Star Spangled Spanner

I’ve lived outside the US for several years and often write about my cultural, business and gastronomical experiences in other countries.  It’s with great pleasure then, that I put a different spin on things today – and share a perspective on my own country through the writing of my dear Irish friend and newspaper columnist Suzanne Brett. july 4 #3

(and if you’d like to read her column as it appears in the on-line version of the Cork Independent, click here!) 

After enjoying a few hours of premier class treatment, I again touched down on American soil last week after an absence of a few years. Like so many others, I’ve endured a heavy dose of Celtic Tiger blues but I’m beginning to feel like I’m in remission.

Anyway, myself and G, (my very well connected American bestie, who’d accompanied me and arranged the whole shebang) quickly checked into our hotel, changed into our glad rags and grabbed a cab.

Security was tight as we approached the residence (hint – it’s completely painted white) and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive but also a lot excited.

The scene was so surreal. Only a few hours earlier I’d been elbow deep in laundry back home in Cork and now here I was, dressed to the nines, sat in the back of a taxi watching as US security personnel, using those mirror on a stick thingies, checked out the undercarriage of the car.

And by the way girls, I’d be lying if I said I’d have taken offence to these lads checking out my actual undercarriage … if you know what I mean. But I digress.

After examining our invitations and passports, checking us off against their list and confiscating our phones, the cab was finally waved through and we made our way up the beautiful winding driveway. Everything was pruned, landscaped and shaped to perfection.

It was kind of everything I’d expected it to be from years of watching programmes like ‘House of Cards’ and ‘The West Wing’. Those Americans certainly know how to impress, I’ll give them that.

G was taking it all in her stride and remained utterly un-phased by the entire adventure. Granted though, she’s a past master at this kind of thing having actually sat down and interviewed Clinton and Bush among others over the years. However, she handled me with consummate skill and ease and any feelings I had of being the country bumpkin visiting ‘the big shmoke’ were entirely my own, as she couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my awestruck-ness.

Being 4 July, the event we’d been invited to was taking place on the back lawn, and as much as I was desperate to have a nose around inside, I knew it wasn’t going to happen on this occasion. We were escorted around the side of the house and invited to partake of the spread of different foods and beverages sourced from the fifty states of the Union.

As I enjoyed a glass of delicious Kentucky bourbon (and I don’t even drink whiskey) and munched on a New York burger I simultaneously made small talk with the Kenyan Ambassador.

In between bites and sips, I was introduced to captains and captainesses of industry, all of whom seemed to have Irish connections of one kind or another. And pretty soon I started to feel like I actually belonged in such rarefied company and august surroundings.

I finally realised I’d become separated from G and in the process of searching for her, I happened to bump into a charming man who introduced himself before asking if I was enjoying myself.

We got to chatting and spent a wonderful half hour before he excused himself and disappeared into the crowd, shaking hands with people as he went.

The following day I Googled the names of some of the people I’d met. Finally, I searched Kevin O’Malley, the lovely gentleman I’d chatted with, just to see if he was anyone of note.

I really don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling I experienced on discovering he’s the American Ambassador to Ireland!

And me, having spent the evening in his beautiful Phoenix Park residence and enjoying his hospitality without so much as a go raibh maith agat! #Cringe #Gobdaw

Thanks, Suzanne! We had great fun, (or “craic” as you Irish would say), didn’t we?!  Let’s do it again next year!

Gina

I’m so grateful you are reading my essays. I train, consult and speak about leadership, better communications, business and life empowerment. Please click ‘Follow’ (at the top of the page) and reach out to me directly to support you or your organization via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and at GinaLondon.com

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Crisis Communications: Lessons from Lanzerote

I train and consult around a range of business communications topics including how to prepare, avoid and handle Crisis. I was recently in Singapore discussing this very issue with some managers from a large multi-national.  But I was personally unprepared during my visit this week to the tiny island of Lanzerote.

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My eight-year-old daughter and I joined another mother and her three children on what was supposed to be a care-free week of mid-term holiday fun on one of Spain’s sunny Canary Islands.

Yet, two far-from-care-free events reminded me that careful and consistent preparation is the number one way to avoid Crises – business and personal.

I’ll share our story along with these pointers as a refresher for us all.

