Thursday, 15 March 2018

How to get my attention

We live in an attention deficit economy, where most of us aren’t listening most of the time. So, what makes you pay attention? When someone starts speaking – be it on a conference call or in a meeting, what makes you think ‘I’m in; I want to really pay attention to what they have to say’? My focus this month has been coaching my clients to do precisely this – especially given the fast paced, remote working, global village, horizontal leadership team world in which we all live.
I believe that we have about 6 -10 seconds (at most) to ‘hook’ our audience, convey presence and demonstrate impact through our contribution. We have this small window during which we need to entice, attract, intrigue, compel, appease, enthuse and motivate the listener to do just that – keep listening. If we don’t; we are lost to our audience, who become increasingly frustrated with our failure to make any kind of sense. Our presence and ability to influence evaporates and the message we wanted to communicate is sunk.

I remain astonished at the number of people who simply don’t ‘get it’. “But my message is so important!” “I’ve got great information” “No-one ever listens to what I say” are the cries (amongst others). The fact is that if we haven’t got the hook right, then no one cares about our great information because they stopped listening a while ago.
So what can we do? Well, I work with my clients to become better at the power of the ‘hook’ and here are three examples:

(a) Speak To My Priorities

If we are able to immediately speak to what is top of the agenda for the listener, then surprise, surprise, our audience will remain attentive. For example, if we are pitching to a sales leader who is focused on increasing profit from the existing client base, a simple example of a hook might be: “I have an idea that will help drive profit from one of our biggest clients”. Or, “We have a great example to share of how we increased margin by 20% on our last deal”. You get the point. Speak to what is uppermost in my mind and I will be (at least in the short term), hooked.

 (b) Appeal To My Communication Style

If we are effective at ‘reading the room’ or ‘reading people’, then our hook can be one that appeals to the emotional state or preference of the other person. If we know that the other person likes analogy, metaphor, colloquialism, a sound-bite etc. then we should start with one ourselves. Remember, it can’t be too long. If, on the other hand, we are talking to a data, facts, figures person then clearly the strategy has to be the opposite. Provide me with a memorable fact, give me a statistic I will like or offer a piece of data that will standout. Again, we’re all the way in with our attention. Our challenge is to be behaviourally flexible with our approach.

(c) Be Contentious

This isn’t as aggressive or argumentative as it sounds. In other words the purpose of the hook here is to create attention through challenge. I hear a lot in business today of the need for leaders to be ‘more disruptive’. The intent behind this wish is to shake things up, challenge convention, think outside of the norms. When we publicly dissent or question a viewpoint we are in effect questioning those in the audience who hold that opinion. The notion of ‘social proofing’ – so validating each other through public recognition – is scrutinized. Our contribution doesn’t have to be theatrical; a simple statement such as ‘I disagree’ is an assertive but not aggressive way to gain the attention of others, not least because they want to understand why.

There are undoubtedly other strategies to ‘hook’ our audience but I will pause for now. Why? Because the next challenge once we’ve got the attention of our audience is to keep it and leave them wanting more.

Until next time……

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Elevating Our Conversations Out Of The Detail

February is the shortest month of the year and this has prompted me to talk about a common challenge in relation to high impact communication.
All too often I see (and hear) professionals talking for too long; saying too much and getting mired in detail. This happens precisely when they need to be persuasive, engaging and influential. This month, an organisation that I have the pleasure of partnering with has asked me to work with technical experts where their challenge is their expertise. Yes, their expertise. They are super bright, extremely knowledgeable and technically proficient, and that’s where the issue lies. They need to elevate their conversation out of the detail. In fairness, my client is amongst friends as there is all too often in business a tendency to rely on our knowledge and a lot of information as the cornerstone of our communication. However, the reality for our colleagues and clients alike is that they haven’t got the time or the interest for all of the detail. What they need is the big picture, a clear story and a simple ‘ask’. Do we want a decision, an action or a commitment of some kind?
In order to be crisp, concise and compelling we need to:  
  • Split our message into three parts
  • Have a clear ‘hook’ at the beginning to gain our attention
  • Structure ‘headline’ messages that summarise the detail, using language that is clear and precise
One of the best pieces of advice I ever had was in 2001 when a prospective client asked me (right before a pitch) to ‘be brief, be brilliant and be done’ and it is in that spirit that, for this month, so am I.
Until next time……

Friday, 19 January 2018

Why Does What We Wear Matter?

