How to Speak Up More in Meetings: The Unwritten Rules

Meetings can be tricky to navigate for anyone. But women often have some extra challenges that men don't face. Researchers have found that women speak less than men do at meetings, and, as a result of this, their contributions are often underestimated. But they can also be judged more harshly than men if others perceive that they speak a lot.

Given the importance and sensitivity of this topic, I wanted to include this as a topic in my current series of articles about the unwritten rules of work. (Here's a link to the series' first article, on professional appearance, if you missed it and would like to catch up.) Today, I want to give you both the confidence and the practical strategies you need to be heard.

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What Keeps You From Speaking at Meetings?

In your next meeting, pay attention to your comfort level voicing your ideas and opinions. If you find yourself not saying much, take a few minutes to reflect about what's really holding you back. Here are some common reasons I see time and again in my work with leaders. Which ones resonate with you?

  • You feel like you don't know enough about the topic or that you know less than everyone else. This is not your area of expertise.

  • You're not comfortable speaking off the top of your head.

  • Putting your idea out there feels risky. What if they reject it?

  • You hesitate to speak up around people with more experience or tenure than you have.

  • You feel that it's rude to talk over or interrupt others, especially if they're more senior than you are, and that’s what it would take to share your idea in this setting. Or you don't want to seem pushy.

How to Speak Up More

Now that you have a better sense of why you don’t speak up in meetings, you can work on reducing your hesitation. For many people, this involves shifting their mindset and expectations of themselves.

If you're not comfortable speaking off the cuff or putting your ideas out there, realize that you're expected to do both more and more as you advance as a leader. Consider making these areas a focus of your leadership development, and look for safe ways to practice, such as volunteer opportunities.

If talking over others or interrupting feels rude to you, remember that you can be heard while still honoring your value of respecting others. First, hone your ability to read the room and adjust your style accordingly. In a meeting where everyone is being loud, passionate and outspoken, you can "amp up" your typical approach without stepping on others' toes. In a meeting with this kind of crowd, it can be helpful to make your points early before everyone really gets charged up.

Also consider whether any beliefs from your culture or your family might impact whether you speak up. For example, "I should always defer to people who are older and more experienced" or "No one likes women who talk too much." These ideas can be so deeply engrained in you that you're not even aware of them until you start reflecting about your underlying assumptions or values.

One of the biggest shifts you can make is realizing that you can add value to a meeting even when you don't have expertise or experience in the area being discussed. Sometimes your fresh perspective is the very thing that makes you valuable. When everyone else has been immersed in a topic, they may be unable to "see the forest for the trees" the way that you can as a relative outsider.

You don't always have to have the answer or solution, either. Others can benefit just from hearing how you think about the problem. Your approach might be one that they had not considered. You can even add value just by synthesizing and summarizing what you are hearing. When you make statements like "Here are the key opportunities and roadblocks I'm hearing …" or "Kevin, it sounds like you and Debra actually have similar goals here, but you're just stating them a little differently …" you help keep meetings on track and focused.

Don't Go It Alone

As with so many other aspects of developing as a leader, speaking more in meetings gets easier when you enlist an ally in your cause. Ask a trusted colleague to help you enter the conversation. They can say something like "Mona, you've handled situations like this. I'd love to hear your insights."

I also have a variety of products and services to help you build your confidence around speaking up. A great starting point is the title "Communicating With Impact from my Leadership EDGE Series℠. And if you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.

How to Look More Professional: The Unwritten Rules

Sometimes the most important things to know as a leader are the ones that nobody really talks about. These "unwritten rules" of leadership are essential for your success and advancement. Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of the most important ones.

Let’s start with an area that affects your personal leadership brand more than you may realize: how you dress and groom yourself. If you’re already rolling your eyes thinking about it, remember that this is really about building professional credibility and personal confidence. And, even if this sounds basic, you would be surprised at how often these topics come up in discussions about a person’s credibility as a leader.

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If you just got promoted or you're aiming to move up, this topic matters even more. You need to "look the part" for your new role, or the one you aspire to.

As a starting point, consider any written rules about dress and grooming in your workplace. Your company's policies could contain important information — for example, what "business casual" means in your workplace. But many dress codes can be vague. Perhaps yours leaves a lot open to interpretation.

The 5 Keys to Looking Like a Leader

No matter what your company dress code says, here are some overall guidelines that will help you present yourself in a way that enhances your leadership. Do a quick self-assessment using these questions:

How much does your look:

  1. Fit the context of your workplace? (Or do you look like you're headed for another setting entirely?)

  2. Distract from your knowledge and experience in any way?

  3. Reinforce your desired personal brand as a leader?

  4. Make you feel more confident?

  5. Convey credibility?

Dressing for Leadership

So how can you meet these criteria every day? Here are a few key things to remember.

  • Details matter. Dress in a way that shows others that you understand the culture of your office and have good judgment. That means wearing clothes that fit your body, your role and workplace. Steer clear of items that are too tight and revealing and those that are boxy or swallow you up. Pay attention to whether your clothing needs pressing or repairing. If you're wearing a thin shirt or blouse, don't forget an undershirt or a camisole.

  • Don't show up unfinished. If you come to work half-ready with your hair still wet, your makeup in process, with a tie in your hand or with ungroomed facial hair, how do you expect others to feel confident that you can handle more responsibility? You can’t even be ready to work when you show up at work. It may sound silly, but people can draw big conclusions from seemingly little things.

You constantly send messages about your leadership — from the moment you arrive at the office. Make sure they align with what you want others to recognize about your leadership, rather than raise questions about your capabilities. By simply investing 2-3 extra minutes a day to consider your appearance, you can boost your credibility.

  • Stand out with style. Dressing professionally doesn't have to mean stifling your individuality. In fact, I suggest you use your personal style to distinguish yourself as a leader. A signature accessory — like funky ties or socks, unique jewelry, or shoes — can convey your creativity and originality. Whatever you wear, consider how it makes you feel, and how it fits your brand and the organization’s culture. You don’t have to sacrifice your identity. Be authentic and seek out something that enhances your brand and your company’s brand.

  • It isn't just how you look. If your boss has to give you feedback about your personal "aroma," it can get awkward really fast for both of you. So take a minute to ask yourself some hard questions: How often do you forget to use deodorant, especially after a morning or lunchtime workout? Does your perfume or cologne completely change the air in the room and linger long after you have left? If you smoke, are you sure that you left most of the smell of your cigarettes outside? Remember that your coworkers may also have physical reactions like headaches to strong scents. What does your oral hygiene look like, especially after coffee or food with strong spices? That can also add to the “aroma” in the room.

