Leadership courage

How to Use Passion to Overcome Fear

In my last couple of articles, I've talked about getting unstuck and living by your definition of success instead of how others define it for you. As you continue down this path, you will start to run into your fears as you put yourself “out there” to: 

  • Go down a new path with an uncertain outcome,

  • Solicit feedback you may not agree with,

  • Try something new,

  • Go for what you want in a way you haven't before, or

  • Own the role you have played in where you are today

What Can Keep You Going

But fear doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. From my personal experience and that of my clients, I've seen how passion can help overcome fear. This is not about simply sucking it up and getting through the situation in front of you. Rather, it’s about understanding what’s really important about the specific goal or challenge at hand. 

For example, it could be about doing the right thing, making a meaningful difference, proving to yourself that you can do it, being a role model to others or something else. By clarifying and tapping into the power of your underlying values and passion, you will find strength you didn’t know you had.

This helped me immensely as I launched my own business. In my last article, I told you about deciding to leave my executive role at Deloitte. I certainly faced my share of fear – of leaving a successful career and failing in my next venture. 

And the process definitely had its ups and downs. Just three months after I launched my company in 2008, the Great Recession hit. To work through my anxiety and fear, I frequently reminded myself how important the goals behind my business were to me. I was — and still am — deeply committed to the mission of my company: to help high performers, especially women, get results they couldn’t before. I was equally passionate about designing the kind of life I wanted, in a way that worked for me. I wanted to be a better parent and to have more space for other people and experiences in my life. Connecting to that a holistic view of what truly mattered to me propelled me through all the challenges and uncertainty.

Facing Fear Head-On

This approach can work well in your personal life, too. If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I have a sense of adventure, love being outdoors and love to try new things. But I also have a fear of heights. In the past year, I’ve used my sense of adventure to motivate me to do things that felt pretty scary: a doors-off helicopter ride in Hawaii going over 100 mph, walking on a tightrope 35 feet in the air in Arizona, and going rock climbing for the first time and rappelling off an arch in Moab, Utah. None of these were easy to do. While I did these activities, I had to focus on the unbelievable scenery and mountains – the part of it that I really loved – instead of the pounding in my chest. Each time I put myself in a scary situation, it gets a little easier. And I’ve started to see myself differently, as someone who can conquer fear in any situation.

This week, identify an important goal or challenge in front of you and what it would mean to you if you achieved it. When you focus on the power of your passion, you will start focusing more on what you want instead of your fear. This small but critical shift can motivate you to move forward in the face of fear – to achieve big results.

Whose Definition of Success Are You Living?

In my last article, I talked about how to work through situations that make you feel stuck.

As you break old patterns, you will create more space to think about what you want and to define what success really looks like for you.

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Define Success for Yourself

At one time or another, we all feel pressure to fit someone else’s definition of success. Expectations can come at you from different directions and may even contradict each other. For example, your boss might view success as being responsive to what the company needs no matter what time of day or night, while your parents might define it as showing up to every one of your kids’ soccer games. Your mentor might expect you to focus on getting more exposure to key leaders, while your colleagues might expect you to be accessible to help them problem-solve. 

Yes, that's a lot! So, it's no surprise that you might be working toward a definition of success that doesn’t fit what you really want.

I personally experienced that when I decided to end my 14-year career at Deloitte. I held an executive position and had financial freedom — two common measures of success. But I felt out of sync with my true self. At the time, my son was two years old and the intensity of my work made it hard for me to show up in my life in the way that I wanted to.  I knew there had to be a different way to pursue my passion.

Whether or not you already know what's out of sync, the following two steps can help you clarify your definition of success.

First, ask yourself what really matters to you at this stage of your life — personally and professionally.  Priorities can change over time, so I urge you to think about this holistically. Be honest with yourself about what’s important: financial security, advancing your career, developing new skills, building a stronger brand, spending more time with family and friends, having kids, or simply having more of a “life” than you do now.

Second, describe what it would look like in action at work and at home. What kinds of things would you be doing that would indicate that you are focusing on what matters most to you and living the life that you want? What would be happening? Let your mind run with this and see what emerges for you.  

Take That First Step

After you clarify what success means to you, start moving toward that vision.

