How to be Confident at Work

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.
~Arthur Ashe~

Grayson asks: I’m naturally a shy person, and I want to learn how to be confident at work. I know that confidence is key to coming across as a leader, and I definitely want to advance. How can I stop blending into the background and start exuding self-assurance?

Joel answers: Grayson, you’re right to be focusing on building your confidence. Without confidence, you won’t increase your visibility at work or have the courage to take risks. And without taking risks and building visibility and influence, you’ll have difficulty reaching the next level. This is an exciting time in your career—you’re launching a new, more confident phrase that will take you to places you never imagined you could go. Being confident at work takes effort—here’s how to get there.

  1. Prepare What You’ll Say at Meetings
    Thinking through what you’ll bring to a meeting will help you say it with confidence. You’ll also be more articulate, having carefully prepared your ideas. Everything doesn’t have to be completely polished—maybe you have a few ideas to share in a brainstorming session, and you want to get the group’s feedback. Either way, you’ll contribute with more confidence when you feel prepared. Come to the meeting willing to speak up at work.
  2. Grow a Team of Supporters
    When you know you have star players batting for you, you’ll feel your confidence soar. Build relationships with mentors you can learn from, both within and outside of the organization. Cultivate advocates within your company as well—people with influence and credibility who will talk you up to bosses and coworkers. You won’t just benefit from their sway over group opinions—you’ll gain confidence from the insights these relationships give you. Whenever you feel uncertain, visualize this team of people all cheering you on.
  3. Ask for Feedback
    A confident person doesn’t put her head in the sand, avoiding any feedback. Nor does she believe she’s above all criticism. Rather, she has the courage to be vulnerable by asking for others’ input about her performance. When you solicit feedback, others will perceive you as more confident—it shows you’re challenging yourself to improve every day. Consistent feedback from people you trust will also strengthen your performance, raising your confidence even higher.By the same token, if your confidence is being drained by a critical coworker, remember that your response to criticism speaks volumes. If criticized in front of others, invite the critic to continue the conversation over coffee. Actively striving to learn from criticism and understand where it’s coming from will show self-assurance.
  4. Find a Problem You’re Equipped to Solve
    Pinpoint a problem that you’re uniquely poised to solve—something that others will notice, even though they may keep pushing it to the back burner. Tackling a persistent problem head-on shows confidence and ambition, especially when you took the initiative to solve it.
  5. Celebrate Risks
    When you make a bold move that took some courage, celebrate! If you held your ground in a meeting instead of backing down at the first sign of controversy, that’s a milestone. Whether or not you accomplished what you intended, you showed guts, and that’s a victory in itself. Share what happened with one of your biggest cheerleaders—whether your spouse, a coworker, or a close friend—so you’ll have someone to affirm your success.

Like Grayson, almost all of us need to learn how to be more confident at work as we progress in our careers. Keep challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone while celebrating your wins, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy level of self-confidence.

Joel’s executive coaching can help you fast track your development by building your confidence, visibility, and influence at work. Review his executive business coaching services.

Six Ways to Improve Business Communication Skills for Greater Success

“Intelligence, knowledge or experience are important and might get you a job, but strong communication skills are what will get you promoted.” ~Mireille Guiliano~

At a performance review meeting, Sean’s boss told him he needed to improve his communication skills. “You express yourself articulately, and you’re assertive, but you can go further,” his boss told him. His boss went on to describe a range of communication-related skills that would help Sean become a stronger leader, some of which Sean had never thought about developing.

Articles on business communication skills often address the importance of being assertive in the workplace. In some cases, however, they don’t discuss the “hidden” skills that are essential for strong communication, like the ability to view the world from someone else’s point of view. When you’re equipped with a wide array of communication skills, you’ll be poised to succeed in all realms of business. Here are the six ways to improve business communication skills.