Like it or not, the way you present yourself does play a big role in whether others perceive your credibility and potential. But it's also one of the easiest areas to make positive changes and can be really fun to play around with.

You can implement one or more of these suggestions without going broke or making your routine too high maintenance. Invest in a few high-quality pieces of clothing that you can wear repeatedly and that make you feel confident. Magazines, online videos and advice from professionals like your hairstylist can help you create a low-maintenance, polished look.

I want to encourage you to pick one or two things to implement. To further enhance your image as a leader, pick up a copy of "Building Executive Presence," part of my Leadership EDGE Series℠. And if you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.

One Superpower You Can’t Afford to Overlook

Have you ever wondered how some people maintain a positive attitude in the face of challenges while others get stuck in negativity, fear or frustration? Over 10 years ago, when I went through my executive coaching program, I took a positive psychology class. How to notice and amplify the positive — to focus on what is working, rather than what isn’t — really intrigued me.

Since then, I have proactively integrated the key principles of positive psychology into my work and have seen the powerful impact on my clients.  

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So, when the opportunity came up to attend a workshop with Dr. Barbara Frederickson, I jumped at the chance. Her eye-opening research on the science of emotion shows how positive emotions and connection to purpose can give you disproportionate strength and why. I know I can’t do her work justice in this short article, but I want to highlight some important takeaways (check out her books, Positivity and Love 2.0).

We Are Wired to Notice the Negative More Than the Positive

Like me, you might be surprised that, by definition, emotions are very brief.  They exist to address the situation at hand, with negative emotions helping us deal with current threats and positive emotions helping us access our resourcefulness. Dr. Frederickson explained that because of how we are hard-wired, “Negative emotions can hit us like a sledgehammer while positive emotions are more like a whisper.” Over time they may create “lingering lenses.” On the negative side, this might look like someone having a tendency to blame others or see the worst in most situations.

Positive Emotions Are Powerful

On the positive side, there are a whole host of striking benefits because positive emotions are tightly linked to how long people live and how healthy they are. The data are clear and show a direct correlation between positive emotions and heart health, immune health and resilience. Positive emotions can even increase an individual’s sense of purpose. In other words, positive emotions can help you find more meaning and even see your job more as a calling.

You Can’t Just Flip a Switch

To feel more positive emotion, you can't just go straight to the end goal. Although you may hear others say things like this, it isn’t quite as simple as saying, “Be happy. Feel positive!” My tongue-in-cheek response to comments like those is, “Hmm. OK. Let me just stuff my feelings, go forth and conquer.”

Choose Intentional Strategies Over Willpower to Create Lasting Change

Sheer willpower doesn’t work in the long run.  To notice the positive, you may need some intentional strategies.

A great example is when someone decides they want to immediately start working out five days a week when they currently don’t work out at all and may not have in months. I used to jokingly say that step one is to just get your workout clothes on, because you’ll feel silly wearing them and not doing something active.  But after sitting in Dr. Frederickson’s workshop, I realized that there’s more to it:

  1. First, notice how often you actually think about the activity – in this case, exercising (once or multiple times a day, weekly, never?).

  2. Second, identify what percentage of your thoughts about the activity is positive or negative. When I think about working out, I typically think about how it will give me energy and get me outside in the sun. For others, they may think more about the difficulty and the obstacles: “I don’t have time. I’m so out of shape. This is going to be torture.”

  3. Third, think about how positive your experience is while you are engaging in the activity

I remember when I used to go to spinning classes regularly with friends, I loved it—even when I was too tired to do it. I enjoyed catching up with my friends, listening to the upbeat music and picking a person in the class to secretly “compete” with. If I had only been focused on the outcome, to get through the one-hour class, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much. In other words, make some tweaks to the experience so that it becomes more enjoyable, rather than just focusing on the accomplishment.

Once you have greater awareness about your thoughts about an activity, you can actually take some simple steps to “program” your spontaneous thoughts to be more positive. She suggested using an “If (this), then (that)” approach. Continuing with our example of exercise, here’s what it would look like in practice:

  • If I am too tired to exercise after work, then I will remind myself how good I will feel once I start exercising.

  • If it is a nice day outside, then I will go for a walk in my favorite park or trail.

These simple strategies will help you develop effective ways to counteract some of the challenges and negative thoughts you may be facing. I have been trying them myself and am surprised at how quickly they start to work. I have barely scraped the surface in sharing Dr. Frederickson’s research and its far-reaching impact. My goal right now is to challenge you to just get started.  Energy is contagious, so as you begin to feel more positive emotions it will affect others around you, too. And remember that small steps can lead to big results.

How to Make a Difference During Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month, a great reminder to celebrate the accomplishments of women and to think about how we can do more to help all women unlock their full potential.

If you're a female leader yourself, know that your unique strengths have immense value. When you put them into play more fully, you create a powerful ripple effect. And no matter your gender, you also cause a ripple effect when you support women at work.

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To make an even bigger difference for women, arm yourself with knowledge about current challenges and how you can make an impact. For example:

  • Women are still underrepresented in management, according to the Women in the Workplace 2018 study, conducted by McKinsey & Company in partnership with LeanIn.org. McKinsey recommends that companies take actions such as setting targets for gender diversity, holding leaders accountable for results, closing gender gaps in hiring and promotions and doing more to build more respectful and inclusive cultures. If these changes need to happen in your workplace, think about how you can be an advocate for them.

  • More and more research shows the economic benefits of gender diversity. For example, McKinsey "found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile." Consider reading up on these statistics so that you can share them when discussions about gender diversity happen at your workplace.

  • Learn about the phenomenon called silencing, which causes women to disengage at work, and learn to recognize its signs. If you feel that you have been silenced, one thing you can do to heal is seeking support and advice from other women who understand what you're going through.

  • Pew Research Center has found that working mothers still spend much more time on childcare and housework than working fathers do. As a leader in your workplace, what steps can you implement or suggest to help working moms thrive? That could mean doing things like promoting more flexibility in work schedules or not planning meetings during school pick-up and drop-off times.

Consider sharing these facts and figures with others to open discussions in your workplace. Since Newberry Executive Solutions specializes in working with women leaders, you may also want to take a look at our corporate programs, executive coaching and publications, whether for yourself or as part of a program for women in your workplace.


How to Stop Working All the Time

I recently facilitated a discussion at the University of Houston’s Women’s Studies Table Talk 2010 event, and it inspired this article. We had an invigorated discussion about how we live in a 24/7, “give me what I’m asking for right now” world. Many of us work in companies with a high performance, immediate response culture which makes it SO hard to stop working all the time.

