Communicate with impact

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.

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.

How to Keep Your Good Idea from Being Shot Down

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Have you ever found yourself frustrated because you have a good idea that doesn’t go anywhere? No matter how big or small the idea, we’ve all faced this at some point. After reading John Kotter’s book Buy In — Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, I thought it would help to share some of his strategies to “save” good ideas.

Take stock.

Start with being crystal clear about your idea. Can you explain your idea in a short elevator ride? If not, you need to distill it down to the essential elements and keep it simple. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in giving so much context or justification for your idea that you lose your audience in the details. Think about the basics of what they need to know.

Next, think about who might support the idea, and which likely supporters you should talk to about the idea before sharing it more broadly. During my years at Deloitte Consulting, this strategy was invaluable for getting buy-in and for identifying potential attacks, and from whom they might come. Remember to think about how you can engage your supporters to respond to naysayers, and ask them about when and how you should communicate to key stakeholders. If you do it right, the decision-making meeting should be a non-event — because you had all the right meetings before the meeting.

Finally, role-play the meeting or conversation in advance, anticipating and responding to attacks or objections. Sometimes it can really help to have someone brainstorm with you.

Anticipate the four basic attack strategies.

Although the book lists 28 attack strategies, at the core they are all about the following four basic attack strategies:

  1. Fear mongering – This strategy aims at raising anxieties of the group to prevent a thoughtful examination of the idea. It gets people responding irrationally and emotionally.

  2. Death by delay – You may have experienced this frustrating strategy first hand. This is where so many meetings or steps are proposed that you completely miss the window of opportunity for the idea.

  3. Confusion – This tactic muddies the water with irrelevant facts, convoluted logic, or so many alternatives that a productive dialogue gets stalled.

  4. Ridicule and character assassination – This is what I call playing dirty, whether it’s through verbal or nonverbal communication. The attacker may raise questions about your competence or preparation, redirecting the conversation away from the idea itself.

Develop your responses in advance.

So, what should you do to respond to these attack strategies? In a nutshell, Kotter recommends doing the unexpected, taking the high road, and staying focused. Here are the four elements he suggests you integrate into your response.

  1. Let attackers into the discussion and let them go after you. Kotter suggests doing this because it gets people’s attention. Without their attention, you won’t have a chance to explain the issue or your proposed solution.

  2. Keep your responses clear, simple, crisp, and full of common sense. Don’t get mired in explaining all the logic and facts, which can make any audience glaze over.

  3. Show respect constantly. Don’t fight or collapse or become defensive. By treating others with respect, you draw an audience emotionally to your side, where they are more likely to listen carefully and sympathetically.

  4. Focus on the whole audience. Don’t be distracted by the detractors.

Remember that it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the majority, not the minority.

At the end of the day, it’s all about preparation. You can use these concepts to prepare before you pitch any idea – no matter how big or small because the basic approach is sound. Just don’t try to wing it, even if your idea seems bulletproof or you expect a friendly audience. A few minutes of preparation can go a long way.

The Fine Art of Influence

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Influence has so many implications, from getting your ideas heard to getting the support and resources you need to implement them. For some, the fine art of influence comes naturally, but for most it requires concerted effort.

Let’s start by taking a look at a common definition of influence:

Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others. (Source: dictionary.com)

Well, who wouldn’t want to be a compelling force that affects what others think or do?! You might be thinking that this sounds more like manipulating others to get what you want. However, what I’m referring to is learning how to develop win/win scenarios that allow you to get traction by being authentic, considering what is important to others, and doing what’s right for your company.

For example, I have a client who is trying to take the performance of her organization to the next level but keeps getting tangled in a web of politics. She needs help from another group to get the results she wants, but hasn’t been able to influence them to collaborate. Her focus is not self-serving. She truly has the organization’s best interest in mind.

So, we zeroed in on one critical relationship that could influence my client’s results dramatically. Below is a list of questions that I asked her in the context of influencing a specific person to take action. These questions may help you the next time you want to exert more influence.

What are you really trying to accomplish?

First, be clear about what you want and why. It will help you better understand and communicate your underlying intent. For example, you may want someone to invite you to a specific leadership team meeting. On the surface, it might seem to the other person that you just want to schmooze, but in reality you have and want to share key information with the group so that they can make better business decisions. Clarifying and sharing your intent will lead you to make the request in a way that will help the other person understand the “so what.”

How are you perceived by the other person?

Your credibility and reputation impacts whether the other person notices or really hears what you want. So, take time to reflect about what the other person thinks of you and how her “filter” might affect what she thinks of your request.

In my client’s case, the other person thinks of her as smart, direct, and focused on doing the right thing. However, they don’t know each other well, so my client may need to reinforce some of those attributes in her communication.

What is important to the other person?

