Thursday, 14 July 2016

Millennials, Mentoring and Making an Impact

I have been working on a fascinating project over the last few months with a global client that is looking to develop high potential millennials through a reverse mentoring initiative with the senior leadership team. My involvement has been to develop the influencing skills that will be needed for these young professionals to have real impact around the senior leadership table and here’s what I’ve noticed:
  • A real concern regarding what they are/are not ‘allowed’ to say.
  • A desire to please; a concern to challenge; a lack of confidence given their relatively junior position vis-a-vis their senior colleagues.
  • A real passion in their role and a belief in what they – as Millennials – think, act and feel.
So where have we focused our efforts?

Speaking in public with confidence and authority, facilitating a discussion to achieve a common goal and being comfortable to be ‘put on the spot’. In a complex, fast-paced business, with more than its fair share of ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty, having impact means being able to demonstrate these skills – amongst many others. It is also essential to getting things done.

So, where to start? Well, how about considering the following:

  • Managing our body language - because the majority of our communication is non–verbal and so how we sit, use our hands and look at people all has significant impact on the power of our message.
  • Rehearsing key messages in advance: practising saying not just thinking about key points is vital – especially when faced with a short window to get (and keep) the attention of the audience.
  • Knowing when to stop talking and structuring our messages into three parts creates a natural story and ‘finish point’.
  • Supporting opinion with fact makes our viewpoint more compelling.
  • Explaining the ‘why’; not just the ‘what’ (because as Simon Sinek says: ‘people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it’).
  • Being able to ‘elegantly interrupt’ someone who waffles on or takes the discussion off track are vital moderating skills.
  • Saying ‘I don’t know’ confidently (rather than apologetically).
  • Being willing to stand up and take responsibility for moving things forward (rather than pointing the finger at others or waiting for ‘the company’ to change).
…and that’s just a few of the topics we’ve explored. As the sessions have unfolded what is clearly apparent is that these are strategies and skills at all ages; not just for millennials. Making an impact isn’t easy; it’s about personal rather than positional power and whether we are a mentor, a millennial or simply a professional striving to do a good job, the skills of exquisite influence are ones that all of us can hone at any age.

Until next time…

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Management by Walking Around

I have been working with a client for a couple of months now, helping them to drive a new sales transformation process within their business. As the well-worn Peter Drucker phrase goes: ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, so no matter how great the strategy, how right the market conditions and how amazing the product, all will die on the altar of a divisive, negative, under-performing culture. Changing culture in business is under-estimated. It is hard because it means dealing with the most difficult raw material that any leader has to deal with – and that’s emotion. Dealing with emotion is hard because quite simply there’s no black and white. Each situation, each individual, each change is different – and therefore so is the emotion behind it.

In a large, fast-paced sales environment where high value deals are done in two telephone calls within the space of a week, some of the standard rhythms around longer 1:1 meetings, away from the floor where the leader can coach and give feedback to their team, will not be as effective in driving cultural change – if done on their own. Everyone wants a bit of heat and a bit of light from their manager, so there has to be other means by which leaders can interact in a low effort, high impact way that can – and does – work to drive a high performance culture and I call it ‘management by walking around’. To be clear, I do not mean aimless meandering. I do mean deliberate, intentional and consistent activity to reach the sales team with the right message to demonstrate support, constructive challenge, help, appreciation and stretch. Leaders with ‘Executive Presence’ make it look easy – the rest of us need to learn the strategies.

So, specifically:

  • Plan to make the activity part of your operational rhythm and stick to it.
  • Don’t bring an entourage. I used to work in the pharmaceutical industry where hospital consultants conduct weekly ward rounds with a cast of thousands. My consultants were always late for our appointments (as well as their afternoon clinics, I might add). We’re not trying to emulate that. It can become a huge time drain – as well as a distraction.
  • Decide if it’s a one way or a two way activity (i.e. do I just want to share something or do I want to discuss?). If it’s one way – plan the key message and be consistent; if it’s two-way, then be prepared to listen!
  • Follow up – especially where you’ve committed to during the interaction. Otherwise your integrity (and your impact) will quickly fall away.
  • Remember it’s not the platform for criticism – so don’t.
  • Make sure (over time) that you connect with everyone – avoid favouritism; that never plays well.
Remember, leaders with Executive Presence inspire those around them with that ‘I’ll follow you anywhere’ kind of aura. Making our interactions high impact – whether they are long or short – represents an opportunity for all of us to achieve this kind of response from our people. Management by walking around is an underrated tactic and as with all the topics about which I write I could say even more. However, now I must stop, not least because it’s time for me to go walkabout.

