CX Top Tips

049: Leslie O’Flahavan: I have the joy of looking over my shoulder

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Leslie O’Flahavan Show Notes

Leslie O’Flahavan was a high school English teacher and had deep joy in being a teacher. After her first child arrived, she wondered how she would juggle the long hours at school and the challenges of parenthood. So she (naively) started her own business and quickly proceeded to make only $3,000 in her first year. That’s when Leslie made an important discovery that helped her get over the hump.

Leslie O’Flahavan grew up in Chicago, but she’s lived in Washington, DC since 1988, and she feels like she is “from” DC now.

While Leslie hopes she won’t be leaving anything “behind” any time soon, she hopes her legacy will be that she helped people improve the way they write, so they can understand each other better and do their jobs well.

Leslie believes good writers are made, not born. She believes that most people can be helped to write really well at work. She believes that people do have the capacity to improve the way they communicate.

Leslie is a get-to-the point writer and an experienced, versatile writing instructor.  As E-WRITE owner since 1996, Leslie has been writing content and teaching customized writing courses for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Leslie can help the most stubborn, inexperienced, or word-phobic employees at your organization improve their writing skills, so they can do their jobs better.

She’s got soup-to-nuts experience with online communication; she’s developed content strategy, written online style guides, trained employees, benchmarked content and e-mail quality, written content, and more. As a result of her work, E-WRITE clients improve their customer satisfaction ratings, reduce training cycles, improve productivity, and limit legal risk.

Leslie is a frequent and sought-after conference presenter, a former faculty member at DigitalGov University, and the co-author of Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents. Leslie holds a B.A. in English and Rhetoric from the University of Illinois and an M.S.Ed from Northern Illinois University. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her husband, daughters, and dog (who barks concisely, of course).

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen to @LeslieO and get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShow Click to Tweet

“The tasks of writing well at work are changing so quickly.” Click to Tweet

“We need writing skills that are made of rubber, not of steel.” Click to Tweet

“Really rigid grammar police, they suffer.” Click to Tweet

“Writing is changing very quickly and good writers change with it.” Click to Tweet

“The principles of effective writing haven’t changed, the channels have changed.” Click to Tweet

“I need to write in a way that makes my reader understand and care.” Click to Tweet

“The writer’s obligation is to make the writing interesting and easy to read.” Click to Tweet

“I can make a vigorous business teaching people to write better.” Click to Tweet

“With the passion and skill in place, making a business is possible.” Click to Tweet

“My goal is the same, but the world around changes.” Click to Tweet

Hump to Get Over

Leslie O’Flahavan was a high school English teacher and had deep joy in being a teacher. After her first child arrived, she wondered how she would juggle the long hours at school and the challenges of parenthood. So she (naively) started her own business and quickly proceeded to make only $3,000 in her first year. That’s when Leslie made an important discovery that helped her get over the hump.

Advice for others

The market may not be too crowded for you even if what you’re offering is already being offered by other people or seems too humble to offer.

Holding her back from being an even better leader

I don’t have enough staff.

Best Leadership Advice Received

Keep on going.

Secret to Success

I work really hard; it’s not a secret.

Best tools that helps in business or Life

Good presentation skills.

Recommended Reading

Letting Go of the Words, Second Edition: Writing Web Content that Works (Interactive Technologies)

Contacting Leslie

Website: http://www.ewriteonline.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/leslieoflahavan

Twitter: https://twitter.com/leslieo

Resources

Free Chapter: Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agentshttp://www.ewriteonline.com/writing-workbook/preview-the-workbook

54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.


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Click to access edited transcript
Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast, where we uncover the leadership like hat that help you to experience, break out performance faster and rocket to success. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligent practitioner, Jim Rembach.
”Contributing to the annual $150 billion loss in training and development investments is downright demoralizing. So raise your spirits and training ROI by increasing learning transfer with ResultPal, get over the hump now by going to resultpal.com/fast and getting a $750 performance package for free.”

