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Articles and Tips to Improve Leadership & Communication Skills

Are leaders born or can they be trained?
Make a list of characteristics of an effective leader. Almost all the attributes on the list can be taught in some form. And, many of the characteristics involve some form of communication skills - which can certainly be learned.

Other characteristics involve behavior and attitude. These, too, can be changed over time. The desire must come from within you. Once you identify the desire, then you can look to external sources for education.

You have permission to reprint these articles, simply give us credit (shown at end of each article).

                      Kelly Watkins

Are You So Busy Serving Customers or Leading Staff -- that you forget the person?

Identify Listening Situations

Fun Email Quiz

Choose the Best Communication Tool

10 Speaking Tips

10 Tips to Give Employee Feedback

10 Tips to Improve Verbal Skills

For articles on customer service, visit: http://www.KeepCustomers.com


"Mentoring Program Success Strategies - an Overview"


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Links to more articles by Kelly

(Published in AME Info – the ultimate Middle East business resource)


“How would your leadership hold up in Antarctica's ruthless climate?” by Kelly Watkins, MBA. 


In the harsh climate of Antarctica, leadership skills equal survival. In our current harsh economic climate, your leadership skills will determine your company's survival. Are you prepared with the appropriate leadership mindset? ...

To read the rest of Kelly's article: http://www.ameinfo.com/190514.html


“Distinguishing your company in a crowded market” by Kelly Watkins, MBA. 


Despite the current economic woes, business in the Middle East continues to grow at an incredible pace, especially compared to other parts of the world. So as competition increases, how can you distinguish your company from others? . . .

To read the rest of Kelly's article:  http://www.ameinfo.com/186257.html

Are You So Busy Serving Customers Or Leading Staff --
that you forget the person?

by Kelly Watkins, MBA

Do you get so wrapped up in the day-to-day duties of managing employees that you ignore the employee? Are you so busy trying to serve customers that you forget about the customer?

I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel near Washington, D.C. staring out the window. A vehicle stopped in front of the building. A bedraggled couple slowly emerged from the car. The man began a half-hearted attempt to stretch his arms, which he abandoned in mid-air.

One glance told me they were “travel weary.” You know that feeling – not sure what city you’re in, what day it is, or what’s happening in the world. Your eyelids are swollen from squinting at the reflection of the sun on the pavement and the vain attempts to read road signs coming at you at 100 kilometers per hour. The pupils of your eyes are glazed over, remnants of the trancelike state the expressway induces.

Erma Bombeck even wrote a book about the travel weary look, it’s called, “When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home.” To put it kindly, this poor man and woman appeared ready to go home!

The couple shuffled into the lobby. They approached the counter, apprehension written on their faces. That’s when it occurred to me they didn’t have a reservation.

The man’s voice was low, and it faltered slightly as he asked the front desk clerk, “Do you have any rooms available?” He didn’t add, “Please say yes,” but the plea was apparent in his tone.

The Efficient Clerk began pecking on the keys of the computer keyboard. Without looking up and allowing eye contact to distract her from her duties, her first comment was, “Do you want smoking or non-smoking?”

The man hesitated, looked into his wife’s pleading eyes, and stammered, “It doesn’t matter.”

The Efficient Clerk, obviously trained in the importance of making customers happy asked, “But, which do you prefer?”

The man mumbled a choice. After more pecking at the keys, the Efficient Clerk asked, “Two double beds or one King?” Again, she didn’t allow eye contact to interfere with doing her job. The husband and wife exchanged the same bewildered looks. The man, again, mumbled a selection.

After a few more questions, the Efficient Clerk looked at the couple for the first time and said, “That’ll be $99, plus tax.”

It took great restraint for me not to shout across the lobby, “Oh? Does that mean you have a ROOM AVAILABLE?”

This couple was exhausted. The Efficient Clerk could have calmed their concerns immediately by letting them know there were rooms available. Then, she could have handled the details. But, she didn’t. The Efficient Clerk had missed the point.

Do you miss the point? Are you so mired down in your daily tasks that you forget the reason for the tasks – the customer or the employee?