“We’re stranded!”

Our first mishap was the very afternoon we landed last Saturday.

The travel agent had booked us a private shuttle which was supposed to deliver us to the doorstep of our villa. Instead, after the driver deposited us, our kids and our luggage– and departed – we noticed a stranger basking at what we thought was our pool.

While he was kind, he also insisted this was his rental villa. A group of local cleaners who were onsite tidying agreed. His paperwork all checked out.

They took one look at the paperwork my friend showed them and shook their heads. Our destination’s typed address proved a puzzle.

Yes, this villa is number 20.  Yes, “Playa Blanca” is the name of the town we were in.  But! The street name on the sheet was from a town that was apparently a 40-minute drive north. Yikes! For good measure, they observed that the zip code listed didn’t even exist in Lanzerote. Terrific.

Neither of the two phone numbers typed on the information sheet connected to a live person.  One wasn’t working at all and the other said to call back during regular business hours Monday through Friday.

Fortunately for us, the cleaners stayed to help us try and put the pieces of the puzzle together.  Since they spoke fluent Spanish, they managed to contact the shuttle service which, in turn, managed to track down a someone from the property management company who revealed that our villa was actually number 26. Six doors down.  No explanation was provided for the error.

All this, after more than an hour being stranded with four understandably confused and cranky kids.

What if we had arrived later and no one had been there to help?!?

1. Share the plan/Make sure you know the plan – It’s important for businesses and leaders to share and get buy-in around a vision.  Likewise, it might have been a good idea for the travel agent to send a copy of our villa address and other information to me, not just to my friend.  In the same vein, I should have requested a copy, but I didn’t.  I don’t know that I would have noticed the errors with the address. But at least being aware of the plan is a responsibility when you’re part of a team.

2. Verify information – Did any of us think to test the phone numbers on the paperwork before we needed them?  Routine testing beforehand might alert that something is amiss.

“There’s been a break-in!”

Our second mishap unfolded as we returned after dinner in town to our number 26 villa Tuesday night.

Upon entering and turning on the light, we saw once-tidy clothing and papers scattered about the first two rooms.  There’s been a break-in! But strangely, we then noticed that my laptop and a child’s tablet had not been removed.  Could we have interrupted the intruder?  Was he still inside?!?

My friend immediately called the police. We gathered the shaking children. And left.

About twenty-minutes later, four police officers arrived and we went back in with them.  No more intruder – but a broken window latch downstairs.  He opened it from the outside – even though we thought we had it locked from the inside.

The police guessed the intruder was only after passports or cash.  We had those with us while we were at dinner.  So the would-be robber took nothing, but gave us all a big fright.

We took the children’s mattresses from the downstairs bedrooms and huddled together upstairs for the remainder of the night.

The next day, our Irish travel agent contacted the property manager who sent a handy-man to fix the window.  Nothing more.  No words of compassion or caring.

3. Check your systems. Along with routine testing of numbers in our case, or processes in business, it’s critical to check and re-check to see what can be improved upon.  We could even have checked the windows and doors ourselves – from the inside and out – before we left.  This, clearly, should be the responsibility of the property manager. But, I don’t think I’ll passively depend on that again. Knowing that we were staying in an unfamiliar place, we could have insisted with our travel agent that all the locks on the windows and doors had been recently serviced.

 4. Be Compassionate. This one is aimed at the property manager. My friend and I are can-do mommies and we did get to the beach and see the sights. But this was definitely not the mid-term holiday that we – or our kids – had imagined.

 The fact that the property manager didn’t even offer to reduce the fee for our stay – or move us to another villa – or even send us a box of chocolates or a pizza for the kids as a sign of caring, is NOT the way to keep customers and gain business.

We are all safely aboard the plane back home as I type this with, of course, the beauty of hindsight.  But it’s hindsight that I vow to turn to foresight.  I pledge to hold myself to the high standard that I encourage my business partners to undertake.

Just as soon as I’m finished here reminding myself of what I could do better next time to avoid a crisis, I will be writing to our travel agent to avoid the property supplier who did NOT prevent crises for their customers  – and as a result – themselves.

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Here’s wishing crisis-free travels for us all.

Very kindly,

Gina

Copyright 2016 Gina London. All Rights Reserved. 