Happy New Year! For my first topic of 2018 I am going to return to an ‘old’ question, but one that has nevertheless come into sharp focus recently, with three different examples to illustrate the point.

My first is drawn from the entertainment industry, which is currently engulfed in a sexual harassment scandal that has revealed decades of an abusive and sexist culture against women. At the time of writing this post, the 2018 Golden Globes have just been held in Hollywood and in act of solidarity and support, there was only one colour on display by all of the attendees - black. Why black as a colour choice? Because it is associated with power, strength, authority and prestige, and also because it’s a colour that symbolises grief and things that are negative. Every actor, director, producer and creative artist in attendance wanted to be seen as showing solidarity for the ‘Time’s Up’ movement. No-one deviated from the colour because to do so would have sent the wrong message about what they believed and where their sympathies and loyalties lay.

My second example comes from a UK retailer who has sparked criticism for the labelling of a line of womenswear called ‘modest clothing’. The original intent of this line was to offer fashionable yet ‘conservative’ clothing for women who wanted to keep most of their bodies covered for religious, personal or practical reasons. However, the criticism is because of the inference towards women who chose not to wear such garments. The problem with the labelling is that it can imply that those women who don’t wish to wear these clothes are therefore not modest. I call this an example of the law of unintended consequences. Whilst attempting to offer respectful and fashionable clothing choices, the retailer got it wrong in the values they wanted to convey to their global market, and have upset some of their customers as a result.

My final example is another global retailer who got an advertising campaign hideously wrong with their choice of a child model to wear a sweatshirt with the logo ‘cheekiest little monkey in the jungle’. It betrayed a profound unconscious racial bias which was so staggering that it is extraordinary the picture successfully made it on to their print and online media campaign. Never mind the fact that it was even taken in the first place. What on earth were they trying to say? 

Since all of these examples have had massive media in the past few days, I am prompted once again to reflect on the following question: as leaders, why does what we wear matter? 

My view is that in 2018, the reason why our choice of clothing is so important is because now more than ever it reflects our values - what we believe, what’s important to us, what we stand for. As far back as 2010, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled ‘Twenty First Century Leadership: It’s All About Values’, indicating that “as global interdependence deepens in the decades ahead, the forces that compel humanity to work together will become even stronger.”

For the purpose of clarity, I’m not saying that conveying our values is ONLY about what we wear. Of course not. If what we say and what we do doesn’t align with our values as well, then our messages are confused and our audience doesn’t ‘get it’. As a result, we will fail to build trust. What I am saying is that leadership is a relationship business and a communication business, and what we wear is part of the toolkit we need to use to convey our values to the rest of the world. Trust me, now more than ever, the world is paying close attention.    

Until next time.......

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The F Word In Leadership

For this final post of 2017, I want to talk about the ‘F’ word in leadership. Feedback. I have spent my time in the past four weeks with global brands, organisations that work in the public sector, the third sector and also with SMEs and much of our discussions have landed here. Why is it so hard to give great feedback? Most of us are filled with dread when we hear the expression “I’d like to give you some feedback” because we believe ‘oh, this won’t be good.’ How have we got to such a place? What is it that we’re so afraid of? My view is that because it is so heavily associated with bad news (and we all know how much of that there is in the world), it’s either avoided or offered in such a way that either the person on the receiving end doesn’t ‘get it’, and/or is left with feelings of hurt, disappointment and resentment. Feedback should be a rhythm of our communication that is as natural, regular, sincere and effective as asking great questions and listening deeply. As you read this, how many of you are thinking as a professional that you are simply replete with the amount of positive, effective feedback you’ve received in your role? In fact, if you receive one more piece of positive feedback then quite frankly, you will burst?