This can feel overwhelming, so keep in mind that you don’t have to change everything all at once. What would that first step toward your goal look like? For me, it was a one-month sabbatical to clear my head, get away from it all, and reenergize. During that time, I did a mini immersion in the type of work I thought I wanted to do next. 

As your priorities and definition of success evolve throughout your life, you’ll repeat this cycle — feeling out of sync, clarifying what you want instead, and making change. In my own life, I haven't always known what I wanted to do next, but I have always taken action to figure it out. This approach has led me down an unexpected career path where I made big changes every three or four years, quit my job cold turkey three times without looking for another job first, and then ultimately started a business three months before a recession. I know I couldn’t have imagined that career journey or what my life looks like now.

Through all of this, one of the most valuable things I learned was to define success for myself, and to consistently use it as my guide. And then, to just take one small step at a time.  

So, what will your first step be?

Are You Feeling Stuck in a Loop?

I want to thank all of you for your responses to my TWU College of Business Commencement Speech and my recent article "Are You Tired of Being Strong?" Both seem to have really struck a chord with people. I think that's because they speak to a question we all grapple with: Amid our hectic lives, how do we stay grounded in who we really are and what we really want to be and achieve?

Over the next few weeks, I'll take a deeper dive into that theme with some articles that will help you own your full Purpose, Presence and Power. First, let's take a look at what might be holding you back and keeping you stuck. Have you ever wondered why the same types of challenging situations keep popping up in your life? 

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You might think to yourself, “Am I a magnet for this? Why does this keep happening to me?” What I’ve come to realize through my own and my clients’ experiences is that there’s a lesson you need to learn when you feel stuck – perhaps a BIG one that you’ll never forget. And then, even when you think you’ve learned it, a situation will arise to help you confirm that you really have learned it.

Today, I want to share three probing questions to give you important insight to move past your frustration. This may be obvious, but don’t attempt to answer these questions when you are annoyed. You won’t get very far! If you’re annoyed all the time, empty your head first: Get a pen and unload all of your negative thoughts — uncensored — onto a piece of paper. Remember to breathe as you do this. This simple exercise will keep your thoughts from swirling around over and over and will begin to create problem-solving capacity. 

Now that you’re ready to reflect, here are a few questions and examples to get you started:

1. What pattern exists in the situation?  

  • I am carrying more than my fair share of the workload. 

  • Others don’t notice or appreciate everything I do. They just don’t get it. I am not getting the credit, recognition or appreciation that I deserve.

2. What role are you and others playing in the situation? 

  • People keep asking me for help, even at the last minute, and I don’t say no. 

  • I pick up the slack when I see that a deadline is at risk. 

  • I proactively jump in when I see an unfilled need.

3. What’s really going on for you? 

Regardless of others’ motivations, what positive intent or core values are behind your own behavior?

  • I value my relationships, so I don’t make waves when I am frustrated. 

  • I have high standards and don’t want to fail. I am not the kind of person who misses deadlines or does poor work.

  • I want to feel valued and play an important role on the team.  

  • I like to help. If I can help, I will.

It may help to handwrite your responses first and then talk though them with someone who knows you well, to see if you gain any other insight about yourself.  Just simply being aware of what’s going on with you is half the battle. By noticing your own patterns, you will start to open the door to making different choices in the moment.  Remember that you can’t control others or outside circumstances, but you can choose your own mindset, attitude, and behavior. 

To help you get started, answer this question: How can you honor what matters to you, in a way that works for you?  For most, this usually means setting some boundaries. You don’t have to lay down the law or completely overhaul your approach, but you can identify a couple of small steps to move you in the right direction. You’ll be glad you did.

TWU College of Business Commencement Speech: 'I’ll See It When I Believe It'

In May, I gave the commencement speech for the College of Business at Texas Woman's University. I'm a big fan of TWU and serve on the inaugural advisory board for its Institute for Women's Leadership, so this opportunity meant a lot to me. My speech contains a timeless message that I hope will give you a little inspiration and remind you of what is possible. (You can also watch the video of the commencement speech.)

I’ll see it when I believe it. 

