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“A great boss motivates and invests in their team.” With Jason Hartman & Amanda Ponzar

A great boss motivates and invests in their team. One of the best bosses I ever had was early on in my career. He was our Executive Creative Director and had tremendous experience — he’d been working longer than I’d been alive and I was in awe of what he could do. He was positive, […]

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A great boss motivates and invests in their team. One of the best bosses I ever had was early on in my career. He was our Executive Creative Director and had tremendous experience — he’d been working longer than I’d been alive and I was in awe of what he could do. He was positive, optimistic, fun, personable and joyous — all the things I wanted to be. Yet at the same time, he was hardworking, competent, and talented, respected in his field. Yet, when he wrote me a recommendation, he called me a “diamond in the rough.” He believed in my potential and helped develop it versus simply criticizing or dismissing me, which would have been easy to do with a junior person who still has a lot to learn. What this taught me most of all is the importance of believing in people, giving them a chance, and finding out what their strengths are so you can maximize them. He’s come to visit me and meet my children many years later, which reinforces the point of investing in relationships for the long haul.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Ponzar, Chief Communications and Strategy Officer for Community Health Charities. Amanda has more than 20 years of experience in communications and is a regular media contributor on diverse topics including social impact, women and management, and health and wellbeing.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve been writing stories, poems and more since I was a little child. Glad I figured out what I loved to do early on, as that’s been my focus and joy all through school as well as in my career and personal life.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I’ve been with Community Health Charities for nearly four years now and can honestly say it’s the most flexible and adaptable place I’ve ever worked. The organization is constantly evolving which keeps life interesting and allows us to move quickly. I’ve had three job titles in four years, and I’ve also been able to launch numerous new products like custom cause, health convenings, and targeted marketing services. We pride ourselves on being “scrappy.” Yes, that’s an unusual word, but it’s all about innovating, piloting and testing new tools, platforms, programs and ideas. We hire subject matter experts who are some of the best in the business so we can lead the work ourselves — you’re not just a cog in the wheel at CHC, you’re able to create and push as hard as you want to get results. We work fast and furious both as individual contributors and as a team. Everyone pulls their weight at CHC. Together, we leverage our significant expertise to improve employee engagement and social impact for our corporate partners, raise awareness and critical financial resources for nonprofit partners, and advance health equity with our convenings and coalitions at the community level.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It’s hard to name just one interesting story in a 20-year career. The funniest thing that happened in 2020 was that I was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal and featured on the front page for gaining weight during COVID-19. Guess I did a little bit too much baking therapy during lockdown and overindulged on too many homemade cinnamon rolls. It was fun experiencing the outpouring of chuckles from family, friends, clients and others who texted screenshots of the article. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to advocate on Capitol Hill with NFL players, pitch media for a presidential candidate, promote major motion pictures, and become close friends with some of the most committed social impact leaders in the world. I’m incredibly blessed to have a tremendous network; those people and relationships are what I value most. It’s been an amazing journey so far.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It wasn’t necessarily funny, but while working as a copywriter at an ad agency early in my career, I remember arguing back and forth via email with our most important client. The ad agency owner had to sit me down and explain that it doesn’t matter if I’m right, it’s more important to maintain the relationship. That was a powerful life lesson. I’ve focused my life on building relationships for the long-term and that’s paid off.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

We’ve done a lot at Community Health Charities to promote employee health and wellbeing with our employees and clients. We have a year-round employee engagement guide, and health and wellness guide, plus we do annual health challenges for employees, encouraging mental and physical health, and more. And we have a formal employee engagement committee focused on employees, with giving and volunteering opportunities. We survey employees to see how they are doing. Our organization also focuses on flexibility all the time, especially during lockdown. That is absolutely essential to help employees thrive and avoid burnout. During times of extreme stress and change like we’ve faced this year with covid-19, it’s important to provide flexible hours, customizable schedules, remote work, and more to accommodate employees and their unique situations — while still keeping aggressive goals and high-performance a priority.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is inspiring and motivating others to follow you toward a shared goal. The best leaders are competent, honest, and hardworking and bring out the best in others. Their teams respect them and want to work both for them and with them.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Mental health is a critical part of overall health and wellbeing. In addition to providing stress and mental health resources officially at Community Health Charities, I personally take my own mental health seriously and stay strong through physical activities such as jogging and walking, journaling (both writing and illustrating) plus quiet time alone, as well as spending time with family and usually friends, though not as much right now during social distancing. I also allow myself little treats like mocha Frappuccino coffees. Right before a stressful situation, I often pray for peace. Others meditate or do deep breathing. Being a high-energy, highly caffeinated leader, I definitely need to remember to breathe. Strength comes from a combination of being both calm and competent. That’s why it’s important to also prepare. Write down key points ahead of time to ensure you cover them. If you’re presenting live, practice your presentation so you know your material inside and out.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

