“You can have results or you can have excuses. However, you cannot have both. What’s it gonna be?”
~ Stephen Luke ~
Client Jill Asks: “I just don’t get it. I put in longer hours than anyone in my department. I come to every team meeting and propose at least one creative, new initiative. But I’m just not getting through to anyone. No one notices how hard I work, and no one seems particularly interested in my ideas. And I’m sure not getting any face time with C-level managers. I know I’m missing something here. What is it?”
Coach Joel Answers: You’re focusing on the wrong thing. You’re a creative person, so it’s natural that you would focus on the creative part of your business—coming up with new ideas in your workplace, developing unique strategies for your company and your clients. But how are you presenting those? You keep trying to impress people with how creative you are. What you need to do is speak about your ideas in terms of results. Impress them with your outcomes, not your talents or your work ethic.
An article in the Harvard Business Review indicates that 69% of US employers judge their employees’ performance by what they accomplish rather than the hours on their time log. Many companies are removing the barriers of work time and place in order to retain top talent. Employees have the freedom to work when and how they want, as long as they are achieving their productivity goals. (Galinsky, November, 2012.) So let’s shift your focus from ideas to results. Here’s a four-point plan I recommend.
- Be results-driven. When you present a new idea to your boss or your team, state the idea in just a sentence or two. Then go immediately to results. How much revenue will your strategy generate? How will it reduce expenses or improve client services? Give them specific numbers.
- Give them a by-when. Tell them who’s going to do what and when it will be completed. Nothing can tarnish your shining reputation more than not finishing the job, even if you have to be satisfied with less-than-fabulous results. A runner would always rather finish the race, even if she comes in last, rather than drop out halfway through.
- Consistently exceed expectations. If you present an idea and you get the green light from your boss or upper management, go the second (and third) mile to do even better than you said you would. For example, if your boss would be happy with an 8% or 9% increase in client satisfaction numbers, but you know you can bring it in at 10%, promise 8% and then go for 10%. Under-promise and over-deliver.
- Act like a winner. Believe in your ideas and be confident when you present them. Don’t apologize. Act as if it’s already a done deal. Use confident language. Say “when,” not “if.” Avoid words like “maybe,” “possibly,” or “perhaps.” When you believe in yourself, your confidence will expand and you’ll find that others will begin to believe as well.
If you change your emphasis from ideas to results, I promise you’ll get a dramatically different result for yourself as well.
Talkback: Have you been successful at getting a new idea off the ground? How did you do it? Share your experience here.
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“A great leader needs to love and respect people, and he needs to be comfortable with himself and with the world. He also needs to be able to forgive himself and others. In other words, a leader needs grace.”
~ Leo Hindery, Jr. ~
Bill did his best to model fearlessness, capability, and decisiveness for the people he supervised—all the qualities associated with strong leadership. In all his interactions with them, though, they seemed anxious and afraid. In meetings, he could never seem to spark a robust discussion—they would just give lip service to his questions. He couldn’t understand why they acted just the opposite of the example he tried to set.
Bill didn’t realize that his attitude of invincibility was not actually setting a good example. Rather, playing the part of the fearless leader was stifling discussion and creativity. He was forgetting that success requires risks, and when taking risks, a leader is by nature in a place of vulnerability. His attitude that failure is not an option masked the reality that we all risk failure when we reach toward high goals. Pretending he was invincible showed his deep fear of failure, which is a weakness, not a strength. Like Bill, if you want to become a strong leader in your company, have the confidence to believe that even if you do fail on any one project, you’ll bounce back and succeed in the future. When strong leaders show vulnerability, it projects this confidence to the world.
That doesn’t mean you should walk around griping about your insecurities all day. Rather, just be comfortable enough in yourself to show you know you’re far from perfect, and learn to view mistakes and weakness as learning opportunities.
1. Being authentic
When you show your vulnerabilities, you are being authentic, and that helps others to see you as trustworthy. In other words, let people see your whole self rather than picking and choosing the aspects you want them to see. People can tell whether you’re being authentic or not, particularly when you work with them every day. When you’re authentic with them, they’ll learn to trust you more rather than feeling that on some level you’re deceiving them.
2. Creating a culture of openness
Talking about your own mistakes will help the people you manage and work with to feel comfortable talking about theirs too. This will help create a culture of learning from mistakes by examining, with honesty and transparency, what went wrong. The whole group will then learn from each individual’s experiences, rather than everyone keeping things bottled up inside.
Further, this culture of openness will help your team understand the full history of a project, rather than just knowing it succeeded or it failed. The team will understand how each decision played a part in reaching the final outcome.
Likewise, be transparent about what’s happening with the company, and if you don’t know something, say so. When employees know you’re doing your best to keep them informed, they’ll trust you more.