Are you so busy filling out the paperwork for the customer that you don’t look at the customer and make eye contact? Are you so focused on quickly processing information that you forget to develop rapport with the customer and make him/her feel welcomed and valued? Are you so busy managing, that you miss an opportunity to listen to an employee’s feedback?

Remember that part of customer service is the customer. And, you can’t be a leader if no one is following. Don’t get so absorbed in accomplishing things that you forget to look up occasionally and notice the people.

For Reprints, please include contact info:
By Kelly Watkins, international communication & leadership consultant. For tips, visit: www.LeadershipArabWomen.com  or www.KeepCustomers.com.

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Identify Listening Situations

By Kelly Watkins, MBA

During the day, you are bombarded with thousands of messages trying to claim your attention. Clients are calling on the phone. Paperwork is sitting on your desk. People are walking into your office. The radio or television is playing. Colleagues are whispering in your ear or screaming at your door.

You cannot listen effectively to everything and everyone at once. It is easy to fall into the “Focus Trap” – where you don’t listen well because you are not focusing on the right things.

It is difficult to determine where to focus. Even the phenomenal power of your brain cannot process everything that it is exposed to. Your brain copes with this chaos by filtering the messages.

The Dutch Impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh did not have a good “filter.” He claimed to hear voices and ringing in his ears. In 1888, Van Gogh cut off half of his left ear. One theory claims that Van Gogh did this because he could no longer tolerate the noise.

Modern-day doctors have suggested causes that range from Meniere’s disease (an inner-ear disorder) to behavior disorders to epilepsy. Regardless of the actual reason, it is easy to see that someone who is incapable of filtering out
excessive noise would be tempted to remove an ear.

Luckily, you have a better filter. This filter allows you to sort through all the clutter and choose what information to process.

To avoid the Focus Trap and listen more effectively, there are two steps. First, be aware that you are making decisions about where to give your attention.

Then, be selective. Make conscious choices about where to focus.

You cannot be a good listener all the time. What!? That is not a misprint. It takes a lot of effort and energy to avoid the Focus Trap. You cannot listen well 24 hours per day / seven days per week. So, what do you do?

Identify listening situations! What are “listening situations”? These are interactions with people where you absolutely must pay attention.

Take a moment right now and think of situations at work where it is very important for you to give your full attention to the person speaking. You have just identified your listening situations. Since you cannot do a great job of listening every minute of the day, now you know when to say to yourself, “Hey, I need to pay attention here!”

When listening, don’t succumb to the Focus Trap! Make conscious choices about which messages to process. Then, identify listening situations and concentrate your energy and good listening skills on those.

Want to test your listening skills? Answer some listening riddles or preview Kelly’s book “The Key to Effective Listening” at http://www.KeepCustomers.com

For Reprints, please include contact info:
By Kelly Watkins, international communication & leadership consultant. For tips, visit: www.LeadershipArabWomen.com  or www.KeepCustomers.com.

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Fun Email Quiz

By Kelly Watkins, MBA

Are you creating a positive, professional impression when you email your co-workers and customers? Or, is Miss Manners shrieking in horror every time you hit the send button? Are you being efficient and effective when you send messages, or are you wasting time? To find out, take this fun quiz.

1. One method to achieve a conversational tone in an email message
     is to:

  1. Use slang terms and jargon.
  2. Use contractions.
  3. Use acronyms.
  4. Stand up and yell across the office. See if you can start “the wave.”

Answer: B. When you speak in a conversation, you use contractions. So, it’s acceptable to use them in email to create a conversational tone.

2. When beginning to type an email, start with:

  1. The addressee’s email address.
  2. The message.
  3. The addressee’s name.
  4. “Yo, dude or dudette!”

Answer: C. Starting a message with the addressee’s name is not only more personal, it helps avoid miscommunication and confusion. Without the addressee’s name, the person doesn’t know if the message is intended for him/her.