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Well I’m here to tell you that it is possible to stop work from taking over your life if you
start with what you can control.

Here are 4 simple strategies to get you started.

1. Recognize your mindset.

Your mindset plays a huge role in all of this. I’ll give you an example. A retired nurse at our table asked a great question, “Why can’t something wait until tomorrow? In nursing, if you don’t get everything done during your shift, a patient could die. I just don’t understand what can’t wait in business.”

As you know, when you’re “in it,” it is so hard to see how crazy it might look or sound from an outside perspective. It’s hard to keep in mind that for most our jobs no one will die if everything doesn’t get done today. Just remember to focus on completing what does matter the most. In the end, that’s what really counts.

2. Help others see your focus on business goals and results.

Do you worry about what others will think if you start setting boundaries? For example, will others look at how you work (e.g., your hours or schedule, and whether you’re in the office or working at home) as a bigger indicator of your commitment and performance than your actual results? For example, if you leave work at 5:00 every day, even if you don’t have a socially acceptable excuse like a child to pick up, will they think you’re just not working hard enough even if you’re getting the job done?

If this sounds familiar, think about how you can proactively communicate and manage up. Just remember that others, including your boss, are far too busy to notice everything you’re doing, so what they do see is often their picture of reality. Be strategic about providing positive snapshots of your performance – but do it with integrity and authenticity. For example, keep them regularly informed about important issues and how you are managing through them, or your progress on a key business goal.

3. Set personal boundaries.

Setting personal boundaries that allow you to maintain your energy and productivity is critical. Let’s look at a couple of examples. A woman at our table agreed to start turning off her BlackBerry at 8 PM every day, which will also help her stop dreaming about work! Another woman said she consistently leaves the office at 5:00 to make a 5:30 class at the gym, and she has a workout buddy meet her there (which makes it much harder not to show up). As a result, others around her know how important exercise is to her, and she has in effect “trained them” to expect her to leave at 5 no matter what. Both of these women will be so much more productive by setting limits that allow them to recharge, instead of just working more hours that lead to burnout.

4. Ask for help.

I know that asking for help is particularly hard if you’re a high-achieving perfectionist. I will just ask you one question: When you say “yes” to doing everything perfectly, what are you saying “no” to by default? It may be exercise, time with your kids, or time for yourself – the possibilities are endless.

Perfectionist or not, I would urge you to stretch yourself to think about creative ways to ask for and get help. Remember, there are plenty of eager young professionals out there wanting to develop themselves, even if they don’t report directly to you.

I’d like to end with a Call to Action. Pick one of the four areas above to start with, and find someone to hold you accountable for whatever action step you decide to take. You might be surprised that once you start making changes to stop working all the time, others may be eager to make changes too.

Is Self-Care Really Selfish?

I have to give my sister credit for inspiring this week’s article. She just wrote a book on successful working women, the challenges they face in making marriage work, and how to overcome them. As we talked about common themes that we see in our respective worlds working with high performing women, we talked about the difficulty women have with the concept of self-care.

We discussed that women often confuse self-care with selfishness. As a woman you might think, “How could I possibly take time for ME right now when there’s so much to do and others rely on me?” In this view of the world, self-care is a luxury, a “nice-to-have.” A man, on the other hand, knows that self-care allows him to keep going so he CAN provide the support others need from him. In this view of the world, self-care is a “must have” that provides energy. That doesn’t mean a man will put himself first no matter what. However, he is much less likely to confuse self-care with selfishness.

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At the end of the day, what we’re talking about is energy management. Resist the temptation to keep giving and giving without taking enough time to renew your own energy. As you may know from firsthand experience, it can lead to burnout or resentment pretty quickly.

So, I want you to think about what you will do for yourself this week, to give yourself that essential energy you need to stay productive and avoid burnout. Here are some ideas that came from a group of executive women at the Greater Houston Partnership and a group I facilitate at Shell.

1. Say no to something you really don’t want to do.

Whether it’s a personal or professional request, resist the temptation to say yes to something you do not want to do – and know you shouldn’t be doing. If you feel guilty about saying no, you can always help the person find another resource to help. Remember that this task could be a good developmental opportunity or exposure for someone else.

2. Get exercise without putting any judgment around it.

You might just have 15 minutes to exercise so adopt the mindset that 15 minutes is better than nothing. If exercise gives you energy, make the most of whatever time you have by taking a quick walk, going for a short run, grabbing some dumbbells, or doing a few pushups and sit-ups.

3. Give yourself time to decompress before you walk into the house.

Take time to transition out of work mode, so you can leave work stress at the office. Do something to deliberately make that shift, whether you sit in the car for a few minutes to get the solitude you need before you immerse yourself into a house full of children, or just don’t take that conference call on the drive home.

If you are someone who regularly put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own, identify one step you will take this week to take care of yourself – so you CAN be there for others. Remember that self-care isn’t selfish.

3 Simple Ways to Be More Influential at Work

Your path to leadership probably started with being an exceptional individual contributor. But as you rise through the ranks, your success becomes more about what you can accomplish with and through others. In other words, your leadership effectiveness ties closely to your ability to influence.

So, what does it take to influence others? You might think that influence requires extroversion, charisma or a passion for office politics. But when it comes down to it, true influence means using your voice and your actions authentically and courageously to affect change. And I'm willing to bet that you have more influence — and more opportunities to use that influence — than you might realize. Here are three ways of showing influence at work that often get overlooked but that can make a real difference.

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1. Influence by Educating

Sometimes you may observe nuances and dynamics that others just don’t pay attention to or see.

For example, let's say your colleague tells you that he believes that certain people didn't speak up at a recent meeting because of their apathy or shortage of good ideas. His conclusion may or may not be valid, but it certainly opens the door for you to share factors that he may be overlooking.  What are some other possibilities he should consider? Maybe the introverts on your team would have participated more if they had gotten an agenda or materials in advance to help them prepare their thoughts on the topic. Or perhaps the interrupters who bulldoze over everyone else made it difficult for others to get a word in. Or maybe the fast pace of the meeting made it feel like input wasn’t really desired.

Passing along a different perspective or new information can help others notice what they would have otherwise missed.  Do this in the moment or get in the habit of regularly sharing useful articles or relevant research.

2. Influence through Feedback

It's not easy to hear about a habit or behavior that's been holding back your success or impeding your ability to get results. But if you've gotten feedback like this recently, you probably wondered, "Why didn't someone tell me this before now?"  