Asking this question will help you zero in on what motivates the other person. It could range from looking good to his boss, to wanting to get promoted, to achieving a specific goal, to working less. If you don’t know the answer to this question, talk to others who might.

Where is the common ground for you both?

This final step brings it all together by combining your intent with what matters to the other person. People tend to be much more receptive if they view your request as aligned with their goals and objectives. Think about how you can frame your request or what you want in this context.

By taking even a couple of minutes to think through these questions, you can dramatically shift how you frame an idea or make a request — and your influence on the outcome. It can be the difference between sounding nitpicky and self- serving vs. sounding focused on something that matters to you and the other person involved, and that brings value to the organization. Give it a shot and see what happens.

Do You Provide “Strategic Snapshots” of Your Performance?

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If you’re like most people, you have a sense of what you want to accomplish when each day begins—and then the day “happens.” You may get diverted by unplanned issues and be left wondering, “What the heck happened?!”

No matter what is going on in your day, I urge you to think about the countless opportunities you have to showcase what you’re doing to add value and make a difference. I like to call this providing “strategic snapshots” of your performance. In my signature presentation “Getting the Visibility You Want” (aka, “Tastefully Tooting Your Own Horn”) and in my coaching, I offer a range of strategies on how to do this in a way that works for you.

Before I dive into giving you my tips, I want you to consider the following points as important context.

  • We are all busy—usually too busy to notice how others are adding value and contributing on a day-to-day basis.

It’s not that we don’t want to notice; it’s just that our attention is divided. And your boss is probably no different from you in this respect. So, you have to help your boss notice how you’re making a difference. I’d like to say a mid-year or year-end discussion as part of your formal performance management process is enough—but it just isn’t. When I led Performance Management & Career Planning at Deloitte, I came to fully appreciate how often people are out of sync with their boss’s view of their performance.

  • This isn’t about bragging.

At the end of the day, this is about sharing important information that can add value to your company and shape the direction of your career. Remember that as someone who has a personal stake in your performance and development, your boss needs to know how and what you’re doing. And others in the company can benefit from learning about how you overcame specific challenges and what led to your success.

So, here are three suggestions on how to provide “strategic snapshots” of your performance:

1. Be clear about what you want to be known for.

Your desired brand/reputation serves as important context and a filter for what to share with others. So, take the time to get clear about the 2-3 things you want people to think of when they think of you. This isn’t about trying to be someone you’re not. It’s about helping others understand what differentiates you and why that matters.

2. Notice the opportunities in front of you.

Before you go into a meeting, have a call with someone, or write an email, ask yourself, “How can I demonstrate how I’m adding value, or reinforce my desired brand in this interaction?” Every interaction may not afford this opportunity, but asking yourself this question will lead you to provide “strategic snapshots” of your performance more often.

3. Find an approach that fits your style.

As you know, some people have no problem telling others how they are adding value while others struggle because they don’t want to come across as arrogant, or self-promotion doesn’t fit with their cultural norms. So, don’t just adopt someone else’s approach. Take the time to think about what fits your personal style.

As a first step, think about a couple of accomplishments you’d like to share and how and why they have relevance and value to others. By going through this thought process you will present the information differently—less like bragging and more like information that others really need to know.

Remember that it’s up to you to consistently share and reinforce what you want others to know about your contributions (i.e., provide “strategic snapshots” of your performance) no matter how your day unfolds. And it doesn’t have to involve a huge effort or time commitment. You should know my mantra by now: “Small steps can lead to big results.”

Are You Keeping Your Gold Mine of Ideas to Yourself?

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If you have a useful idea and no one knows about it, does it really have any value? Well, I would argue that it doesn’t. If you find yourself holding back, what makes you reluctant to speak up? It usually starts with that fleeting thought that goes through your head.

Let’s take a look at three thoughts that might prevent you from sharing your views, and what you can do about each of them so that others can benefit from the value you bring.

“What I have to say is nothing earth shattering.”

If you fall into this category, take a second to ask yourself what others could gain from your perspective. Recognize that others don’t bring the same experiences you do, and what you see may not be as obvious to others (especially if they’re immersed in the issue/topic).

You may be dismissive when you have truly mastered a skill (i.e., you are unconsciously competent in performing it) or have deep expertise, because you know it like the back of your hand. Don’t underestimate the value you bring. While you may feel like you’re speaking for the sake of it, remember that others may find your comments insightful and relevant.

Whether or not you say anything new or insightful by your own standards, I want to remind you that there is tremendous value in being able to:

  • Summarize: This can help others in the room get refocused on what has been accomplished in the discussion and what still needs attention.

  • Bring people back to the big picture: Helping them connect the dots can refocus on what’s most important to the discussion at hand (especially if it’s been meandering).

  • Help a group see common ground: Noticing the alignment and common goals can help the whole group move forward, particularly when a range of perspectives have been shared.

"My idea is not ready for prime time.”

