Brenda's Blog

Self-Leadership Challenge #5: How to Self-Promote Without Bragging

I once coached a leader named Margaret, a Human Resources executive who, along with her team, was responsible for 125 leaders within her large organization—no small feat. However, as a result of a company merger, Margaret and her team suddenly found themselves responsible for almost double that—245 leaders—and were informed that due to cost-cutting measures, they would have no additional staffing. So, overnight, Margaret and her team were faced with almost double the work and no added help.

Margaret came to me feeling anxious, wondering, “Can we do it? Is it possible?”

She and her team created a vision, devised a strategic plan, worked weekends and late nights, and ultimately did an exemplary job of managing their larger mandate. In fact, within one year, they were working like a well-oiled machine, effectively managing all of the 245 leaders without incident.

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When Margaret’s annual performance review came, her boss praised her wholeheartedly. He congratulated her on a job well done and let her know just how much the company appreciated what she was able to accomplish.

How did Margaret respond? She shook her head modestly, and said, “Oh, it’s OK. It was nothing….”

When Margaret met with me and shared the outcome of her performance appraisal, she must have seen an expression of surprise on my face, given the tremendous effort she and her team had put in during the last year.

She shook her head. “I know, I know. I can’t believe I said that!”

After debriefing the situation, Margaret shared that she hadn’t taken the compliment well because she was uncomfortable in that moment and didn’t want to appear boastful.

Promoting ourselves and talking about our accomplishments in an unboastful way can be uncomfortable for many leaders. It is absolutely true that nobody likes to listen to the braggart who goes on and on about all the great things he or she has done. But there’s a difference between bragging from a place of insecurity that makes you need attention, and simply bringing attention to your achievements—with a combination of humility and pride.

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Margaret and I talked about how she would have liked to respond to that compliment, and we even prepared a statement that she memorized in case the opportunity arose again. About a month later, Margaret’s boss’s boss came to see her to also express his appreciation for her hard work. This time, she was prepared. When the compliment came, Margaret responded, “Honestly, it took everyone on the team working long hours and even weekends, but I’m really pleased with what we did, and I’m so glad you appreciate it.”

By answering in this way, Margaret gave credit to everyone on the team, demonstrating that she is an excellent leader. But it also allowed for some self-promotion without putting the emphasis only on herself. Then, she brought it back to “I’m really pleased with what we did, and I’m so glad you appreciate it.” As a result, she was able to show awareness of her own accomplishments without resorting to bragging.

Self-Promotion is Self-Leadership

Are you like Margaret? Have you avoided self-promotion out of the fear that you’ll be seen as a braggart or as someone who doesn’t have humility? I know that being humble is a foundational characteristic in many cultures, and I wholly respect that. But if you avoid promoting yourself on the job, your hard work may go unnoticed. I tell my clients, “Please only learn to be a good self-promoter if you want a successful career and higher compensation!”

Despite the benefits of self-promotion, most senior leaders still avoid sharing their “wins.” Some of them think, “It’s not that big of a deal. I’ll wait until I achieve something bigger, and then I’ll talk about it.”

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Others ask me, “Shouldn’t talking about my accomplishments be my boss’s responsibility?” Well, yes, probably. But let’s get real. Put yourself in a modern-day superior’s shoes. Financial pressures are creating increasingly flatter organizations, which means bosses have a larger number of direct reports than ever before. Also, the need for companies to go beyond domestic borders to continue their growth trajectory means not only do bosses have more direct reports, but those direct reports may be located all over the world. So, be empathetic to the fact that top executives’ jobs have gotten more and more difficult over the years, and their ability to focus on and promote upwards each individual who works for them has become stretched very thin.

You can now hopefully see how today—more than any other time in the history of modern capitalism—self-promotion has become a vital part of self-leadership. As such, by letting your boss know on a regular basis what you’re doing, you are actually making his or her job easier! The boss will be grateful because—trust me—when it’s time for your yearly performance management review, he/she will be better able to endorse you to upper level management. You will not only be helping your superiors, but also demonstrating strong self-leadership and solid Executive Presence in the process.

Another point to consider: By keeping track of your accomplishments along the way, you will be better prepared for your next performance review without the need to invest hours in reflection and writing time. You’ll be glad you can avoid that feeling of, “Did I miss anything?” that often accompanies your own self-assessment in annual performance reviews.