3. Making team members feel needed
A leader who’s afraid to be vulnerable might fear that if an employee is more intelligent or capable than him in certain ways, that employee might upstage him. A vulnerable leader has let go of the need to be the mastermind behind every decision. Remember that you don’t have to know how to solve every problem to be a good leader. You need to know how to find and nurture the people who do. Don’t feel threatened by their abilities—recruit them actively, and provide them with the mentorship and incentives that will help them succeed. Give team members meaningful responsibilities with opportunities to use their own creativity, and let them know you appreciate that they can do things that you can’t.
4. Being easier to work with
If you’re hard to approach at work, imagine how much energy it takes for people to confront you about their concerns. That energy would be much better spent on team projects than on this unnecessary stress. Being the first to admit your shortcomings makes you more approachable, and it shows insight and self-awareness. It also makes problems easier to correct, allowing work to flow more smoothly. Sharpening your communication skills by learning to listen actively, use open body language, and stay fully engaged will help you make the most of these conversations.
5. Learning to grow
Strong leaders proactively ask for feedback, which puts them in an inherently vulnerable position. They might sometimes feel dismayed by the feedback they receive, but they realize this feedback provides a valuable opportunity to grow. By going outside of your comfort zone to ask for this feedback, you’ll move beyond the limitations that a false sense of invulnerability can impose.
As you become a stronger leader by showing vulnerability in these ways, your team members’ trust and respect for you will grow. Relax, take a deep breath, and let your ability to work with your own imperfection shine.
Make a list of five ways you can show your vulnerability with people you supervise. Try doing one every day over the course of a week. Do you notice a difference in how team members relate to you? Email Joel to discuss your results.
Talkback: Have you ever had a boss who was good at showing vulnerability? Did it help you to grow as an employee? Share your experiences here.
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” Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
~ Kofi Annan ~
Client Julia asks: I’ve tried to find a mentor in my company, but most of the higher-level managers are men, and the way they lead groups doesn’t come naturally to me. Am I just not leadership material?
Coach Joel answers: Julia, you just need to tap into your own strengths as a leader. Empirical research shows that women tend to have a range of strengths that make for a great leader. Women aren’t yet getting equal rewards for these strengths—according to Harvard Business Review, only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and just over 5% of executives in Fortune 500 companies are women. However, many qualities women leaders tend to possess are aspects of transformational leadership, which is fast becoming recognized as the most effective leadership style. Transformational leadership motivates employees by helping them find self-worth through the work they do.
That being said, many qualities associated more strongly with men can make for an effective leader as well. The best skills for the job always depend on the context. Both men and women should look at the range of qualities that can make for a great leader, and decide which ones to nurture in themselves, depending on their career goals and personal strengths.
1. Communication Styles
Women tend to have a more cooperative, participatory style of leading. Men tend to have a more “command and control style,” according to the American Psychological Association. They’re more task-oriented and directive, while women are more democratic. That’s often the starkest leadership difference between male and female bosses: Men provide direction for their employees, while women encourage employees to find their own direction. The cooperative style involves more conversation and listening, which often takes more time but leads employees to feel more valued. Both styles are valuable in different contexts. Being highly task-oriented can be highly beneficial where safety is concerned, for example.
2. Reward Systems
Women often motivate their employees by helping them find self-worth and satisfaction in their work, which serves as its own reward. This is a core part of the philosophy of transformational leadership: Help employees find their identity in the work that they do, so it’s more than just a job. Men are more likely to use the transactional leadership approach of providing incentives for succeeding and penalties for failing. Of course, either gender can learn to succeed in either of these leadership styles. Differences in leadership between male and female managers can work in tandem, too, as transactional leaders can ensure accountability while transformational leaders motivate and inspire.
Men tend to be good at branding themselves, meaning they let others know about their successes and strengths. Women are more likely to be modest or silent about their own accomplishments. To succeed as a leader, women should learn to brand themselves by sharing their achievements and skills with others. After all, it’s hard for a person to advance as a leader if people don’t notice what she’s capable of. Branding also brings a leader more respect in her current position. Volunteering for high-profile projects and finding a respected advocate are other great branding strategies that men are often more likely to use than women.
Again, it’s not that people of either gender make better leaders. The reality is that differences between male and female leadership styles can broaden a company’s pool of creativity and innovation. This enhances the success of any company when both men and women are promoted to high-level positions. Whichever gender you are, identify the distinct skills you bring and how to use them to get noticed by potential or current employers. The business of placing women in leadership needs to become a top priority.
Next time you’re in a meeting or talking one-on-one with someone you supervise, take note of which communication, reward systems, and branding styles you use. What comes naturally, and where could you improve? Email Joel for tips on which skills to hone for your career path.
Talkback: Do you feel that your leadership skills are related to your gender? Or do you use skills that aren’t typically associated with your gender? Share your experiences here.
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“If you want to get across an idea, wrap it up in a person.”