You may hear this from people who prefer to reflect before they share their ideas with others (often introverts). Unlike extroverts, who typically think and process out loud, introverts often want to be more thoughtful about what they say before they say it. At times this can be misconstrued as holding back ideas that could be of value to others, or perfectionism. If any of this sounds familiar, trust me that you’re not alone.

I would recommend that before you walk into a meeting; anticipate what might come up. What might they ask? What challenges may come up based on who will be present in the room? How would you respond? Taking even five minutes to prepare ahead of time will help you step out there a little sooner than you typically would, and with a stronger sense of conviction and confidence.

“Is this really worth my time and energy to share my views?”

Yes, we all have those moments where we are just ready for a meeting to be over. Of course you wouldn’t dare bring something else up because it may drag your unproductive meeting out even longer (and it’s already been going on long enough)!

Before you mentally disengage and start answering email on your phone, ask yourself what opportunity sits before you in this meeting. Remember that it’s up to you to see these moments as unique opportunities to accomplish something of importance to you and/or your team — whether it’s reinforcing your leadership brand, bringing direction to the group, advancing a relationship, or actually making productive use of an otherwise useless meeting.

I would ask you to identify one thing you need to keep in mind or do so that others can get value from what you uniquely bring. Don’t keep that gold mine of ideas all to yourself. Spread the wealth.

Networking for Results

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When we expanded our business into the Dallas/Fort Worth area, several people commented on how quickly we plugged into the local business community and asked what we did to make it happen. Here are three simple strategies that have worked for us and our clients.

1. Get clear.

Networking can be a full-time job if you let it. So before you dive in, clarify what you want to accomplish personally and professionally. Developing specific goals will help you focus on who and what matter most, make the best use of your time, and make networking less overwhelming.

Let's take the example of Susan, a leader who told me that she really needs to start networking but finds it draining and difficult. Given her busy schedule, she just doesn’t know how to make it happen. I asked her what she was trying to accomplish. Susan explained that she is ready to take on a bigger role at her company, but that she cannot travel extensively. She admitted that her ideal role may be difficult to get at her company, so she will need strong sponsors to make it happen.

In particular, there are two leaders who could strongly influence her career path. Susan needs to make sure that they know who she is and how she is adding value. As a backup plan, Susan needs to build her external network to identify opportunities outside her company. Because we clarified Susan’s goals first, she could quickly develop a list of people she needs to network with internally and externally.

2. Be consistent.

Most people focus on their networks when they need something. They typically view networking as optional vs. core to achieving their goals. If this sounds all too familiar, I would urge you to set aside time each week to strengthen your network. Remember that it doesn’t have to be time- consuming. Even 5-10 minutes per week can go a long way. For example, in less than five minutes, you can send a quick email about an event or article of interest, make an introduction to someone your contact would enjoy meeting, or ask for advice or input.

As you develop your strategies, think about what would be of service to the person with whom you are cultivating a relationship. Whatever your approach, communicate regularly so that you stay top of mind.

3. Show your stuff.

The best way for people to get to know you is by seeing you in action. Volunteer for something that showcases your strengths, fits with your passion, and helps you develop strong relationships with the right people. When you get involved, others will notice how you think and the value that you bring — as long as you follow through on your commitments. Otherwise, you risk damaging relationships instead of advancing them. Again, you don’t have to invest a lot of your time, but be clear about how much time you can give and carve out something manageable.

Because networking can feel overwhelming, start by developing one achievable goal. For example, you could carve out ten minutes this week to clarify what you want to achieve through networking. If you already know, invest those ten minutes instead to reach out to someone with whom you want a stronger relationship. Remember to look for opportunities within what is already on your calendar (e.g., meetings, calls, etc.), rather than adding more to-do’s to your list!

Connecting the Dots for Others

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There's one area that I always work on with my clients that they never realize they need to work on. It doesn’t come up in our initial discussions about their coaching goals, but it does affect their ability to truly lead with impact and build a strong leadership brand.

Let me explain. Usually, when I ask leaders about the most critical things they want to accomplish from a business standpoint, they rattle off a list of things. The same thing happens when I ask about their teams. Very few of them can easily articulate the two or three areas of focus that guide everything they do.

For example, I have a client who has the remarkable ability to dive into a completely new area of responsibility, learn what she needs to, and restructure the work to maximize results. On top of that, she empowers and develops her team to step up and sustain the performance. She has done this time and again, and can give me countless examples. Through our work together, she has come to realize that her primary focus is on creating sustainable value while minimizing risk for the business and developing future leaders. This is her beacon that guides everything she does.

By realizing this (i.e., Connecting the Dots for herself), she can now articulate a consistent message about her focus and intent. This provides tremendous value because she can give others a way to interpret what she says and does by constantly framing her actions and decisions in the context of her areas of focus.

