Do You Have What It Takes?

Dear Springboard:

I’ve been in my new job for a while now and I’m getting the hang of it.  I feel like I know what I want to accomplish and how to get it done.  

But, just the other day, my boss told me that I need to present myself as more of a leader if I’m going to get the support of my peers on the leadership team.

I think I understand what he’s getting at. How do I go about making the change?

Sign me,

Feeling Marginalized

 

Dear FM:

An important part of being seen as a leader is executive presence.  While it’s hard to succinctly define, we know it when we see it.

Executive presence says you’re in charge of your domain and you deserve to be.  With strong executive presence you will be more credible.

You’re likely to be challenged less that someone who doesn’t have strong EP, and even if you are challenged, you’d have no trouble standing your ground.

Your opinion matters.  You have influence.  You have power.

EP is not enough by itself to support ongoing effectiveness as a leader (technical competency is still a must), but its absence is a major negative and would handicap any leader in a serious role.

I refer you to Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book Executive Presence. She explores the topic fully and thoughtfully and there is much to be gained from her book.

As an example, she cites data from a survey conducted with 268 senior executives and notes three universal dimensions of EP: how one acts (gravitas – 67%), speaks (communicates – 28%), and looks (appearance – 5%).

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Gravitas stands out as the core characteristic.  Double-clicking on gravitas reveals the top aspects to be:

Confidence & “grace under fire”                78%

Decisiveness & “showing teeth”                70%

Integrity & “speaking truth to power”        64%

Emotional intelligence                               60%

Reputation & standing/ “pedigree”             56%

Vision/charisma                                        52%

It’s interesting that “grace under fire” tops the list.  Leaders who can remain calm and competent in a crisis earn respect.

Confidence is key and faking it doesn’t cut it.

Just last week, as a normal part of a coaching engagement, I had a 1:1 meeting with a coaching client’s boss.  A very senior leader in a Fortune 100 company, the boss immediately took command of the room and the meeting.

It was intangible and yet unmistakable.

What exactly did he do?  I can tell you what unfolded in the meeting, and I think those things collectively added up to the impact he had that started the moment we shook hands.

During our meeting, he: was extremely focused on what he wanted to accomplish; knew what he stood for and so what was acceptable and unacceptable to him (defined by his personal values which aligned with the corporate culture); was comfortable with himself and willing to be appropriately open and vulnerable; didn’t have anything to prove; and, let me know that he had the heft of significant political capital within the company.

Another major dimension of EP is communication.  It needs to be clear and direct.  In general, less is more.  Being concise is more powerful than longwinded.

Ultimately, effective communication is all about connecting and that means active listening, making eye contact, mutual respect and letting your purpose shine through uncluttered.  Interestingly, the way we communicate is more impactful than the actual words.

Pay attention to your energy, voice quality, body language.  For important meetings, think ahead of what outcome you want and then how do you want to BE to support realizing that outcome.  Watch other leaders to see what you think is effective and what isn’t.

A few years ago, I was working with a client who was promoted into a bigger management role and also into a completely new division. She had the challenge of adjusting to both a new level of leadership and new functional expertise.

There were great demands on her time, particularly to attend meetings. She was stretched too thin and she felt insecure about her contribution and especially in these meetings.

By establishing priorities, she was able to focus, and that meant taking the time to be fully prepared for the important meetings.  When she felt more confident, she began to command the room as the leader she was meant to be.

Like so many things that lead to success, EP is an inside job, and that explains why appearance makes up only 5%.

Great grooming is the goal. To my mind, it’s more about what not to do.  Don’t be too provocative; if your appearance is getting a lot of attention, pay attention to that.

Read your work culture.  Be sensible.  An old rule of thumb is dress for your next job.

What can you do to develop your own EP?

  • Be very prepared so you are confident
  • Know your stuff cold and stand your ground when challenged
  • Keep your cool, don’t let yourself get rattled
  • Take a position and be clearly resolute about it
  • Know your own values and consistently honor them, even when it costs you something in the near term
  • Be consistent in building a positive reputation

How can you get started?

Think about what really matters to you.  What do you stand for?

Put a mental stake in the ground for that.

Success is yours

5 Steps to Get More of What You Want

Dear Springboard:

Last week, I gave my first presentation to the leadership team.  I’m new to the team and I laid out my plans for the next 12 months.  

