Six Smart Strategies for Communicating with High-Level Executives

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” ~James Humes~

Mei had just scheduled a one-on-one meeting with an upper-level executive in her company. She didn’t get much face time with high-level executives, so when communicating with them, she knew she had to make it count. She understood that talking with senior executives was a great strategy for boosting her visibility at work. She immediately called her mentor and asked for advice. Her mentor walked her through these six essential strategies for making the most of the meeting.

  • Get to the point. Make your point clear at the start, rather than slowly meandering toward it. By letting the exec know exactly why you’re sitting down together, you’ll make the most of her time. Don’t be long-winded—keep your words short and sweet. Mentally rehearse what you’ll say beforehand, and write notes if that helps you, to keep yourself on point as you present your ideas. Presenting your ideas eloquently, and showing how they align with the big picture, will impress the exec. Plus, you’ll leave time in the conversation for dialogue.
  • Ask questions to gain clarity about what the executive needs to hear. This will allow you to customize your message to what the leader needs to know. For instance, ask if he’s familiar with a project before launching into a description of it, so you’re not telling him things he already knows. At the beginning of your session, ask if he has particular concerns or interests that you could speak to. If he really wants to hear about project X, and you spend fifteen minutes talking about project Z, you might not have impressed him as much as you hoped.
  • Listen to what the executive is and isn’t saying. When communicating with high-level executives, you’ll get feedback not only from what they say, but from what they don’t say. If the executive hasn’t commented on what you see as the most exciting part of your plan, try to discern her feelings about it. If you sense hesitation about an idea, ask how she feels about it, so you’ll have the opportunity to provide additional data or other information to back you up.
  • Be natural. Your voice and body language should radiate confidence, but don’t act like you’re on a stage. Execs will see right through that. If you look like you’re performing, they’ll try to figure out what’s amiss. Be optimistic but honest about areas that need improvement.
  • Let the executive know how to support you. Make the executive feel like an ongoing part of your team by letting him know how he can support you. You might need support in bringing your ideas to higher-level executives. Asking for help, and voicing your needs clearly, shows you’re serious about bringing your plan to fruition.
  • Make a follow-up plan. The exec will feel like an ongoing part of your project if you have a plan for how you’ll check in about it. Set a follow-up meeting a month out, or say that you’ll email him once you reach a particular milestone to talk about the next steps.

By using these strategies, Mei came across as professional and competent to the executive—just the kind of person this leader wants to work with in the future. Plus, her mentor noted, communicating well with executives in high-level positions could open up new opportunities for her in the organization. The executive might even become an advocate for her in the future if they continue developing a strong working relationship.

Contact Joel for executive coaching so you can immediately begin to communicate with higher-level executives and build your executive presence.

Talkback:
Have you had the chance to speak with high-level executives in your organization? Did you use any of these strategies? 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.

Six Team-Building Phrases Used by Great Leaders

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” ~Andrew Carnegie~

Client Gina Asks:

As a leader, I want to have a stronger impact on team morale. Some leaders seem to always have the right words to make people feel supported and energized. Can you give me some tips on what to say to keep my team inspired?

Coach Joel Answers:

Great leaders make sure to use team-building phrases each day. To become a better leader, use them not only with the people you supervise, but also with other colleagues. These phrases, when used by leaders in any field, will build strong working relationships that bolster the effectiveness of the whole team. Use them, and others will also perceive you as a stronger leader—someone who empowers others and values their contributions.