Remember that others will draw conclusions about what you say and do using their own filters — and they may take away something different than you intend. Let me give you an example to further explain. I have another client (let’s call her Michelle) who has a strong focus on supporting her team. This means that Michelle invests considerable time coaching her new hires, but she also recognizes the need to get her employees working independently without her day-to-day guidance.

So she was surprised at her new hire’s frustration when she scaled back her one- on-one time with him. Michelle knew that pulling back was the best support she could give him because it would serve him well in the long run. However, her employee didn’t realize what she was doing. He didn’t Connect the Dots in the same way Michelle thought he would. In fact, he had drawn the opposite conclusion. By explaining her primary focus, Michelle helped him understand that she was supporting him and how. He now has a way to interpret her actions and understand her expectations.

Remember that Connecting the Dots for others is not a “once and you’re done” exercise. You have to do it again and again — and you can’t do it unless you have Connected the Dots for yourself. So take advantage of the unique opportunity you have to provide a framework to give others insight into what you think is important, what success looks like, and what will guide your decisions. It will also create a stronger sense of conviction for you — about what you want to accomplish, how you will get there, and what you want to be known for as a leader.

Do You Have Strong Peer Relationships?

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The importance of peer relationships keeps emerging as a theme with my clients. Strong leaders recognize that their leadership must extend beyond managing up and down; they must also manage effectively across the organization. Although it may not be on your radar screen, peers play an important role in providing perspective on your performance, no matter how far removed they may be from your do day-to-day activities.

Even if you don’t need much of your peers’ involvement to achieve your business results, most companies expect you to care about and invest in their success. An investment in your peers demonstrates your willingness to go beyond what matters in your microcosm of the world, to think about how you can make a difference in other parts of the company.

Ask yourself the following questions to quickly assess your peer relationships:

1. How well do you know your peers?

Using a scale of 1-10 (with 10 the highest), rate the strength of your relationship with each peer. Do you know what challenges your peers face, pressures they feel, or what goals are most critical to them? Based on this information and the strength of your relationship, with whom should you invest more time?

2. What do your peers think of you?

Do your peers view you as someone who is willing to give them support? To quickly assess this, think about how much time you spend listening, problem- solving, or brainstorming with your peers and the degree to which you think beyond your scope of responsibility.

3. What value can you offer to your peers?

As you consider your strengths, background, and experience, how can you leverage them for your peers? What can you offer in the context of what matters to them? If you don’t know enough about their priorities, find out.

As you contemplate your responses to the questions above, identify one peer relationship that you would like to strengthen in the next six months. Come up with a small step you will take this week to get the ball rolling, and remember that small steps can lead to big results

 

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Put More Power Into Your Communication Style

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Women sometimes undermine their own power in how they communicate. I see this time and again with my coaching clients, and I have made some of these mistakes myself.

Women often don’t realize how their communication style gets in their way or impacts how others view their leadership. Although women may have good intentions, those may not be apparent in their communication. I think this quote drives the point home: “We judge ourselves by our intent, but we judge others by their actions.” So, remember that your actions may be doing you a disservice, no matter how positive your intentions.

Let’s take a look at three common communication traps to see if any of them apply to you.

1.  Getting into the weeds.

Women often make the mistake of building up to their conclusions, rather than starting with the two or three key headlines. They often don’t realize how this can diminish their credibility. By taking everyone through the details first, they run the risk of losing their audience in a sea of information, or giving the impression that they can’t see the big picture or get out of the weeds. Remember you can always provide additional information if others need it — so lead with the headlines.

2.  Holding back.

Have you ever been in a meeting and never said a word? Perhaps it’s because you agreed with what others said and you didn’t see a need to convey that. Or maybe you didn’t want to be rude and talk over someone to get your point across. Or perhaps you simply wanted to respect everyone else’s time and not prolong an already long meeting. Whatever your rationale, what did your participation (or lack thereof) convey to others? Did your presence really make a difference?

So next time, speak up! Before you walk into that meeting or jump on that conference call, take five minutes to anticipate what will be discussed and develop your point of view. This will make it easier to dive right in, contribute to the discussion, and get your voice heard.

3.  Treading too softly.

Women sometimes use a tone of voice or language that reduces their power and influence. Their voice may take on a higher pitch at the end of a sentence, giving the impression that they’re asking a question rather than making a statement with a strong sense of conviction. They may speak too quietly, or use words that communicate indecisiveness: “I think”; “I guess”; and so on.

So, pay attention to what you say and how you say it. To get a better sense of how your communication comes across, ask people you trust for feedback so you know what to watch for.

The good news is that you can address these issues through minor tweaks in your communication. Identify one small step you will take this week to put more power into your communication style. Remember that small steps can lead to big results.