3. When writing an email message, paragraphs should:

  1. Be long.
  2. Be short.
  3. Be indented.
  4. Be invisible – no one can mess it up that way.

Answer: B. People aren’t willing to invest time reading messages that appear too long or tedious. Short paragraphs appear easier to read because there is more white space. There is also less chance that the reader will miss a point.

4. The best way to make several points in an email is:

  1. Include all the points in the first paragraph.
  2. Include all the points in the last paragraph.
  3. Use lists with bullets or numbers.
  4. Put it on a banner and rent an airplane to fly over the office pulling the banner.

Answer: C. If you put more than one point in a paragraph, it may be overlooked. Lists and bullets make your points stand out. They are also easier for the person to see.

5. At the end of an email message, you should include:

  1. Only your name.
  2. Only your name and company.
  3. All your relevant contact information.
  4. A picture of your pet python and twin tarantulas.

Answer: C. Provide people with all the information they need to contact you – in whatever way is most convenient for them. They may prefer the telephone or regular mail over email.

6. If you know the recipient reads emails quickly and is often in a hurry,
    the best way to send a supporting document is:

  1. Paste it into the body of the message.
  2. Attach it as a separate document.
  3. Type slowly.
  4. Have it delivered by carrier pigeon.

Answer: A. When the recipient is in a hurry, he/she will be less likely to open an attachment because it takes extra time. The person is more likely to read something that’s pasted right in front of him/her.

7. When sending a message, you should copy (“cc”):

  1. Everyone in the department – just in case.
  2. Your boss and your boss’ boss – so they know that you’re working hard.
  3. Only those people who absolutely need to know.
  4. The whole world. Why not? Everyone else does.

Answer: C. The “cc” function is the most abused function in email. Don’t be a pain!

8. When writing a Subject Line:

  1. Use something general, such as “Greetings” or “Hello.”
  2. Be specific, but brief.
  3. Use several sentences.
  4. “If you don’t respond, I’ll send Uncle Guido to break your knee caps.”

Answer: B. A generic Subject Line doesn’t tell the recipient anything. The
more specific you are, the better chance you have of getting the recipient to open the message.

9. When possible, email messages should be:

  1. Extremely detailed, even if the message is quite lengthy.
  2. Kept to one screen.
  3. Forwarded to the author of a cartoon for future material.

Answer: B. Most readers won’t take time to read more than one screen. The shorter the message is, the better chance you’ll have of getting it read.


9 = You’re perfect. (But, you knew that already.) Keep emailing!

7 - 8 = You’re okay. Be a little more cautious, though. You could learn a few tips from my book, Email Etiquette Made Easy
( http://www.keepcustomers.com ).

5 - 6 = You could use some help. Try my book, Email Etiquette Made Easy ( http://www.keepcustomers.com ).

Less than 5 = Ugh! Call me now! We’ll schedule your one-on-one training immediately.

For Reprints, please include contact info:
By Kelly Watkins, international communication & leadership consultant. For tips, visit: www.LeadershipArabWomen.com  or www.KeepCustomers.com.

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Choose the Best Communication Tool

by Kelly Watkins, MBA

Today’s technology has provided us with so many forms of communication that we often grab for the nearest gadget without asking an important question, “What gadget is best?” Or, in more formal terms, “What is the most effective method of communicating for this situation?”

Should you make a telephone call, or would it be better to visit in person? Should you whip off a quick email message or type a formal letter? What about a fax? Should you page the person and have him/her return your call? Is it acceptable to call this person from your wireless phone? Do you need to schedule an in-person meeting or would a videoconference be more efficient? Do you need to arrange a teleconference or will three-way calling suffice? Should you call the other person on his/her wireless phone?

Technology offers many options for communicating. To be effective, you want to make the right choice.

Start by considering your audience. If an employee hates email, don’t use it to convey bad news. If a client dislikes wireless phones, don’t call him/her from yours. If your boss is annoyed by pagers, don’t page him/her unless it’s vital.

Ask yourself, is it acceptable if there is a lag time between when the message is sent and when it is received? Be careful when determining what is “quick” communication.