I started managing teams in 2006 and it definitely was more challenging early on, especially in difficult situations or when employees were confrontational or combative. Over time, I wouldn’t say difficult conversations have become any more fun, but experience has made them at least more familiar. I’ve also received feedback as an employee over the years and experienced many different managers and styles myself. This has helped me determine which styles work best for me and get the most out of the team.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Employees don’t want to be surprised, so honest and direct feedback is essential to personal development and growth, building trust, and ensuring success not just for the individual but for the team and overall organization. No one wants to hear constructive or negative feedback but deep down, we all know we have areas where we can improve. If employees know you value them, it makes it easier to share input as they know you have their best interests and those of the organization’s mission at heart and that you’re honestly sharing what they need to hear.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Lately, everything I’ve been doing is remote, like most managers. We correspond via email and Microsoft Teams, plus have daily team video meetings where we discuss projects and answer questions. A few ways to give constructive criticism:

  • Use the word “we” and focus on the team. Using “we” to describe correcting the situation or how the team should approach it helps keep everyone together versus attacking one person or focusing on “you” which can be more confrontational and make people feel defensive. So, I might say, “As we discussed, we’re going to cc each other moving forward.”
  • Avoid jumping to conclusions or blaming others. Sometimes, we’re wrong. Even if we’re right as the manager, it’s probably going to be well received, so it’s often better to approach the situation from a position of grace. That’s why it’s preferable to say, “I could have missed it; did you send that report we discussed?” or “You might not be aware but we do it this way versus that way” to soften your language and give the benefit of the doubt. Often, asking the question, “Did I miss something?” defuses the situation and allows the employee a low-stakes opportunity to admit to a mistake such as “I forgot to send that, let me send it now.” And then the situation is resolved rather than unnecessarily escalated.
  • Find the positives to highlight. Be thankful and appreciative. Give specific not general praise, even if it’s for small things: “Thank you for going the extra mile to negotiate a lower rate on that vendor contract.” “Thanks for taking the first stab at summarizing this challenging content in a blog post.” “Thank you for always being early/on time to our video calls.” If the only time you offer a comment is to criticize, your team will be demoralized and dread hearing from you.
  • Focus on the employee’s professional development. That starts with knowing what your team values, as well as offering job-specific learning opportunities. When offering feedback, let employees know it matters. “I know this is challenging for you, but it’s important for your professional development and continued growth here, and I want to invest in you which is why I’m sharing it.” If employees know you have their best interests at heart, that can help as you share constructive feedback.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Read your email aloud to yourself before sending. If it’s an especially sensitive or challenging situation, sit with it or even sleep on your draft email overnight to give you time to reflect and readjust the wording. If in doubt, share with HR or a trusted, confidential senior colleague to ensure your language is appropriate and delivers the intended message. The world is a tough place so whenever possible, it’s best to temper your language and err toward being kind, even when delivering difficult feedback.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

There’s never an ideal time to give difficult feedback or constructive criticism as again, most of us don’t want to hear it, but of course it’s best to provide it as soon as possible near an incident as you can versus waiting till an annual review to unleash a litany of critiques. Oftentimes, team members are already sorely aware that they could have done better and feel bad about it. Sometimes, individuals are completely unaware, and it’s an important coaching moment. Even if your goal is to give feedback close to the incident, first ensure you’ve had adequate time to think through the situation and collect your thoughts so you can communicate a measured, accurate, fair response. Reacting immediately if you’re angry or emotional is rarely the best time to provide a critique and will most likely damage the relationship and again, unnecessarily escalate the situation.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A great boss motivates and invests in their team. One of the best bosses I ever had was early on in my career. He was our Executive Creative Director and had tremendous experience — he’d been working longer than I’d been alive and I was in awe of what he could do. He was positive, optimistic, fun, personable and joyous — all the things I wanted to be. Yet at the same time, he was hardworking, competent, and talented, respected in his field. Yet, when he wrote me a recommendation, he called me a “diamond in the rough.” He believed in my potential and helped develop it versus simply criticizing or dismissing me, which would have been easy to do with a junior person who still has a lot to learn. What this taught me most of all is the importance of believing in people, giving them a chance, and finding out what their strengths are so you can maximize them. He’s come to visit me and meet my children many years later, which reinforces the point of investing in relationships for the long haul.

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. 🙂

With global pandemics and suffering, unemployment, economic inequality and injustice, political pandering and protests, corruption and climate change, our world certainly has a lot of needs and could really use inspiration right now. Although it’s the cliché answer, I do wish for world peace. Raging and swearing on social media and sensationalized news have not helped us think rationally or be kind to each other. We need to learn “brotherly love,” what could be translated to mean community or neighbor love. Wise people have spoken the truth: Love covers a multitude of wrongs. The greatest of these is love. All you need is love. Love wins. But love only works when we extend that love to all people, when we truly love our neighbor and understand that neighbor means anyone and everyone — including the person you don’t agree with that is driving you crazy. You may disagree with their values, viewpoint, religion, lifestyle, etc. but that doesn’t give you the right to mistreat them or say the world has no space for them. Obviously, this means we start by respecting all people and seeking the good of our family, neighborhood, community and world. If everyone tried to do as much good as they could, I wonder what kind of world we would have?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s hard to pick just one life lesson quote, but one that’s always stuck with me is “When you go through fire, I will be with you.” As a person of faith, it’s critical for me to remember that we all go through tough times, despair, discouragement and darkness. However, our faith can carry us through. We emerge on the other side much stronger and able to help carry others through their struggles as well.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/amandaponzar

Twitter: @LivingUnited

Work website: healthcharities.org

Also, just googling or binging my name often works as I do a lot of media outreach.

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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