Every time I start coaching someone, I interview 8-12 of their colleagues. They list for me real-life strengths and development areas. Over 10 years, I've collected thousands, and recently analyzed them to look for common themes. Here's what you need to know:
They fell into four themes
Think of it as kind of a tried-and-tested "menu" -- behaviors and skills you should consider working on and developing, to learn, work, and lead others in better and stronger ways. Here they are in detail:
Theme 1: Execute and Deliver
Choose--Pick and communicate a handful of things needed to achieve results, and actively manage out distractions. Apply 80/20 rule
Structure--Build and evolve the organization, its structures, systems, administrative, and other frameworks for agility and leanness
Deploy--Recruit, assign, and retain capable people who care deeply
Empower--Delegate excellently, offering full context and giving the leeway/authority for the “how”
Ask/listen--Manage transmit/receive ratio. Seek out and listen to people at all levels, fostering candor needed for speed of execution and delivery. Learn all areas to right level of detail
Assess--Analyze, think critically, use data, on-the-ground truth, opinions, intuition, experience, technical and functional knowledge to understand the situation fully and clearly
Fix--Ongoing change without delay consistently low-performing and off-track strategies, tactics, plans, work streams, people, organizations, customers, suppliers, etc.
Be time-smart--Use time wisely – takes things at the right pace for the right reasons. Use yet do not overuse urgency
Decide--Make and communicate decisions without delay
Protect--Manage risk in balance with innovation
Respond--(rather than react) to the unexpected/what’s upsetting
Distribute solving--Guide all to solve problems on their own
Involve--”Manage in the middle:” Get involved in the right details at the right levels for the right reasons. Be consistent about this
Deliver on the promise--Consistently does what says. Is reliable, delivers results on-time, on-budget, as promised. Is results-oriented.
Drive--Works hard, work ethic, high self-motivation without serious imbalance (for self, or caused to others)
Capable--Applies ones’ talent, smarts, knowledge and experience (and common sense) well. Knows own limits and adjusts accordingly
Operate prudently--Track and spend resources wisely, neither to excess nor with over-reluctance. Balance earning with spending wisely
Theme 2: Lead and Engage
Spread the individual ownership mindset--Model and guide all to think and act as owners 24/7. Frame: “What would I/you do if I/you owned the place?”
Map vision--Choose, evolve, and communicate a simple and inspiring vision, strategy and roadmap
Inspire--Engage people by sharing the personal “why” behind your vision. Avoid doing things that disengage/demotivate others
Follow through--Keep commitments consistently
Challenge--Be sharp-edged or tough when needed, in the right forum, sparingly, without delay. Don’t avoid critical conversations
Foster accountability--Preview and apply consequences fairly, both positive and otherwise, without undue delay. Recognize wins.
Be true--Act with integrity, ethics, and courageous authenticity. Know and work in sync with values, core purpose
Disrupt--Be a change agent when/as needed / challenge the process or status quo. Balance when to ask for permission versus seek forgiveness after taking a risk. Be bold
Evolve--Seek & respond to feedback on self, people, and org. Self-observe, try new ways, learn. Grow fulfillment and balance. Develop / broaden capabilities as a leader and executive
Build capabilities--Invest in, be candid with, coach, sponsor, mentor, and develop team, teamwork, and hire/identify successor(s)
Play--Create a place for fun, humor, work-as-constructive-play
Impact--Care for own, org’s impact on lives, society and the planet
Balance--Find and mind a healthy balance between work and life outside of work, and model/support that among for others
Theme 3: Connect with others
Emphasize relationships--Make knowing the people on ones’ team, colleagues, customers, competitors, future talent/candidates, and community a priority on par with delivering results
Relate--Assess and build interpersonal EQ. Seek and know others’ goals, hopes, and challenges, and share same with them. Show care, concern, and empathy for others
Trust and build trust--Be honest and straightforward with others. Develop and grant trust and respect. Fix trust issues timely – “make it right.”
