“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
~ Coco Chanel ~
Casey is facing a dilemma. She has always considered herself a leader. And she’s always been considered a leader by others. At work, she consistently brings out the best in her people by encouraging them, listening to them, empowering them, and letting them know they are important and that their opinions matter.
Lately, however, Casey has become The Reluctant Leader. She feels she is not being noticed for all her hard work and accomplishments. Yet she doesn’t feel comfortable bragging, talking about how great she is, or publicly calling attention to all her accomplishments.
In recent meetings and encounters with her boss and other C-level employees, she is consciously choosing not to speak up when she knows she should. She wonders if she’s just come down with a temporary case of shyness, or if this has the potential to become a real problem. In discussing it with me, Casey lists these reasons for her reluctance:
- I’m afraid of stepping on peoples’ toes
- I feel like people know my strengths and they should ask for my input
- Sometimes I feel like punishing people for not listening to me by letting them struggle and find the answers on their own
- I even think sometimes that I have the wrong answer and don’t want to embarrass myself by speaking up.
As Casey’s coach, I concluded that she had probably become a bit too comfortable in her comfort zone. Sometimes it’s easy to figure that “once a leader, always a leader,” so you quit trying to raise your visibility with the bosses. I offered Casey this checklist of ideas to jump start the raising of her profile.
- Volunteer for a high visibility project. Look for something that has serious consequences at the senior management level, or that has been perceived to be challenging or risky by others. Focus on something with real results, including bottom line impact.
- Find cross – departmental opportunities that will expand both your horizons and your visibility. If you work in accounting, look for a project in sales, marketing, or communications. If you work in sales, look for ways to get a thorough understanding of the support functions in the company. It will make you a better sales manager and your superiors will notice your initiative.
- If you have a bright idea or an answer to some recurring problem, look for the right occasion to speak up, preferably in a meeting where top brass are present. Volunteer to make it happen too—don’t just leave it on the table.
Don’t wait until you feel comfortable to start changing your approach. Nobody’s perfect, and even if you implement all these action items, you’ll make mistakes along the way. Don’t let that discourage you. Just dust yourself off and keep talking.
Casey implemented all these ideas over the next month, and found that her reluctance to speak up all but disappeared and she was once again the leader she thought herself to be.
Make a list of where and how you could implement each of these ideas. Then start implementing them this week.
Talkback: Have you successfully raised your visibility at work? What ideas worked for you? Share your experience here.
Image courtesy of Krasimira Nevenova / fotolia.com
“When psychologists have looked at who have been the most creative people over time in a wide variety of fields, almost all the people they looked at had serious streaks of introversion.”
~ Susan Cain ~
It seems to Gary that offices are constructed and organized to favor the extrovert. As an introvert, he finds open office spaces draining. And meetings with rapid give and take showcase extrovert’s social skills, but frustrate him as he takes time to think.
Gary determined to build on his own strengths in the office. While outgoing people gain energy from being around others, Gary knows he gains energy from solitude and ideas. Gary values the introverts in his office because they can focus easier and produce more.
Here is Gary’s list of six ways introverts can shine in the world of office politics.
1. Connect with Ideas. Instead of joining others as they talk about sports, movies or people, Gary starts a conversation about ideas. He finds common ground with other people when he focuses on thinking topics, not social events.
2. Understand Yourself. Gary recognizes his need for quiet and regeneration. He accept that in the wide range of personalities, he works best without distractions.
A study discussed in the Harvard Business Review showed introverts responded better to problem solving when the background noise level was lower. Extroverts performed better with louder noises.
When both you and your boss understand that you will be more productive when you have quiet and solitude to focus, you will benefit. Recognize that others may find synergy in large group discussion.
3. Be Comfortable Being You. Gary learned his best work practices. Then he determined to speak up. When necessary, he requests that quiet office—or time in an unused conference room. Often he suggest meetings hold a few key players instead of multitudes.
