people who can introduce new approaches at work. Different people from different cultures and backgrounds bring different and often fresh perspectives to problem solving, design, and product development.

Some people are more analytical while others are more creative. People from different religious, political, and socioeconomic backgrounds possess different perspectives on the world and specific issues. Bring all of those different types of people together and you are likely to see more creativity, new and better ideas and more innovation.

What are your thoughts on affirmative action and quotas?

Hopefully we can accept that diversity is not about political correctness. It is also less about quotas or affirmative action, although some government laws and regulations do come into play. True diversity is more than just common decency to those around you, although that is an important part of it.

In a large company with 1,000 executives, it is much easier to open up opportunities to specific groups to enhance diversity. If half of those executives are not women, it is important to consider why that is and to take steps to address it.

In some countries or communities, government or legal issues require you to think through your diversity policies. In most cases, governments do not force quotas on your business. Instead, you will likely have to prove your diversity if you are to win government business. Both local and federal authorities want assurance that your company has a diverse racial and ethnic population plus a significant percentage of women in senior positions. Your support and enablement of disabled people in the workforce may be reviewed. Failure to manage to these criteria may limit or exclude you from certain business opportunities.


It's Time to Focus on Your Career Future

First published on Huffington Post

Summer vacations have ended and the kids are back in school so it's a great time to prioritize your professional journey. According to a global LikedIn study, September is one of the best months of the year to get promoted. 

"Now is a great time to check your career plan, and make sure that you are getting all of the opportunities that you deserve," says Nigel Dessau, author of Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack. "If you're not getting promoted, there are three basic questions you should be asking yourself: is it my company? Is it my role? Is it me?" 

Expand Your Network and Focus Your Approach
Earning a promotion can be short-term with an incremental raise in salary, rank and responsibility. You should also think long-term about your overall career trajectory and where you really want to be in a few years time.

According to Dessau, the next promotion is just a stepping-stone to your end goal. Each new job should give you a chance to add to your skill set, build your network and expand your leadership skills as well as your approach. If the next job does not offer that, don't take it and wait for the best-fit opportunity to meet your end goal.

Be sure to analyze where your professional gaps are and seek out tasks and experiences that will bridge those career voids. 

Upward Mobility and Your Network
You should build meaningful professional relationships and not just networks. Dessau urges you to expand your knowledge about the world you work in. That is hard to do if the only input you are getting is from those with whom you already work. Diversity of thinking is essential and sometimes leaving your current workplace to experience something new and different can be a wise move towards your professional end goal.

Dessau astutely recognizes that as you move up in any organization, or to a more senior role in another company, the power of your external network increasingly influences your success rate. If you aspire to land a senior leadership role today, you must know key industry players and have a strong external network that you bring as a value-add to the organization. You must be considered an influencer in your industry and being recognized as a thought leader in your field beyond the walls of your company is essential.

The Dead End Promotional Road
If you hit the promotional ceiling in your company, the lack of upward mobility may reflect the size of the organization, the nature of the workload or even the type of customers in the market, says Dessau. Don't assume that the powers that be think you are not deserving of a growth opportunity. It may be factors that go deeper than your performance and you need to know when to move on. "If you make yourself irreplaceable in a key role, you may just find that they won't replace you!" - says Dessau.

Ask for It!
Your boss is not a mind reader so if you have not articulated that you would be interested in moving to the next level he may never consider you for growth. Remember, your boss is busy doing his job and however supportive he may be - chances are he is not acting as your career development coach. Don't fall into the trap of people who don't ask but expect it. As Dessau shares in Become a 21st Century Executive - good things do not always come to those who wait. Even if you think you deserve it, have you established the subject matter expertise, the leadership approach and network you need for the next step?

Don't Limit Your Career
Take the time to consider where you want to go career wise and develop an action plan to get there. It's time to set your career GPS but you need a solid idea of the end destination so you can create a strategy map to get there. Always consider how you can build resources and skills that will empower you to succeed at the next level. 

Dessau cautions, "If you jump to the next level too quickly you will not be prepared or able to succeed. If you stay too long at a level, when you have got all that you can from it, then you are just wasting time and energy. You need to reach your goals and move on up."

The bottom line is that you have a lot of control over your career - perhaps more than you are using. Know where you want to go and if you can't get there from where you are now, then it's time to change something. You can always alter your course and move in a different direction. But don't get stuck in a rut of immobility that zaps your drive and pulls you from the radar of those looking to recruit you.

You'll Never Be Perfectly Suited for a New Role
I see far too many professionals waiting until they think they are perfectly qualified for advancement to even express interest in a promotional opportunity. The perfect candidate doesn't exist so harness your professional chutzpah and be willing to put yourself out there to be considered even if you think you don't have all the qualifications right now. Showing you are interested in a promotion sends a signal to your boss and that's an essential starting point. Lead with your confidence and know that learning on the job is expected for anyone in a new role - even at a senior level. Your potential is an important part of your candidacy as well as your existing skill set.

Be proactive in your career advancement and hold yourself accountable for moving forward. Tis the season - get promoted!

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Huffington Post, AOL JobsCNN Money, the British online magazine - The Rouse and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show called: Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life - on iTunes. Follow her on FacebookLinkedInGoogle+, and Twitter.