Own--Avoid blaming others. Take responsibility (fosters trust)
Resolve--Fix / resolve conflicts with colleagues, and among them, proactively and promptly, and/or find then maintain a level of appropriately productive tension
Network--Identify, invest in, and evolve networks with others both internally and externally
Receive--Ask and listen versus direct or tell
Collaborate--Work effectively with others toward own (and shared) goals. Make reasonable offers to and requests from others. Request and offer help in balance. Seek consensus where appropriate. Show others reciprocity
Communicate--Speak and write well. Be kind, candid, reachable and responsive in timely ways. Match well audience with communication method and message. Know when to stay silent
Be at ease--Be approachable, comfortable to talk to, and mindful of your impact on others. Attract, rather than repel, ideas. Avoid angry outbursts, loss of composure
Fit in or change culture--Operate within org norms, or influence to change them
Build a brand and narrative--Develop a known “brand” / signature that’s distinctive and authentic
Theme 4: Influence
Read the room--Assess unspoken and obvious needs of others in real time, and tailor communication accordingly
Be confident--Be calm and inspire calm in others. Know ones’ value is 100% no matter who else is in the room. Avoid self-doubt or self-criticism. Avoid scripting / over-reliance on visual aids
Show savvy--Know when to inquire, assert, and stay silent. Keep track of ones’ impact on others, adjust accordingly
Be bold--Show one can participate in big picture(s) outside of immediate wheel house with compelling ideas and insights
Be polished--Have a polished presence: Dress a level up, within org norms. Grooming and appearance consistent with culture
Develop gravitas--Be a strong voice that’s right-sized in terms of ego (dash of swagger) and NOT arrogant. Welcome opportunities to discuss opinions / ideas. Listen to others
Simplify--Be a clarifying/simplifying force among others
WIIFY--Find “what’s in it for you” avoid “I win / You lose”
Count the chips--Manage the give and take of influence
Champion--Make the case compellingly at the right time to the right audience
Building executive presence (EP) is a hot topic from cubicle to corner office. A dash of swagger and reading the room when face to face are crucial; but how do you demonstrate EP on email? After all, the majority of our workaday communication involves hitting SEND. EP-busting email habits are rampant, according to my experience as an executive coach.
Here’s a technique that works for my clients. When was the last time you re-read older sent email for the sake of self-improvement? Maybe never? Try this: Carefully select a sample of, say, 20 of your sent emails. Make sure they represent both smooth and stressful times, and a spectrum of people. As you carefully reread your sample, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Don’t blow off your subject line
Take the time to write a subject line that gets the correct attention and priority. Your email lands on long lists, and your most important recipients don’t have time to click more deeply into your meaning. Be creatively concise on the headline and, if appropriate, time frame. “Project X Phase 2 Needs Your Approval by 5/15” works better than “Project X Update.”
2. Don’t bury the lead
Once you have their attention with your effective subject line, if it takes more than a sentence or two to decipher importance and required action, you’ve buried the lead, and your email EP along with it. Why they should care and what you want from them should be right up front.
3. Be brief--very brief
If you need to write more than a few paragraphs, you’ve missed a conversation that needs to happen. Keep your emails short and sweet. If you can’t, then start an IM, pick up the phone, or go face to face.
4. Don’t confuse an email chain with a conversation
A string of emails and replies shouldn’t be considered a substitute for a conversation, brainstorming session, or a decision-making process. It’s a series of “tells” with varying lag times that often lead to unnecessary churn. Voice to voice, face to face, and IM are much better forums for important interactions.
5. Don’t use email to confront, vent or process
Lasting EP problems spring from this mistake. As a therapist might say, “Write the letter and don’t send it.” Email isn’t the place for processing an issue, venting, or confronting. Since email subtracts nuance and body language needed for deeper understanding, it makes thorny issues thornier.