Until next time…

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Who Shows Up?

I spent time with a former colleague recently and was reminded of a film that I watched a number of years ago called ‘Polar Express’. In it was a phrase that resonated with me – the ‘mood hoover’.

Well, let’s just say my former colleague is one of those. A ‘mood hoover’ sucks the energy, will to live, positivity out of the air and casts gloom and doom wherever they are. In the presence of a mood hoover, no matter what might be going well, they will always find a way to bring the conversation down. Creativity is stifled, optimism dwindles and negativity prevails…it got me thinking.

Having ‘Executive Presence’ means having that ‘I’ll follow you anywhere’ impact on other people when you walk in a room; whether it’s the most junior or senior person in the company. Being able to inspire others, ignite their interests, talents, passion and creativity at work all sits at odds with being a ‘mood hoover’. As professionals, as leaders and as people – we are in a relationship business – no matter our industry, geography or role. I travel a lot and the vagaries of public transport mean that I am invariably delayed, distracted and demented getting to clients via trains, buses, tubes and planes. There are times when I could simply scream with pure frustration. So my point is simply this: part of how we convey presence means asking ourselves – every day – in every meeting, conference call or 1:1, who shows up? What’s our energy that we bring to each conversation or interaction? What’s our intention? What’s our mind-set? What are we communicating to the rest of the world, beyond the words which come out of our mouth? How do we ‘shake off’ the ‘mood hoover’ mentality – even when we’re emotionally over wrought and it would just feel better to let off steam?

Here are some suggestions:
  • Know your triggers, and plan to create something positive from the negative. For example, I’m very productive when travelling and so get a lot of work done. It's this I choose to focus on when stuck in such situations.
  • Identify what else you need to build resilience – is it more sleep, exercise, making the weekends less frenetic, doing something just for you or something else? These resources are essential to emotional well-being and stability.
  • Find things that make you laugh and make time to do just that. Laughter is good for the soul and replenishes even the most frazzled traveller….
  • Challenge yourself – is this your best self? Even when you feel like Michael Douglas in ‘Falling Down’, do you really think others deserve to experience this from you?
Know that your energy, purpose and intention is an essential part of Executive Presence and one that you communicate exquisitely – be it good or bad - every day to those around you. Do you have a brand – like my former colleague – of this unrelenting mood hoover? Or are you someone whose presence, purpose, intention and energy inspires and delights those around you?

As we build our impact, influence and relationships at work, always remember to ask yourself: who shows up?

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Does Size Matter?

My attention is drawn this month to a fascinating piece of research conducted by Exeter University. They examined, in some detail, the weight, height and earnings of UK men and women, and it reveals some ‘awful but true’ unconscious biases.

Amongst their conclusions is the reality that men who are shorter than the national UK average (5’ 9” or 1.75 m) earn an average of £1,500 less than their colleagues. This is not the first time height and leadership have been drawn together. Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book ‘Blink – The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking’, revealed some fascinating research from the United States. Again, the context was implicit bias, and Gladwell compared the height of CEOs from Fortune 500 companies versus the rest of the US male population. He found that 58% of the CEOs from Fortune 500 companies, were 6 feet or taller. This is 1 metre 82 cm for our metric friends amongst us and it compared with an average across the US population of 14.5%. In addition, in general in the United States, there are 3.9% of men who are 6’ 2” and this compared with almost a third across Gladwell’s survey sample of Fortune 500 CEOs. Now, you might think: ‘who cares?’

Well, let’s step back for a moment and focus on what it means for leaders today. This is the classic ‘tall poppy syndrome’. Whatever our role at work, all of us are in the business of influence and what I am not suggesting is that men who are less than 5’ 9” wear built up heels. However, what I am suggesting is that no matter our height, weight or size, it is critical for all leaders to convey what I call ‘executive presence’. By that I mean the ability to walk into a room and own it, being able to inspire those around them, whether they are the receptionist or the CEO. If we’re easier to be seen then it’s easier to be heard, and if it’s easier to be heard then it’s easier to influence. Leaders with executive presence radiate confidence. They command attention but do not demand attention. Leaders with executive presence are authentic, project poise and authority, they have high levels of self-awareness so know when they are making an impact and also know when they are missing the mark. Such leaders continue to harness strengths whilst continuing to work on their gaps or flaws.

So, height isn’t important – but executive presence is; it’s how we engage, inspire, motivate, enthuse, harness and retain the talent around us to deliver results.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Which Communication Trap Do You Fall Into?

Have you ever been in a meeting that has caused you to lose the will to live? I have been reflecting on language and communication over the last month because recently, I have had that experience. What prompted it? Quite simply the incredibly poor calibre of communication by senior, successful professional people. And it got me pondering….Janice Obuchowski wrote an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review more than 10 years ago that still resonates today. She talked about three kinds of communication trap – namely anonymity, obscurity and tedium.

The anonymity trap is where leaders start talking the same corporate language. Words and phrases which are relatively unique to that organisation get used over and over again. I wrote in my book last year on the topic of Executive Presence: Demonstrating Leadership In Times Of Change And Uncertainty, that one of my clients uses the phrase ‘taking people on the journey’. I have many problems with this; not least of which is that I don’t understand what it really means. However, in the context of the model, the phrase is an example of the anonymity trap because everyone says it, and so no single voice ‘stands out’. In other words, everyone sounds the same.

The obscurity trap is overuse of jargon, technical language and little known words and phrases in order to sound intelligent. I recently sat in a session where a colleague used the word ‘ersatz’. Exactly, how many of you right now are looking up the meaning of the word? I guarantee almost no-one (me included) knew what they meant when they said it; and it was designed to demonstrate being clever and erudite. Except that it didn’t work. It caused confusion and irritation, not to mention discomfort when clarity was sought. (It means an inferior substitute by the way).

The tedium trap is just way too much information. This is where our communication is a tsunami of facts, figures, stories, data coming at the audience at speed. Too much; too overwhelming; too little thought gone in to our communication. The result is unfocused and often irrelevant information.

So how do we, as leaders, stop falling into one or more of these traps? Well to convey Executive Presence I would suggest:
  • Don’t use standard formats or templates for presentations or pitches. Be different by structuring your message differently – especially at the beginning and the end (when attention is at its highest).
  • Use metaphor and analogy – it is far more effective for conveying a message – especially when the communication is dull and/or complicated.
  • Split your message into three parts to make it a narrative structure, just like a story.
  • Be clear on what you want to achieve by communicating the message. Beware of ‘just updating’ people. The last thing we all need is data for the sake of having data. Unless you want a decision (for example, is it red or green? Tuesday or Thursday?); action (for example, to send a note or make a call) or commitment (time, money, people etc.) then why are you telling us?
  • Be brief! Less is always more….
  • Cut out the buzzword bingo nonsense.
  • Be humorous (but not flippant) if this is a natural ability you possess.
Our communication is a reflection of the culture in which we live. We all have the capacity to be affected by it (for good and ill), and our challenge as leaders is to make our communication stand out for the right reasons, not blend in with everyone else for the wrong ones.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Love, Loyalty and Leadership

February is traditionally the month where at every turn, there’s talk of love. I write this post on Valentine’s Day, and by its very nature, this day, and how we celebrate it, remains a subject about which many have a fervent opinion. But what about love and leadership?

Really???? Who are we kidding??

Many of you will be familiar with the Harvard Service Profit Chain concept, which essentially suggests that businesses which thrive and grow, are businesses with customers who are engaged with the brand, who love it, who will remain loyal to it and who will recommend it to their family and friends. What drives that is an experience which leaves customers feeling that they are not only satisfied - but also connected emotionally - to that brand. In turn, what drives that is employees who are engaged with the company in which they work and who deliver an experience that their customers will love. And this is where we, as leaders, come in.

Much of my time is spent talking with leaders about the skills, strategies, tools and techniques of ‘Executive Presence’. One of the pillars of my framework is ‘engage’, and what I mean by that is leaders who have Executive Presence know how to win the hearts as well as the minds of their employees. They know how to attract, develop, challenge, support, motivate, enthuse, direct and retain great talent within their business. They know how to deal with, irrespective of the industry in which they work, the most difficult and yet most critical raw material in business there is – and that is emotion. It’s difficult because it’s not black and white. It’s critical because it’s always there.

