building executive presence

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Most of us think of clutter in the physical sense — for example, a pile of papers on your desk or a closet full of outdated clothes that don’t fit anymore.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 to Lead With Purpose and Have More Impact

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As a leader, you're always striving to grow and improve. But there's a lot of leadership advice out there — how do you sort through it all? As an executive coach working with major companies, I've found that focusing on three areas — Purpose, Presence and Power — gets results time and again for my clients. Today, I'm kicking off a series of articles to help you put them into play more powerfully in your own life.

So let's start by talking about Purpose. I define Purpose as working strategically on the areas that drive results leveraging the unique ways that you add value as a leader.

Purposeful leaders consistently do three things:

  1. They focus on the right work. Spend your time on your "Big 3": the top three areas where you can have the biggest impact on the business. Make sure you and your manager are on the same page about these areas. Once you've ensured alignment about your Big 3, take a look at how you currently spend your time. How well does your schedule sync up with your priorities? Look for ways to redirect your time from less-critical work to your Big 3.

  2. They articulate what defines their leadership. Too often, high performers set the bar so high for themselves that they don't really notice how much they have to offer. Take a minute to identify your top three strengths, and the “so what?” of each. In other words, what does each strength allow you to do that other people cannot easily do? How does it really make a difference? For example, if you listed "approachability" as a strength, the "so what?" could be that you can get to the heart of issues and resolve them faster because people feel comfortable telling you what’s really going on.

  3. They track their accomplishments weekly so they can share them with others. Another common trait of high performers is that they often rush from one project into another without taking the time to notice their successes and what led to them. If this sounds like you, taking even five minutes to identify your personal best practices after completing a project will allow you to more intentionally use those practices going forward. And by sharing your accomplishments and practices with others, others can learn from you and will know more about how and when to engage you.

When you lead with Purpose, you maximize the impact of your unique talents and skills. This week, choose one of the three areas above to focus on. And be sure to stay tuned to for the second part of this series, where we'll talk about Presence.

Tastefully Tooting Your Own Horn

Over the past three years, my most requested presentation has been Tastefully Tooting Your Own Horn. It may surprise you to know that individuals at all levels of organizations struggle with self-promotion. Many find self-promotion draining and difficult but absolutely essential - yes, a necessary evil.  I don’t like it any more than you do, but I learned how to do it over the years because I had to. At Deloitte, I worked on consulting projects all over the country, where the partners and directors who made decisions about my pay and promotion often had no direct visibility to my work. So, I had to find ways to talk about my results and accomplishments and arm others with that information – in a way that worked for me. Today, I help my clients do the same. To get you moving in the right direction, I want to share three common roadblocks to self-promotion and how to move past them.  

1. “My good work will speak for itself. I don’t have time for these games.”

I can’t tell you how often I hear this phrase. It’s usually from talented individuals who do great work but detest political games (i.e. affectionately called “the heads down” worker”).

If this sounds like you, recognize that most people are way too busy to notice all the ways you add value - even if they want to. I’m guessing that your boss has several direct reports, her own boss, and other key stakeholders who demand her time and attention. On top of that, she has her own goals to meet and distractions to manage. How much time does that really leave her to focus on you?

So, it’s up to YOU to make it happen – to take the initiative to give visibility to your work, to get recognized for your contributions and open up new possibilities for yourself. Your good work alone won’t get you there - and unfortunately you can’t win at a game that you won’t even play. Start by making a decision to get in the game.

2. “I don’t want to come across as obnoxious or full of myself.”

No one likes to listen to someone whose head can barely fit in the door. Yes, we’ve all met at least one of those people in our lives! The good news is that those negative experiences can give us clues about what NOT to do. So, if you don’t want to come across as arrogant, think about how you DO want to show up. To get started, come up with three words to describe the type of impression you’d like to leave about yourself when you are telling others about your accomplishments. If you have already defined your personal brand, use that as context as well.

Remember that having clarity about the imprint you want to leave on others will help you develop strategies that work for you.

3. “I’m bad at it. I just don’t know how to do it.”

You’re not alone if you feel ill equipped to tastefully toot your own horn. If you feel this way, think about how you can share information about your results and accomplishments in a way that is relevant and helpful to others.

I’ll give you two examples to think about. First, consider that someone else in the company may be faced with a challenge similar to what you just successfully overcame. By taking the time to share what you did and how you did it, you can help them tremendously.

Second, keep in mind that your boss has to make decisions about your performance, pay, and development (to ensure that you can continue to contribute to the company’s goals). Providing information to her on a regular basis will allow her to make those decisions easily, and will serve you and the company well. Remember that she will be held accountable for your results.

Finally, to give you more clues about how to tastefully self- promote, look for others around you who do it well. Simply notice what they do and say. You may find that you can adapt some of their strategies to fit your own style.

By recognizing what’s holding you back from self-promoting, you can determine how to move forward. Start by defining an action step you will take this week. Also, if you haven’t read it, take a look at Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn.