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.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Do You Know The 3 ’S’s Needed To Communicate Effectively?

Leadership isn’t about being good technically. It’s about being able to deal with the most difficult, unpredictable and unique raw material in business – that being people and their emotions.

I have spent a lot of time this month explaining why. Early in our career we focus on building technical skills, and that’s exactly as it should be. We become proficient (hopefully) in our role and get promoted as a result. The challenge comes when our responsibilities grow to the extent that we need to rely on others to deliver performance for us. Doing this well means developing a set of skills that we didn’t need before because we only had to rely on ourselves. So if it’s not about technical skills, then what is it?

Leadership means becoming an outstanding communicator, an inspiring motivator and a thought-provoking coach. It means tapping into the potential in others, exploding it beyond theirs (and your) expectations. It means being the guardian of a culture that says my people work for me because they want to (rather than ‘have to’). Leaders who have ‘Executive Presence’ make this look easy, but trust me, it’s not. We live in a fast-paced, constantly-evolving, attention-deficit economy and no-one has got that kind of time. Being crisp, compelling, concise, relevant, persuasive, inspiring, supportive and challenging – all at once – is not easy. Add to the mix that we might need to influence across a time zone, a matrix, a culture, a country and via the use of technology all adds up to mean that it simply couldn’t be more challenging.

So, where to start? This month I’ve been working with clients on the 3 ’S’s as a leader. What do they stand for? Soundbites, short stories and sermons. This is about crafting and rehearsing messages that say just the right thing, in just the right way, to just the right audience at just the right time. They address the: Why? Why not? Who/when/ how/what? questions. The soundbite is the short, repeatable message that you want to become part of the currency of everyday language. It gets repeated soon after you’ve started saying it. The short story is the message to handle challenge, advocate your position, overcome resistance, enthuse and ignite others. The sermon is (as the name suggests) a longer narrative when we are outlining our vision, leading change and setting a new direction for our people.

Do you have your 3 ’S’s lined up? Do they work? Are you achieving what you need from them? Helping my clients to articulate, then structure, then rehearse and then nail these key messages so that they connect with the heart, not just the head is where I work to help leaders enhance their ‘Executive Presence’.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Top 10 Strategies for Talking Tough

I have been working with a client this month for whom the focus is how to communicate some tough messages.  Let’s face it; no-one likes bad news, and frankly, there already seems too much of it going on in the world as it is.  Our natural tendency is often to want to avoid it, however, the reality for leaders everywhere is that sometimes communicating a tough message is what is required.  To be clear, a tough message is one where there may be high stakes, high emotion and/or a high degree of disagreement with the message.  So, I have been talking about my ‘top 10 strategies to talking tough':

  1. Be clear and concise. Don’t make it a lengthy message, because your team will become confused, distracted and disinterested. 
  2. Think ‘time and place’. What’s the best time of day to share the tough message? What’s the right place to do so?  And what’s the right medium to do it?  (Face to face, via email, phone calls etc.)  Thinking through all of these helps to minimize the impact of a tough message on the audience. It is extraordinary the amount of (dis)engagement that can be created without sufficient planning in this area.
  3. Acknowledge that you’ll never please everyone all of the time. Leadership isn’t simply a popularity business; it’s a respect business. So, there will be those who don’t immediately – or ever – agree. Consequently you should plan time on your calendar to follow up with these people first.
  4. Allow time to answer questions. Questions are always good to receive (because it shows that they are listening); so make sure there is time to take them.
  5. If you don’t know - say so – positively. Do not try to make up an answer when you don’t know it, because your audience will realise that you are bluffing. Equally, be positive and upbeat when you don’t know an answer to a question (as opposed to embarrassed or awkward).
  6. Plan to follow up with a further communication after the ’tough message’. We process information differently and feel/express emotion at different speeds and different ways. Consequently, stay close to your people by planning to communicate after the tough message has been shared.
  7. Keep it clean. By this we mean be clean with your language. There are some words/phrases that can create unnecessary anxiety, anger and frustration, so keep your language ‘clean’. For example: ‘with all due respect’ (which says you have no respect), ‘I agree with what you’re saying but’ (everything before ‘but’ is baloney) etc.
  8. Manage your body language. We are never not communicating and it’s largely ‘non verbal’. Keep your body language open and positive. Don’t fiddle or twitch!
  9. Listen. Most of us don’t listen to understand; we listen to speak. Avoid this trap at all costs because it’s the quickest way to raise the tension and emotion in the room and it conveys anxiety, fear and/or excessive control on your part.
  10. Get to positive action. We want people to be ‘doing’ something as a result of the tough message. Make sure you are clear, positive and upbeat on what this is. 