The Value of Being “Speechless”

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Once I lost my voice to the point of a whisper. It was truly a first for me. As an extrovert and someone who provides coaching and consulting services, it was so hard to refrain from talking. To add another interesting dimension, I also had my 6-year-old son solo that weekend, so writing down what I wanted to say wasn’t an option — unless of course I wanted to limit myself to simple three-letter or four-letter words!

So, between losing my voice and starting off that week teaching coaching skills to a group of leaders, it reminded me of two simple but important ideas relevant to leadership.

1.Notice themes in your nonverbal communication.

Sometimes we forget how much we communicate without ever uttering a word. Whether it’s that scowl on your face, the hand on your hip, or that big smile — you constantly send messages. And the nonverbal cues speak so much louder than words, carrying much more weight if there’s a “disconnect” between the two.

So, right now, take a minute to think about what you are communicating on a day-to-day basis. Do you constantly look rushed, stressed out, or too busy to stop and have a conversation? How do your nonverbal messages align with your leadership brand (i.e., what you want to be known for as a leader)? If you are unsure about what you’re communicating nonverbally, ask for feedback from people you trust.

2.Recognize how the simple act of listening can propel things forward.

During the session I facilitated, I helped leaders practice coaching skills that they can apply to any role or situation. As you might expect, we focused on listening as one of those critical skills. Through various coaching scenarios and interactive role play, the leaders focused on:

  • giving their undivided attention

  • being “in the moment”

  • listening with genuine curiosity

  • withholding judgment as they listened

As we talked about the experience, several leaders mentioned how listening in this way can make a huge difference because the other person feels heard. They went on to say how taking this approach generated more engagement, opened the other person up to exploring solutions, and ultimately helped them take action faster.

Think about this for a minute. As a leader, if your team members feel that you are willing to listen and care about their perspectives, they will get more engaged in solving their own problems — giving you more capacity to work on other priorities.

So, right now, look at the questions below to assess how effectively you listen:

  • How often do you multi-task as others are talking?

  • How much do you focus on how you would solve the person’s problem or what you would say next while the other person is talking?

  • How much do you REALLY pay attention to the person’s tone of voice, energy, nonverbal cues, and words?

Hopefully these two simple reminders have made you pause, as I did that week, to consider a small tweak you’d like to make. I urge you to identify one small step you‘ll take in the next five days to align your nonverbal communication with your leadership brand or to fine tune your listening skills. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.

The Power of Simply Noticing

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Most of us are so busy each day, going from one thing to the next and shifting across the many roles we play (colleagues, leaders, mentors, or parents), that in the midst of it all, we may overlook the opportunities right in front of us. So, this week, I would like you to try the exercise of “simply noticing.” As you’re sitting in that next meeting or conference call, pay attention to the following:

1. How You Are Showing Up

What thoughts are running through my head?

You may be thinking to yourself:

  • “I really don’t want to be here.”

  • “These meetings are always run poorly.”

  • I have way too much to do, and this meeting is a waste of my time.”

  • “Maybe I can leave early. Will anyone care?”

How do those thoughts affect how I am participating?

Jot down what you’re doing or not doing:

  • I’m watching the clock, doodling, and am disengaged.

  • I am not giving any thought to how I can really add value and move the discussion forward. I just want this to end.

  • I’m planning my escape.

What’s the message I’m indirectly sending others?

Whether you realize it or not, you are always communicating something. Sometimes it can be far from what you intend. Continuing with the scenario above, here are some potential messages you may be sending:

  • My time is more important than yours.

  • What you care about doesn’t matter to me.

  • I am not willing to roll up my sleeves and get in the game. I just want to sit on the sidelines.

2. How Others Are Showing Up

In addition to noticing what you’re doing, paying attention to group dynamics can tell you volumes. To help you glean more information, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are the informal leaders and influencers in this group?

  • Who seems aligned with whom?

  • What does each person seem to really care about in this discussion?

  • What does the body language and energy level of each person tell you?

3. What It All Means

Now that you’ve had a chance to “simply notice” what’s going on around you, take the time to think about what it means – even if it’s just for five or ten minutes.

  • What actions do you want to take as a result of your observations?

  • In your next meeting, how do you want to show up instead?

  • What can you do to reinforce what you want others to know about you and the value you bring?

  • How can you maximize the opportunities in that next meeting, even if you do consider it a waste of your time?

This week, I challenge you to simply notice what’s going on around you, even if it’s in just one meeting, and identify an action step you would like to take. You may be surprised at how quickly it changes your perspective. Remember that small steps can lead to big results.

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Is Your Communication Style Undermining Your Credibility?

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Every day you shape how others view your leadership, through how you communicate. You send messages directly and indirectly all the time. Although this sounds really obvious, most people don’t take time to think about how their communication style affects their credibility.

The biggest opportunities to improve how we communicate typically exist when we know exactly what we mean and are laser focused on our message, because this is when we may forget to provide important context. We can leave people confused or making incorrect assumptions about our intentions.