Gary got his boss to try “Brainwriting” instead of brainstorming in sessions. Here each person writes an idea on a piece of paper and passes it to the person next to them. Once a paper has four to five ideas, the group stops to discuss them.
The quiet and time gives thinkers a better chance to respond. “It’s really helped me add value to the group,” Gary says. “And even the vocal members like it. They get to shine when we discuss it.”
Sometimes Gary gets an agenda ahead of time and plans out his thoughts and ideas.
4. Develop Relationships Your Way. Socializing sometimes seems like a waste of time, but Gary recognizes that we all need relationships. He schedules 30-45 minutes each day to visit other people. He just stops by and say hi. “That small talk builds bridges,” he says.
What extroverts call “networking” or “selling yourself,” Gary renames. “Consider it ‘having a conversation’ or getting to know someone and letting them get to know you,” Gary says. “Choose your environment. I like one-on-one or small groups.”
5. Be fully present for 10 minutes. When you are with other people, totally focus on them and what’s important to them for a full 10 minutes. “I find I can focus for that 10 minutes,” Gary says. “Then I feel free to move on.
“When you use your strength of focusing and direct it toward others, you make them feel valuable and important. This builds relationships and trust.”
6. Be Confident in Your Strengths. Gary learned to value the great strengths he brought to the office. Studies show that the introvert rises to the top in team building as others value their focus and productivity. Many of the great creative people have had a more private personality.
Less outgoing people make great leaders. They are more willing to listen to others ideas. I think I use other’s strengths and let them run with an assignment,” Gary says. “Introverts are less likely to feel they must put their stamp on the project.”
Work places perform best with a blend of personalities. Each kind brings their own strengths to the mix. “As you come to trust your strengths and be comfortable seeking ways that allow you to be the most productive, you can thrive,” Gary says. “Then office politics are no longer a struggle for the introvert.”
Trying to figure out how to shine at your office? Contact Joel for a personalized assessment of your strengths and a blueprint on how to move up.
Talkback: Introvert? What is your best coping skill? Extrovert? How do you connect with introverts?
When it came to programming complicated scripts, Anita’s manager, David, knew that she understood Java like the back of her hand. Anita was a hard-working, diligent worker but she was awfully quiet. She would sit in meetings and not say a word. It almost seemed as if she wasn’t engaged at all, yet her work was at par or above her peers who beamed confidence and shared their ideas for new scripts and software improvements with passion and assertiveness.
David recognized Anita’s potential and knew that if Anita spoke up in meetings, her ideas and contributions could be very valuable to the rest of the team.
Here are three things you can learn from how David helped Anita feel comfortable and confident enough to contribute, share her ideas, speak up in meetings, and eventually overcome her shyness:
- Use their names. Calling on an employee by name is a great way to get them to participate. Make the employee feel comfortable by asking a simple question. Asking them to share their opinion rather than come up with an idea is a great start. For example, David encouraged Anita’s involvement by asking, “Anita, we’ve discussed two possible options; is there one you’re more inclined toward and why?”
- Take the employee aside. David quietly took Anita aside after one meeting and expressed his desire for group participation. He then casually inquired about what was holding her back from speaking up in meetings. David discovered that Anita lacked self-confidence and felt she didn’t really have anything important worth sharing. David reinforced Anita’s self-esteem by telling her that she was smart and had excellent insight and was doing herself and her team a disservice by not participating.
- Encourage mentorship. Pairing a shy employee with a fellow co-worker or mentor can help them to build positive relationships at work and actually elevate their confidence and comfort levels at meetings. But David decided to try something a little more outside the box. In an attempt to push Anita out of her comfort zone, David paired Anita with a new employee to train him and get him up to speed with everything the current project entailed.
In a few short months David noticed Anita getting more involved in meetings. In a private consultation, David asked Anita to share what had made a difference. Anita pointed out that training another employee had helped her to discover her own strengths and abilities, many of which she had taken for granted or never even known she had. This helped develop and build her confidence.