Keep this in mind the next time you hesitate to offer feedback to someone else. One of the most effective ways you can influence others is by sharing information to help them succeed. Your feedback may be just what they need to overcome career-stalling behavior.

To make giving feedback easier, keep your desire to help the other person first and foremost in your mind. Stick to being factual: Share the behavior that you observed and multiple impacts of that behavior. And don't forget that sharing positive feedback influences people too. When your direct report or colleague does something that works well, use encouraging words to influence them to do more of it!

3. Influence by Example

As a leader, you are always in the invisible spotlight. People pay close attention to what you do, and definitely notice when your words don’t align with your actions.

Take this example: You're encouraging one of your team members to be more strategic and focus on the big picture instead of getting caught up in minutiae. But then you turn around and make nitpicky edits to their PowerPoint document. Your actions may have sent a very different message about big-picture thinking than your words did — and diminished your influence in the process.

This week, pay extra attention to the story that your actions tell about what you really value.

Of these three influence strategies, where do you see the biggest opportunity for you? However you choose to exercise your influence, recognize that your unique voice can concurrently drive your success and benefit others. For more strategies like these, check out my guide to "Building Influence" in the Leadership EDGE Series℠.


Regain Your Confidence After Being Knocked Down

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Things are going really well. You're excited about your work and making things happen. You're meeting challenges head on and bringing your best as a leader.

And then it happens. You find out that someone else will be leading the high-visibility project you had expressed interest in. Or one of your big ideas gets knocked down in a meeting. Or your boss delivers some surprising feedback that came out of nowhere. Or someone else gets the promotion you thought you deserved.  

Whatever happened, it leaves you rattled, questioning your capabilities and emotionally charged. That positive energy you brought to your work is nowhere to be found, and you no longer feel like you’re in the driver’s seat. So how can you regain your confidence when all you want to do is retreat?

Shrinking From the Pain

Your instinct may be to kick into self-preservation mode and lie low after something shakes your confidence. Just know that in the long run that approach will ultimately end up hurting you.

Take the scenarios above. Your boss's criticism might drive you to second-guess yourself. For example, instead of handling a presentation in the way you know is best, you take the path of least resistance. The memory of your colleagues quickly shooting down your idea keeps you from voicing other ideas. Being rejected from one project leadership position makes you reluctant to pursue other projects you care about.

The cumulative impact of experiences like these can lead to a phenomenon called silencing. If you get caught in a pattern of retreating when something shakes your confidence, you diminish yourself and your ability to contribute. The best parts of you go into hiding.

Noticing the Story You Are Telling Yourself

To regain your confidence, you have to first bring your stress level and emotions down a notch. With high performers, I often see them “stuffing” their feelings by pushing through. But the “suck-it-up” approach rarely works because it doesn’t address the underlying issues. Notice the story you are telling yourself and identify the emotions you are feeling about the situation, whether those emotions seem rational or not. Accepting how you feel will make it much easier to work through the situation. For example, how extreme are your conclusions from the situation? Did you extrapolate from one piece of negative feedback that your boss hates everything that you do? Are you ignoring evidence (like past positive feedback) that your story might not be true?

One safe way to notice your thoughts and feelings is to handwrite responses to these two questions: What am I thinking? What am I feeling? When you’re feeling less emotional, you can answer this question: What is the evidence to support and contradict this? Handwriting your responses will engage your brain differently and allow you to let your feelings out uncensored.

And remember to be kind to yourself. Most go-getters judge themselves harshly. You feel how you feel, and it’s OK. Direct some of that empathy that you freely give to others to yourself. Researchers on silencing say it can also be helpful to talk to other people who understand where you're coming from.

Whatever strategies you use, be deliberate about processing what you're going through so you can shift your focus from protecting yourself back to being “you” again.

Recovering Your Power

Now start stepping back into your authentic leadership. First, remind yourself that you don’t have to constantly prove that you deserve your job. You already earned it through your skills, experience, work ethic, and consistent ability to get results. Try this exercise: Carve out ten minutes to write down how you are uniquely qualified for your current role and the positive feedback you consistently hear. If you ever slip back to that place of self-doubt, pull your list out and read it.

Next, reconnect to your passion and purpose. What do you find meaningful about your work? What do you enjoy the most? How are you making a difference? Notice how you really feel when you answer these questions. I bet your whole energy changes. Remembering your “what” and “why” will help you more quickly move past lingering fear and uncertainty.

Your journey as a leader will include some painful experiences that make you question yourself. But you can bounce back.  Trust me, I’ve been there before myself and have coached many leaders through these difficult situations. The strategies I’ve shared will help you get started on the path to remembering who you are and the value that you bring.

If you've been shrinking your presence at work after a painful experience, my award-winning WOW! Women On the Way to Peak Performance Program℠ is a great way to support yourself as you rebuild your confidence. Take it as a self-paced audio program or invest in the facilitated version for a group of you.


How to Take Your Leadership Brand Up a Notch in 2019

You know everything that you bring to the table as a leader. But do the people around you understand — and tap into — your value?

The answer to that question can make all the difference in your ability to drive results and to achieve goals like getting promoted or taking on an exciting new opportunity.

So, before we get any further into 2019, I want you to get really clear about what you want others to understand about your leadership this year.

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I've got my own experiences with redefining my leadership brand. During my 14-year career at Deloitte, I remember exactly when I realized that how I viewed myself didn’t fully match how others viewed me. I was surprised to hear that some people found me intimidating. Some of the things I did with a positive intent were perceived in a very different way. To be mindful of everyone’s time constraints, I was always very efficient, focused and prepared with an agenda. That was great — except that I wasn’t spending enough time to just connect with people and show them more of the personal side of me. Fortunately, there were some simple steps I could take to show people some other aspects of myself and shift their perception. I took what I learned from my "rebranding" experience to hone a process that I use to help my executive coaching clients and that I will share with you today.

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Assess Your Current Brand

The first step is to find out what you are known for today. Revisit your most recent performance review, talk to peers and mentors that you trust, and pay attention to how your colleagues react to what you say and do. Executive coaching is another effective way to get clarity about your current leadership brand.

Don’t worry if you discover that there's a gap between how you see yourself and how others see you. That’s not uncommon. My client, Susan, found herself in that exact situation. Her core strength, a deep commitment to getting results, led her to frequently get into “the weeds” as she explored potential solutions. Consequently, her bosses and others viewed her as being tactically and operationally oriented, but lacking a strategic perspective.

