As we approach the final quarter of 2014, most business leaders are shifting their focus to year-end responsibilities, such as delivering reviews, announcing promotions, and repositioning team or organizational roles. While it’s fun and rewarding to convey positive news, many leaders struggle with communicating about and managing the fallout from disappointing news or potentially unsettling changes that are inevitably announced this time of year as well.

There are generally three choices for dealing with such “elephants in the room”: (1) choose to ignore them, (2) dance around them insufficiently, or (3) address them in an open, direct and constructive way. I will always recommend the last approach, accompanied by a manager-as-coach mindset.

A best practice to help leaders coach their people through such stressful situations involves a common sense series of four Ps: Process, Probing, Perspectives, and Planning.

Process. Encourage your people to process setbacks rather than bottling them up. Disappointments obviously conjure lots of emotion, which is energy in motion, so it’s not healthy to simply brush them aside. (read more…)

This post is sponsored by Alan Fox, author of People Tools for Business.

A growing number of business leaders are stepping out of their corner offices, shedding their stoic demeanor and adopting a more personal leadership style that favors authentic relationships.

Author and entrepreneur Alan Fox talks about the link between heart and personal connections as they relate to business in his new book “People Tools for Business.” SmartBrief spoke with Fox about how these two entities work together to create effective leadership and business success.

In your story “The Tin Woodman,” you say you hope you have become like him and finally “earned your heart” and learned how to exercise “effective compassion.” Why are these qualities necessary for leaders?

In the “Wizard of Oz”, the Tin Woodman wanted a heart. He had to go through adventures and vanquish the evil witch of the west to earn his heart, to learn how to care for people. (read more…)

SmartBrief is talking directly with small and medium-sized businesses to discover their journeys, challenges and lessons. Today’s post is about Fresh Off The Roast and Qualia Coffee, a coffee roastery and coffee shop, respectively, in Washington, D.C.

Are you a small-business owner and would like to share your story? E-mail me jdasilva [at]

Qualia Coffee (map) has been in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C., for more than five years, near the Green Line of the Metro, the Park View neighborhood and a dizzying array of new construction and new residents. It was born out of Fresh Off The Roast, a roastery that eventually expanded with Qualia’s retail offering.

I live in this neighborhood, as well, and have long enjoyed the coffee there. I wanted to find out how someone decided to open a shop in what has been, relatively, a retail desert, the challenges of being both a roastery and a coffee shop, and what’s next amid a changing neighborhood, including the arrival of a Starbucks inside the Safeway supermarket just down the street. (read more…)

Focus is a difficult state to achieve and even more difficult to sustain over time, even for longtime entrepreneurs like Chip Paucek, CEO and co-founder of 2U.

If you read Paucek‘s resume, you might think, “Nothing but success!” He founded Cerebellum, which created the “Standard Deviants” educational program. CEO of Hooked on Phonics, which those of a certain age can remember be ubiquitous in advertising. All that before 2U, which had its initial public offering this year and has real revenue.

And there is success in those first two companies, with each finding success and becoming cultural touchstones for a generation of children. But according to Paucek, who spoke recently at a Startup Grind DC event, he feels he’s finally hit it big with 2U, which helps universities offer degree programs online through cloud-based software-as-a-service solutions.

Cerebellum and Hooked on Phonics weren’t failure, Paucek said, but each had shortcomings — broadly, in how the idea transitioned to a long-lasting business model. (read more…)

Getting caught up on my never-ending stack of periodicals on a cloudy Sunday morning, I read with delight and admiration about’s creative approach to allowing pets at work — hardly surprising, it’s called Puppyforce.

But the cute name is not what differentiates it, and permitting pets at the office is not necessarily a new perk. What stands out to me is the strategically innovative way in which Salesforce went about designing their version of this employee benefit and the bona fide emphasis placed, in general, on building a highly engaged workforce.

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Puppies for Success

Fortune magazine’s Christopher Thaczyk describes how Puppyforce took shape via discussions on Chatter, the company’s enterprise social networking platform (think Yammer but tied to the Salesforce CRM). Incorporating feedback from employees concerned about allergies, hygiene and noise, Puppyforce ultimately took shape as a separate soundproof workspace with rubber floors and a reservation system. (read more…)