This boost of confidence in turn helped her to proactively offer her input at meetings. When she observed that her ideas were getting noticed and praised, she built up even more confidence to share more. This eventually led to taking initiative and assuming more responsibilities.
A year later, Anita became the new team leader for a million-dollar software program. David has advanced to another firm but Anita still remembers him for helping her to develop her true potential and thinks of him fondly as the manager who taught her how to speak up in meetings.
Do you want to get ahead at work but don’t know how and your manager’s not helping? Enlist the services of an executive coach or read my book to build perception, increase your visibility and exert influence in the workplace today.
Talkback: How have you learned to overcome shyness to be an active and engaged participant at meetings? Share your ideas and stories below.
Did you know that there are over 11 million formal meetings held every day in America? According to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, that comes to more than 3 billion meetings per year. Most managers spend an estimated 20% of their working hours in formal meetings of five or more people. A meeting between several executive leaders may run a firm over $1000 per hour or more in salary costs alone. Ineffective or unproductive meetings could cost Fortune 50 companies losses of more than $75 million per year.
A New York consulting firm, Communispond, Inc., conducted a survey of 471 management leaders and found that well over one-half of the managers surveyed considered most meetings to be a “waste of time.” Almost 90% recognized the failure of most meetings to be due to a “lack of advanced planning and organization,” and over 75% of those polled pointed out that they received no proper training on how to conduct a meeting in the first place.
If you’re looking for answers on how to make executive meetings more productive, it’s important to understand the top seven reasons why executive meetings fail:
- Lack of a goal or objective. If you’re unclear on what you need to achieve in the meeting, the end results of the meeting will also be loose-ended. Establish a purpose or objective for the meeting. This way you know what to expect as a proposed outcome. Clearly identify the issues you want to resolve or discuss and what you want to achieve.
- Not preparing an agenda beforehand. Not preparing a meeting agenda in advance can lead to a meeting that lacks focus. With your goal in mind, prepare and distribute an agenda with the objectives outlined to the participants of the meeting. Request them to read this in advance. This makes the most efficient use of time as they don’t have to skim through the agenda in the meeting itself and it also gives them a chance to think through and make their own individual preparations ahead of time.
- No facilitator and mote taker roles assigned. Without someone to lead the meeting and someone to take notes, the meeting can go in any direction and waste precious time. Learn how to delegate effectively and determine who’s going to be in charge of facilitating the meeting and who’s going to be taking notes prior to the meeting. Both of these individuals will be responsible for issuing the minutes of the meeting. Different participants can take on these roles in future meetings.
- No start and end times established. A meeting can go on for hours if you don’t set a fixed time for it to finish. Respect those who got to the table on time and start (even if others are late). Don’t start over when others arrive, and end the meeting on time. You’ll be surprised on how much you can accomplish in shorter, speedier meetings than long meetings that seem to go on forever.
- Using technology ineffectively. Using technology for the sake of using it can lead to an unproductive outcome. There are just so many ways to conduct meetings today–everything from PowerPoint presentations to webinars and white boards to video conferencing. A flip chart, a black marker and post-it notes might be all you need to get the interactive participation you need to make the meeting a success.
- Unorganized discussions. Many meetings deviate from the agenda and focus on other issues. Although those issues might be equally important, it’s the facilitator’s job to stick to the agenda and keep the meeting on track. Remember, your aim is to make sure you maintain clear and effective communication to resolve or discuss the goal you started out with.
- Not assigning deliverables and following up. Failing to recap and assign responsibilities at the end of the meeting makes the entire goal of the meeting pointless. Follow up by sending out the minutes of the meeting with the assigned deliverables and timelines. Make participants accountable by scheduling a short follow-up meeting to track whether everyone is going in the right direction to meet the objectives.
If you really want to understand how to make executive meetings a productive success, start by finding a solid facilitator or take the lead yourself to encourage participants to be open to adhering with the organizational improvements you suggest.
Once you know how to organize and run a meeting the next step is to understand how to express yourself in meetings and how to disagree at meetings in a positive and productive way.