6. Follow the New York Times rule
You’ve heard this one before--now believe it: Email is barely communication. It’s certainly not a forum for risky disclosure. As your General Counsel should say: Don’t put anything in email today you wouldn’t want to read in the New York Times tomorrow. All emails are or can be read by others.
7. Check your grammar, spelling and avoid text-speak in emails
EP degrades with poor quality communication. Check your spelling. Read it out loud. Look for words spelled correctly but in the wrong place, such as “here” versus “hear” or “affect” versus “effect” or “your” versus “you’re.” Using text-speak like “ure” and “btw” and “LOL,” even when sending from your smartphone, degrades your EP. Double-check these before sending.
8. Read the message you received carefully before sending your reply
Too many people scan and reply in a rush, and miss the point. Before replying to a message, read it twice. Think. Prioritize. THEN BEFORE SENDING, read the original email and your reply together. If you don’t have time for that, wait until you do, or connect with the recipient by another method.
9. Don’t be lazy about forwarding emails
We’ve all forwarded emails without double-checking what lurks below, earlier in the chain. Please scroll all the way down, and read the full chain. Delete irrelevant, outdated, or recipient-inappropriate stuff.
10. Check and double-check recipients
Avoid sending the wrong thing to the wrong person. Before clicking SEND, check and double-check your recipients. This may seem obvious, but is a step too often overlooked.
11. Be calm about response time
When you send follow-up emails too shortly following the original (e.g., “did you have a chance to review my email from earlier today?”) you’re degrading your EP, not to mention being an e-stalker. If you’re going to need a response that quickly, then don’t use email in the first place.
* * *
As suggested above, self-test a sample of your previous sent email from time to time. What do you need to change? Answer that, and you can make email a vehicle to enhance, rather than hinder, your communication, influence, and build your own EP.
We all have perfectly good intentions to take those important yet difficult actions. We aren’t intentionally avoiding them, yet we let ourselves off the hook, one more day at a time, and those days add up to real delays:
“I know I need to do more to deal with that performance problem.”
“I know I need to finish that business plan and get it circulated.”
“I know I need to get on the road and connect with our major clients.”
I hear things like this from high performing and high potential clients alike. As a coach, I tend to ask three questions:
1. What important yet delayed actions do you need to address? That is, what is it high time that you do, that you think about often, yet aren’t doing?
2. What are the “costs” (time, worry, distraction, fear, impact to others / organization / clients / bottom line) – actual and perceived -- of continued delay?
3. What help do you need to stop letting yourself off the hook, and take action today? How can I help you (and you help yourself) be accountable to take action now?
The answers to these questions are excellent propellant to the rewards that come from stopping letting yourself off the hook, and taking delayed but important actions.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader who, like Mahatma Gandhi before him, and Nelson Mandela after him, showed us the way from weakness and division to strength in unity.
He challenged and inspired us to reach deeper within ourselves, despite ourselves, for our best, which sometimes is, simply, better than yesterday. His power endures because it's rooted in the courage to hold hope and faith in each other's potential: "knowing" we can do it ... we can be better every day, each in our own way.
On this, the U.S. holiday celebrating his life and legacy, I present you with ten of his extraordinary thoughts on leadership:
Here's a brief and fun self-coaching practice on career development and professional fulfillment to kick off the new year ... and don't worry, I'm not going to suggest any "resolutions!"
Find some quiet time this week to reflect and make a few notes on the following three themes:
1. Compass of the Past: Looking back on your entire career, when were you the happiest and most fulfilled than at any other time? What were you doing professionally, leading, working on? Who was your boss? What were they like? Who were your colleagues, and what were they like? What made it so great?
2. Reality of the Present: Comparing that peak career experience to your current professional situation, what's different at present? What's better? What's not as good?
3. Now, about 2014: Given your peak past experience and what's happening for you now professionally, what, if any, changes would you like to make early on in 2014, so that by this time next year, you will be on the path to your professional best?