Even though Susan did “get” the big picture, how would anyone really know she did? In conversations, she talked far more about how to execute ideas and the tactical steps involved. She rarely connected her ideas to the larger context or priorities. As Susan began to make shifts in her communication style, the negative feedback dissipated.

Reinforce Your Desired Brand

In the journey of change, most of us seldom directly go from being criticized to being praised for the positive shifts we have made. There's usually an uncomfortable in-between stage. In Susan’s case, her new approach no longer raised questions in the minds of senior leaders. But she went from hearing criticism in this area to hearing … well, nothing.

Now don't get me wrong. Going from "negative noise" to "no noise" is progress, and worth celebrating. But there's one more step if you want to strengthen your brand as a leader. You have to help people notice the change.

Through key words and phrases, Susan began to consistently link her operational knowledge to the broader business goals and priorities. She helped others see that she understood both strategy and execution. She paid close attention to the balance of how much she shared details vs. how much she stayed higher-level in her communication. Susan also took on projects that gave her a chance to shine as a strategic thinker.

Susan showed up differently, and people noticed. She replaced old perceptions with new evidence of what and how she could contribute. This allowed others to better understand who she was as a leader and how they could tap into her strengths.

Keep It Authentic

The best part of all of this is that we reinforced Susan’s brand from a place of authenticity. In other words, by identifying who Susan really is and what matters most to her, we helped others see it more clearly. This allowed her to put her passion — driving for results — into play even more powerfully.

What’s Next?

Now that you've read Susan’s story, it's your turn to think about your own leadership brand. Start by finding out how others perceive you today. Next, define your desired leadership brand. If someone were to describe you to someone else, what are the top three things you would want them to say? Your responses will reveal your core values, passions and strengths. And focusing on these things will help you step into your leadership in a way you haven’t before.

For more ideas and support in helping you strengthen your leadership, check out our leadership development publications, audio programs and corporate programs.

'I Can't Believe You Said That!'

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People say some pretty unbelievable things at work. But I know this isn't news to you. I'm sure you have your own shocking stories about derogatory, thoughtless or perhaps even sexist remarks from colleagues.

According to the Women in the Workplace 2018 study, conducted by McKinsey & Company in partnership with LeanIn.org, a depressingly high number of women have been on the receiving end of such remarks. Among the findings:

  • 35 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment, which includes verbal harassment.

  • 16 percent of women have heard demeaning remarks about themselves or people like them. (For men, that figure is 10 percent.)

  • 36 percent of women have had their judgment questioned in their area of expertise. (That's compared with 27 percent of men.)

  • 26 percent of women have been addressed in a less-than-professional way. (The number for men is 16 percent.)

When people speak inappropriately to them, women often feel caught between a rock and a hard place. They don't want to let the offensive behavior slide, but they also worry that speaking up will get them labeled as defensive and difficult to work with. And, according to the McKinsey study, less than a third of women think their companies often quickly address disrespectful behavior toward women.

How to Address Disrespectful Remarks

So what can you do if you're not ready to go to Human Resources (or question whether they can or will help)?

First, set yourself up for success by staying grounded. It's a hard truth, but if you fly off the handle, people will remember. Unfortunately, such reactions have a long shelf life, even when they might be justifiable. Remember that you always get to decide how you want to show up. What type of self-care do you need to help you show up the way that you want to and to stay centered? Remember that simple things like taking a few deep, diaphragmatic breaths throughout the day and emptying your head by handwriting what you’re thinking and feeling (uncensored) can help dramatically.

If you’re ready to have a conversation with the other person about their disrespectful remarks, here are a couple of approaches I've seen succeed:

  • If your relationship with the individual who treated you poorly has been good in the past, reference that. "Based on my experience with you, I didn’t expect your communication to be like this. It’s not like you. What's going on?"

  • You could also point out a pattern the other person may not have noticed: "Hey, this has happened a couple of times before, and each time I let it go. But now that it's happened a third time, we should talk about what’s going on."

Finally, remember that you don't have to take on this situation alone. Consider involving someone else, possibly someone who can influence different behavior. For example, if the situation is between you and a peer, your boss may be able to reinforce how she expects anyone on her team to behave and provide some feedback. If getting someone involved at that level feels like too much, start by engaging others who can help you think through the best path forward. Talking things through with someone who is not so emotionally attached to the situation may help you defuse tension and develop a course of action more quickly.

I know these types of situations can be messy, so take it one step at a time to keep yourself grounded, clarify what you want to do and determine your next steps. For guidance on other difficult situations at work, pick up a copy of my book "Show Up. Step Up. Step Out."

5 Ways to Reach Your Goals in 2019

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Happy 2019! As you return to work after the holiday break, I'm sure there's already a lot going on. But before you totally get back into your daily routines, I encourage you to pause and think about what you want out of the coming year. I know that goal-setting can seem overwhelming sometimes, but it doesn't have to be so complicated. Here are a few quick insights on how to achieve any goal in 2019.

1. Keep It Simple

How do you want to stretch yourself in 2019? Instead of overloading yourself, choose just one area to focus on. Concentrating on one goal at a time increases your odds of success. Whether your goal is personal or professional, make it about getting the right work done. The “right work” is work that makes the highest and best use of your talents and that has the biggest impact. 

2. Picture the Future

Now think about what it would be like to achieve this goal. Getting a taste of those satisfying emotions can help you push forward even when things get tough. Envision, in as much detail as you can, what your future will be like after you’ve achieved your goal. What is happening in your life? What do you spend your time doing? Who is part of this future? How do you feel after achieving this goal vs. how you feel today? 

3. Define the First Step

Ready to start moving toward that future? You don't have to know the entire plan for reaching your goal right now. Trying to figure out every single detail could keep you from even getting started. Instead, define the first step that you will take to move toward your goal. That step will start building the momentum you need to keep going. One "small win" leads to another!

4. Face the Fear

No matter what goal you are working toward, fear is likely to surface at some point. Fear often takes the form of negative self-talk. But it’s important to realize that this inner voice isn’t always reliable. You can talk back to it with more compassionate, realistic statements.

5. Get Support

Accountability is critical to sticking with your goal, so don’t go it alone. We all need our fans to rally around us when we go through change. Surround yourself with and ask for support from people who care about your success, from family and friends to mentors and coaches. Whom will you tell about your goal by the end of this week, so that person can help you stay focused?

And please always remember that this blog is here to support you. Throughout 2019, I'll be here with ideas and resources to keep you motivated. When you’re ready to invest in yourself even more powerfully, check out Newberry Executive Solutions' corporate programs, executive coaching and publications that can help you keep you moving toward the results you desire. 