Overall, it went well. I made some good points and there was vocal support for the changes I proposed but there was one part where I stumbled and it was really awkward.  

I can’t get that out of my head.  It’s all I can think about.

Sign me,

Obsessed and Not in a Good Way

 

Dear OANIAGW,

First off, I’m glad the meeting went well.

Internal presentations are important as they are sometimes the only, or major, impression that some key co-workers have of us.  And, we know perception is essentially reality.

Plus, none of is perfect and the fact that your presentation wasn’t flawless just confirms that you’re human like the rest of us.

AND, I want to urge you to focus on what went right and build on that.

It sounds like 95% of it went well and you have fallen into a trap of focusing on the 5% that didn’t.

If you believe that what we focus on gets bigger, then bear with me as I introduce you to Appreciative Inquiry, or AI.

AI comes from positive psychology. The basic message is this:  instead of looking for problems (and finding them!) and then developing solutions to those problems, AI seeks to identify what has gone well (appreciate) and then analyzes and develops a strategy (inquiry) to get more of it.

While this mindset is usually applied to organizations and change management efforts, I think it can be applied at an individual level as well.

Let’s explore how to build on the 95% that did go well.

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The AI model provides a useful structure and has five steps:

DEFINE: What is your topic? 

Let’s say business presentations.

DISCOVERY: Appreciating the best of what is.

Specifically, what is it that went well? Reflect on your own efforts, how others contributed and any systemic (organization) factors that were helpful.

DREAM: Envisioning what could be. Imagine an ideal outcome.  What does it look like? Feel like?  How have you contributed to it?  Who else has had positive impact and it what way? Recast the issue from a problem to be solved to an affirmative topic.

DESIGN: Co-Constructing what should be. Look for examples of what has occurred that you want more of.

Draft some affirmative statements (also known as provocative propositions) of what you want to realize.

Then, check these statements to make sure they are challenging, innovative and a stretch; they are grounded in examples of what has actually happened; they resonate and there is enough passion to persevere; they are in the present tense (as though they were already true); and, while they are bold, they are achievable.

DESTINY: Create what will be.

Into action! Whether you are working with others, which is a big advantage as a group’s energy helps propel the effort forward, or on your own, the fact that the desired future is derived from reality (what has already occurred), we know we can achieve our goal.

Even if your Destiny is mostly your own objective (such as your future business presentations), collaborating is an advantage in achieving success.

You don’t need to do this, or anything for that matter, alone.

My advice is to stop looking for problems to solve and instead mine for the gold in your positive experiences.

You don’t even need to let go of thinking about the bad 5%.

If you really focus on what you want more of (a shift in your obsessing), the negatives will just slip away. . .

The 7 Steps of Storytelling for Leaders

Dear Springboard:

Now that I’m in this bigger job, my boss is telling me to start talking up my team and shine the light on them and not on me.

It doesn’t feel right. I’m a hard driver and I’ve earned what I have every step of the way.  I’ve always made sure people know about my accomplishments. It’s gotten me noticed and visibility matters.  It’s what’s worked and gotten me this far.

Sure, I’m a little bit of a self-promoter. But, if I don’t do it for myself, who will?

Sign me,

Dubious

 

Dear Dubious:

Everyone is the hero in their own story.

The challenge for you is to shift your attention to your staff – the people who are critical to your success.

Your situation brings to mind the hero’s journey and the key role of the guide.  In his classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell lays out the story structure of the hero’s journey, the outline that nearly all our books and movies follow.  Campbell studied cultures around the world and found a commonality to the local lore.

Oversimplifying, there is a principal character, our hero, whose life is disrupted in such a way as to call the hero forth to conquer a new challenge beyond their current capability.

As our hero ventures forth, uncertain of his abilities and with shaky confidence, he encounters a guide who offers particularly effective advice.  Think Merlin to King Arthur and Yoda to Luke Skywalker.

The guide is an essential character because our hero would not succeed without the guide’s support.

As the story develops, our hero confronts the challenges that must be overcome to triumph.

There is a climactic scene and the hero succeeds (escaping dire consequences of failure), and then our hero returns where he began, transformed by the journey and his success.

Now, if you look for it, you will see this in the movies you watch and books you read.

What does this have to do with your situation?