  1. Practice good office politics.
    Participating in office politics is essential, and that’s not a bad thing. Done well, it means influencing company culture and building your influence. Showing loyalty to your boss, honing strong relationships with allies, and networking with different circles of people in your organization are all examples of participating well in office politics. It all comes down to being respected and noticed by others, and showing respect and appreciation in turn, in order to grow your influence with them.
  2. Communicate across functions.
    Strong communications across different organizational areas is essential for maximizing productivity. Your team isn’t going it alone—you depend on all the other teams in your organization, and if you’re not communicating closely, your relationships, processes, and outcomes are suffering. Get to know the people in other areas of the organization, and become a liaison between these different areas of business to improve the flow of communication. Along with members of these other teams, work to define your joint goals and establish how to coordinate your efforts.
  3. Learn to understand different working styles and personalities.
    Learning how others think and work is an essential part of leadership. During one-on-one sessions with people you manage, ask them how they learn and work best. Some employees might appreciate receiving an email about an important topic the day before a meeting, rather than being asked their opinion on the spot, for instance. Navigating these differences is a vital task of a leader, and it will greatly improve the effectiveness of the team.
  4. Become a pro at conflict resolution.
    Conflict resolution may not be fun, but that’s why it’s such an in-demand skill. Learn to master conflicts by addressing their root causes, helping everyone to feel heard, and asking for solutions from everyone who’s invested in the issue. As you guide both parties toward compromise, you’ll gain greater respect and trust from them both, enhancing your relationships and reputation in turn.
  5. Be assertive yet humble.
    Assertiveness is one of those obvious business skills that articles on communication in the workplace tend to tout, and it’s definitely an important quality of a leader. However, the strongest leaders balance assertiveness with vulnerability. They know how to ask for feedback on their performance, be transparent about issues that affect everyone, and gain the trust of others by putting them at ease.
  6. Use virtual communication effectively.
    Resisting using virtual communication will prove a major hindrance in today’s workplace. Virtual communication offers a way of making the playing field more equitable for people who may have trouble physically getting to work for long hours each day, like parents of young children. It also makes working with contract staff more viable over long distances. Plus, job training and coaching can often be done via virtual communication for a lower cost. Get comfortable with virtual communication, and many doors will open.

“As you build strong business communication skills, you’ll enhance cooperation and relationship-building throughout your team,” Sean’s boss said. For the remainder of their meeting, Sean’s boss helped him craft a plan for improving in these areas. He also gave him business articles to read on improving communication skills. Sean left the session energized and enthusiastic about making the changes, knowing his boss was priming him for taking on greater responsibility down the road.

Are you working to improve your business communication skills? For specific guidance, support and tips on becoming a master communicator at work, you can contact Joel for executive coaching or visit his hundreds of articles.

Talkback:
What business skills have you focused on developing? How did they improve your leadership? Share your stories here.

Four Advantages of Leveraging a Cross-Functional Team

“Entrepreneurs as ‘soloists’ will be replaced by orchestras playing a stronger, more credible tune.” ~Steve Case~

Tamara felt her department was too isolated from the rest of the organization. As she stepped into a higher-level managerial position, she talked with her mentor about how to change this situation. Her mentor advised her to develop a cross-functional team of people who worked together in close communication.

A cross-functional workforce is composed of people from a variety of departments and levels of hierarchy. If, like Tamara, you manage people from an array of departments—or if you aspire to step into such a position—start leveraging a cross-functional workforce to increase your team’s effectiveness.

  1. Understand the big picture.
    Building a strong cross-functional network will help you better understand how your organization functions. You’ll learn how to improve workflow processes because you’ll know exactly what should happen during every step. That knowledge will make you a better project manager. Others will come to see you as a go-to person when they have questions about project flow or other departments’ functions. As you share your knowledge, everyone will come to understand the big picture better.
  2. Improve your interpersonal communication.
    Creating a cross-functional workforce means developing strong communication with different departments and areas of the organization. You’ll find that the functioning of the whole company improves as you learn to communicate fluidly across the organization. By checking in regularly with people across the company, you’ll make yourself and your team more approachable. When they have questions or concerns, they’ll bring them to you right away rather than letting them fester. Likewise, other employees will learn to reach out to colleagues from other departments when they need to ask clarifying questions. They’ll become supportive allies to one another rather than working in isolation, or worse, in competition. Model that attitude by being a humble, approachable leader who always seeks to improve through feedback, and others will follow suit.
  3. Clearly understand responsibilities.
    When you understand the big picture and are communicating effectively, you’ll be able to ensure that everyone understands their role and responsibilities. Because you have thorough knowledge of how a particular department functions and what it does, you’ll know what each employee is supposed to be doing. You’ll therefore be able to communicate your expectations clearly, and to more accurately evaluate employees’ performance.
  4. Building workplace morale.
    When the whole workplace feels like a team and you’ve built a strong level of trust between departments, morale will skyrocket. The end goal will be at the forefront of people’s minds every day; you’ll all have more of a “big picture” mentality. Plus, you’ll all celebrate each other’s successes and see how they contribute to the success of the whole group, boosting motivation. As your increased effectiveness leads to more big successes, morale will only continue to rise.