How to Support Women at Work

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In my last article, I shared some findings from the Women in the Workplace 2018 study, conducted by McKinsey & Company in partnership with LeanIn.org. The study found that women are still underrepresented in top business leadership and that we need to do more to develop a pipeline of talented women leaders.

Some of that involves companies taking a hard look at their policies and programs. But change will also come from steps that we can all take every day. Here are a few ideas for ways to boost women in 2019.

Take on Interrupters

Did you know that men are more likely to interrupt women than other men? Researchers have found that this is true even among justices on the U.S. Supreme Court! The next time you're in a meeting and you notice that a woman is struggling with being interrupted or trying to join the conversation, help her voice be heard. You don't have to make a big scene. A statement as simple as "I think Jane has been trying to say something" helps a lot.

Divide the Emotional Labor

There's been growing attention recently on how women pick up more than their share of the "emotional labor," both at home and at work. At work, inequity in emotional labor can take a variety of forms. For example, everyone might assume that women will plan the staff celebrations, clean the office fridge or take notes in meetings. Women may also face greater expectations to "cushion their responses, manage the emotions of their peers and make their workplace 'pleasant,'" according to Gemma Hartley, author of "Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward." How does emotional labor get divided at your office? If there are different expectations for women, what can you do to start a cultural shift?

Pay Attention to Language

In some offices, female team members get referred to as "the girls" or "the ladies" — or even refer to themselves this way. (Witness the rise of the term "girlboss.") Even if you're a woman who feels OK with these terms, it's enlightening to check out some analyses on the impact of this kind of language. You might discover some points you hadn't considered.

Give Credit Where It's Due

Studies have found that women get less credit for their ideas, and that men get more credit than women even when they express similar ideas. When you see this happening, speak up. You can do this tactfully but firmly with statements like "That's a great point, and it builds on what Jane said."

Correct Misinformation

Sometimes a woman getting promoted brings out the worst in other people. If you hear someone saying that a female colleague automatically got a plum role or assignment just because she's a woman, be ready to counter them with facts about how the decision was really made. ("Actually, I know that five other people were interviewed were for that job.")

Deliver Better Feedback

Research shows that women that women get less specific feedback than men do, and that this vague feedback hurts their careers. As a leader, you can do something about this. Give all of your team members prompt feedback (whether positive or negative) that helps them see the relationship between their behaviors and business results.

Develop Yourself and Others

If you're a female leader yourself, remember the power of investing in your own potential and encouraging other women to do the same. Newberry Executive Solutions has a variety of options, including corporate programs, executive coaching and publications, that you can explore.

As you look toward 2019, I encourage you to try one or more of these ways to support women in your workplace. You never know what ripple effect the small steps you take now might have!

Let's Make 2019 a Better Year for Women in the Workplace

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Each time December rolls around, I encourage you to think about what you want to leave behind from the current year and take forward into the next.

This year, I'd like to see us all take more knowledge into 2019 to proactively address the underrepresentation of women in the workplace, especially in top leadership. And that starts with arming yourself with important facts.

The Women in the Workplace 2018 study, conducted by McKinsey & Company in partnership with LeanIn.org, makes the challenges that lie ahead for women clear. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Women are less likely to either be hired into manager-level jobs or to be promoted into them, which throttles the pipeline of talented women leaders.

  • Almost two-thirds of women say they've experienced microaggressions at work. If you're unfamiliar with the term microaggression, it means "a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group."

  • Some of the most common microaggressions that women experience include having to provide more evidence of their competence than men do, having their judgment questioned in their area of expertise and being mistaken for someone in a more junior position.

  • Thirty-five percent of women said they've experienced sexual harassment in corporate America.

  • Less than a third of women think their companies quickly address disrespectful behavior toward women.

  • About 20 percent of women said they are often the only, or one of the only, women in the room. Being an "Only" is even more common among women in senior leadership.

  • "Onlys" have a worse experience at work and are 1.5 times more likely to consider leaving their job.

  • About one-fifth of women said their company's commitment to gender diversity "feels like lip service."

So, what are some small steps you can take that will make a big difference? Read and share the report with others, notice and help others notice what’s happening in your own workplace, and seek to understand by asking more questions. You can make a difference by how you show up and engage with others. In 2019, I'll be sharing some practical strategies for addressing some of the points in this study. In the meantime, leverage Newberry Executive Solutions' corporate programs, executive coaching and publications to support your own success and the success of other women leaders at your company.

Why Giving Back Makes You a Better Leader

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The holidays don't just mean gifts and celebrations. For many of us, this season also gets us thinking about how we can help others. If you're feeling inspired to give back, I want to cheer you on. The world needs your unique gifts and skills. But here's something else I've discovered as a longtime volunteer: As you serve others, you also grow as a leader.

The very roots of my business go back to volunteering. My first client was United Way in conjunction with Shell, which stemmed from a relationship I had with someone I worked with on another nonprofit board.

Board involvement has also helped me get to know other leaders in the community and them to get to know me — how I think and work, my strengths, the value I can bring.

Giving back has also exposed me to other parts of the world. As an advisory board member for Akola Project — which trains and employs underprivileged women in Dallas and Uganda — I visited Uganda to understand firsthand the obstacles these women face. Through serving as faculty for the George W. Bush Presidential Center's Women's Initiative Fellowship Program, I have helped women in Tunisia and Egypt to strengthen their leadership skills.

Volunteer roles can even provide a way to expand your skill sets. Chairing the advocacy committee of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas introduced me to public policy, which was foreign to me at the time. I enjoyed stretching out of my comfort zone and learning more about the legislative and political process, and our committee experienced success in advancing state-wide legislation.

No matter how you choose to volunteer, there's one key thing to remember. You'll do more good for others, and for your own career, when you choose service roles that authentically reflect who you are and what you're passionate about. Don't volunteer for something just because you think it will build your network. It won’t have the same impact.

This holiday season, I encourage you to shop for gifts at Akola or to donate to support their work, to volunteer for or donate to United Way, or to give to the Bush Presidential Center.

You can also consider helping some of the other worthy causes I've been involved with over the years:

Above all, though, take some time to think about the causes that fire you up and that need your unique expertise. Then commit to even one small way that you can use your talent and skills to support those causes. This will help others, add meaning to your holiday season, develop your leadership and possibly lead to purposeful, ongoing work.

Lessons From My Year of Decluttering

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Earlier this year I told you I had begun a process of clearing both physical and mental clutter in my life. This has been quite a big undertaking, but I am on the other side of it. Life feels much easier and lighter. I want to share what I've learned about clutter (no matter what kind) and how you can begin to address yours.