  • “What can we achieve?” Asking this question will help team members develop a common vision for a project. To ensure the best chance of success, all team members must believe in the vision. Posing this question will reveal areas where people lack confidence and problems that need to be addressed. It will also help to define a realistic goal, as team members’ distinct areas of expertise will give them important input about what you can accomplish together.
  • “What can I do better?” This question is one of the most important (but often overlooked) phrases used by great leaders. A great leader welcomes constructive feedback about her performance. Asking this question rather than passively waiting for feedback makes it feel safer for employees to share their input. In turn, the leader has the opportunity to strengthen her performance based on this feedback.
  • “Thank you.” It’s easy to say “thanks” in a brusque way, but sharing genuine gratitude requires more thought. Say exactly what you’re thankful for, in a moment when you can focus your full attention on sharing your appreciation. Make eye contact and smile, which will give greater emphasis to your words. And whenever possible, share your thanks in front of others on the team, so team members will come to notice and appreciate each other’s strengths more.
  • “What’s your opinion?” All employees want to feel that their opinions are valued. By asking this question of team members frequently, you’ll help bring a greater diversity of ideas to the table. Posing this question to specific individuals at meetings will help spark dialogue about ideas that need to be hashed out.
  • “I need your help.” Rather than issuing demands, come to employees with a request. Let them know that you need (and appreciate) their skills to get the job done. They’ll take much more pride in their work when you frame requests in this way.
  • “What drives you?” Great leaders want to know what their employees are passionate about. They want to know what energizes them, what motivates them to do their best each day. This knowledge helps them to delegate work appropriately, so each employee has the chance to do more of what fuels her. Plus, finding out what employees are passionate about will aid you in succession planning, preparing them to take on more responsibility in that area.

Leaders who frequently use these phrases will see the team’s performance improve alongside their own. Practice using these phrases at team meetings and in everyday interactions in the workplace. Your employees will come to see you as more personable, supportive, and team-focused, and they’ll feel more driven to work as a team in turn.

Try using all six of these phrases this week, and take notes on the interactions they spark. Email Joel with any questions about your results.

Talkback:
How did people respond when you used these phrases? Do you have other go-to phrases for boosting team morale?

Four Effective Habits to Combat Demotivatiors at Work

“There is no[thing] better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” ~Malcolm X~

When Stacy started work, she found it exciting and rewarding. She felt she was moving up and making a difference. But lately, when she walks in the door at work she feels drained and unenthusiastic.

A few weeks ago, Stacy decided to face this frustration. What was going on at work that created a feeling of DE-motivation? What was causing her to be less satisfied with her job and less willing to dig in and get the work done?

She decided to list her concerns and then figure out what to do about it. At the end of the week, Stacy’s list of demotivators at work looked like this:

  1. Micromanagement. When she first started work, she needed some extra help. But now that she was confident in her work, the micromanaging seemed interfering. It made her feel like the boss didn’t trust her.
     
    Solution: Before a project starts, Stacy will talk to the boss about the expected standards and the basic approach. She’ll understand the guiding principles the boss wants to see in the job.

    Stacy knows her boss is a worrier and stresses. So she decides to really work on building trust with excellent work. Also, she’ll try to control the conversation by initiating frequent progress reports to help him see that the work is progressing smoothly. Be detailed and specific. If she has questions, she’ll ask for clarification quickly.

  2. Slow Progress. Stacy had moved from a small company to a larger one. There are so many more layers of management here that it seems to take forever for decisions to be made. She’s suggested some real cost saving initiatives… but nothing seems to happen.
     
    Solution:
    Stacy decides to more closely align her goals with the company goals. She decides to talk with her boss about what is most important in the company’s eyes for her to accomplish. Perhaps what she thinks is important isn’t exactly on target.She also decides to focus on what she can control and do excellent work there, while she waits for progress on some of her ideas.
  3. Rewarding poor performance. Stacy still smarted from a slight from last week. She’d worked overtime on a project why Ernie had been on vacation. Yet in the meeting where the project was presented, Ernie got the praise. Talk about a demotivator!
     
    Solution: Stacy decided to make sure she was the presenter on projects she had major input on. She would prepare comments and speak up more at meetings to make sure people were aware of her contribution. If necessary, she would schedule face-time with the boss on a regular basis to keep him informed on her work.
  4. No connection with co-workers. Stacy had been close to her co-workers at her last job. Here, she felt a bit excluded. She really didn’t have any good friends at work. In fact, she didn’t know much about them at all.
     
    Solution: Stacy decided she needed to reach out and connect on a more personal level. She needed to get to know about her co-workers—their families, hobbies, and interests. She decided to start inviting them out to lunch one-on-one and showing interested in them as a person and not just as a co-worker.

