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By Karen Cortell Reisman

Welcome! For this inaugural edition of Relatively Speaking, I have interviewed Mike Bell, a Vice President with the American Heart Association.

Recently I keynoted for the AHA in Washington DC, and I was impressed with Mike's communication style and how everyone on his team held him in such high regard. Here's what Mike told me about how to communicate . . .

Q: What would you do differently if you could start over?

A: What I am working on now, I'd give fewer opinions and ask more questions.

Q: How do you communicate success?

A: I'm a lousy liar; I cannot sell what I do not believe. My core principals are personal and ethical integrity. I really have passion for what I do. If I'm wrong, I admit it!

Q: What's the one thing you feel makes the most difference as an effective communicator?

A: You must have a willingness to listen and be mentored by the right people. It's important to have an intuitive sense about people and be open to listening to them.

Q: As the head of AHA's National ECC (emergency cardiovascular care) Center, and the interim head of Field Operations, you have 16 direct reports and 132 indirect reports. What makes your communication style effective?

A: I like to talk to those doing the work. I want a first hand sense of the issues. When visiting the field, I actually enjoy tense meetings where I hear the frustrations of the instructors and our faculty. Usually there has been some misinformation, misunderstanding, or miscommunication. If there is frustration, it's important to allow some venting before you are able to really deal with the issues, really understand their concerns, and follow-up.

Q: What type of follow-up do you do?

A: I investigate their concerns. I LISTEN and then I bring those concerns back to our team to determine solutions, then ACT. I get back to them and we solve some of the issues immediately, others need changes to our guidelines and processes - but that input is included in the decision making process, where they might see the impact of their comments in the next iteration of our course materials.

Q: You define your AHA culture as collaborative. How can my readers, who may be in a culture that does NOT support this type of communication, get to the place you are?

A: The "for-profit" world must maximize the bottom line and ROI. Yet, we also set financial goals here. The key is to communicate the value of the bigger picture. Don't put so much emphasis on maximizing short term gains that you lose major long term opportunities.

Q: How did you get here? You weren't born a VP!

A: At the age of 22 I headed a 100 person team in Viet Nam as a 1st lieutenant in the Marine Corp. In this 24-7 mission I learned the skills to lead others under highly pressured circumstances, identify and listen to those who will help you succeed in the accomplishment of the mission, and that the only place to lead is from the front. I retired as a Colonel after 26 years of service and began my career with AHA.

One of my leadership maxims is that you can't ask anyone else to do anything that you haven't demonstrated a willingness to do yourself.

Your Speak for Yourself® Challenge:

Do you listen enough? Have you mentored anyone? Who has mentored you?

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