Jim Rembach: Okay Fast Leader Legion, today and I know I have somebody on the show who can definitely help me get over the hump. I met her at a recent contact center industry event in Las Vegas, of all places, but we had such a great conversation that I needed to have her on the show. Leslie Oflahavan grew up Chicago but she has lived in Washington, DC since 1988 so she feels like she’s from D.C. now, and while Leslie hopes she won’t be living anything behind anytime soon, she hopes her legacy will be that she helped people improve the way they write so that they can understand each other better and do their jobs well.

Leslie believes good writers are made not born. She believes that most people can be helped to write really well at work. She believes that people do have the capacity to improve the way that they communicate. Leslie is a get to the point writer and an experienced personal writing instructor. As E-Write owner since 1996, Leslie’s been writing content in teaching, customize writing courses for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Leslie can help the most stubborn, inexperienced or work-phobic employees or ‘me’ improve their writing skill so that they can do their jobs better.

Leslie is a former faculty member at Digital Gap University and the co-author of Clear, Correct, Concise Email, a writing workbook for customer service agents. Leslie holds a B.A. in English and Rhetoric from the University of Illinois and a Master’s from Northern Illinois University. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her husband, daughters and dog who barks concisely of course. Leslie Oflahavan, are you ready to help us get over the hump?

Leslie Oflahavan: I am more than ready and reporting for duty.

Jim Rembach: Now, I’ve given our listeners a little bit about you, but can you tell us what your current passion is so that we can get to know you better?

Leslie Oflahavan: Sure. My current passion is my lifelong passion and that is helping people to learn to write better at work. And because the tasks of writing well at work are changing so quickly, I really want to assure people they can do a good job and help their managers, help them do a good job, this is especially true for customer service writers. People who many times began their work life delivering customer service on the telephone and now are called upon to do via email, via chat, and via social media. And how would they have known that their work life would have brought them to this place, so I’m reporting for duty, I’m here to help.

Jim Rembach: Listening to you talk there’s so many things that are just flying through my head. And even for myself, talking about the journey of writing, and writing differently in writing e-mail, writing long form text and short form text and chat it becomes so complex. And then you start throwing in the mix up, well, I have so many different generations that I’m now having to communicate with in the workplace as well as maybe even customers that I’m having to communicate and make connections with, how do you a chunk down this massive concept component subject of writing?

Leslie Oflahavan: The first thing is we need writing skills that are made of rubber not of steel. I think that really rigid grammar police, they suffer as you said, because if you’re very strict grammarian you might say, “Back in my day all your sentences might begin, back in my day we never would have used text at work, back in my day no one would start a professional e-mail, Hi, Leslie—back in my days this, back in my day that, but writing is changing very quickly and good writers change with it, they change with it. So, the principles of effective writing haven’t changed, the channels have changed. And if you can keep your eye on the principles—what are the principles of effective workplace writing? They are—I need to write in a way that makes my reader understand and care, it’s pretty simple, I need to write in a way that makes my reader understand and care. The writer’s obligation is to make the writing interesting and easy to read, it’s an obligation. If you are a boomer and your colleagues are a millennials or colleagues are much younger than that, then you need to make your writing understandable and easy to read in the channel you may not have used before, it’s not that complicated but it’s not that easy.

Jim Rembach: Gosh! I start thinking about just what you did even mention about how people are saying in my day and that whole nostalgic piece and hanging up on that concept of I know and judging—I can’t even interpret or understand what this person is saying because it was improper context and all of that stuff. When you start talking about working with others to try to get them to open up, be more accepting receptive and all those things that takes a lot of effort and energy. One of the things that we use on the show to help us with effort and energy are leadership quotes. Writers needless to say they probably have created more quotes than anybody in this world, and so I know for you with all the work that you’ve been doing and things like that you have to have some really good quotes to share, but is there one or two that standout for you to help you do give that effort and inspiration?