For example, email isn’t necessarily fast. Simply because email is sent instantaneously doesn’t mean it’s received that quickly. Some people only check their email once a day or once a week.

Regular mail is notorious for being slow. There’s a reason it’s nicknamed “snail mail.” If you have a quick question or need a clarification, pick up the telephone or walk across the hall. Hey, the exercise is good for you!

Is there a chance the communication could be misunderstood or misinterpreted? Face-to-face contact allows you to obtain valuable non-verbal feedback. And, you can receive this feedback immediately and in mid-sentence, instead of waiting until you’ve sent an entire document, only to discover you’re on the wrong track. Remember, too, that a videoconference is another way to achieve face-to-face contact.

On the other hand, if you’re communicating numbers, financial data, or complicated information, put it in writing. This will help you avoid miscommunication or confusion.

Are you having trouble building a relationship? Whether the person is a co-worker or a new client, look for the most personable methods of communicating. Make a telephone call, or pay a personal visit.

Is the appearance of the letter or proposal important? If a potential client will be making ten copies of your proposal and distributing it to the Board of Directors, don’t fax it. Consider sending the copy via regular mail – in a flat envelope.

What is the volume of information that is being communicated? Faxes are best suited for sending brief pieces of information.

Does the communication require input from several people, or are you brainstorming ideas? If so, consider a face-to-face meeting or a teleconference. That way, everyone can participate at once.

If you need time to think about your reply, avoid the telephone. By using a written format, such as a letter, email, or fax, you have time to consider the matter. Also, if a client is asking detailed pricing questions, you can eliminate confusion (and protect yourself) by putting it in writing.

Is the receiver in a different time zone than you are? Maybe you are ready to leave the office, but you want to send information about an order. If the client is three time zones away, a fax or email will reach him/her more effectively than a phone call.

Finally, in this age of technological gadgets, don’t underestimate the power of a hand-written note. That’s one way to let employees know you appreciate them or to stand out among the competition. How many of your competitors will take the time to hand write a note to a potential client?

Use today’s technology to your advantage. Don’t sabotage your message by choosing the wrong method of communicating it. Make a conscious decision about the most effective medium for your situation.

For Reprints, please include contact info:
By Kelly Watkins, international communication & leadership consultant. For tips, visit: www.LeadershipArabWomen.com  or www.KeepCustomers.com.

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10 Speaking Tips

By Kelly Watkins, MBA

  1. Do your homework using the 5 W’s. WHO is the audience? How much do they know about the subject? WHAT have you been asked to talk about? Stay on the topic. WHEN? Don’t speak longer than the time you were given. WHERE? Get directions to the event. WHY? Determine your top three objectives. Ask yourself, “This presentation will be successful, if _________.”
  2. Arrive early. Hook up the LCD projector or focus the overhead projector. Pre-set materials. Test the microphone (about 3”-5” from your mouth for hand held and 12”-18” for stationary).
  3. Be aware that people are watching you. When your introduction is being read, the audience is looking at you, not the person saying the introduction. Don’t adjust your tie or comb your hair.
  4. Don’t start speaking until your ready. Upon reaching the lectern, arrange your notes and adjust the microphone.
  5. Say your opening remarks first. Then handle administrative details, such as handouts, restrooms, or the agenda. You want to obtain the listeners’ attention and establish credibility before you discuss trivial details.
  6. Use visual aids confidently. Explain the item before it’s shown, and remove it when done. If you’re nervous, lay a pen on the overhead instead of pointing with a shaky finger. Or, set the remote for the LCD projector on the table. For flip charts, either speak up while writing, or wait until you are done before resuming the talk.
  7. Enliven your presentation. Use stories and examples to reinforce your most important points. People remember stories more than anything else. Don’t discuss too many details. Abbreviate when possible, and make the story relevant.
  8. Move around. By moving, you become part of the audience, instead of “the seller” or “the speaker.”
  9. Let go of that lectern. Use gestures to emphasize points. These must be large enough to be seen around the lectern, so “detach” your elbows from your sides.
  10. Handle questions confidently. Repeat the question, so everyone can hear. This also provides a few seconds to think of an answer. Then give a brief response. If the response requires a lengthy explanation, save it for after the presentation.