How to Self-Promote Without Bragging

Promoting yourself without bragging takes a bit of finesse while you’re first learning the art. With that in mind, here are some specific steps you can take:

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  1. Send regular emails to your boss—not about yourself, but about the good work of one or more of your team members. Give those deserving people a spotlight; that will show your superior that you’re a terrific leader without taking credit yourself. And, by the way, sending this email about others’ accomplishments is an excellent way to demonstrate your own self-leadership, too.
  2. Shortly before your performance review, make a list of accomplishments you want to highlight to your boss. This is your chance to let him or her know your strengths. If it helps you feel more comfortable, spend a little time phrasing your remarks so that they don’t sound boastful, using proven facts to support your claims. For instance: “The revenues of the Alberta project exceeded expectations, and the strategy the team and I put in place reduced costs by 12 percent.”
  3. Don’t miss a chance to let someone else praise your good work “upward.” If a client, customer, or colleague sends an email expressing gratitude or saying they were impressed with your work or the work of your team, forward it to the boss with a message saying how grateful you are that this person took valuable time out of their day to send positive feedback.
  4. Always try to applaud another person before you mention your part in a project’s success. For example, “Shania worked evenings to finalize this plan, and her efforts really helped me seal this deal. I appreciate having such solid team support.” Notice that you use the words “I” and “me” without taking all the credit for yourself.

If you continue to feel uncomfortable when mentioning your own accomplishments, spend time planning the words you will use, as if you were selling a new client on your company’s products or services. Practice the phrases at home or with a friend or a peer you trust until you reach a point where sharing your accomplishments feels more natural. Then, you’ll be promoting yourself without the need to brag at all.

Do you want to strengthen your self-leadership skills? Check out my latest book, Leading YOU™: The Power of Self-Leadership to Build Your Executive Brand and Drive Career Success, where I share dozens of tips, tools, and techniques to help you rise to the top in your career.

Self-Leadership Challenge #4: Why Great Self-Leaders Know Arguing is a Good Thing

My executive coaching client, Sonya, was head of the Operations function in her organization when her boss was struck with a severe illness that forced him to suddenly quit his job. As a result, Sonya was catapulted overnight to the role of General Manager. She went from being peers with her fellow function heads to becoming their boss. And some of them weren’t exactly happy about that.

To make the situation more challenging, Sonya had been raised in an Asian culture where harmony is a critical value and a key to success in work and life. On the other hand, the function heads now reporting to her came from mixed backgrounds, but quite a few from Western cultures. Harmony wasn’t as important for them, so her leadership meetings were a struggle from the start, with considerable conflict and all sorts of games being played.

Because of Sonya’s desire to maintain a pleasant environment and make sure people were happy, her efforts at placating everyone didn’t resolve issues. In fact, some of her team members didn’t take her seriously, and the tensions between them persisted. She came to me in a state of desperation, needing help to find a solution.

I had a hunch that Sonya might benefit from exploring her mindset around conflict. So, the first thing we did was use what I call the “What You Think is What You Get Triangle,” starting from the bottom and working our way up.

First, I asked Sonya to tell me her main thought about conflict. Her answer was steeped in her experience and the way she was raised, “Conflicts are bad, so I avoid them as much as possible.”

Next, I asked her how that thought made her feel about arguments when they did happen. Sonya said, “Nervous. When someone disagrees with me or starts an argument with me, my mind gets garbled, and I don’t think clearly.”

Moving up the triangle, I asked, “So, when you feel nervous, how does that make you behave? What are the actions you take or the reactions you have as a result of that feeling?”

“I gloss over it when someone objects to something I say or do. I just turn away from dissent, or I agree with that person, even if I don’t really agree,” she answered.

Lastly, I asked her what the outcomes were of simply ignoring disagreements. “I don’t resolve issues,” she said, “and the leadership team ends up not being aligned.”

Through doing this exercise, Sonya began to realize that it was her own thinking and the resulting behaviors she exhibited—not the actions of her colleagues—that were actually keeping conflict alive.

We tend to think of conflict as problems with “other” people, and we look for ways to change their behavior. But managing conflict is largely an “inside job,” a matter of self-leadership. Sure, your negotiating skills and everything else you’ve learned about working with others will come into play, but your self-leadership skills will set both a tone and an example. The better you manage yourself, the better each conflict that arises will be managed overall.

When I asked Sonya to reflect on the overall impact of her behavior on her individual brand as a leader, she admitted it probably made her appear ineffective and that conflict management was an area she could definitely work on as a way to strengthen her self-leadership.

The Advantages of Arguing

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Regardless of the culture we come from, let’s face it: Few of us actually enjoy arguments. They can be unpleasant and give us anxiety because, if they escalate, we might damage a relationship or create bad feelings that linger. Once people feel hurt or insulted, it isn’t always easy to regain their trust or respect.