Leslie Oflahavan: You’re calling me out and of course I should have hundred at my fingertips. And the one that I do have at my fingertips you are going to think is so odd. Remember my work is all about the process of going from idea to draft to finished version of whenever you’re writing. Sometimes I help customer service agents go from reading the customer’s question in the e-mail to drafting an answer, to checking it and sending it. Sometimes I help scientist prepare a journal article, so what is our research say? What’s my article draft and how do I send this? So lots of time I’m helping people revise their writing or I’m buildings their willingness to revise their writing, so the quote that comes to mind honors how difficult it is to revise your writing. And I’m quoting the short fiction writer Flannery O’Connor and she said, “I would as soon eat a wool blanket as revise something I’ve written.” And that quote always comes to mind it honors how difficult it is to write well and it honors that there’s tedium there, so she said, “Yes, give me a big wool blanket and I’ll eat it, I’d rather do that than revise what I’ve written.” So, I know that’s kind of odd quote to pull up, but to me I keep that one in mind because it does acknowledge that writing really well can be hard.

Jim Rembach: Definitely and when I’m listening to you with that quote, for me one of the reasons why I absolutely why I wanted to have you on the show and learn more about you and the work that you’re doing is that, I struggle with just doing the activity itself . I ideate and I have ideas all the time but to be able to convert them and put them into written form, that’s a huge hump for me. So I know with all the work that you’ve been doing and where you are right now, and having a long tenured career and really getting a whole lot of success and recognition where you are right now because of all the complexes that we’ve been talking about, we all have humps to go through in order to be able to get to the point that we are today, is there a time where had a defining moment that set you in a better direction, can you share that with us?

Leslie Oflahavan: Sure, thank you for asking. I wouldn’t call it a defining moment of difficulty, I would this moment that I’ll describe a defining moment of opportunity and joy and confidence, and it is defining moment of starting my business. Here we are in the end of 2015 and in May, 2016 my business E-Write will be the right will be 20 years old. So I have the joy of looking over my shoulder at this 20th year anniversary and just remembering founding the business. With my first career, I was a high school English teacher, I had deep, deep joy in this work—deep joy, I love being a high school English teacher.

In 1990, my first child was born. When you work and your life as a high school English teacher, you get to school at 6:30 are 6:45 in the morning and you leave school at about 4:00 PM and you go home and you have a really dry flavorless dinner and then you prepare for the next day. You read, you write, you read student work, you prepare tests, you do a lot of work it’s a very tiring job. So, as I held this little baby in my arms I am ran fresh out of creativity I could not imagine a life where I would be the kind of parent I wanted to be and be kind of teacher I wanted to be and I call this a lack of creativity on my part, you don’t know what you don’t know.

But at the point I said this job, I can’t do both, I really can’t do both. So, I think what I’m going to do is start a business. Well, the joke is on me, of course, because in terms of the amount of time that I’ve worked I’ve always worked as much or more but just that I can remember 20 years ago that feeling of stepping into this new career, that workplace writing was changing, that e-mail was ubiquitous, that people and positions of influence didn’t have assistants who were preparing their writing for them they were writing their own correspondence. And I had this sense writing in the workplace is going to change and I just said, “Let’s put an E in front of the word write, let’s start a company let’s start, and I stepped off into the start with the sense that underneath me was my family’s support, that my skills and my vision were in place, and though I did not know what would happen next that most of it would be good. And so here it is, what else is there? I look back over those 20 years and I was right to take this step into the unknown.

Jim Rembach: When you start talking about going through that process and making that decision and going from a scenario where you have the school year that you’re following, of course it’s very predictable, when you start moving into a business setting and a business environment, entrepreneurial know environment, all of that structure and that consistency goes away, so how were you able to transition from being very structured to unstructured begin having to fine structure?