Exactly. I thought not.

So, here’s my question: why would you think that your teams feel any different?

Praise is great – but that’s not feedback. Appreciation is lovely – but that’s not feedback either. Great feedback should leave the receiver in no doubt of the specific behaviour that was observed, the impact of it and what you want them to either continue to do (or consider doing differently). If our feedback is critical or developmental, then it should leave the receiver of it feeling helped and not harmed. My heartfelt belief is that we should investigate, appreciate and explore success with far greater curiosity than we do failure. All too often what I see is a ferocious examination of failure and a cursory glance at success with a simple ‘pat on the back’ to do yet more. Of course, there are many brilliant models or frameworks for feedback, all of which are just terrific. I use AID (Action, Impact, Desired Outcome), LCS (Likes, Concerns, Suggestions), EEC (Example, Effect, Change/Continue) and, of course, there are many others that work just as well.

Leaders who have Executive Presence use the ‘F’ word in leadership a lot. Feedback is a habit of their leadership and their communication. That’s how they encourage, inspire and enthuse those around them to develop themselves and deliver great performance. So, who in your team (whether they are a direct report or a colleague in your horizontal leadership group) is overdue feedback? And why not focus on something positive? Why not make your gift this festive season one of thoughtful, clear, positive feedback that engages, enthuses and delights those around you?

Until 2018…

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Isn’t Executive Presence ‘Old Hat’?

I have had a fascinating conversation with a client this month who shared with me the following question from one of her leaders: ‘isn’t executive presence ‘old hat’?

When I explored the comment in more detail, what became apparent was one simple truth: knowing isn’t the same as doing. We may know that executive presence is about commanding attention rather than demanding it; that it means conveying confidence, clarity, brevity, brilliance, precision impact and influence through all our forms of communication. We may know that Executive Presence means oozing that ‘I’ll follow you anywhere’ aura, whether it’s the person on reception or the CEO. We may know that it’s about having alignment in our visual, verbal, non-verbal, emotional and digital communication across a broad range of stakeholders both inside and outside of our business. We may know that Executive Presence means being able to engage people with whom we work remotely, often purely digitally, over whom we have absolutely no ‘positional authority’ as we try to get more of their time and support against competing challenges. We may know that it’s about flexing our style to deal with different cultures, different communication styles and different generations. Yes, we might know that Executive Presence is pivotal to all these things.

It doesn’t mean that we can actually do it.

I think Executive Presence means being an exquisite influencer and being influential in business today has simply never been harder. We’ve never listened less (cue the multiple devices with which you are probably engaged right now); we’ve never been so time poor (so get to the point fast or just get out of my way) and we’ve never had to adapt to so much change, uncertainty and complexity at work.

Of course Executive Presence isn’t ‘old hat’. 

Our challenge as leaders is about identifying what, where, with whom and how do we develop our ‘Executive Presence’ to be much more influential than we are now. 

And that challenge is true for all of us by the way.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

What Professional Women Need In Order To Get Ahead In Their Career

My clients this month have (as always) been fascinating me, and I have found myself in many discussions about the reasons why ‘Executive Presence’ is so critical to career success.

As always, my work is rooted in data. What are the facts, figures and statistics that reinforce the need for the skills and strategies that I coach my clients to develop?

Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at ESMT Berlin Business School, Laura Guillén, published research over the summer to reinforce the need for women to demonstrate confidence in order to get ahead. So far, so not new. However in addition, what her research also suggests is that women need to demonstrate what are called ‘pro social’ attributes if they get on in their career. What does ‘pro social’ mean? It means – in essence – to show that we care.