But great self-leaders know that conflict isn’t always a bad thing. The truth is, arguments are a natural and unavoidable part of work life. Leaders who avoid them do so at their peril. Indeed, as long as we don’t let arguments get out of hand and turn into useless shouting matches, they actually have a number of advantages. Here are just a few:

Arguments allow…

  • people to participate in discussions;
  • new ideas and perspectives to surface;
  • improvement, forward movement, and positive change rather than stagnation; and
  • a clearing of the air so that issues don’t fester.

A modern-day example of how arguments can bring about positive outcomes is the relationship between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They had a famous, history-making argument that led them to launch two separate companies. Without that argument, we might not have the products we use every day from Microsoft and Apple.

If you tend to avoid arguments (and many of us do), try the “What You Think is What You Get Triangle.” Start at the bottom of the Triangle, and work upward, asking yourself what you honestly think about arguments, how that specific thought makes you feel, how that feeling in turn influences your behaviors, and what the outcomes are of those behaviors. In short, reflect on how those behaviors impact your brand as a leader. Then, you’ll see how that single, foundational thought that you have around conflict ultimately impacts the results you get.

Once done, redo your triangle, thinking a productive thought about arguments, how that thought would make you feel, how that feeling would make you behave, and the results that you would get from that new behavior. It’s a powerful shift.

Here’s how that second triangle turned out for Sonya: In order to alter her results, we went back to the beginning and considered how the outcome would change if she modified the way she thought about conflict, keeping in mind that what you think is what you get.

This time, when I asked Sonya to come up with a constructive thought about conflict to replace her prior negative thought, she said, “Conflict is actually good. It leads to positive and productive outcomes.”

“OK,” I said. “Now, how would that thought make you feel when you are in a situation involving conflict?”

She reflected for a moment before speaking. “I would feel appreciative of the person arguing, and I would respect the value they added to the conversation.”

We continued on to reveal that this feeling, in turn, would cause Sonya to behave differently from before. She would acknowledge the person’s point of view instead of trying to avoid it. She would seek to understand before judging.

The ultimate result? The dissenting person would feel acknowledged, the meeting would carry on, and everyone would benefit from new ideas being shared.

Through this exercise, by simply changing the way Sonya thought about conflict—which in turn would shift her feelings and behaviors about conflict—she could immediately get better results. In other words, by practicing good self-leadership whenever tensions arose, Sonya would strengthen her leadership brand.

Make a commitment to yourself that the next time a conflict or argument arises in the workplace, you’ll think differently about that conflict in order to get better outcomes. It’s what great self-leaders do.

Do you want to strengthen your self-leadership skills? Check out my latest book, Leading YOU™: The Power of Self-Leadership to Build Your Executive Brand and Drive Career Success, where I share dozens of tips, tools, and techniques to help you rise to the top in your career.

Self-Leadership Challenge #3: The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself as a Self-Leader

These are interesting times for leaders. Technology is changing the game every day, there is increasing competition for good jobs, and the international economic climate is as fickle as the weather in London. If you are like most of the executives I coach it’s hard to find the time to sit down and contemplate where your career is going. But how can you be a good self-leader if you don’t know exactly where you are leading yourself to?

As Laurence Peter, author of The Peter Principle, wrote: “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

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That’s why the most important question to ask yourself as a self-leader is: “What do I really want long-term in my career?”

You’re no longer at a level where you can leave your fate to “the powers that be” at headquarters or even to your immediate boss. If you wait for something outside of your control to change, you could end up waiting a very long time. So, in reality, there is nobody better than you to look at the big picture and set the direction for the next move in your career.

Take my coaching client, Scott, as an example. A very successful lawyer in a large multinational firm, Scott hadn’t taken the time to look at his career in a “big picture” way. Don’t get me wrong— he was progressing up the ladder, and quite nicely at that—but not in a strategic way. He was simply moving along from job to job. He had no long-term perspective because he had gotten too caught up in each position’s specific set of responsibilities and was only focusing on how to move forward to the next one. He had never thought about how each job could actually position him for much longer-term success.

Scott said to me (and I hear this a lot), “The truth is, Brenda, I’ve just been lucky all my career. The companies and opportunities have simply come to me; I didn’t need to plan or strategize.”

If this sounds familiar to you, I may know why. Early in your career, it isn’t unusual for the next opportunity to just land in your lap. You produce, you deliver, and doing so results in more jobs and more opportunities appearing on the horizon.

But as you move up the ladder to increasingly senior positions, the sheer number of jobs at that level diminishes. It becomes important to shift from being reactive—simply choosing from among the various positions that are presented to you—to being proactive. When you are proactive, you ask yourself the important questions that can change the trajectory of your professional life for the better: Is my current position likely to lead me where I want to go? In order to reach my long-term goal, what makes the most strategic sense for my career – short-term, medium-term, and long-term?