A couple of years ago, I heard these words in a guided meditation I was listening to. They made me pause – especially since I was going through a really challenging time in my business and my life. I’m really passionate about developing high-performing leaders, especially women, and had come up with an idea for an app that I thought could really make some proven tools available to a much wider audience. For me, this was about impact. As I got further into the development of the app, I realized that my technology partner wasn’t the best fit for me or my clients. I was really frustrated because we were behind schedule, I had invested a lot of time and money, and it was challenging to get things done.

So I started using every strategy I could to manage my stress, including meditation. One morning, during a guided meditation, I heard these words: 

“I’ll see it when I believe it.”

 “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

That wasn’t exactly what I had been telling myself, which was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That’s what most of us are used to hearing. In other words, once I see the evidence that it’s true, THEN I’ll believe it.

Unfortunately, that focus on seeing something tangible first puts you in a place of judging and evaluating instead of seeing the possibilities that could be right in front of you.  

I’ll see it when I believe it. 

Where those words took me was to a place of putting aside sunk costs – the time and money that I had already invested– and thinking about what I should do now. It was just what I needed to shift my direction and move forward.

I’ll see it when I believe it shows up in so many ways. 

I didn’t realize how much this was part of my own belief system. It had been engrained in me over the years through my parents. As young children, my parents left everything behind during the partition of India, which displaced over 14 million people along religious lines. When my brother and sister were little, my parent migrated to England to seek better medical care for my sister, who had been born with some severe health issues. My dad, a man with two master’s degrees, worked nights at an ice cream factory to earn money and interviewed for teaching jobs during the day. 

When I was 9, we relocated to the U.S. The racial discrimination we experienced in England was enough for my parents to decide a big change was necessary. They sought a better life for all of us. They didn’t know how it would all turn out, but they truly understood the power of first believing that what you want is possible – that you can do it. My parents had picked up and started over and over and succeeded.

I’ll see it when I believe it.

I remember when I started college, I was so sure I wanted to be a doctor. And then I took chemistry. I’m not sure I have words for how that subject made me feel. Maybe just draining sound effects would be better! Taking that one class and seeing my brother going through medical school made me stop and re-evaluate. How badly did I want this? Was I passionate enough about this to go through years of school and then have piles of debt at the end?  So here I was asking myself, “Now what?” And I remember freaking out a bit because I hadn’t contemplated anything different up until this point. But I believed I could figure it out. 

Looking back, I’ve seen my career unfold in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Although I worked at Deloitte Consulting for 14 years, it wasn’t a straight path. I left after 3 1/2 years, got recruited back, worked in three different consulting groups, and when the choice to become a partner was in front of me, I left consulting altogether to move into Human Resources. And then a few years later, in 2008, as an HR executive, I decided to walk away from it all to start my own leadership development company. Little did I know that in three short months, the economy would take a complete nosedive. Nonetheless, 11 years later, I still love what I do. I get to effect change and help people really believe in themselves. It was all worth it.

I’ll see it when I believe it.

You may think that you should have everything figured out, and that everybody else already has. It can feel like you’re the only one who hasn’t. But I’ll tell you that even the high performing leaders that I coach at Fortune 50 companies don’t have things figured out all the time. 

So, what I want to leave you with today is my perspective on how to cultivate a philosophy of I’ll see it when I believe it in your own life.

In the work I do with women leaders, most of them really want to make a difference. In fact, sometimes that passion motivates them far more than getting a bigger paycheck or title. But when I start to ask them about their strengths and the value they uniquely bring, it’s usually met with exhausted sound effects — like my experience with chemistry. The humility that most of them have been socialized with kicks in.  

But when I explain how noticing your own strengths and how you consistently get results is the first step to helping others develop those same skills, they get a lot more engaged. Many of them think what they’re doing isn’t anything special and that others can just as easily do it. They’re just doing their jobs or doing what’s expected. 

When I hear that, I challenge them to look around them. What does the evidence tell you? How many people can easily do what you do? 

If you keep minimizing what you bring to the table, you’ve missed a huge opportunity to have a bigger impact.

One of my favorite exercises is to have people answer the following question:  

If someone were to describe you to someone else, what are the top three things you would want them to say about you? 

And then dig a little deeper:

What do you say or do that reinforces those three things? 

And what’s the impact of those three things? In other words, why should anyone care? What can you do that others can’t easily do?