Leaders with Executive Presence make this look supremely easy, but, in fact, like everything else, it’s a learned skill.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

The 10 Best Questions All Great Leaders Should Ask

I have been spending a lot of time talking with leaders recently about their questioning skills. Currently, I have a large project that is focused on customer engagement, and what strikes me is how quick and easy it is for managers to ‘tell’. They want to focus on either (a) telling me what they’ve done to resolve the issue (like that’s going to happen in three minutes flat) or (b) who they moved in or moved out of the business so that their challenges around engagement will now go away. My question is: what’s stopping you from being more curious about this situation?

It seems to me that as children, our curiosity is on turbocharge. We don’t know so much and so we ask endless questions. But what happens when we 'grow up’? As professionals and as leaders, why do we stop asking questions and why do we think we must always have a quick and ready answer? I used to work for a boss who endlessly said that the difference between managers and leaders was that managers had all the right answers and leaders had all the right questions. Leaders who have ‘executive presence’ ask brilliant questions regularly. These questions may be to us, or it may be to others, but they work. Here’s my top 10…
  1. Why are we doing this? In the words of Simon Sinek, “your people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”. Leadership is an inspiration business. Our people aren't inspired to make a profit. Rather profit comes as a result of inspirational leadership. So, that means engaging our people, our customers, our shareholders around a vision, so that they buy into something bigger, better, and more meaningful. When we do so, we can achieve extraordinary things. 
  2. Who’s doing this best? This is all about un-ending curiosity to find and learn from the very best. Are we looking outside of our business, and perhaps our industry, to see what we can learn from others? Wheel re-invention is over-rated. We need to consistently seek out those who are better/best and learn. 
  3. Who’s challenging my thinking? Great leaders surround themselves with people who challenge. However, it takes courage for our people to do so and it is a reflection of our style if the answer to this question currently is ‘no-one’. Have we created a culture where they are frightened of us? Or, do we have mainly ‘B’ players within our business? Or, am I not doing a good enough job in terms of attracting the very best talent in the market? 
  4. What are my values? People join organisations and leave managers – and they do so because their values aren’t aligned with ours. Do we live my values in our behaviours every day? Do we do so intentionally? If our answers are sketchy then the answer is ‘no’ and our people don’t ‘get’ us properly. We need to be consistent and intentional in order to be credible. 
  5. Have I done my best work today? This is about self-care, energy, drive. Paying attention to ourselves and how we are as leaders is essential to being effective. If we haven’t got enough exercise, sleep, water, fun, relaxation, laughter etc. in our lives, then our resilience is eroded by the sheer pace and demands of working life – and consequently both ourselves and our people suffer. 
  6. How am I spending my time? The single most consistent reason I hear for my clients not achieving what they set out to achieve is the lack of time. Everything about time is a choice. How we choose to spend it (like money), tells the world all that we care about. We can say that we care about our people, but if we don’t spend the right amount of time with them, then we don’t care enough. If we believe that we haven’t got time to complete a certain task then what we’re really saying is that we don’t care enough about it to make time. Regularly reviewing and auditing our calendar and our operational rhythm is an essential best practice. 
  7. Who have I caught ‘doing something right’? All too often it’s easy to get absorbed by what’s not working. Finding and celebrating success with our people by giving them feedback which is meaningful, authentic and inspiring drives engagement, productivity and performance off the chart. 
  8. How strategic am I being? Successful leaders have a strong operational focus and execution bias because of a fast paced business environment. However, if we don’t make enough time to be more strategic, challenging, disruptive and creative in our longer term thinking then we will falter, and so will our teams and our business. 
  9. What do I need to let go of? One of the tasks I set my clients is to delegate 30-40% of their role per year – so that in less than three years they are redundant – in their current role. Why? Because we need to stretch and develop our people to enable them to step up, plus the business will be so transformed within that time that our skills and our talents will need to evolve to meet that. We can’t progress if we’ve not invested sufficient effort in evolving our teams and if we don’t do that, then we are already out of touch and out-of-date. 
  10. What do I need to develop? I am always curious about how comfortable leaders are. If we feel comfortable – then it’s time to make a change. Whether that’s a new role, a new opportunity, a new project or new responsibility, we need to stretch and extend our capabilities so that we feel uncomfortable. That’s where we learn and grow, and that’s when we need the right resources around to help us on that journey. 
So, which questions do you need to ask more of today?