Leadership is about delivering results through others and, therefore, it quite simply means that leadership is a relationship business. Great relationships are built on great communication. And it’s not easy to communicate effectively – especially when faced with negativity, cynicism, passive aggressive behaviour, depression, arrogance, ignorance – to name but a few. So where do we start? Well, like all great relationships, how about considering:

  1. How well have we communicated our vision of where we’re going? How clear, concise and compelling have we made it? Everyone – no matter where they work or what they do – wants to know where the business is heading. A litmus test; pick five people at random and if what they say is not consistent (and not what you want), then the answer to the question is ‘not well enough’.
  2. How often do we really make time to listen to our people? I’m not talking about simply through corporate structures such as employee satisfaction surveys, appraisals, etc. I’m talking about making and defending time to be with our people, to listen (without distraction!) to what they’re saying and to genuinely care.
  3. How often are we focused on the right answers rather than the right questions? Our early career is necessarily built on developing technical competence – which means amassing the right level of accurate information for our area of expertise. However, there comes a point where this simply doesn’t matter. We have people in our business who know the right answers. (By the way if we don’t; we’re not hiring the right people.) The higher we rise in our career, the more important it is to understand that effective leadership is far more about asking a continual array of powerful, searching, stretching questions based on a genuine curiosity to understand.
Amongst many, many other skills and strategies, it is this that builds loyalty amongst our people; it is this that helps them to love working for the business, the team and for you, and it is this that helps us to be better leaders.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Will You Fail to Have a Great Career?

A new year, a new start and many of us turn again to the goals and aspirations of our professional lives for this year, whilst simultaneously reflecting on the successes and failures of the past 12 months. In my book, Executive Presence: Demonstrating Leadership in Times of Change and Uncertainty, I talk about the LEADER model of Executive Presence and the second ‘E’ stands for 'Evolve'. This area of leadership is focused on how we manage our career, find and pursue our passion at work.

One of the best, best, best TED talks I have watched in the last twelve months is by Larry Smith, a Professor of Economics, University of Waterloo in Canada. It’s a funny, but very blunt, talk that will make you stop and think – if you’ve not already done so given the title above. His unique delivery style is thought-provoking, funny, and devastatingly honest and it’s a video that we all should watch and re-watch. Smith states that most of us will fail to have a great career and espouses the reasons why:
  1. Some of us start out with the aspiration for a good career and some of us start out with the aspiration for a great career. However, most of us will fail at both.
  2. We have been told many, many times that we should pursue our passion, but choose to ignore this advice and decide not to pursue it. 
  3. Some of us are simply too lazy and won’t try hard enough. If we try to look for our passion, but not find it, then we make excuses not to do what you need to do for a really great career.
  4. We create excuses that we believe, such as the excuse that really great careers are truly a matter of luck for most people. 
  5. We choose to believe that there are special people who pursue their passions but they are geniuses. Smith suggests that we all used to think we were geniuses – but probably only when we were young. As we grow up we lose this belief and think instead that we are ‘completely competent’. Smith believes that such thoughts damn us all with the faintest of praise. And he’s right.
  6. We believe that if we pursue a great career then we have to be weird. People who pursue their passions are strange or odd. We don’t like to think of ourselves as strange or odd. We like to think of ourselves as nice, normal people. However, nice normal people don’t have passion.
  7. We do what our parents tell us – and that is to work really, really hard. Smith believes that we can work really, really hard – and that’s not the same as having a really great career. He also believes that just telling kids to work really hard is nonsense. Why? Because all of the evidence points to the contrary. 
  8. We find things that we’re interested in but we don’t find our passion. Smith says that having an interest is great – but what about finding our passion in the big wide world and trying a bit harder? We’re not interested. Passion isn’t the same as interest and we might have lots of interests but all of us need to find our passion.
  9. Even if we find our passion many of us will still fail according to Smith. Why? Because we continue to invent excuses for not having a great career as our passion. The phrase “if only I had…” is, according to Smith, one of the most damning things we can say.
  10. Smith says that what we say to ourselves is that human relationships are more important than accomplishments. We want to be a great friend, a great parent, a great spouse etc. and we won’t sacrifice that at the altar of human accomplishment. Smith is uncomfortably honest here. If we listen to what we’re saying to ourselves; we’re making ourselves out to be a hero. But we’re no heroes. 
  11. Then when our children say that they want to be something other than that which they are good at, we repeat the mantra. We repeat what our parents told us and what we have told ourselves in terms of excuses. 
  12. The bottom line is that many of us are simply afraid. We’re afraid to try, afraid to fail, afraid to succeed.
  13. Unless……….
So, let's not prove Larry Smith right. As 2016 begins (and before it gathers speed), now is the perfect time to reflect, plan and strategise to ensure that we pursue and excel at our life's purpose in a professional context, and secure the right resources and support around us to ensure success.