 

This Season of Giving, Consider Giving the Gift of You!

What’s the Power of your Personal Brand?

Who knows? And you’ll never know if you don’t start sharing the story of YOU.

Because, quite simply, that’s what Brand is. It’s the story. Of a Product. Of a Service. Of You.

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Tomorrow I’ve been invited to speak before a group of executives from a wide-range of multi-national companies. Each year they come together to share stories of what has worked  – and what hasn’t – to add value for everyone.

This idea of collaboration or “open source” of best practices, is the same thing you can accomplish when you get serious about cultivating your personal brand.  

Of course, “BRAND” is an over-used word that has come a long way from when it was simply a metal tool used to mark cattle.

Now it’s about leaving your own mark – telling others what you have learned during your own professional journey.

A businessman I met on the train today up to Dublin told me that he loves hearing how others have dealt with disappointment or failures.  Stories of overcoming adversity inspire him to keep going when times are tough on the job.

Are you telling your own stories?  That’s actively taking charge of your brand.

No matter where you are in your career, you likely have a story to tell.

You don’t have to be an expert. But maybe you already are.  Think about it.  The difference often between yourselves and someone who markets themselves as an expert – is probably only that they have self-proclaimed the title.  You can give yourself that too.

If not now, when?  And if not you, then who?

There are a myriad of ways to do this.   And make no mistake whether or not you’re taking ownership of these ways, people are still forming opinions about you.   You are already cultivating your brand. Just perhaps not purposefully.

I focus on three main ways.

They’re all linked and they all overlap. The important thing is to start thinking about it. And then turn those thoughts into action. Okay, so here are your ABC’s.

A – Appearance. Like it or not, this is your first impression.  Are your shoes polished? Hair groomed? Appropriately dressed for the event, dinner, meeting occasion? You’d be surprised how many people phone this one in.

B – Behaviour. – You don’t have to open your mouth. What you do, how you look, how you listen, how you move, all say it for you. Remember,

 You are never not communicating.”

C – Communications. – Although A and B also communicate to your audience, this is where you can really get results:  I subdivide this into another three:

1. Written – this is all CONTENT –  from emails, to weekly meetings,  to presentations.  What strategy do you apply before you create your message? The methodology I apply is AIM: Consider your  Audience, Intent and Message.

2. Spoken –  this is your delivery mode –  the WAY you speak. Your volume, your tone, your pacing, your inflections. All of these add up to a reflection of you. And not just in a big presentation, either.  How do you talk to your colleagues? Your direct reports? Your managers?

3. SOCIAL MEDIA – And finally: a great thing for some – and a dreaded thing for others. The Social Media piece. Yes, social media.

So – who’s on Twitter? Instagram?  Vine??

Okay..Here’s the basics. And if you’re reading this on Linked In, the answer is obvious, but anyway, let’s dig deeper:  Who’s on Linked in?

With a photo that looks friendly and not like you’re wanted for a crime?

With a profile that’s not just a rundown of your CV – but that tells a story of your experiences, accomplishments and value?

That’s in first person?

And for the real bonus – who regularly posts essays on Linked in?  This is a great way to share your stories to a broader audience.

You’ll be on your way to becoming a thought leader – but really, during this season of giving, if you can share a story of overcoming adversity or disappointment that impacts even one person in a positive way, that’s worth it, isn’t it?

Happy holidays and happy sharing and giving.

Gina

Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved. 

Happy Easter – and There are no small parts…

I have a confession:  When my seven-year-old told me she had been given the non-speaking bit role of “Forest Dancer” in her school’s Easter festival play, my first inclination was to angrily protest.

Rockboro Primary  Easter Festival Play. School, Cork, Ireland.
Rockboro Primary Easter Festival Play. School, Cork, Ireland.

(Note! This is NOT merely the musings of a mother on her young daughter’s first school play, there is also a lovely lesson for business and life here, I promise.)

I imagined walking up to her first-grade teacher saying something like:  “What?! MY daughter deserves MORE than a puny role as ‘tree fairy who protects the princess’ which was clearly made up just to give every kid a part. Lulu should have been the princess herself, or at least a character with one line of dialogue! How dare you!”