At a conference last week, I heard Don Miller (author of Building a StoryBrand) give an inspiring talk about how to apply the elements of the hero’s journey story structure for more effective marketing.

Basically, his pitch is that we find a market/prospect (hero); identify a key problem that needs to be solved; be an empathetic and authoritative guide to help; offer a way for the prospect to engage and solve their problem; call the prospect forth to take action; gingerly mention the perils of not doing so; and, end with their problem solved and the hero enhanced as a result of the process.

Miller is quick to point out that for the guide to be successful, the focus stays on the hero. That means the guide should not be singing their own praises.  If that happens, the guide becomes a second hero in the story and is competing with our protagonist.

Miller focused on using the story structure for more effective sales and marketing for a business.

I am proposing that with a slight shift of this mindset, the use of story structure can be effective with employees at work, and people in their personal relationships.

So, here’s a way of looking at the process from a manager’s point of view with their staff in mind:

Locate your character

With what I’m calling the StoryBrand mindset, imagine each direct report as a hero in their own personal story.  

Identify their problem

Think of what they are facing on three levels. What business problem(s) do they need to solve, what emotional issue resolved (increased confidence, sense of accomplishment, honoring specific values) and why does it matter to them enough to persevere? They should know how their efforts fit in the big picture.

Meet them as their guide

Present yourself as a resource to help in whatever way it is needed.  While the focus is not to be on you and your ego, it is necessary to demonstrate empathy and authority for the sake of establishing emotional connection and competence.

Give them a plan

Make sure there is clarity and agreement on goals, roles and expectations.

Call them to action

Challenge them: to reach stretch goals, develop new skills, innovate, to bring out their best selves.

Help them avoid failure

Success matters for its own sake and also because it means your direct reports won’t face the consequences of falling short.

Support them to end in success

Success can take many shapes; whatever it looks like, it should be clear and celebrated when reached.

Dubious, your job description has changed since you were climbing the ladder at lower rungs.

Your job now is to champion your people.

As a leader, get buy in for a vision, point the way, offer guidance, and cheer them on.

Take that spotlight off of you. Ultimately, the light you shine on them will reflect on you.

 

From the Watercooler

The secret to a happy marriage is to wake up every day and think: ‘How can I make my spouse happy.’ ~ Wedding toast by the father of the bride

Your success now

Let Go to Gain Control

Dear Springboard:

I recently got a promotion. I was really excited at first – more money and a better title. It was great. In my old job, I had people reporting to me and now there are people reporting to them. 

It sounds goods but the problem is my workload has exploded. I’m working really late, plus weekends and still missing deadlines. AND, I’m more than a little peeved that when I’m burning the midnight oil, I’m the only one here. The rest of my “team” is long gone.

Sign me,

Overwhelmed

 

Dear Overwhelmed:

First, congratulations on the new job! I’m sure it’s well deserved.

It sounds like a familiar scenario. You’ve taken on more responsibility on top of what you were already handling.

One of the toughest challenges of taking on a bigger role and thriving is the importance of shifting gears.

There are a few dynamics here. First, to keep all your current duties and add new ones is not sustainable.  There is only so much time (and energy) available. Keep in mind that every time we add something new to our plate, we must let go of something else.

Second, what made you successful in your previous job will not work in your new job in the same way. If you stay involved in the day to day operations of your direct reports or their staff, you can’t be available to do what is expected of you in your new role.

Let’s say in your old job you were very hands on; you worked alongside your staff, you checked details and ensured that deadlines were met. Now that you have broader responsibility, you cannot be in the weeds like you were before and still be available for your new duties.

What this comes down to is that you need to let go of your old role. Many people find that challenging.

One issue is that some of their identity is enmeshed in the old role.

Another issue is the skills they developed and came to rely on. They say, “You’re telling me to stop doing the things that worked so well and got me this far and start operating in a way that is new and, to me, untested? Do I have that right?” Well, yes.

As an example, now that you have both direct and indirect reports, you need to get out of the weeds (read: out of the way) and let your direct reports manage their staff.

First, by doing this, you will have the bandwidth to start leading: see the bigger picture, communicate a vision and set goals, engage key players (in multiple directions) for buy-in, and set the pace and direction for executing.

How to accomplish all this? The answer is delegation.