Write down a few sentences on each of these topics, and once you have your notes, make it a practice to reread them on the 1st of each month throughout the new year, and reset your direction accordingly. And have some fun with it.
I wish you and yours a prosperous and healthy 2014.
Rambling presentations, low-yield meetings and FYI emails are a global brain drain of time and money. These bad habits encase an organization in layers of fat that weigh down its capacity to deliver value effectively by making it hard for people to do their best work.
I've spent more than half my time, during my 10 years as a coach, listening to, observing, and interviewing leaders and executive teams. The amount (and weight) of unnecessarily elaborate communication is literally stunning.
Public service: if you can say something in three sentences or less, then do it.
Of course details and nuance are critical to success, but so is knowing when to keep it simple. That's where good things come in threes. While some would impose a blind-logic “rule of three” to emails and other executive communication, I think it’s best to consider specific situations where threes that are particularly useful:
Giving critical feedback
1) Observation - here's what I noticed you doing / not doing. 2) Impact - here's the impact that's having. 3) Suggestion -- here's what you can try going forward.
Presenting a problem or tough issue to your leader
1) Problem - here's what happened / is happening.2) Action - here's what action we took / are taking / are planning to take.3) Result - here's the outcome (intended or achieved).
Explaining your product or service
1) What’s most compelling about who you are and what you do. 2) How it works 3) Why this is relevant to your audience’s needs.
Writing an "Informational Email"
1) Subject line is the headline - why you need to read this. 2) Next sentence is the supporting statement.3) Final sentence is where to get more information if the reader is interested, even that means the extra detail is directly below under a heading (e.g., "Detailed Discussion," or "Further Information," etc.)
Communicating your vision
1) What a home run / amazing future will look like in the context of what we are doing. 2) Why this needs to happen / why you should care.3) How it will happen.
Pitching / communicating your value proposition
1) Here's where you are today. 2) Here's what’s great about where you can be if I / we help you get there.3) Here's how I / we will help you make that happen.
This is not an all-inclusive list, so you should find your own opportunities to communicate in threes (or less). Try it, and the world will reward your succinct leadership communication with the clarity needed for greater speed and execution.
As an executive coach, I have plenty of clients at any given time wanting to make a bigger difference in their organization and/or the world. Building an organizational mindset of ownership is the most powerful way to do that. Here's how.
In addition to natural extraverts, Type A and senior people, the majority of others in an organization have plenty to contribute and wonder -- even struggle with -- what to say or do in many situations. Should I speak? Should I show my value? Should I listen? Should I ask a question? Should I avoid controversy? This is even more common when it’s not their own meeting, area, project, business, or direct responsibility.
In response to that, I tend to offer an overall ownership mindset question to ask ourselves at that moment of indecision about chiming in: “If I owned this place, what would I want me to do, say, ask, or let pass in this situation?”
Thinking like an owner is a leadership approach that saves money, time, and upgrades everyone’s ability to make a more significant difference.
“What would I do if I owned this place?” cuts through any need to say and do things primarily for the sake of appearances, “politics,” boss- or people-pleasing, being noticed, etc. It stops you and others wasting time and money on the unnecessary.
What would the owner of this business or organization do right here, right now? Why? What’s needed? What can I do to make that happen?
This coaching – really a challenge to make sure your mental framework is one of taking on bigger-picture responsibility and thinking -- will ensure you engage at your highest level.
Try it. Think like the owner – and encourage others in your organization to do that -- in as many situations possible. In creating a mindset of ownership throughout your enterprise, you are indeed crowd-sourcing leadership, and upgrading the likelihood that you will meet and exceed your overall potential.
You know the person at work who can walk in and derail a meeting, get way under your skin and drive you to distraction, or inflicts fear / loathing in others? If you do, you may have a minor petty tyrant (MPT) for a colleague, and it’s good to understand your choices.
Way back in time – okay, the 70’s -- Author Carlos Castaneda coined the phrase “Minor Petty Tyrant” to describe, in anthropological terms, “Tormentors who are fearsome and inflict misery, but do not hold any real power over life or death of others.”