Leslie Oflahavan: That’s a really interesting and thoughtful question. And I would say, the business didn’t go from cold water to a rolling boil overnight. So, I would say I think my income in 1996 was somewhere in the $3,000 range, I had a slow first year. And so, I was able to learn a little bit along the way in the first year perhaps, but something interesting happened to me as an entrepreneur. When you’re a teacher there is no link whatsoever between the amounts of effort you put in and what you earn, they’re disconnected utterly, and they have nothing to do with each other. When you’re an entrepreneur there is a strong link between how much hustle you bring and what you earn. And what I discovered about myself in the first year or so that was very motivating to me, very motivating. So, here’s my business strategy in a nutshell—ahhhhh [Laugh] these work are really, really hard and do all of it all at once, so that what’s happened.

Jim Rembach: I know when you start talking about moving from having that guaranteed salary, even though it may not be what was ideal from a teacher perspective to go into that $3,000 a year, that’s a shocker. And they talk about even in podcasting where a whole lot of people right now are getting into podcasting and a very large percentage of those folks maybe do five episodes and then they’re done, they quit. And then a vast majority of those that remain past end of quitting like after six or seven months. So, so when you start looking at who’s continuing to do it and, Woot! Woot!—we’re getting close to a year here at the Fast Leader show which we’re so excited about is that how did you move from that, ‘Hey, oh my gosh! My revenue went down. Yeah, and I’m excited I get all this freedom and I have the opportunity to navigate my own destiny to a certain degree. How did you persevere past that?

Leslie Oflahavan: Well, that’s a good question. That $3,000 year was one alone that did not happen the next year I always have known that I would make my own way financially in life and I always and that when called upon I would always be able to support the people I love financially, when called upon. That was the first year and that was the end of that nonsense. So what happened was, quickly I started doing both work that brought in revenue right away, building work that would bring in revenue later. And I’ll give an example of this, when we launched the company I had a business partner until January 2011 when she retired, when we launched the company we had the idea that we were going to help people learn to write better e-mail. In 1996, it was too soon, people still were using faxes, they were still using memos and they were confused, why would I need help writing email? Email amounts to this. The 11:00 A.M. meeting will be at 11:30 why would I need any help writing that? So, quickly, 1996 quickly we move to offering writing for the web courses and people did need help right away. I would have picture myself, if you need is a visual I was kind of like a surfer standing on the surfboard in rough water, I wasn’t surfing yet but I was standing on that surfboard in rough water saying, “Where are the waves going to take me? Where is this water going to take me?” And I had to switch off right away. And I was in it for the long run and we started making money in the next year right away. So, that flat year, the revenue I won’t even call it revenue I’m sure I spend more than $3000 of the business in the year that I earned $3000, that was different than the next year.

Jim Rembach: Gosh! Thanks for sharing that. I’m really inspired by the fact that you were able to persevere and yet remain flexible and get ahead of the curve and that’s fantastic. But if you start talking about all of the things in that transition, being able to not repeat that $3000 year, if you have one piece of advice you’d give to the Fast Leader Legion, what would it be?

Leslie Oflahavan: I guess, when I talk to people about what I do for a living, sometimes they have a perplexed look on their face as if, “Can you really make a business teaching people to write better?” Of course I answer yes, I can make a vigorous business teaching people to write better. So, my piece of advice is attached to the humble quality of the service I offer. A grocery stores open all the time, can you really make a new business selling groceries? There’s a Safeway down the street, why do we need a Trader Joe’s? Well, yes because people need to eat all the time. You can a new business selling groceries. And even though the offering might be rather humble or even there may be a lot of competition you can make a business in that same market if you bring something to it that other people want. So, my bit of advice is, that the market may not be too crowded for you even if what you’re offering is already being offered by other people or seems possibly too humble to offer. My passion and my skill at helping people learn to write better is there. And with that in place, with a passion and the skill in place making a business is possible.

