executive presence

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 Know What Really Differentiates You?

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As I have coached high performing leaders over the years, I can’t help but notice some common themes. As they move up the ladder, sometimes they take for granted how hard it would be for someone to fill their shoes. Or they underestimate the value of their perspective, one that has been shaped by a unique set of personal and professional experiences.

So, today, I want to ask, “When is the last time you stopped to think about what makes you truly unique and valuable to an organization, whether it’s your current employer, a client or prospect?” If you’re like most people, you spend little to no time contemplating what differentiates you—unless you’re actively job hunting or lobbying for a pay increase or promotion. Yet going through this process can help you step up your game, leveraging your unique value in a way that serves you and your company.

To clarify what sets you apart, start by answering the three questions below. Remember that this won’t take the place of a more thorough personal leadership branding exercise, but it will get the ball rolling in the right direction.

What common themes do you see in the type of work others ask you to do?

Sometimes it takes other people repeatedly pulling you into certain types of projects or opportunities before you notice that what you bring to the table is unique and valued. Think about some of your experiences over the past six to nine months. What jumps out at you?

What have you heard others say about your work?

What do others value most about your work? I want you to think about it from two vantage points, what you do and how you do it. Also consider what you have heard people consistently say, whether or not their feedback made it into your performance review.

What skills or perspective do you have that would be hard to replace?

Finally, get to the aspects that cannot be easily replicated, i.e., your unique approach, perspective, skills, or background. People often openly point these out when they initially meet or get to know you. So, think about conversations you have had with people who have known you for little time, as well as those who have known you for years. What have you heard them say?

It may help to start by asking a few people you trust for input. But even if you don’t, you should gain some insight from answering the questions yourself. If you want to take the exercise one step further, identify one small step to highlight or leverage your unique value, in the context of your career goals and what’s important to business.

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.

Do You Have Executive Presence?

Everyone has his or her own ideas about what executive presence looks and sounds like. Regardless of what someone’s personal definition may be, let’s look at three areas that can affect whether others consider you to be executive material:

1. Strategic focus

I constantly hear senior leaders noticing the difference between people who think strategically and those who focus more on tactics. Your ability to consistently tie what you say and do to what matters to the business can help others see that you “get it” – that you understand the big picture and won’t get derailed by details. Ask yourself how often you intentionally make these connections for others.

2. Confidence

I’m sure you’ve come across people who can be very convincing even when they are way beyond their scope of expertise. Remember that it is often less about what they say and more about how they say it. Think about yourself for a minute. How often does your tone convey a strong sense of conviction, high energy, or confidence? How does your body language add to or detract from your message? Nuances like this can make a big difference.

3. Competence

Your ability to integrate your life experiences into your message can quickly help others understand what you bring to the table – and why it matters. Integrating short contextual phrases helps others understand your strengths and skills and their relevance to the business. Take this brief example: “I learned three key principles from my experience marketing global products and brands. One of those applies to this situation today.”

At the end of the day, you may believe that you are strategically focused, confident, and competent. But the question is whether others see you that way. So, this week I urge you to take one small step, whether it’s asking others for feedback or focusing on one of the three areas above. I have found that starting with tweaks to how and what you communicate can dramatically affect your executive presence. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.

 

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.