Anthropology is an apt way of looking at office life -- which, after all, is the tribal village with a 401(k) and a chieftain in the corner office. There is often an MPT around -- someone whose best skill seems to be to derail, distract, or disrespect others.
MPTs are far more prevalent than we might expect. Coaching leaders at many levels, my clients sometimes express difficulty dealing with their local minor petty tyrant. So it’s good to understand your choices with such a colleague, boss, or direct report.
At our best with them, we gain strength by practicing boundaries, healthy choices, detachment from ego and empathy for the pain of others. At our worst, they fuel our distraction, ongoing stress, frustration, anger, fear, dread, loathing, etc.
1. Abuse is not okay, and you can (and maybe should) move on
You can walk away from any job or situation that you find abusive, overwhelming, or damaging to your well being. I’m in no way recommending you adapt to a bad situation if it would be better for you to leave. You always have options, even if it doesn’t seem that way. Nothing is permanent.
If, on the other hand, you otherwise love your mission / work and want to stick it out for healthy reasons, consider the following:
2. Empathize, rather than objectify them
Yes they are a complete pain-in-the-ass. It’s thus easy to look at them as this “pain-generator thing” versus as a wounded soul. Yet they are in deep pain, or they wouldn’t have to inflict it on others. Their annoying behavior reflects their own struggle, and it’s truly sad. The best way someone described the MPT’s self-image as: “I’m the biggest piece of sh*t the whole world revolves around.” It’s helpful to know that in your bones. See their pain and empathize with it to the point you are sure their behavior isn’t about you; it’s about them -- and your empathy can lead you to feel more grounded and stable around them.
3. Detach from ego
Escalation with an MPT -- responding to their bad behavior with your own -- is never a good idea. It depletes your own power and doesn’t solve the problem. Yet it’s our ego that wants to play that game. Going toe to toe in a calm, clear way is strength, while escalation is only going to make matters worse. Finding peace with yourself when faced with their stormy bad behavior is a skill worth developing.
4. Create healthy boundaries
Get to know their specific behavior patterns that trigger you to become stressed, angry, or fearful, and master your own ability to be aware of those triggers in real time. When it happens, you can change the narrative of what you tell yourself to something like, “They’re under my skin (again), but I am not in danger. This feeling is not a fact, and I can let it go.”
5. Ask for help, as needed
Help is good. When you are at a loss, feel trapped / unable to deal with the situation in a healthy way, you MUST remember to ask for help from a trusted adviser, coach, mentor, friend, or someone else you think might offer a different perspective and help you make good choices.
* * *
Thinking through several clients, and my own career experience, there’s usually someone very annoying down the hall. We can learn from them, whether we choose to stay or go. Yet the biggest trap is to imagine we are backed into a corner and have no options. That’s a feeling, not a fact -- a reminder that your power is to find calm and strength whenever dealing with the MPT in your tribe.
Going from newbie to experienced pro to top-level leader takes "a village" -- many helping hands, and the data are showing us specifically the most effective form of that help: Sponsorship.
Maybe you've heard the term "marzipan layer"; I was reminded of it when I saw a slide I had to use yesterday for facilitating a workshop. It's the sweet top of the cake right below the icing. For organizations, it's the leadership layer right below the top job.
What was driven home to me in two experiences over the last two weeks is how sticky that marzipan layer tends to be. The data from Sylvia Hewlett's recent research (more about that below) show that beyond simple executive coaching and mentoring, sponsorship -- active advocacy -- is needed to help the most capable, ambitious, and excellent of us unstick and gain the jobs at the top.
Getting unglued from the marzipan layer is particularly challenging for women and people of color. Women comprise half the US workforce, 34% of the marzipan layer, and 5% or less of CEO's worldwide. People of color compose 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEO's, according to the Center for American Progress.