So, here are three important questions to ask yourself before you engage someone, or to have your team think through before they approach you:

1. What do I want the other person to do with the information?

When you approach someone with information, the first thing she typically wonders is, “Why are you telling me this?”

  • Do you want me to take action? Help you problem-solve?

  • Are you just giving me an update?

  • Are you venting? Do you just need me to listen?

Remember to Connect the Dots for others to help them understand how the information impacts them and what you expect from them.

2. How important is this?

Next, ask yourself what level of priority the topic really warrants. Remember that by having a conversation focused on a single topic you may inadvertently give it more emphasis than you intended. Even the method of communication — face-to-face vs. phone or email — can convey relative importance.

Given the level of priority (high, medium, or low) what method and timing make sense? Should this topic be bundled with others? Can it wait to be discussed at a meeting you already have scheduled on another topic? Each approach communicates a different level of priority.

3. How can I connect this to the bigger picture?

Finally, consider the strategic significance of the information you want to share. If you are like most people, you have a bigger issue or business priority in mind even when you are “in the weeds.” How consistently do you make that connection for others in how you frame your message?

If you are in a leader’s office frequently talking about what seem like minor things at a surface level, it can undermine your credibility over time. Ensure the leader understands how each item relates to a bigger picture.

This week, I want to challenge you to think about these three questions as you communicate. Where do the biggest opportunities lie for you? What one step can you take to build your credibility through your communication style? Don’t forget that small steps can lead to big results.

 

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Are You Being Strategic About Relationships?

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I get asked all the time about how to build a strong network of advocates. Advocates are people with power and influence who can give you important exposure, shield you from negative consequences and criticism, and recommend you for new positions or visible assignments.

If you aren’t paying attention to building these relationships, here are three steps to help you be more strategic about your approach:

1. With whom do you want to cultivate relationships?

In the context of your professional goals, identify the top three people with whom you need to develop stronger relationships. They may be people you don’t know at all or individuals who have had some exposure to you. Often they can be people who already have a positive impression of you, but you haven’t asked them to take any action on your behalf in the past. Be specific about what you would want them to do on your behalf and make it easy for them to do so. Come prepared with the right information.

2. What would success look like for your next conversation with them?

What would you want to have as the outcome of that conversation? How do you want to “show up”? In other words, think about any aspects of your brand that you’d want to focus on or what you would want them to know about you. Think about not only your key strengths, but also experiences and results. For example, if you want to come across as competent, you can do that through the quality and caliber of the questions you ask in addition to the types of examples you share about the work you’ve done. Figure out what approach works best for you.

3. What can you offer them?

Offer them something of value. For example, you might be able to share articles or other resources relevant to their interests or specific challenges they’re facing. You may have contacts with similar interests who might be beneficial for them to know. You may be able to give them exposure by inviting them to speak or be on a panel in a professional association that you participate in. Or you may be able to invite them to an event that would be of interest to them.

One of the most important things to remember is to be consistent. Allocate time to cultivate these relationships each month. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. The key is to stay top of mind so that when opportunities do arise they will think of you. So, what step will you take this week to put this into play? Remember that small steps can lead to big results.

 

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Turn Frustration into Empowerment

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My client Debra is a high performer so frustrated with her boss that she is ready to find another job. So, I asked her, “What would have to happen for you to recommit to your current company?” This simple question helped her start moving from frustration to empowerment.

As we talked, I quickly learned that Debra’s boss is under tremendous stress and often micromanages. This leaves Debra feeling mistrusted and underutilized. She feels that the company just isn’t benefiting from her skills and experience because a disproportionate amount of her time now focuses on administrative rather than strategic activities.

Here's how I helped her think through the situation. These strategies may help you the next time you are frustrated:

1. Assume that you have to work within the current set of parameters.

Start by assuming that nothing major will change in the short term. For example, you can’t get any more resources than you have today. You can’t add anyone else to the team or get more time. If resources aren’t the challenge for you, identify the other parameters you must work within.

2. Get clear about what's really going on for you underneath the frustration.

Debra’s frustration made her forget what she enjoys about her role. At the end of the day, she just wants to contribute to the success of the company in a way that helps her grow and feel like she’s making a difference.

3. Identify what's really going on for the other party involved.

Debra pointed out that her boss is laser focused on delivering high-quality work, regardless of the timeline. If her boss understood that her own actions are actually putting the quality of the work at risk (through impending team burnout or turnover), she might make different choices. But no one has yet had the courage to give her feedback.

4. Identify one or two steps you can immediately take.

As you begin to develop solutions, remember that they must address the underlying needs of both parties involved, and must assume the current constraints will still exist in the short-term. Taking this approach will force you to get creative and view the situation from different vantage points.