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Are You A ‘Manager On Meds’?

My focus with clients this month has been emotional intelligence and self-awareness. As the financial year and first quarter closes out, it’s fair to suggest that a number of teams, leaders and businesses are under pressure to make their numbers. There are several coaching assignments on which I am engaged at the moment where our conversations have taken us to how leaders operate under pressure. And therein lies the challenge.

Our leadership brand isn’t defined when we have had eight hours sleep, are fully prepared for a key meeting, present to a benign audience and communicate a non-contentious message. Our leadership brand is defined when we’ve had three hours sleep, had no time to prepare, have no idea what we’re talking about and face a hostile audience with a tough ‘ask’.

The problem with brands is a single word: consistency. Without consistency we don’t have a brand, and as leaders we need to be incredibly aware of this.

I once worked for a boss who fitted the description of ‘manager on meds’ perfectly. What I mean by that is each day was always a voyage of discovery in terms of whether they were going to be pleasant, approachable, encouraging and inspiring (and hence ‘on their meds’). Or, were they were going to be aggressive, arrogant, dismissive and rude (hence ‘off their meds’)? Each day became more and more difficult (even when he was okay), because what I was very aware of was the reticence and trepidation with which I approached my work, and my interactions with him. And he’s not the only one in business who fits the description, and the implications of this behaviour to our people and costs to our companies are absolutely huge.

I talk about the LEADER model of ‘Executive Presence’ which came out of my research on this topic. One of the ‘E’s in the LEADER model is ‘ENGAGE’. This is about leaders being able to win hearts and minds, inspire and enthuse, challenge and support, attract, develop and retain the very best people in the market.

Leaders with ‘Executive Presence’ are aware of their triggers and the impact of their behaviour on others – plus they know how to maintain control. We’re human beings, so that means we all have – and feel – emotion. If our leadership brand is defined in terms of being inconsistent, unstable, and overly emotional then it breeds the worst emotion in business - fear. People hide because quite frankly who needs it? Productivity, performance and people are seriously damaged by such behaviour and everyone loses out. All leaders are in a relationship business – no matter what their area of functional expertise. We never forget how others make us feel, and great leaders make their people feel safe, cared for, supported, challenged, empowered and motivated to achieve extraordinary things. 'Managers on meds' make their people feel the complete opposite.

Which one are you?

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Visible Leader

I have been working with a global business on a coaching assignment this year and I have had the pleasure to work with some of their senior talent. These are already extremely high performing, well regarded, long tenured leaders with superb technical skills. They are driving large, global, remote teams, at a distance, with cultural and language differences, in complex markets and against the backdrop of the need to be agile in driving change, get ahead of the competition and make their numbers.

So what’s the real challenge? (As if they don’t have enough already?) In short – and perhaps not surprisingly - it’s all about communication.

As leaders, our role is to engage, enthuse and inspire our people to deliver outstanding performance. Often the circumstances are tough, the market is difficult and our customers are incredibly demanding. We ‘communicate’ with our people, we are clear on our expectations, we explain our vision and we outline our values. So now, let’s just get on with it. If only it were that simple. If. Only.