~ Ralph Bunche ~
Being able to influence upwards allows your ideas to be heard and implemented. This directly enhances your value because you are the owner of that idea. Yet how do you break through the layers of bureaucracy to find advocates for your ideas? Diane McGarry, Xerox’s Chief Marketing Officer, says, “Success at a big company such as Xerox requires an understanding of the many layers of office politics as well as the confidence to put your best ideas forward. You have to know which people you need to get your ideas in front of in order to get those ideas advanced…”
Diane knows how to present her ideas in order to get them implemented. This is a skill you need to master if you want to be an influential leader in your company. Here are seven ways to sell your ideas through upward influence:
1. Know what’s important to your boss.
Have a clear picture of what is important for your boss. Keep that as a priority and make sure these priorities are met. It’s not about trying to meet your needs, but thinking about how your ideas are beneficial for your boss. Part of your role is to support your boss for his/her goals.
2. Get other stakeholders on board
To buy into your ideas the right stakeholders must be on board. This might require going upward and across the organization to build coalitions. If your stakeholders believe the ideas you are suggesting are what they want to support and invest in, this can influence a decision in your favor.
3. Articulate a clear and defined goal.
Focus on why your idea is so important and should be considered. What is the desired end result? This may take a lot of preparation, but in the end your idea will be easier to sell if you provide realistic projections of the desired outcome.
4. Use facts and data.
How many dollars will be generated by your idea? How will it reduce costs or improve customer service? Facts like these are how you achieve buy-in to your ideas. Spend time researching and providing information based on data so it will have a greater chance of being accepted.
5. Be prepared to answer questions and respond to criticism.
Anticipate how others might question or challenge your proposal. Consider submitting a list of “frequently asked questions” with your idea. If you’re presenting in person, rehearse your sales pitch to fine tune your approach and build your confidence.
6. See yourself as the “owner” of your ideas.
See yourself as being self-employed, even if you work in a large company. Your mind-set should be similar to an entrepreneur who is the owner of his or her ideas. Be confident, and enthusiastic about your idea.
7. Don’t give up.
Don’t be discouraged if someone slams the door on your terrific idea. Maybe your timing wasn’t right or you didn’t consider some of the objections. Take stock in your approach and ask for feedback. If your idea has merit, its time will come. And so will yours.
Do you need help selling your ideas to your superiors? Joel’s executive coaching program provides an individualized action plan to help you reach your specific career goals. Click here to see how it works.
Talkback: Do you have great ideas but lack the confidence to pitch them to management? What are the stumbling blocks that keep you from gathering the courage to make a presentation?
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“Promotion means finding new ways of being successful- and walking away from the old ways that defined success. A leader who tries to be the same leader across all levels is not going to be successful at all.”
~ Matt Pease, DDI Vice President ~
Client Jamie Asks: There are many people in my organization that could benefit from increased executive presence. What should I look for in a business leadership training program? What skills can I expect my people to gain from such a program?
Coach Joel Answers: This is an important step. Your executives and those you are grooming for leadership need to have a whole company perspective. To be successful they must move from a tactical day-to-day approach to a more strategic overview. Here are six skill sets you’ll want your business leaders to develop.
- Step away from the day-to-day. There’s a saying: When you’re up to your ankles in alligators, it’s hard to remember you’re here to drain the swamp. Executives face many compelling day-to-day problems that can eat up all their time. Help your executives learn how to set aside a specific part of their day to reflect on ways they and their team can contribute to the company’s bottom line.
- Look at the big picture. It’s no longer enough to excel in your area. You need a clear view of how your work contributes to the overall success of the company. Get your program to help your leaders elevate their sights.
- Gain self-confidence. This is a mind game, but it’s based on past performance. People need to know they are doing a good job. A key training program will help your leaders assess their past ideas and work. This builds self-assurance which will give then that executive presence that makes people want to follow them.
- Do the work. Find a program that focuses on teaching skills that give real, measurable results. People need to deliver on the high profile jobs they are given. When they manage every project so their work shines, they demonstrate their abilities to co-workers and supervisors. And it gives your people confidence they have the necessary skills to perform at that high level.
- Recognize and seize opportunities. Part of situational awareness is looking beyond current tasks. What else needs to be done? Is there a gap that someone is not filling? Can you take the initiative? Successful executive training courses help with the mind shift necessary to look beyond the average and take those opportunities.
- Focus on solutions. Far too many people spend lots of time discussing the problems. They may lament the shortcomings or complain about the problem. Good leadership seminars will show people how to find solutions.
Jamie, you are wise to look at training your leaders from within. You already know their work ethic and they know the company culture. But leaders don’t just grow on their own.
They need extra and different skill sets. They need a professional to coach and train them to perform at their optimum level. The abilities that have grown them to this point are not sufficient to get them to the top. Unless you train them in those new ways of thinking and acting, you will not help them acquire that executive presence.
Of course you and I both know it can’t be a façade. It can’t be for looks. That leadership, that executive presence has to be backed by a history of success and by skills and vision.
If you need one or two people to gain these skills, I recommend individual coaching. If you want a group of people to grow, a business leadership course can be brought to your executives and tailored to their challenges and the needs of your company.
For more information on how Joel can help your leaders gain that executive presence, contact him.
Talkback: Have you found programs that were successful in developing your leaders?
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