A Career with a View

It’s one thing to say that you want to look at your career from a strategic vantage point, but how do you actually do that?

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To do this for Scott, he and I worked through what I call the “End-Point Exercise.” You can try it, too:

  1. First, draw a horizontal timeline with this year’s date at the farthest-left end of the line. Then, reflect: At what age will you retire and/or quit working full-time? Be transparent with yourself. How many years do you honestly have remaining in your career? 10? 15? 20?
  2. Write that retirement year at the furthest-right end on your timeline.
  3. Then, ask yourself:
    • What does “success” look like at that final stage?
    • What do I want to be doing by then?
    • What is my ideal final post in my career?
  4. Spend some time visioning what your life will look like at that point. Don’t limit your vision to your work life; think also about where you want to be with your family/personal life, community, spiritual life, philanthropy—all aspects of what is important to you.

This first step is key. You must be crystal clear in your mind about your “end game.” Don’t move forward with any other steps until you’re absolutely certain that you have clarity about where you are headed.

To help you with this, I encourage you to create a vision for yourself. It can be a written narrative or a pictorial vision (with photos or magazine visuals that you pull together)—or it can be a combination of both. Be specific. You may want to talk about or develop your vision with your spouse or your significant other to assure that you have the same end game in mind.

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Once you are crystal clear on the desired outcome, here’s how to make this vision come to life: Envision that it is the last day of your work life. You’ve fast-forwarded to the year you’ve written at the farthest-right end of the timeline you drew.

Try it now! In your mind, imagine you are at your retirement party, and a big banquet has been organized in your honor. You are seated at the head table. All of your past and current coworkers are there to celebrate your life and career—your direct reports, peers, bosses, suppliers, and industry colleagues. Each of those individuals is standing up, one by one, and paying tribute to you. What will they say about you in general? About what you did? About the specific contributions you made? About the kind of person you are? What would you like to hear them say as you sit there, listening to speech after speech?

Then, ask yourself this fundamental question: What will I need to do, and how will I need to be, to get to that point and deserve those accolades?

It helps to take a 360-degree approach to this exercise and look at the situation holistically:

  • What character traits will you need to hone and polish?
  • What specific skill sets will be key to your success?
  • How much money will you need or want to have by then?
  • What kinds of networks and connections will you require?

Create a list for yourself, and keep adding until you’ve written down all of the skills, attributes, and actions that you will need to get you to where you want to be.

Once that is clear, come back to the reality of today, and ask yourself: How would you rate yourself in each of those individual areas now? If the “end game” is a 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being high), how would you score yourself today in each specific area?

This assessment allows you to get crystal clear about (a) how well you are honestly doing now, and (b) where you will need to place the most focus between now and then. Which of your skills and talents need strengthening in order to achieve your goals by the end date? Get specific.

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As I walked Scott through the End-Point Exercise, he realized that he had aspirations to be a General Counsel in a large multinational corporation. That would involve carefully plotting his career to include new skills—both in the legal field and with people-leadership—that he hadn’t previously considered. He also would need to network across other areas of the larger organization where he worked—within divisions where he hadn’t made connections in the past. This prompted Scott to set up a series of lunches and coffees with various high-level leaders from other areas of the organization. It was a great example of being proactive and taking self-leadership in career planning to a whole new level.

This is how you develop a concrete plan to plot your career strategically and make sure you’re on track to end up where you want to be!

Do you want to strengthen your self-leadership skills? Check out my latest book, Leading YOU™: The Power of Self-Leadership to Build Your Executive Brand and Drive Career Success, where I share dozens of tips, tools, and techniques to help you rise to the top in your career.

Self-Leadership Challenge #2: The Two Biggest Time-Wasters that Great Self-Leaders Avoid

As an executive coach, I’ve reviewed the time logs of hundreds of senior managers and executives. In those logs, where leaders track their movements at 15-minute increments for two full weeks, the two biggest and most consistent time-wasters that great self-leaders avoid have jumped out from the page: (1) attending meetings and (2) writing/responding to emails. Does this sound familiar to you, too? Let’s explore each of these, one at a time.

#1 Time-Waster: Meetings that Hijack Your Time. A survey conducted among 2,000 British employees highlighted that the average UK worker will attend 6,239 meetings during his/her career. Is that just a “British thing?” Not according to the time logs of my clients, who hail from over 60 nationalities and 70 industries.