To build a workforce that is truly cross-functional, Tamara’s mentor advised her and her team, to have one-on-one conversations with people who have key roles or managerial positions in different areas of the organization. “Have lunch with them, and ask them to explain what they do. Show respect and admiration for what their department does,” she urged. “You’ll develop strong rapports with these key players, and that will grow your visibility and influence, helping you reach reach greater heights of success.”

If you’ve started working toward building a cross-functional team, but want more pointers, contact Joel for executive coaching. He’ll be able to provide effective strategies to growing these relationships.

Talkback:
What benefits have you experienced from building cross-functional relationships? Share your stories here on how your teams, across the organization, learned to work together more effectively.

Five Communication Hurdles to Leadership Effectiveness and Influence

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” ~Warren Bennis~

Client Ethan asked:
A lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings are cropping up in my organization. Crucial information often doesn’t get shared; people often feel their voices aren’t heard. As an aspiring leader, I know I need to find ways to fix the situation. What should I do?

Coach Joel answers:
Ethan, these issues all come down to improving your communication skills. Taking initiative to address them is one of the most important things you can do to prove your leadership abilities. Building your influence and leading your organization to success means improving your organizational culture by overcoming these hurdles.

  1. Communication channels are undefined.
    When it’s not clear whom people should talk to about particular types of issues, communication is likely to break down. Your workplace needs to have well-defined channels of communication for handling projects, and managers need to set the tone for communicating well. Each person needs to know which coworker to talk with about a particular issue. Additionally, you need a clear path of communication between departments, meaning communication roles must be clear. One member of your team might be in charge of liaising with the art director regarding a package design, for instance. A clear path of communication is important for handling complaints, too. Employees need to know whom to speak with, and that person needs to know what to do with the information.
  2. Silos keep information from reaching all stakeholders.
    Similarly, with poor communication, information can get stuck in silos. It might just be that departments need help understanding how to communicate better, but there are often deeper underlying issues. It’s not just that people don’t know how to communicate—it’s that they’re not motivated to communicate. Departments may have even come to view one another as competitors because they’ve lost sight of their common goal. Inspiring people to believe in a common vision is the first step toward correcting the problem, and it’s one of the most important ways of demonstrating leadership and getting noticed. Holding collaborative meetings with people from various departments will help people stay motivated to work toward their common goal.
  3. Communication flows only in a top-down path.
    When communication flows only from the top down, employees can feel frustrated, knowing they have a great deal of input that isn’t being used. You might not have control over how higher-up executives handle communication, but you can voice your feedback about it if you have an ally who might be receptive. Furthermore, you can work to encourage the people you supervise to share feedback and suggestions with you. An idea box is a great way to encourage people to speak up when they see something that could be improved. As you grow your influence, your leadership effectiveness will become apparent to other managers and executives, and they might emulate your approach.
  4. Views are unrepresented.
    When holding meetings, ask yourself if you should include particular individuals from other areas of the organization who might have a stake in the topic. For instance, if another department might have valuable input about the project your team is discussing, ask a representative to join in or share input by email. Making people feel heard is just as important as gaining their valuable input. You’ll be building stronger relationships by taking these steps.
  5. Unclear terminology leads to lack of understanding.
    When people use jargon frequently, others might not understand their meaning—or they might think they understand, but get it wrong. It’s important to ask clarifying questions when people use technical terms or ambiguous language. One department might have an internal understanding of a slang term it uses, while another department might get a different impression of the meaning. Likewise, if people use convoluted language, paraphrase what they said and verify that you understand what they meant. It’s much better to spend a moment clarifying than spending hours or days trying to repair the damage of a huge misunderstanding. As a leader, look out for the moments when team members might misinterpret something, and clarify the issue even when you believe you understand it correctly.