Because Debra won’t get the luxury of more time, she has to make better use of the time the team already has – by rationalizing and refocusing team meetings and one-on-one time, and identifying what the team will stop doing. We quickly identified several changes that could be easily made.

We also discussed how Debra could get more meaning from her administrative work. Because she often collaborates with business leaders as she does this work, the exposure and relationship-building opportunities are tremendous – but only if she recognizes and maximizes them. Taking advantage of those opportunities would further engage her in this work.

Hopefully you now have some ideas on how to turn a frustrating situation into one where you can more directly effect change. This approach doesn’t fully address the underlying issues, but it starts to create the capacity and energy to do so.

Remember that you work in a system and when one part of that system changes (i.e., you), it can create a shift in another part. So, what small step will you take this week to drive the change you would like to see?

 

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

How Hierarchy Impacts Your Presence

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When you participate in events with professionals who hold a much higher or lower position than you, does it make you uncomfortable? As someone not yet in the executive ranks, do you wonder how you can make a positive impression on that senior leader who barely knows you? Or, as a senior leader, do you wonder how awkward it will be to talk to someone who is at a completely different stage in his or her life and career?

Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, has truly mastered the art of removing hierarchy from the equation when she engages with others. I have learned a lot from observing her, and she wrote the foreword to my book Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. – Leadership Through a New Lens. As I have gotten to know Colleen, I have noticed three things that she consistently does. As simple as these strategies may seem, they can make a huge difference.

1. Relate to people as people

Imagine for a moment that titles and positions have no relevance. How would you approach the person if you were just trying to get to know her and trying to make her feel comfortable talking to a stranger? What would you want to ask? What would you share about yourself?

2. Be yourself

People can always sense authenticity. Rather than trying to live up to a certain image, remember what others appreciate about you and let that show – whether it’s your sense of humor, ability to tell stories, or some other aspect of your personality. In advance of your interaction, think about how you want to “show up” and what you want others to take from their conversation with you.

3. Take a genuine interest in others

The simplest way to take an interest in others is by asking questions and being fully present as they answer. Allow yourself to go beyond surface level small talk. To get started, you can always ease into a conversation by inquiring about people's interests, families, or vacation plans. This will allow you to quickly find common ground to build on and set the stage for an even better conversation next time.

So, this week, I want to challenge you to think about how hierarchy impacts your presence and to try one of the strategies above. You might be surprised at the difference it makes.

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Put Your Network to Work

When people think of networking, they often think about how to expand the size of their network. But you can also harness the power of your existing network to achieve your goals.

Take the example of my client Susan. When I began coaching her, Susan was frustrated with her job and was ready to make a career change. However, she had been so focused on doing her day-to-day work that she had invested little to no time maintaining or building her network within or outside the company. Sound familiar? Read on to learn more about the process we used to help her make a change and put her network to work:

1. Brainstorm a list of five contacts who can help in the context of your specific goal.

After outlining Susan’s ideal next role in marketing, we brainstormed names of five individuals to whom she should reach out. I challenged her to think about personal and professional relationships. Just taking ten minutes to go through this exercise helped Susan think of people she had completely overlooked.

2. Determine the current and desired strength of your relationship with them.

Using a scale of 0-10, we rated the strength of Susan’s existing relationships with each of these five individuals. She rated the people she had very strong relationships with already a 10, while those she had never met were rated a 0. We used the same scale to determine what she wanted the strength of each relationship to become over the next six months to a year. These ratings helped her focus and prioritize her efforts.

3. Identify someone who can introduce you to the people you have not met.

For the individual Susan did not personally know on her list, she identified someone in her current network who knew him or could at least help identify the right next step to meet him.

4. Develop specific relationship-building strategies by person.

Next, Susan and I brainstormed at least one or two strategies to further build the relationships with each of the five individuals. Sometimes, this is where people get stuck — especially if they already feel pressed for time. But networking doesn’t have to be time-consuming. It can be as simple as sending someone an article that’s relevant to her, sharing information on an upcoming event she may want to attend, making a point to introduce yourself at a meeting, or asking her for a 15-minute meeting to get career advice or her input about something you’re working on.

Just remember that the goal is to network in a way that is authentic for you and leaves a positive impression. So, as you develop these strategies, think about what you want the other person to remember about you.

5. Set deadlines for each strategy.

Finally, to really put some accountability in place, I asked Susan to set deadlines for each of the networking strategies she identified. This helped her maintain focus and track progress.

Susan put her network to work and got her dream job (which was also a promotion for her) in three months! She moved into a very different type of role than she had held in the past. Even though this example is about career transition, the steps above can be applied to any goal. How do you want to put your network to work?

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Communicating from a Position of Strength

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At one time or another, we have all hit major bumps in the road – challenging us in ways we haven’t been before and testing our resilience. I remember participating in a meeting where I noticed how two people communicated very differently about the same difficult situation. Both people knew there was a lot more work to do to resolve the issues at hand, but one person came at it from a position of strength, conveying more confidence and optimism about the road ahead, while the other person left the impression that this experience had derailed everything and would take substantial recovery time.