Maybe your “can-do” attitude, even in the most challenging situations, inspires others to be part of the solution rather than digging their heels in and saying we can’t do it. Maybe you can sift through a lot of information, connect the dots in ways that others can’t, and distill invaluable insights.

I had a client a few years ago who was at a transition point in her career and was trying to figure out her next step. As we talked, she told me that she had come across her dream job. I was really excited for her and asked her when she was going to apply for it. She hesitated, telling me that they wouldn’t be interested in her for that position. I was really surprised, given what I knew about her. So, I asked her to tell me all the ways that she was uniquely qualified for the position, no matter how big or small the qualification.  She proceeded to rattle off a lengthy list off the top of her head. At the end of it, I asked her to tell me how she felt now. And she said, “Wow, I’m kind of a big deal!” We both laughed. 

Sometimes you have to just stop and notice. I’m sure each of you are a big deal in your own way. 

I’ll see it when I believe it.

You will see amazing things happen – in your own life and in the lives of people and organizations that you touch – when you believe you have unique talents and strengths.

I’ll see it when I believe it. 

These are words to live by and I hope they inspire you to see how much opportunity you have in front of you. Class of 2019, congratulations! I can’t wait to see the impact you’re going to have when you really believe that you can.

Are You Tired of Being Strong?

Over the years, people have consistently told me how strong I am. It’s always left me wondering, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Well, let’s just say it’s a mixed bag. Being strong and capable has served me well but, at times, has been a huge point of frustration. Today I want to share a little of my personal journey because I know some of you strong, reliable, “never-let-a-ball-drop” women may be going through something similar. 

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On the positive side, being strong and capable has helped me work through tough situations, take risks, go for what matters to me and show that I bring something valuable to the table. On the negative side, I regularly feel the weight of life and the fatigue that comes with always being strong and being the person that everyone can count on.  

Wouldn’t it be nice if life were a bit easier?  

Well, I’ve decided that it has to be easier. So I’ve been working to better understand my own role in creating this situation. My biggest epiphany was realizing how much I have been tolerating for years, without anyone really knowing that I have been – including me. It’s amazing the insight you gain when you truly start opening yourself up to the possibility that there’s something you really need to see, learn or do differently to move forward.  

As I began to seek new information, I noticed my recurring fatigue and pain. This led me to ask, “What am I missing? What do I need to learn?” From these questions, I began to see the physical and emotional signs that I had been ignoring for years. Maybe you have some too? Whether you realize it or not, these signs hold invaluable insight. What chronic or recurring aches and pains do you have in your body, whether it’s back pain, headaches or something from an injury? How often do you find yourself surprised by the magnitude of your reaction to certain types of situations? The signs are all around us, but are you noticing or ignoring yours? And what are they telling you?

As I started on this journey, I enrolled in a somatic coaching class. This type of coaching is all about giving you access to your full intelligence — intellectual, emotional and physical. In Western society, we often over-emphasize intellect and ignore the rest. So I want to encourage you to get in tune with your body. It holds more wisdom than you realize. Somatic coaching has been very powerful for me personally and as I help others move past roadblocks with this approach.

For those of you running around out there in back-to-back meetings or activities in the flurry of life, start by just taking five minutes a day to simply pause and notice. How are you feeling emotionally? How does your body feel? Where does it hurt? What does all of this tell you? What do you need right now?

For me, guided meditations have become a good way to reflect. As a very physically active person, taking the traditional approach to meditation by sitting still was really hard. So I had to start by doing it my way – listening while I’m running outside. That approach has worked well, but I have also come to realize the power of just being and breathing. I don’t meditate that way very often but when I do, it’s powerful. Today was one of those days. 

Here are the words that came up for me in the silence. I think they may resonate with you:

Lighten the load.

Let go of the burden.

You are loved and cared for anyway.

Bring playfulness back into your life.

Just play.

Enjoy life.

So, today, I want to challenge all of you women running around out there over-delivering and wondering how you can keep this up, or if you even want to. Yes, I’m talking to those of you who are taking care of everyone else before you take care of yourself or tolerating less than you deserve. Lighten your load. Do something for yourself today. You deserve it. Nothing is going to fall apart. You’ve already made sure of that.