What Is Clutter?

Most of us think of clutter in the physical sense — for example, a pile of papers on your desk or a closet full of outdated clothes that don’t fit anymore. But let’s take a look at a much broader definition.

  • Clutter can be anything that drains your energy, whether that's a messy physical environment or a relationship that depletes you.

  • Clutter encompasses what you keep tolerating and allowing to frustrate you. This could range from a repair job that you keep putting off to bad habits that you know you need to change to perpetual underperformance from team members or ongoing issues in your other work or personal relationships.

  • Clutter can include remnants of the past or parts of your life, personal or professional, that just don't fit anymore.

  • No matter what form clutter takes, it can distract you, deplete your energy and affect how you “show up” with others every day.

Managing Relationship Clutter

As I examined the clutter in my own life, tackling my physical environment was easy. I cleared stuff out of my house, replaced the old, drafty front and back doors, installed new porch lights and got a new yard service. Essentially, I got rid of all the visual reminders of what didn’t work, which released some of my mental capacity for other things.

The next step was to look at my relationships, which was much thornier work. When you have to continue interacting with people you find draining, things get a bit more complicated. It’s not as easy as tossing out old magazines!

You can, however, take steps to minimize the impact of these relationships:

  • Think about both how a particular relationship serves you and how it's holding you back. Get clear about the one or two reasons you want to stay engaged in this relationship. This will allow you to be more intentional about the choice you are making to continue the relationship and why.

  • Next, identify one thing you could do differently with this challenging person that would allow you to maintain your relationship and your energy. Experiment with setting boundaries for yourself. For example, you could shift your interaction to more phone calls vs. in-person meetings, shorten the time you interact or change the cadence of how often you interact.

  • Identify at least one way to restore yourself after you have to spend time with a frustrating or energy-draining person. For example, if you know a colleague that sets you off will be at a meeting, plan to do something energizing right before or after. It can be something as simple as taking a quick walk. Focus on what works for you.

  • Start taking steps to address underperformance that feels exhausting to deal with. Check out my previous blog post on how to stop tolerating ongoing performance issues in your team.

Declutter Your Behavior

You might discover, though, that the most damaging clutter in your life isn't in your physical environment or your relationships, but rather in your mindset or behavior. If this resonates for you, review these resources to leave your limitations behind:

  • Notice your "thinking traps." These affect your stress level and confidence.

  • Identify one or two behaviors that undermine your executive presence. This could include acting as you did in a past position instead of adopting new practices to help you succeed in your current role. For example, I see leaders involved in far too many details and failing to delegate and more fully leverage their teams. Or they fail to recognize that how you get results is just as important as the results themselves.

  • Take a look at my products and services, which will give you many more resources to draw on when you're looking to make lasting change.

No matter what area of your life you want to declutter, remember to enlist support from people who understand your goals and give you energy.

I want to challenge you to identify one thing you will do this week to start decluttering.  And remember that small steps can lead to big results.

How Are Your Blind Spots Getting in Your Way?

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Blind spots. We all have them. But do you really understand how they’re getting in the way of your success?

Imagine racing a high-performance car. You are looking ahead, planning your next move to sustain your performance without compromising your speed. You need to switch lanes and have just a split second to decide which way to go. But you can’t see because your car has a huge blind spot. What do you do? Do you slow down and risk losing the race? Or do you move to the next lane, with unknown consequences to you and others?

Like a race car driver, a high-performing leader moves at a fast clip — zipping from one move to the next, making quick decisions; all the while focused on getting results. If you are like many leaders, you have limited time to reflect. You may not realize that you have blind spots — behaviors that could be hindering your progress and possibly putting others at risk.

So, what can you do? Here are three tips to help you identify and address your blind spots:

1. Ask others for feedback

Identify people with a range of perspectives who will be open and honest about your performance and ask them for feedback. Be sure to ask what you do well, how you may be getting in your own way, and what you should do more or less of to be effective in your role.

As you prepare to request feedback, think about the importance of anonymity and the approach that will yield the most insight. For example, you can use your company’s 360 or upward feedback tool, use a simple online survey tool like SurveyMonkey, sit down and have a direct conversation, or work with an executive coach who can interview others on your behalf and summarize the key themes. Whatever you decide, be sure to choose a method that fosters honest, candid feedback and gives you enough context to interpret the comment.

2. Validate the feedback

Everyone reacts to feedback differently. You may find yourself choosing to deny it or ignore it. However you feel about the feedback, I would urge you to at least validate it. Look for evidence and examples through your own observations, reflection, and conversations with others. Whether you agree with the feedback or not, entertaining the possibility that “it might be true” will open you up to noticing things you might not otherwise see.

3. Take Action

So now that you have gathered and validated the feedback, what should you do? Just remember that feedback has value only if you do something with it. Start by choosing one or two areas that you’d like to focus on first. Be careful not to overload yourself with action items, and remember that your action items don’t have to be huge. Small steps can lead to big results.

Are You Missing the Two Most Important Steps in Giving Feedback?

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Do you struggle with giving candid, constructive feedback? Read on if you answered, “Yes.”

If you’re like most managers and leaders, you have the best intentions when you are giving feedback. You want to communicate clearly and constructively without damaging the relationship, ultimately improving performance. As you know, this can be easier said than done.

So, as a feedback provider, what can you do to set up the conversation for success? Well, as I’ve coached people over the years, I have noticed two areas that can make a big difference:

1. Describe what you observed.

When you are giving feedback, be sure to state the behavior you observed in objective terms. In other words, state the facts without interpreting them. This will make the person much more open to what you have to say and more likely to hear your underlying message.

Let’s use Jane as an example. From the past two team meetings you have attended you might think that Jane can’t control her temper when others don’t agree with her point of view. If you share your conclusion with her, it could immediately raise her defenses, resulting in a counterproductive argument.

Instead, focus on the sharing the facts without sharing your interpretation. For example, you could say, “In the past two team meetings, you raised your voice at Jim and Sue when they disagreed with your suggestions.”

2. Communicate the impact of the behavior.

Sometimes you can focus so much on communicating the behavior that you may overlook the importance of explaining its impact. So, challenge yourself to think about any quantitative or qualitative consequences, and come up with at least two or three to share. This will go a long way in reinforcing the importance of the feedback, and will offer clues about what may be required to resolve the situation at hand.