To read tips & excerpts from “Will the Audience Throw Eggs?” visit www.KeepCustomers.com 

For Reprints, please include contact info:
By Kelly Watkins, international communication & leadership consultant. For tips, visit: www.LeadershipArabWomen.com  or www.KeepCustomers.com.

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10 Tips to Give Employee Feedback

By Kelly Watkins, MBA

  1. Providing feedback can be intimidating, but you must overcome those fears. Employees deserve praise, and they deserve to know when improvements should be made. Sure, this takes extra time and effort. Yet, when employees know how to do their jobs, they don’t need to bother you.
  2. Don’t wait until an employee does something wrong to provide feedback. Provide positive reinforcement by complimenting the good things.
  3. Give feedback immediately after the event. If it was good, you want the employee to remember what he/she did right. If it was wrong, you don’t want to give the person time to “forget” or make excuses.
  4. Criticize in private. Employees listen better if their co-workers aren’t walking by.
  5. Don’t dwell on the negative. Briefly tell the employee what he/she did wrong. Then move on. Spend your time providing solutions.
  6. Ask for suggestions. After telling employees what they did wrong, ask them for ideas on how the situation could’ve been handled better. If employees think of the suggestions, they will remember them (and be more likely to use them in the future.)
  7. Suggest alternatives. Don’t say, “there is only one right way to do this—my way!” If you can provide two or three different methods, then employees feel empowered to make their own decisions.
  8. Praise in public. Let everyone hear you say nice things. This not only encourages others to do well, it lets them know that good behavior is expected.
  9. Be specific. Tell the person exactly what he/she did that was right or wrong. Then employees know what action or behavior to repeat.
  10. Give rewards. These can be free (write them a note or put their name on the bulletin board); inexpensive (buy them lunch or a big cookie); or elaborate (a day off or a prize for employee of the month). Ask employees what prizes motivate them. You may be surprised by the answer.

For Reprints, please include contact info:
By Kelly Watkins, international communication & leadership consultant. For tips, visit: www.LeadershipArabWomen.com  or www.KeepCustomers.com.

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10 Tips to Improve Verbal Skills

By Kelly Watkins, MBA


  1. Evaluate your verbal skills. Use a tape recorder to record yourself during actual conversations. Then play it back to determine what areas need improvement.
  2. Listen for mistakes. The hardest part is “catching yourself in the act.” When you can hear yourself say things incorrectly - 90% of the battle is over. The other 10% is to simply quit doing whatever the bad habit is.
  3. Practice. In the car, read signs out loud. Over enunciate the words. Then say them normally. You’ll discover vowels and consonants you never knew existed.
  4. Watch your tone. People interpret what they hear based on: 7% content; 38% tone; and 55% non-verbal. Therefore, how you say something (tone) is much more important than what you say (content).
  5. A smile can be heard. A true smile will actually change your voice inflection.
  6. Don’t shout. When speaking to people who don’t understand English, avoid the tendency to get louder. As your volume rises, your diction is less clear, making it even harder to understand you. Plus - you look foolish shouting at people.
  7. Become accustomed to silence. We use words such as “uh,” “um,” “like,” to fill the air while we think. To avoid this habit, pause and remain silent while you gather your thoughts. It may feel uncomfortable to you but will appear very natural to your listener.
  8. When you stumble over a word, go on. Chances are the other person didn’t even notice. So, why bring attention to it? Even if the person did notice, he/she will forget about it long before you do.
  9. On the telephone, be specific. Use more descriptive language, since you can’t indicate things like size or direction with your hands.
  10. Practice clear diction until it becomes natural. Then you won’t have to worry about it during important presentations or conversations. Never fear - you won’t sound pompous to your old high school chums. When talking with them, you’ll easily slip back to your old speech habits.

For Reprints, please include contact info:
By Kelly Watkins, international communication & leadership consultant. For tips, visit: www.LeadershipArabWomen.com  or www.KeepCustomers.com.

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