Of course, I said nothing to the teacher. To my daughter, I smiled down said something supportive about how she was sure to be a great “Forest Dancer.” Still, inwardly, I worried about her sure-to-be-damaged tender self-esteem.

But, my daughter wasn’t upset about her small role at all.   She was actually excited about being a “Forest Dancer.”

“I am creating my own dance moves to guard the princess,” she happily told me one evening.

She applied twirls and flourishes she had learned in her after-school ballet lessons. Then she studied her face in the mirror and announced she would like to wear her hair swept into an up-do complete with a ring of flowers.  We shopped for an appropriate “tree dancer” outfit and came up with a leafy dress the teachers liked so much they urged Lulu’s “tree dancer” partner to buy a matching outfit just like it.

When the day of the Easter festival arrived, amid tables of hot cross buns, pastel-colored cupcakes and walls plastered with hundreds of pictures of bunnies and chicks, my little daughter proudly took to the stage.

Her little ballet moves were adorable and for a moment I thought of the background dancer in a recent production of The Nutcracker who hilariously upstaged the featured performers.

Lulu, aka, "Forest Dancer," guarding the princess.
Lulu, aka, “Forest Dancer,” guarding the princess.

Lulu didn’t go that far.  She simply brought to the performance all that she could.  She wasn’t envious of the girl who did play the role of the princess. She had a great attitude. She was encouraging and encouraged in return.

I was the one who needed to have my attitude checked.  When we’re offered something we may consider “beneath” us, how do we react? With frustration? Anger? Are we indignant or are we gracious?

The way Lulu handled herself, reminded me of the Stanislavski quote that:

 There are no small parts, only small actors.

So, no matter whether in an Easter festival play or in business or in life, remember all the world’s a stage. Give every role your best.

Fun and friends after the play!
Fun and friends after the play!

And Happy Easter!

Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

Top 10 ways to put aside business and jump into Christmas – if only for two days!  

I am standing in one of those amorphous “chat circles” at a cocktail reception when a well-known phone-industry executive departs from our group announcing, “Well, I’ve got to get back to the office. Lots of work to do!”

It is already going on nine o’clock and while Mr. Businessman may indeed have some unusually important project to attend, more likely he is telling us this to illustrate what how essential he is at his place of employment.

Then there is the time I am supposed to be having a friendly coffee with a girlfriend.  During the course of our hour-long sit-down, she takes three phone calls and responds to two texts.  In fact, she never puts down her phone; she sips cappuccino from the left hand while she concentrates on the screen held in her right.

This morning, then, I felt a twinge of guilt as I watch my husband and daughter scamper out the front door to scoop up a final few gifts and soak-up holiday atmosphere in our festive downtown. I am staying at home for a Skype session with a client who wants to rehearse his message for an upcoming interview for a new prestigious position.  His interview will be held later today.  Just two days away from Christmas.

Yes, work must get done. And there’s no doubt we will all achieve more success if we’re very accessible and responsive to whomever our clients and customers may be.

Real Wealth is discretionary time.

But, as the self-described “Contrarian Consultant,” Alan Weiss aptly states, “Real wealth is discretionary time.”   So, I for one, am pledging here and now to officially take a two-day holiday break from work.

Here are my top-ten pledges.  Pledge along with me for whichever of these strike your fancy – as, of course, applied to your own unique family/friends/holiday experience!

  1. I am not going into the office
  2. Unless there’s an extreme emergency, I am also not going to take any calls from the office
  3. I not going to waste any time on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Linked In (that doesn’t mean I/you won’t post your awesome Christmas Eve or Christmas Day feasts photos, but you don’t have to spend 10 minutes poring over everyone else’s until Friday, right!)
  4. I am going to bake more cookies with my child(ren)
  5. I am going to happily tipple a little more mulled wine with my husband (spouse, partner, buddy) – but not drink and drive
  6. I am going to sit and really pay rapt attention to: The Nutcracker, The Sound of Music, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Muppets Christmas Carol or (fill in the blank)
  7. I am going to call a loved one I can’t visit on Christmas
  8. I am going to actually listen to my great auntie give me the “who’s died or is ill among our distant relatives I never heard of” update
  9. I am going to eat whatever I want for two days and not lament audibly for all to hear about how much I regret that I just over-indulged
  10. I am going to play a board game completely to the end and try to enjoy it

No matter whether you are a CEO or a junior sales associate, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to be fully present during this joyous time.