Building on Jane’s situation above, here are some examples: “Jim is embarrassed and does not want to attend future team meetings.” “Sue has concerns about working with you.” “The rest of the team does not want to bring up any ideas that you may disagree with.” “Other leaders have heard about these two meetings, and are questioning your management style.”

Although there are many other important steps involved in preparing to give feedback, I would encourage you to spend more time on these two. It can be the difference between a constructive and counterproductive conversation.

Can You Really Afford Not to Ask for Help?

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One of the common themes I find in coaching high-performing women managers and leaders is their reluctance to ask for help. This shows up in their personal and professional lives. As you know, women are socialized to take care of others, so naturally it can be easier to put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own.

In the working world, this can limit a woman’s ability to take her performance and career to the next level. When combined with the added demands of a family, especially a two-career family, it also dramatically increases the risk of burnout. This has huge implications for women, and their employers.

Below are four common traps that women often fall into, and suggestions on how to reframe them so that they don’t get in your way.

1. "I should be able to do this."

This trap is all about having high expectations and standards for yourself, which has pros and cons. On one hand, it can drive you to consistently deliver high-quality work. On the other hand, it may cause you to overlook how you can empower others, develop them to contribute more, and help them feel important. Next time you fall into this trap, ask yourself what you are indirectly communicating to others when you choose to take it all on yourself.

2. "I like things done a certain way, so I'd rather just do it myself."

Is the pursuit of perfection getting in your way, whether it’s about how your spouse loads the dishwasher or how a PowerPoint presentation is formatted? We all have our preferred ways of doing things, but at what cost? In the big picture, how important is it for this task to be done perfectly, and to be done by you? What higher-priority items should you spend your time on instead?

3. "It will take more time to explain this task than it would to do it."

This trap is all about the short-term vs. long-term trade-offs. In other words, it may take more time to delegate and explain this task this time, but the next time you need help it will go much faster. By investing time now, you can set the stage for getting ongoing help with this and other tasks.

4. "Everyone's already so busy. I don't want to overload them."

This is the classic trap of deciding for others before you even give them a chance to weigh in on the decision. Who knows, you may find that others are too busy help. But then again, you might not. People may want to help you because they think what you’re working on is interesting or challenging, or they see it as a chance to demonstrate their capabilities. To them, it may be worth taking on more work to have that opportunity. Trust that they will let you know if they can’t help.

In the long run, taking it all on yourself can limit your success and the success of your team. Just remember that there is an implicit trade-off in the choices you make. Keep these traps in mind so that you make those choices consciously.

What Kind of Leader Are You?

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If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t given much, if any, thought to your brand as a leader. When I coach high-performing managers and leaders, leadership brand comes up time and again — because being deliberate about assessing and developing your brand can have a huge impact on your success.

So, if you’re ready to take a look at your brand, here are four steps to get you started:

1. Find out what you are known for today.

Whether you realize it or not, you do have a brand. The question is how well it's serving you. As you define your current brand, limit yourself to three, one-word adjectives. Reflect on performance reviews and common themes you have heard from others in the past, and consider collecting feedback from others. You can conduct an anonymous online survey, ask people yourself, or have someone else (like an executive coach, mentor, or supervisor) gather feedback for you. Whatever you do, choose an approach that will give you candid information. Remember to ask people to give you specific examples. What do you say or do that demonstrates your brand? You have to understand what it looks and sounds like.

2. Determine what you want to be known for.

Your desired brand must be authentic (i.e., true to you); this is not about misleading anyone. Again, limit yourself to three one-word adjectives. I once coached a female executive (let’s call her Michelle) about her desired brand.

She wants others to view her as:

Credible – Michelle wants others to recognize her specialized industry expertise because it is important for the role and business she is in.

Confident – Michelle wants to have a physical presence that conveys that she is a strong player.

Respectful – When she disagrees with a point of view, Michelle wants to do it in a manner that still encourages ideas and input from others.

3. Define how to reinforce your desired brand.

Again, it’s important to determine what you would say or do to reinforce your brand. In Michelle’s example, demonstrating credibility might involve proactively sharing specific industry information with the leadership team in the context of a top priority or project. Confidence might entail speaking louder, making direct eye contact when addressing a group, standing or sitting taller, or speaking up at least once in every leadership meeting.

4. Take action to close the gap.

Identify one or two actions you will take to close the gap between your current and your desired brand. This may mean that you have to stop or start doing something. Using Michelle’s example of being respectful, she has to stop interrupting others when they speak and resist that urge to jump right in.

Just remember that your leadership brand is important context for how you show up as a leader — in your everyday words and actions. By proactively defining and managing your brand, you will get better results. So, what are you waiting for?

Are Your Headlines Getting Lost in the Details?

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No matter how high up you go in an organization, communication can be a challenge. As a manager or leader, there’s a fine line between sharing too much information and not enough. Too much detail can leave others with the impression that you can’t see the big picture or focus on what really matters because you are bogged down in minutiae. Or people may think you are defensive when you dive into details in response to a question or comment, even if your intent is to merely explain or inform. On the other hand, not sharing enough detail may leave others thinking that you don’t fully understand the situation or issues at hand.

Wherever you are on the scale of detail-orientation, the most important thing is to make sure that the people receiving your communication get the “headlines,” the two or three key messages you really want them to understand.

Here are some guidelines I use with my executive coaching clients to help them focus on what to say and how to say it.

1.Consider the kind of impression you want to leave, and how you want to be viewed.

Taking this into consideration will help you determine the best method(s) to use for your communication (e.g., call, email, meeting, etc.), how to frame your message, and how you “show up.” Remember that how you communicate can reinforce or detract from the leadership brand you want to build.

2.Map out the two or three key messages that you want your audience to leave with.

If you had only 60 seconds to get your message across, what are the most critical things you want your audience to know? Once you’ve figured that out, think about how you can make those messages stand out, and connect your supporting information back to them. For example, if you are putting it in writing, using color and bold can help. If you are presenting the information in a group or one-on-one, you can use your handouts/material to reinforce your key messages.

3.Practice sharing your headlines first then filling in the details to ensure understanding.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of providing all the information to support our point of view and then concluding with our summary of what it all means. Most leaders expect that you have done your homework — especially if you are high performer — and will ask you for more information if they need it. So, if you assume they want all the detail, you may lose their attention. Of course there are some leaders who are very detail-oriented, so adjust your style for your audience.

Either way, I would encourage you to start with the headlines and then provide more information as needed. This would work whether you are communicating something for the first time or merely responding to someone else.

Often, minor tweaks in your communication can make a huge difference. Just make sure you aren’t losing your audience in all the detail.