To be an inspiring leader means being a visible leader. To be a visible leader means being an outstanding communicator. And somewhere within those two sentences is the challenge. I have gathered feedback from the most senior stakeholders across my clients’ businesses and these are my top ten lessons for all of us who want to be even more inspiring, engaging and visible in our businesses:
  1. Create an ‘operating rhythm’ of communication and stick to it.
  2. Get support (from within or across your leadership team) to help you plan, manage and implement the right messages to the right people at the right time. 
  3. Create simple but engaging stories. Data is just data – it’s the story behind the data that will win the hearts and minds of others.
  4. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Never assuming saying once or twice means that they’ve ‘got it’. They won’t all have and they’ll easily forget.
  5. Being visible as a leader means getting your message across without getting lost in all of the detail. One of the most continual messages I keep hearing is: be more crisp, be more concise, be more compelling.
  6. Develop some key ‘sound bites’. Key phrases, metaphors and analogies that make the point – especially when it’s a contentious or potentially unpopular one. Soundbites are more memorable, they ignite our interest and curiosity and – if they are good – will be repeated and become part of the fabric of the language across your organisation. 
  7. Use multiple channels – digital, face-to-face, 'all hands calls' etc. Know your preferred channel of communicating and beware of developing a bias towards it.
  8. Results get delivered when we talk, rather than cranking out emails. The more you have on your desk/inbox, the less time you have with your people. Beware! Develop your team to deliver operational excellence so that you can focus on a more strategic approach. 
  9. Are you controlling your time or is your time controlling you? If we ‘don’t have time’, then it’s the latter and we are kidding ourselves that we’re in control. We’re not. Force a change, no matter how busy your diary, to how you spend your time. Otherwise you’ll never get hold of it. Remember, how you spend your money and how you spend your time tells your organisation all that you care about.
  10. And since we’re talking about time, make time to observe and absorb the experience of being in the business with your teams. It builds enormous credibility, provides you with an unfettered view of the challenges and opportunities ahead, as well as giving the vital space to ask questions and listen. 
Leaders with Executive Presence make this look easy. I know that it’s not. We live in an attention deficient economy and if we’re not seen, then we’re not heard. If we’re not heard, then we can’t engage and inspire our people. So, what can you do now to increase your visibility today?

Friday, 17 February 2017

Why Leaders Lose Great People

Last year at this time, I posted an article on love and leadership and I make no apology for returning to this topic again in the Valentine’s month of February. This year I have spent a great deal of time talking with leaders about engagement and the questions that have continually arisen in our discussions include:
  • How do we engage our people? 
  • How do we win hearts and minds? 
  • Why isn't paying them a lot of money enough to make them happy and consistently productive? 
  • Alternatively, if we work in a very low paid industry, can we blame ourselves as leaders if our people choose to leave and go elsewhere to earn more?
  • How can I reduce the constant stream of attrition? 
  • Should I just accept that I work in a ‘nomadic’ industry?
  • And so the questions go on…
Here’s the thing. The challenge facing all leaders is how to attract, recruit, and retain great people. No matter how gloomy the wider global economy might be; finding and keeping talent is still one of our biggest challenges to commercial growth and success. Of course we have to focus on results. We drive a number, we improve a process, we fix a problem. But we don’t spend enough time focusing on our people and specifically, we don’t spend enough meaningful time with them. Without people we don’t have a business, and I don’t mean that we should all be wandering around our offices in a vague, listless way. I mean we need to engage in purposeful, productive and personalised conversations with them as individuals, talking about their potential, their purpose in being here and of course, their performance.

In conversation with managers in a manufacturing business, what became apparent was the notion that 1:1s 'are more of a tick box exercise’. Well, there’s the first problem. If we think it’s a tick box exercise, so will our people. What’s the purpose of a 1:1? Quite simply I think it’s to inspire. I think it’s to excite, motivate, coach, direct, delegate, reflect and listen to our people. If we do that well, the results follow. If we only focus on the numbers….we lose. And we lose great people. When was the last time you were inspired by a ‘tick box’ exercise?

Great leaders convey ‘Executive Presence’. I describe it as an ability to ‘reach’ their people. Executive Presence is about being able to connect, engage, enthuse, direct, delegate, delight, appreciate, listen to and inspire others. Effective leaders do so authentically, consistently and continually. In life (as well as in business), how we spend our money and how we spend our time tells the world all we care about. That’s it. There’s nothing else. Leaders lose great people because they don’t spend enough time in meaningful conversations with them, and what they convey as a result is the notion that they don’t care.