This was all evident to me running our (Goodstone Group) first-ever "Get Your Gravitas On" video practice workshop for a leadership team at a large SV technology company last week, followed immediately by facilitating several sessions this week at a Women's enterprise resource group of a global health care company.
My big take-away from both experiences was that WE MUST HELP EACH OTHER's CAREERS by being painfully and kindly candid with each other, supporting each other's dreams and ambitions, and actively pounding the table on behalf of the best and brightest.
You know this to be true. Look at every step of your career -- particularly the ones that made a difference for you, and someone was there helping you, advocating for you, mentoring you, coaching you, and/or advising you. Think back. It's true. And it's incumbent on all of us to "pay it forward" and do the same for others.
While the women's ERG workshop was based on FaceBook COO Sheryl Sandberg's worthwhile book, Lean In, we were essentially using the data and conclusions of a much more compelling and more recent book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett: Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor. An important read for women -- and all of us.
In short, a mentor gives you advice, while a sponsor will pound the table on your behalf, expending their political capital to help you get to your next step. All you have to be is ambitious, excellent, and willing to "seek and speak your truth" - and find a sponsor, and tap others to be YOUR proteges.
Let's all commit to help each other in our careers. Tell our truths to each other, and meanwhile, I can't thank my clients enough for both experiences, and look forward to helping you and seeing your careers continue to play out, whether on the ladder, or jungle gym of the work world.
It's not uncommon for managers and leaders to create some type of intentional distance from their people. In my coaching practice I've seen this approach often in newly-promoted people and "old school" execs alike.
After all, they know at some point they may have to give their people bad news -- be it disappointment with a piece of work, a
negative review, or (worst case) a pink slip.
So they adopt a segregated style: "If I get too close, then I won't be able to be tough when needed." Also, be too buddy-buddy with some of their people, but not others, and the criticism of "playing favorites" will be a fair one.
The work environment does a fine job of healthy tension without a leader deliberately adding to it by being artificially distant. When you stand apart, people don't know what to make of it, and that creates more stress, that, over time, disengages them, and makes them reluctant to approach you with the information you need to lead.
In short -- get real with them, or you become a source of tension rather than effective leadership.
Besides, those you WANT working for you -- the ones you should hire and retain -- create their own healthy tension by setting high standards for themselves and their teammates, and doing their best, most days. If you’re not getting your people's best, then you need to first look in the mirror at your own leadership choices and behavior, and then at your roster.Knowing each other -- leader and team -- generates trust that leads to candor and ultimately invites your people to share important information with you in a timely way. Stand apart from your people and you’re going to turn them off from doing their best consistently.
“In some cultures, it’s a virtue not to speak your mind.” This advice came to me in the course of interviewing an American client’s colleague in the Asia-Pacific region. As I reflected on it, I see it has greater meaning than the obvious merit of good cultural adaptation.
With the focus on transparency and authenticity in leadership, particularly in the US, it’s not uncommon for a more, shall we say, talkative leader, to habitually over-disclose.
Yet transparency doesn’t mean compulsive self-disclosure, so particularly for extraverts, it’s a good practice to know when NOT saying something is the right move. Selective silence is not only key to navigating the distinction between transparency and over-disclosure, but also to upgrading your influence as a leader, and tuning up your gravitas.
Here’s a quick set of questions you can consider as a self-coaching practice:
- What situations trigger you to go too far in disclosing your thoughts or feelings? High stress? High urgency? Frustration? Excitement?
- What do you need in order to avoid over-disclosing -- to catch it in real time and use selective silence instead?
- Are silent intervals challenging for you in a meeting, whether one on one, or with a group? If so, can you practice holding your tongue and seeing what the silence may bring, just as an experiment?
- When do you feel pressured to say something, what is the nature of that pressure, and what’s a good key for you to remember to let that moment pass without comment?
Being strategically and selectively silent is indeed a virtue. As Susan Scott once wrote, it's a very powerful tool to "Let the silence do the heavy lifting."