Stacy was surprised to find four things that led to her demotivation at work. But once she made a game plan, she felt excitement come back into her day. Now she had control and could make her plan work. And it wasn’t a surprise to her that after a few more weeks, she had friends among her coworkers, her boss was micromanaging less, and she felt like her performance was accurately recognized. As for the layer of management that made progress slow? She discovered a mentor could also help cut through some of the red tape!

If you have a motivation problem at work executive coach Joel Garfinkle can work with you to find solutions.

Talkback:
Do you ever feel burned out or demotivated? What causes your demotivation? And what have you done about it?

The 16 Ways to Improve Your Work Performance In 2017

“Celebrate what you want to see more of.”

~Tom Peters~

Simon wanted to have an extremely productive upcoming year. He reached out for executive coaching so he could take the necessary steps to help him improve his work performance. With advanced planning, he knew he would be prepared to start the New Year with a significant advantage.

This is the plan that I completed with Simon and other clients over the years.

STEP 1 – CLOSE OUT THE OLD YEAR. Close out the year in an effective way so you are ready to charge forward in the New Year.

1. Wrap up loose ends. Close out those small nagging projects you’ve been meaning to do. Make the phone calls, answer those emails, and turn in expense reports. Essentially you want to clear out dated projects so you can start fresh.

2. Organize your work area. Clean up your desk, put away old papers, toss dated files and generally straighten your physical area. Then you’ll come back to a clean organized office for less stress.

3. List your accomplishments for the year. Take the time to review your accomplishments. Quantify all that you can. How did it benefit the company? What value have you brought? Keep this in a file for your next review.

4. Keep in contact. Before you leave for vacation turn on voice mail and email autoresponders with a message you are away. Make sure the office has a contact for you in case of urgent matters. You don’t want to return from vacation to unpleasant surprises.

5. Check employee benefits. Businesses often have changes to their employee benefits that happen with the changing year. Take a look. Do they affect you? Or have your circumstances changed and you need to update beneficiaries, withholding amounts, or providers?

STEP 2 – TAKE A YEAR-END BREAK. Be sure to take a well-deserved year end break. This is a time for relaxation and renewal. You will return to work more vitalized and energized than if you just keep on working without a break.

6. Unplug. Disconnecting from typical social media and technology gives your brain a chance to recharge. It calls on new neuron paths and creates new ways of thinking. When you return to work, your performance will improve.

7. Connect with family and friends. Personal interaction is another way to recharge your life. Pick up hobbies and activities. Have fun. Enjoy.

8. Strengthen your network. The holidays are a great time to send greetings to those you want to keep in your network.

9. Gratitude. Life feels fuller and more enjoyable when we have gratitude. Take time to thank others and express appreciation. Be grateful for what you have.

10. Reflect on your personal and professional life. What changes do you want to make to have a more fulfilling life?

STEP 3 – PREPARE FOR A FRESH START. As you start 2017 you will be prepared for a fresh start. Think of it as a new beginning. The old is behind you and the New Year is a blank page for you to write on. Jump in with enthusiasm.

11. Goal Set. Take stock of where you are and where you want to go. Are there projects or tasks you want to be a part of? Do you want to join a class or professional association? What steps do you need to take to get there? Write down the process and calendar it.

12. Update LinkedIn profile. Review it for needed changes. Use your goals to focus the content and attract the connections that will help you achieve them.

13. Organize your priorities. What is most important? Why? How will you keep that in focus? Learn how to use your time in the most productive way possible.

14. Choose your attitude. Make the New Year one of optimism, gratitude, focus, energy. Use this to create a brand and an expectation that you will produce great work.

15. Focus on the positive. Look at each negative with “What can I learn from this that will make me sharper, stronger, more resilient?” Don’t drag others down, lift them.

16. Capture your 2017 accomplishments. Going forward, track your successes. Make an email folder to hold records of your accomplishments. Quantify them and remember how they added value to the company.

When you apply these 16 principles, you’ll find that you naturally improve your work performance. You’re focused, organized, refreshed and connected. You know where you’ve been and where you want to go. Get set for a rewarding 2017!

Need help rejuvenating, organizing, or planning for your future? An executive coach can cut through the fog to clear answers.

Talkback:
What have you done to launch the next year ready to increase your performance? How effective do you think these tips will be for you?