Guillén studied 236 engineers from a global software business and the premise was to explore how self-confident the female proportion of this population was perceived to be versus the men. Whilst the data suggested that there was no difference between the sexes in terms of self-confidence, what was apparent, was that the self-confidence evidenced by women was not rewarded in the same way. To quote the author “in other words, they were not liked”. What professional women also needed to evidence was more inclusive, caring behaviours to act as a counterbalance to their portrayal of self-confidence.

I’m not about arguing the rights and wrongs of this state of play; I’m about supporting professional women (and men) to understand and develop the skills to succeed even when gender bias exists. For me this means ‘Executive Presence’ and to be clear, Executive Presence isn’t about being an executive. Change the word to ‘professional' and we’re all talking the same language. Everyone needs it because everyone in business needs to influence others in order to succeed and get ahead. I define ‘executive presence’ as the ability to radiate confidence by commanding and not demanding attention. It means being ‘impactful, confident, poised, enthusiastic, engaging, inspiring, authoritative, influential, crisp, clear, compelling, credible, motivating, authentic, natural, flexible, self-aware, trustworthy, reliable, honest, flexible, humble and a stand out communicator’.

A lot of words that mean a lot of skills are necessary in order to get the balance of confidence and caring right – no matter the audience, the topic or the environment.

And by the way, my view is that professional men need to develop these skills much as professional women need to, if they are to deliver change, drive results and succeed in a fast-paced, global business environment.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Elegant Interruption

When was the last time you were interrupted? How did it feel? Quite possibly you didn’t notice; however if you did, then the chances are that the way in which you were interrupted was not….ideal.

I have been working with a global client this month focusing on helping their high potential talent conveying ‘executive presence’ remotely. In a global market place where many leaders are now working across timezones, cultures and horizontal teams – all whilst at pace – much of business is done at a distance rather than in person. Vast swathes of the day are spent on t-cons and telepresence where colleagues from around the world dial in to discuss, debate and decide on a wide range of issues, and as they do so, the challenge still remains when it comes to being heard, being understood and being influential.

One of the communication challenges that I have observed of late is how to interrupt others. We’ve all been there – on a call with someone else who is just going on….and on….and on………….and on. Alternatively the discussion is going at pace and there are a variety of contributors but somehow, we just can’t get a word in edgeways. We worry about causing offence, starting a row, not being successful in our attempts to interrupt and hence looking foolish to others on the call. We may recognise the easy route – to go on mute and crank out some emails. Or, we might go on mute and have the conversation with ourselves. In any event – we stay silent too often. So the question is: how do we interrupt – and how do we do so elegantly?

When working with my clients I talk about the Stephen Covey concept of The Emotional Bank Account. Our goal is to maintain rapport even when we are effectively making ‘a withdrawal’. The technique that I coach is in three parts.

Part 1: State Their Name
This is a powerful interrupter because we are hard wired to pause when we hear our name. It’s the first really profound sound that we learn. When we hear, we momentarily pause to see if the sound means us. Don’t believe that? Then just think of the impact of the sound of a name on a dog or cat.

Part 2: State What We Have Done
By acknowledging publicly what we have done, it immediately reduces the potential for tension because it demonstrates high self-awareness. We are taking ownership of the behaviour and by so doing making it ‘our’ issue rather than that of the person we have interrupted.

Part 3: Use A Power Word
The word ‘because’ is a 'power word’. A ‘power word’ is one which creates a significantly greater impact in our communication and ability to influence and the word ‘because’ is one such word. There is much data that shows that when we use the word ‘because', our explanation is far more credible and likely to be believed by our audience – even when the reason is extremely ‘flimsy’.

This ‘elegant interruption’ allows us to ‘get in’ to the debate and create an opportunity to have our voice heard. As an approach it is not difficult to understand, but its challenge comes in the graceful and flawless execution. Leaders who convey ‘executive presence’ remotely are able to constructively challenge and drive the agenda of the conversations that they join – and they make it look easy. The rest of us need to practise.