Jim Rembach: Thanks for sharing that. You bring up a couple of things that for me just stood out is that, don’t think that just because other people are already there that there isn’t room for you to bring your uniqueness, your unique selling proposition, your unique personal proposition to the table, that in itself could cause you to have success were others may not be receiving it or obtaining it. And that’s one of the things that we try to focus on the Fast Leader show, I talked to a lot of our guest before we get on the show on that, our show is different and I get this feedback a lot of time it’s because we talk about the person and that gets woven into what it is they do because that’s really were greatness comes into play. It’s not what you do that makes you great, it’s who you are that makes what you do great. And you need to bring that to whatever you’re doing even if you’re employed, so, working for someone, being an entrepreneur, being a solopreneur, bring your uniqueness to light.

Okay, when you start thinking about all of the complexities of what we we’re talking about earlier, the different generations, the different types of writing because even when you’re explaining things about ideation and being able to convert that into written text, well if we start to chat and things like that, that goes away were not talking about that type of writing, it’s a different types of writing, there’s just so many different dynamics. You also mentioned something about staying ahead of the curve and all these complexities and moving parts, when you start thing about all the things that you have on your plate, even your family and the dog who pronounciates well, if there is one thing that’s really giving you some charge and you have some goal set, what would you say that they would be?

Leslie Oflahavan: My goals I guess, remain the same and that is to help people who are either struggling to write well at work, people whose job responsibilities have changed they didn’t use to have to write very much but they do now, people whose ambitions have grown about how they will communicate in writing at work to help them do it better. And because the age curve in the workplace is different—the curve is the same the people are different—we need new ways of helping them learn to do their job well. When I contrast the way business writing was handled 20 or 30 years ago, the way business writing is handled now, there are some substantial differences that some people find objectionable, such as the level of formality, I don’t find this objectionable. My goal’s the same but the world around changes, I just keep trying to meet my goal.

Jim Rembach: And the Fast Leader Legion wishes you the very best. Now before we move on, let’s get a quick word from our sponsor.

“Developing your company’s talent and leadership pipeline could be an overwhelming task but your burn is over, with Result Pal you can use the power of practice to develop more leaders faster. Move onward and upward by don’t resultpal.com/fast and getting a $750 performance package for free.”

Jim Rembach: Alright, here go Fast Leader Legion it’s time for the—Hump Day Hoedown. Okay, Leslie, the Hump Day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So, I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Leslie Oflahavan are you ready to hoedown?

Leslie Oflahavan: I am so ready.

Jim Rembach: Alright. What do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?

Leslie Oflahavan: I don’t have enough staff.

Jim Rembach: What is the best leadership advice you have received?

Leslie Oflahavan: Keep on going.

Jim Rembach: What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?

Leslie Oflahavan: I work really hard it’s no secret.

Jim Rembach: What do you feel is one of your best tool that helps you lead in business or life?

Leslie Oflahavan: Good presentation skills.

Jim Rembach: What would be one book you’d recommend to our listeners, it could be from any genre?

Leslie Oflahavan: The book is Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish, it’s a text on writing for online readers.

Jim Rembach: Okay, Fast Leader Legion you can find links to that and other bonus information from today by going to the Fast Leader show notes page for Leslie and that’s at fastleader.net/Leslie Oflahavan. Okay Leslie, this is my last Hump Day Hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you’ve been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you but you can’t take everything you can only choose one, what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?

Leslie Oflahavan: I would take back a skill I have then, I would hold on to it and help it thrive and that is, watching how people learn and helping them to learn more quickly.

Jim Rembach: Leslie it was an honor to spend time with you today, can you please share with the Fast Leader Legion how they can connect with you?

Leslie Oflahavan: Sure. You can connect with me lots of different ways. You can find me on Twitter@LeslieO, you can connect with me at my website which is ewriteonline.com or you could pick up the thing with the handset or headset and dial these numbers 301 989-9583

Jim Rembach: Leslie Oflahavan, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom, the Fast Leader legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump. Woot! Woot!

Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over the fastleader.net so we can help you move onward and upward faster.

END OF AUDIO

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