Be authentic — It is important that your team sees you as real and approachable and that when you are communicating with them that your are not just putting on your “leadership act”. Avoid using corporate language, instead, speak using real human terms. Don’t be afraid to smile or laugh, and make sure you let it be known that you are open to their ideas and that you are not above making mistakes.
We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Mackenzie Whalen.
Mackenzie Whalen is a founding member and marketing director at E1011 Labs, a company on a mission to provide safe, affordable, and convenient access to cannabinoid wellness. As the Marketing Director at E1011 Labs, Mackenzie’s approach to marketing is founded upon providing help, not hype. With a deep passion for the cannabis industry and an international background, it is her dream to normalize the usage of cannabinoids within every society, culture, and institution.
Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?
One of my most memorable moments was meeting some of the fascinating people that I ever encountered when I moved to California to go to school. Having been born and raised in Shanghai, China, I always felt like a bit of an outsider. My father is American and my mother is Chinese, so my approach and thinking process was different, and I often believed I would never fit it anywhere.
But when I went to college at UC Santa Cruz, I found a group of people that made me feel at home. I still felt like a bit of an outsider, but I remember that their freedom of thought made me feel more comfortable and that my interests and ideas were shared.
What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?
I would have to say the biggest twist is how I went from marketing for traditional global brands such as Hugo Boss, Tom Ford, and Estee Lauder, into the cannabis industry. When I first started marketing, cannabis was still illegal in so many places. I had been fascinated and interested in the plant since I was a teenager, but never looked at it as a career, nor would I have ever considered that there would be an opportunity to have one in that business.
However, as state and local regulations concerning cannabis use began to change, and I had returned to California, I was presented with an opportunity to be a founder in a cannabis company. It was something that I had never really considered previously. So, I went from marketing traditional products and global brands into a completely new field that was in its infancy.
According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?
Having grown-up in a society in which I always felt like I was an outsider, I always had a sensitivity to feeling uncomfortable, so I try to approach and adapt my communication with a sense of empathy. In this, I mean that I try to see things from someone else’s experience and perspective. Sometimes it just means listening to their thoughts without any preconceived ideas or notions. I never want to assume that I know where someone is coming from or how they process information. Our previous experience is what we filter our communication through, and everyone has had a life that is unique to them. Therefore, by adapting my communication style by always leading with empathy, I feel I am more effective in creating an atmosphere for open dialogue.
Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distributed world of work?
I believe it is important to use more than one form of communication when trying to get ideas or information across to others. There are nuances that can be lost in some forms of communication like text or emails. People are not able to hear the changes in your voice, make eye contact, or look at your body language. All of these can change the emphasis of a message. Therefore, I think it is important, especially when trying to emphasize a point or trying to get across vital information, that you use more than one type of communication. So, an email or a text should be followed-up with a phone call or an in-person meeting. I make it a point that when I want to emphasize the importance of some information, I will use more than one type of communication.
We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.
I would say that the biggest gap in communication when I did not get the desired result was during some of the issues that surrounded COVID lockdowns and policy, but it did not really come from my end. I was making every effort to reach out to officials related to our status as a “necessary” business during some of the shutdowns. However, the types of communication I had access to were limiting as many government entities had limited ways to reach them, and this led to getting conflicting messages, or my questions not being entirely answered. It was an extremely frustrating period as sometimes protocols and procedures would change, but the lack of communication in being able to find out what those were created a lot of frustration and many sleepless nights.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?
I would say the first thing they would need to do is be brutally honest with themselves and conduct a full evaluation. If you are communicating with several different parties and are not getting satisfactory results, it is a good guess that the problem rests with you. Therefore, take a look at whether or not you are using several forms of communication to get your ideas across, whether your actions and vibe encourages questions and open dialogue, and above all, ask if you are approaching your communication through their eyes, meaning that you need to look and see if it can easily be misunderstood, or its tone could be misinterpreted.
Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What are five strategies any leader can deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce? Please share a story or example for each of you can.
1 . Be authentic — It is important that your team sees you as real and approachable and that when you are communicating with them that your are not just putting on your “leadership act”. Avoid using corporate language, instead, speak using real human terms. Don’t be afraid to smile or laugh, and make sure you let it be known that you are open to their ideas and that you are not above making mistakes.
2 . Use more than one type of communication — There are some items that can be taken care of with a quick text or email, but for more important information, it is critical that you use more than one type communication. Everyone processes information differently, and so having an in-person meeting, or at the very least a phone call that accompanies an email or text, is important in ensuring that your message is fully understood.
3 . Follow-up — The follow-up is important in communication for two reasons. First, it ensures that your initial communication was understood and is being acted upon correctly. But secondly, and more importantly, it offers a chance for your team members to feel comfortable is asking questions. Many times, people are afraid to reach out because they think they will frowned upon for not fully understanding the initial communication. The follow-up helps create a positive company culture of support and encourages open dialogue for that issue and future ones.
4 . Know your audience- Different audiences often means different communication styles. The way you communicate with your team members is going to be different than how you communicate with your investors. This does not mean that you fully change some of the basic principles of communication, but understand how they see the world, and how their involvement in your business is going to change the way in which they process information. Being cognizant of that fact will help you adjust your communication style, whether it be including more visuals, documentation or in-person meetings, to be your most effective.
5 . Ask questions — Many leaders have experienced the room of nodding heads where everyone acknowledges that they heard and understood the information presented, but few actually have. The reason for this is that many are afraid to ask questions for fear that it will make them look silly or incapable. Ironically, in most cases, there are usually many in the room who have the same questions or are not clear on the some of the same points. Therefore, it is important that you ask the questions that everyone is thinking about but no one is verbalizing. By asking questions, even if they have obvious answers, you will set the room at ease, encourage others to ask more questions, and gain the actionable clarity that you desire.
What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when there is so much competing for attention?
The first strategy to eliminate distraction is to have a full written plan prior to dispensing information. Going into a meeting, whether with a large group or one-on-one, with nothing prepared or just with the intention of winging it, will most likely create lack of clarity and result in missing vital information. Taking the time to prepare will help ensure you cover everything you need to.
The second strategy is to make sure you are ready emotionally. We are not robots, and how we are feeling internally, or if we simply have a ton of other tasks on our mind, can affect the way we communicate. So it is important before your communication to take a quick moment to reflect and get your thoughts straight so you can focus on the communication ahead.
The third strategy is to create a time limit. The technological world has unfortunately shortened people’s attention spans. Knowing this fact, it is important that you try to accommodate for that reality. If you drag-on in your communication, you will most likely lose your audience’s attention. So, make sure you are always aware of how long you are asking people to keep their attention on you and your message.
What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?
The skill of self-awareness is essential and though most think this is an innate ability, it can actually be practiced and honed. Being self-aware will allow you to make necessary adjustments, keep you in tune with your communication strengths and weaknesses, and allow you to be honest about the areas you need to improve.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My movement would be centered around destigmatizing cannabis and promote free cannabis research. It would be to open people’s minds to start looking for new ways to see the benefits of our industry.
How can our readers stay connected with you?
The best way is our daily blogs which touch upon all my latest work and the news at E1011 Labs. You can find them on our website at e1011labs.com.
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.