Here's my daughter Lulu - hoping your Christmas is over the moon!
Here’s my daughter Lulu – hoping your Christmas is over the moon!

Merry Christmas, everyone. Here’s to a productive, prosperous New Year – in which we carve out much-needed and deserved discretionary time!

Cheers,

Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

!!! Happy April Fool’s Day !!!

I am proud to report the evil prank my mother played on me when I was five (oh yes, wait ‘til you hear about it; it was purely evil!)  has now moved on to a new generation of tricksters.

The initial crime, er prank, was committed one morning when innocent little Gina London work up one morning and prepared to get dressed to go to what she thought was a regular day of kindergarten.  My loving mother, however, had removed every pair of shoes from my closet.

shoes

I had no idea, of course, that it was April First and that the day had any extra significance for making Fools.

I remember my mother siting me on a stool in the kitchen and very seriously explaining to me that Daddy had accidentally thrown away all my shoes.  “We can buy some new shoes after school, but for now Mommy will just wrap up your feet in newspapers and you can go to school like that.”

I cried.

My mom, then as I recall, loudly cackled out, “APRILFOOLS!” I seem to also recall her face being green and a witch’s pointy hat was perched on her head. Seriously, I still shake my head whenever I think that my mom actually pulled this off on me.  I mean, I was five, for Lawd’s sake.  In spite of this, I swear to you, my mother and I have a very close relationship.  And I never did find out if Dad was in on it or not.

Okay. So fast forward to yesterday afternoon.  Lulu and I are sitting on a bench in the Tuscan sunshine at Parco Prato and she tells me her teacher has told all the kids that tomorrow is April Fool’s day. Actually, she says “pesce d’aprile” because that’s what they call it here in Italy.  Happy April Fish Day.  But it’s still about playing tricks.

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Of course, I have told Lulu the twisted tale of her grandmother and my first April Fool’s Day many times. Lulu is convinced it will work on her daddy.

Continue reading “!!! Happy April Fool’s Day !!!”

My demands for International Women’s Day

Saturday was  International Women’s Day 2014.

Bright, yellow, puffy-palline sprays of Mimosa are sold up and down Corso Italia here in Arezzo.???????????????????????????????

Lulu and I each received a bouquet from the barista at the coffee shop in Piazza Grande.

PicMonkey Collage 2

The symbolic flowers were everywhere.  On the balcony of one of our favorite pizzerias.

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Stretching out from behind an ancient wall along a vicolo.

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And even balanced precariously on a bicycle.

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The first Women’s Day was celebrated in the United States in 1909.  By 1911, women were being recognized  internationally on a special day.

Started by the Socialist Party, but broadened (get it? – sorry) to include Social Democrats and other parties, the day is designed to remind the world about the rights and demands of women.

During this time of recognition and celebration, where freedoms, salaries and protection are some of the larger issues, here are my personal “demands.”  I bet there’s a woman near and dear to you, who might make these as well.

  • Thank me.

 I work hard every day – to make our daughter breakfast and walk her to school, to coach and consult with my communications clients, to consider and care for friends and family, to cook dinner and to love, listen to and respect my husband.  The simple phrase, “Thanks, hon, for all you do” warms my heart and encourages me every time I hear it.

  • Forgive me.

In spite of my strengths, I am also full of flaws and frailties. I am a work in progress. I don’t want a full-time pass, because I definitely believe I am in control of my decisions and actions, and can always work harder. But sometimes a “hey, don’t worry, we all make mistakes,” can bring great comfort and reassurance.

  • Offer to help me.

“Is there anything I can I do to help?”  is a fabulous question.  Even if I don’t take you up on the offer at the precise moment, the gesture is terrific.

  • Love and respect me.  

We are Mothers.  Sisters.  Wives.  Partners. Friends.  So – just like our Fathers.  Brothers. Husbands. Partners. Friends – we are human first.  All we need is love.  And the rest will follow, won’t it?

For all the women out there – and the men too – I hope you are giving love and respect and getting it in return.

From Arezzo, with love.
From Arezzo, with love.

Til next time,

Baci – Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.