Regardless of how you feel deep down inside, how often do you communicate from a position of strength? To help you determine how you “show up” after challenging situations, answer the questions below. If you are not sure of an answer, ask others for feedback.

1. What does your body language look like?

  • I sigh or take a deep breath before I speak.

  • I roll my eyes or look down or away.

  • I slump over or have my head in my hands.

  • I make direct eye contact.

  • I sit up straight.

  • I smile often.

  • I appear engaged.

2. What does your tone sound like?

  • I sound like I have no energy left.

  • I have an edge, sounding irritated or frustrated.

  • I am soft-spoken.

  • I sound calm and in control.

  • I sound energetic.

  • I laugh.

3. What language do you use?

I use words that indicate that I:

  • can't believe what has happened

  • am in the middle of chaos or transition

  • am exhausted or frustrated

  • blame others

  • have a positive attitude and will march forward

We all have our moments of frustration. The question is how long you allow yourself to stay in that place. So, this week, define one small step you will take to communicate from a position of strength, conveying confidence in your ability to move things forward and engaging others to help you if necessary. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.

 

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

3 Ways to Build Trust With Colleagues

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Authenticity often comes up as a theme with my clients. As leaders, to get anything done we have to work with and through others. That is so much harder to do if our colleagues question our intentions.

Take a look at the three questions below to better understand how you “show up” and what that might say about your authenticity.

  1. Is what you say in sync with what you do? Take this example: You and a colleague agree on a course of action. In later discussions with others, you find out more information, realize that your original plan isn’t optimal, and set a new one. The next day, your colleague is caught off guard, hearing about your new plan at a meeting. Although you had good business reasons for changing direction, she now questions your motives. To prevent this from happening to you, don’t forget to close the loop to ensure that your actions and your intent are well understood.

  2. Do you always walk in with an agenda? A drive for results can often cause this common misstep. Are you more focused on getting what you need from the other person, forgetting to assess what’s going on in his world and adjusting accordingly? Remember to be in the moment and be flexible. Is this really the right time to press forward with what you need, or does the person in front of you need something else right now?

  3. Have you truly invested time to get to know your colleagues? Taking just a few minutes a week to find out what’s going on personally or professionally with colleagues or to offer help can go a long way. It will communicate a genuine interest and will increase their responsiveness when you need something.

From the questions above, choose one area to focus on in your interactions this week. You may find that minor tweaks to your approach can make a major difference in building trust. Remember small steps can lead to big results.

How to Communicate Like a Strategic Leader

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What is one of the biggest ways to demonstrate that you are ready for a promotion or bigger opportunities? Show that you can think strategically. How often do you take advantage of everyday opportunities do so? Although you may not realize it, you have a chance to communicate your strategic perspective every time you speak at a meeting or deliver a presentation. Use these tips to take your communication up a notch.  

Reinforce the Big Picture

First, make sure others "connect the dots" to the bigger picture. In other words, help them understand the "why" behind everything you say and do. As you prepare for a meeting or presentation, think about how the topic you will discuss relates to broader business strategies, goals or priorities. Even if the connection seems obvious to you, remember that people may not be stopping to reflect about it. So take a moment to frame your ideas and thoughts in a way that makes the linkage for others.

Headlines First

Many leaders think that they have to demonstrate in great detail that they have done their homework or socialized ideas with the right people before they share their conclusions or recommendations. They think that if they convey all the steps they took, others will recognize that their ideas are solid. In concept, this is true, but the way people often do this can have the opposite effect. For example, in a meeting, the leader may come across as lost in the weeds or failing to understand the audience or the strategic issues at hand.

To keep this from happening, I coach leaders to start with the "headlines" (the two or three key messages they want others to leave with) and then share any supporting information as needed. The audience can always ask for more details. But if they are inundated with details right out of the gate, they will probably tune out before the leader gets to the most critical messages.

Keep it Short and Sweet

Whatever your message, keep it concise. Using too many words can confuse or bore your audience. Bryan A. Garner puts it this way in "HBR Guide to Better Business Writing": "Wordiness can exist on many levels, from rambling statements to unnecessary repetition to verbose expressions that could be replaced by shorter, sharper alternatives." When you curb wordiness in your presentations, you make it easier for others to understand and apply your ideas, Garner says. Take time to boil your messages down to the most important takeaways.

Focus on Continuous Improvement

Finally, take time to understand how you’re coming across, and use that information to continue to hone your communication skills. If you want to go one step further, pick up a copy of "Communicating with Impact” which is part of my Leadership EDGE SeriesSM.

Related
Part 1: Build a confident executive presence

Part 2: What your boss won't tell you (but you need to know)