And I’m right here in your corner, cheering you on.


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?

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 Power of Letting Go

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During a presentation I gave in Dallas on resilience, I led the group through an exercise where they had to pull out the most valuable lessons they had learned from working through difficult situations in the past. I want to share a common theme that emerged from our discussion that evening — the Power of Letting Go — because I see this come up all the time with high performers.

A woman who attended my presentation described a time when she had been working and pushing so hard to resolve a critical business issue. She explained how much was at stake in this particular situation, and that she really needed some key players to step up and take action. But they just weren’t getting engaged or responding as she had hoped. She worried about things unraveling, as any of us would in her situation. But she had also reached the point where there really was nothing more she could do. She went on to explain that at this low point for her, another leader in the organization gave her the following words of wisdom, “Just let go and let things happen.”

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? As a high performer, you may do whatever it takes to make something work, even when it means working crazy hours and jumping through hoops. For an outsider looking in, it may appear completely insane. “Failure” probably isn’t even in your vocabulary, and you may keep pushing and working harder because that has always worked for you . . . until you encounter a situation where that approach just won’t work.

As a high performer, you may not recognize that your drive for results may keep others from experiencing the consequences of their choices and actions. Think about it for a minute. Why would they jump in and do something when you’re so willing to take charge and do it for them?

Just remember that what you don’t do can be just as or more important than what you do. As I’ve admitted before, I too have learned from the School of Hard Knocks — and it helps me relate to what my clients face. I remember realizing the Power of Letting Go at two key points in my 14-year career at Deloitte. I recall feeling exhausted, frustrated, and burned out both times. Then I realized that doing more of the same just wouldn’t get me to a different result. There was nothing left to do other than stop trying so hard — and just let go. In 2010, I experienced this lesson again as I worked through some personal transitions. I am always amazed at how letting go leads me so much faster to what I want, personally or professionally.

I want to leave you with three things that have helped me and my clients realize the Power of Letting Go:

1. Recognize when you have done everything you reasonably could have to work through the challenge at hand.

Usually when you are working this hard, others can see your commitment, work ethic, and drive for results. The question is, do you see it? Look for the evidence.

2. Ask yourself what could happen if you stopped pushing so hard.

Take time to think about the consequences others might experience and the ripple effect of those, if you stopped pushing so hard. And don’t forget to think about how letting go would impact you.

3. Take a leap of faith that things will work out as they should.

There may be some things you don’t know or just can’t see about the situation because you are so immersed in it. Just let them unfold. Trust that if you have acted in good faith and given it your best shot, the outcome will be what it should be.

So, the next time you find yourself in a tough situation and pushing really hard, keep these three things in mind. You might be surprised at how letting go will help you take a giant leap forward.

Do You Have Mentors or Sponsors?

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Whether you’re a man or a woman, you’ve probably heard time and again how important it is to have at least one strong mentor to guide you and help you develop the skills to get to the next level in your career. Most large companies even offer formal or informal mentoring programs. So you might think that both genders benefit equally from having a mentor. However, a Harvard Business Review article, Why Men Get More Promotions than Women, highlights that men benefit more than women.

The article shares research from a 2010 study by Catalyst, a leading nonprofit organization that works with businesses to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business.

Here is one of the most notable findings from the research:

“Although women are mentored, they’re not being promoted. A Catalyst study of more than 4,000 high potentials shows that more women than men have mentors— yet women are less likely to advance in their careers. That’s because they’re not actively sponsored the way the men are. Sponsors go beyond giving feedback and advice; they advocate for their mentees and help them gain visibility in the company. They fight to get their protégés to the next level.”

The article goes on to say that men and women both mention receiving valuable career advice from their mentors, but men predominantly describe being sponsored. Women explain that their mentoring relationships help them better understand themselves and how they work, and what they might need to change as they move up the corporate ladder. Men, on the other hand, tell more stories about how their bosses and mentors have helped them strategically plan their career moves, assume responsibility and leadership in new roles, and openly support their authority.