As you improve communication in the workplace, your team will see its productivity rise, in part because their job satisfaction will increase. Be sure to voice appreciation for employees’ efforts to strengthen communication. This will keep them motivated to continue making a conscious effort to improve. Your leadership and influence will grow along with the effectiveness of your team.

Are communication hurdles compromising your team’s performance, order Joel’s book Difficult Conversations for the entire team. If a conflict needs specific support, contact him for executive coaching.

Talkback:
Have you worked to overcome these types of communication challenges? What worked, and what didn’t? Share your experiences here.

The 4 Most Powerful Leadership Words You Can Use

“Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.” ~Misty Copeland~

Client Taylor Asks:

I asked my employees for honest feedback on my performance, and a few of them said I’m too authoritative in the way I speak to them. How can I show them I value their intelligence and ideas?

Coach Joel Answers:

When David Steiner became CEO of Waste Management, Inc., he received an invaluable piece of advice from one of his directors, as I describe in my book Getting Ahead. The director told him that one phrase will help him shift the organizational culture more than any other: “I need your help.” These are the four most powerful leadership words you can say, and you should say them often.

Why “I need your help”? When you’re in a position of power, you may have the authority to impose your ideas on others, but that’s no way to motivate them. In fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of an ineffective manager. Asking for help in generating solutions, and plans for implementing them, is a surefire way to make employees more invested in their work. They want the chance to think creatively, helping you devise a strategy. It places you on more equal footing, showing respect for their intelligence. Moreover, it brings a broader range of ideas and expertise to the table. If you start using this phrase regularly, you’ll have shifted your whole leadership approach, and your people will take notice.

When should you use this phrase? Here are a few examples:

  1. When you need a new strategy.
    Maybe you need a new way of gaining market advantage because competitors have moved in. The best ideas don’t necessarily come from higher-ups—they might come from your team. Bring all creative minds into dialogue with each other for a brainstorming session. Saying, “I need your help” will make them feel empowered to think outside of the box to bring forth potential solutions. Encourage them to throw out any ideas that come to mind, without judging them, and watch ideas merge and evolve.
  2. When you need to improve workplace culture.
    When your workplace culture needs to improve, initiate change by saying “I need your help.” This strategy works much better than reprimanding people. Even if you need to critique an employee’s behavior or issue a warning, saying “I need your help to create a more harmonious workplace for everyone” can still work wonders. If you want to keep the employee on your team, this phrase will help him to hear you and modify his behavior.
  3. When the company’s in transition.
    If the company is about to go through a change, don’t keep employees in the dark about it. Rather, solicit their ideas for managing the change or devising innovative solutions. Instill the feeling of “we’re all in this together,” and employees will take pride in helping see the change through. “I need your help” are four powerful words that will boost your leadership of any challenging situation. Change might still be scary, but when you make everyone feel invested in creating a plan and seeing it through, it will be a growing experience for all of you.
  4. When you need help with a particular task.
    Use this phrase when you need help with the small things as well as the big things. Rather than ordering an employee to do something, say, “I need your help.” Whether you need a particular type of expertise, or you just need someone to complete a report, using these words shows you see the employee as an equal. You value her time, knowing she has other important obligations. When you make requests in this manner, employees will probably be happy to fulfill them, and it will foster a culture of gratitude.

Use these four powerful words, and your leadership skills will shine. Employees will see you as a great boss who truly cares about them. After all, these aren’t just words—they convey an attitude of appreciation and respect, which will help you get the most from your team. Remember, the best leaders know how to be humble, a quality that this phrase embodies.

Use these leadership words frequently over the next week, and keep a journal of your interactions. Email Joel for more tips on how to show your people how much you respect and value them.

Talkback:
How did people react when you used these leadership words? Share your experiences here.