This means that instead of having the comfort and control of being hands on, you empower and trust others to do the work. It can be hard to let go when we think we could do it faster or better — OR, faster and better. But, if you hang on, you can’t be available for the requirements of the new role.

I would recommend that you start small and hand over some tasks that are lower risk. You might also target tasks that take a lot of time and don’t require much skill. Repetitive items are also a good choice.

You’ll need to hand over bigger projects, and soon, to get real impact.

You can make a list of activities and score them on a scale of 1 to 5: noting the time alleviated from your schedule; the time involved in training; and whatever specific competencies are needed such as being good with spreadsheets or strong interpersonal skills.

To delegate effectively, we can’t tell just anyone what to do, walk away and expect it to be accomplished as we wish.

It’s important to know the strengths of individual staff members and assign accordingly; give clear instructions and deadlines; provide the necessary tools and resources. It’s a plus to provide context for how the task fits into the bigger picture; it can make something mundane feel less so.

I’m a big believer in checking in along the way to inquire on progress, answer questions and offer encouragement.

Here’s a tip: delegate the outcome you want but not exactly how they need to get there. This is important because the other person might have a better way to accomplish the task. They will feel better about the task being their project and you can sidestep micromanaging.

It helps to anticipate that someone doing a task for the first time or two will take longer. So, prepare to be patient. When they’re finished, thank them and show appreciation. And, if the work is noticed by others, don’t claim credit for yourself, instead recognize the efforts of the people who actually did it.

So, the bottom line: take action and loosen your grip.

That means delegate and let your staff own the work. You’ll have less control over the details and how exactly things get done, and gain control over the bigger picture and setting the agenda — what your new job is really about.

Success is yours if you delegate.

Manage Your Hidden Fears For Greater Success

 

Dear Springboard:

I was running my staff meeting last Monday and it was going fine until we got to “John.”

We went around the table and everybody was prepared with their updates but when it was John’s turn, he was clearly winging it. I was more than a little angry and I really let him have it.

I told him right then and there that he needs to shape up or else. My boss was sitting in for this meeting (which he almost never does) and I wanted my boss to know that I wouldn’t tolerate that sort of sloppy and disrespectful performance. 

Afterward, my second in command pulled me aside and told me that I overacted and based on that overreaction, I was the one who ended up looking like the problem.

How is that possible? He wasn’t prepared and I’m running the show!

Sign me Perplexed.

 

Dear Perplexed:

Years ago, I was out to dinner with a group of friends and “Sally” was being very difficult with the waiter.

I was embarrassed by her and I overacted and in a such a big way that it was I who became the problem. I’d like to think it was because I was extremely hungry (or “hangray”) but there was really no excuse.

As the attention shifted to me, the group completely forgot about her behavior and focused only on my behavior. It was a tough and valuable lesson.

Here’s what I know: whenever I am upset and I take the time to figure out why, it is always about my fear. It may not look like that on the surface but if I’m honest with myself, a layer or two underneath, it’s rooted in fear.

In broad terms, I am afraid of losing something I already have or, of not getting something I want.

My friend Anne took this idea one step further and said imagine a two-column grid like the one below where:

  • Relationships are personal in nature
  • Status is our public image
  • Security is about our financial wellbeing
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Now when I get upset about something, I look inside and try to figure out which of these six buttons is being pushed. It’s usually more than one.

Seeing what fears are being stirred up and looking at the dynamic with some distance and objectivity helps defuse the charge of an emotional — and fear-driven– reaction.

To apply this thinking to your situation, what buttons do you think the situation with John pushed? And, how did having your boss there influence it?

I would guess at a minimum that John’s lack of preparedness pushed the Status and Security buttons in the Losing column. You reacted strongly because you thought he was making you look bad (Status).  This reaction was intensified by your boss being there.

Because your boss was there, I think your Security button also got pushed. It would be easy to have a thought pattern that goes something like this: If my boss doesn’t think I can manage my staff, especially when he’s present, he might think I can’t meet our goals. Maybe I’m not the right guy for the job. I could lose: a promotion, a raise, a bonus, or maybe even my job.

As all change starts with self-awareness, noticing our emotional reactions is a good place to begin. Self-management is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and a valued competency in the executive suite.

One lesson here is to pause and manage the first fear-based emotional response. (To learn more, click here.)

So, take a step back and see what buttons are being pushed.

The challenge is to just notice and let go.