The research certainly has implications for organizations as they design mentoring programs and explore how to best support the advancement of women. But there are also important implications for what you should personally do. Here are three suggestions to think about:

1. Recognize the distinction between mentorship and sponsorship.

Both mentors and sponsors offer tremendous value in helping you develop yourself and proactively manage your career. Mentors typically serve as role models, providing guidance and perspective to help you further develop your skills and navigate challenging political situations. Sponsors, on the other hand, give you exposure to opportunities and visibility to influential leaders, and advocate on your behalf.

2. Have mentors and sponsors in your network.

Recognize that the skills required to be an effective mentor may be different from what it takes to be an effective sponsor. Mentors can typically hold any position in the organization and can help you close gaps in your skills, while sponsors have clout and yield considerable influence on key decision-makers. Remember to have both mentors and sponsors in your network, using your career goals as important context for whom you engage.

3. Be mindful of whom you choose.

It may be more comfortable for you to choose individuals who look like you. In fact, the research shows that men tend to gravitate toward men and women to women. However, when it comes to sponsors, more important than gender is the person’s role and level in the organization. Remember that it’s critical to gain sponsorship from leaders who hold senior-level positions and have influence and power. As you think about mentors, think about the skills you are trying to build and who may be able to help you fill those gaps.

So, to get you started, take a look at your existing network in the context of what you’re trying to accomplish personally and professionally. This will serve as an important guide to identify whom to engage as mentors and sponsors to get the support you need.

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.

Learning the Unwritten Rules

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At a conference, I heard a senior director from Catalyst (a leading organization focused on advancing women) speak about Unwritten Rules: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You. Like the presenter, I wish I could say that doing a good job is enough. It simply isn’t. Although performance matters, understanding and playing by the unwritten rules can have a huge impact on your career advancement.

I want to share three of the strategies or “learning approaches” that Catalyst found in its research to help discover the unwritten rules. The research also reveals the effectiveness of each strategy in career advancement and breaks down the data by gender.

1. Observation

This approach involves taking time to really understand how things work by paying attention to what other successful employees do, how they behave, and who gets promoted. Almost 90 percent of survey respondents said they had learned through observation, and 49 percent would recommend this approach.

Most of us have a lot going on day-to-day, so this strategy may not get the attention it deserves. Take a minute right now to ask yourself how often you take time to simply notice what is going on around you and Connect the Dots. As organizations go through changes, and leaders move up or out, taking time to do this periodically may give you some important insight.

2. Mentoring and Feedback

The second key learning approach centers on regularly seeking guidance and input from others about what it takes to succeed, staying in tune with your own behavior and performance, and using the information to understand what matters most in the organization. Eighty percent said they used this approach, and 32 percent would recommend it to others.

Remember that engaging others in giving you guidance and feedback can also go a long way in creating sponsors, people who have a vested interest in your success and will advocate on your behalf.

3. Trial and Error

This strategy, which some may call “learning from the school of hard knocks,” is all about figuring out what works and doesn’t as you go along.

Although a huge percentage of respondents learned unwritten rules this way — 78 percent to be exact — only 18 percent found this approach helpful.

Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if someone just saved you the trouble and handed you a list of all the unwritten rules? Since that probably won’t happen, think about one small step you can take to put one of the most effective strategies into play for yourself.

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.

How Does Your Leadership Impact Team Performance?

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When I speak about high-performing teams, I often cite these key things any leader should think about:

1. Connecting the Dots

Remember that as a leader, you are always in the invisible spotlight. People are watching, listening, and constantly drawing conclusions about what it all means. Proactively communicate how you measure success and consistently Connect the Dots between your actions and your underlying intent. The more you do this, the less others will misunderstand your expectations and desired outcomes.

2. Set the right tone

Are you a leader who shields your group from the pressures that come from senior executives, or does it filter straight through you to your team? Recognize that how you show up sets the tone for the team. What do you look and sound like when you are under stress? Ask someone to give you feedback if you are unsure. Be mindful that your energy, positive or negative, can be contagious.

3. Create a clear line of sight

Help others see how what they do on a daily basis ties to the bigger picture. Give them specific feedback that allows them to understand how they are making a difference in the context of the overall business strategy and direction. To take it one step further, point out what they should keep, start, and stop doing to be more effective.

Think about how you want to show up and how you want others to view your leadership. Spending even a minute to consider this will help you take a more strategic approach.

 

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

 

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

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.