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The number of meetings held daily at any given company is staggering. And since senior leaders seem to be invited to the bulk of those meetings—and often feel obliged to attend—the victim mentality frequently kicks in when I discuss this topic. “But I have to go to that meeting. I don’t have a choice,” I hear leaders say. This, in spite of the fact that a whopping 60% of the people in that same British survey said they find meetings “pretty pointless.”

If attending meetings is one of your biggest time-robbers, too, never fear. There is something you can do about it.

As a coach, I’m often asked to shadow execs in their workplace, usually in meetings. I sit there quietly observing so that I can provide feedback later about what I saw and heard. As I look around those meeting rooms, I sometimes pause to consider the amount of total salary that’s being spent by the organization to have all of those individuals in the same room at the same time. Can you imagine?

If this is true for you, or if you find yourself in a meeting that doesn’t truly require your presence, pause and reflect: You may actually be doing a disservice to your organization by attending that meeting. Think about it: Every minute you spend during work hours is a company asset. Just like you wouldn’t misuse a company car or waste office equipment or materials, so you shouldn’t waste your limited time in meetings that don’t honestly need your talents and attention. Your duty is to use your time—the company’s asset—in the most effective way possible.

How Do Great Self-Leaders Use Their Time Wisely? They Choose Their Meetings Wisely

The key is to get real about which meetings you honestly do and do not need to attend. That means saying “yes” only to meeting invitations where your presence is absolutely required and you can add value. How can you tell if a meeting is necessary or if it’s going to be a time-waster?

First, ask for an agenda in advance that clearly states the purpose/objective of the meeting. Once you get the agenda, here are some tips to determine if your attendance is truly required, as well as ways to say “no,” how to handle difficult meetings, and how to effectively plan your own meetings.

  • Will it truly benefit the company if you attend? If so, how?
  • Will it benefit you as a leader if you attend? Perhaps the meeting is to cover a topic you know little about, but you’d like to improve your understanding. Or perhaps it’s a meeting that will be attended by much higher senior-level leaders, and you want to observe how they conduct themselves.
  • Would attending the meeting be a possible means for you to strengthen important relationships, either with a particular person or with a specific group of people?
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  • Is it truly necessary for you to be there, or could you ask someone else to attend in your place? For example, could this meeting be a good learning and development opportunity for one of your direct reports?
  • Do you need to attend the entire meeting or, after review of the agenda, is there only a portion of the meeting that’s truly relevant to you? This is a consistent problem shared by many of my clients. They sit through an entire 3-hour meeting even though they were only needed for, say, 30 minutes.
  • Could you attend the meeting via video or by phone? Just be careful: It’s easy to get distracted with other tasks, such as emails, when you aren’t physically present at a meeting.
  • Let’s say you’ve reviewed the agenda and have determined that it really isn’t necessary for you to attend, neither for the company nor for you personally. How do you get out of attending the meeting gracefully and still preserve positive relationships with the organizers? Sometimes, you simply have to say “no” with calm confidence. Let the meeting planner know that you appreciate being invited but that you feel your attendance isn’t necessary. Then, either offer to read a summary of the meeting and follow up with any comments you might have, or have someone else attend in your place.
  • What if you are in a meeting that’s running overtime? Opt to excuse yourself by saying something like, “I have to stick to schedule and leave, but thank you in advance for sending me the meeting summary—I appreciate that.”
  • For meetings you do decide to attend, schedule a 10-15 minute buffer before and after. Use the time before the meeting to ask yourself: What is the objective of this meeting? Why am I attending? What do I personally want to achieve by attending? What does success look like for me at the end of the meeting? Then, after the meeting, ask yourself: What were the one, two, or three key takeaways from that meeting? What are the implications for my team or function? What are the next steps I’ve committed to, if any, and who needs to be aware of them?

#2 Time-Waster: Emails—The Constant Interruption. Since our phones and computers typically make a sound or vibrate every time we get an email, it can be tempting to interrupt what we’re doing to take a look. But unless you’re waiting for specific important inbox material, this is a major distraction and time-waster. Each time you interrupt your concentration, you have to take a few seconds or even minutes to regain the same level of focus on what you were doing before.

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The idea that we can “multi-task” is a myth. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that our brains are simply not capable of doing two things at once. All we can truly do is what is called “rapid refocus”—quickly shift from one focal point to another—and doing so not only wastes time, but tires the brain, too. The outcome? We are more likely to make more mistakes and be burnt out at the end of the day.

Here are two tips to prevent emails from distracting you and robbing you of so much time:

  • Dedicate focused time for reading, writing, and responding to emails. Give yourself specific guidelines for email management, and stick to it. For example, let your staff know that you’ll be working on email without interruption from, say, 8:30-9:15 every morning and from 3:00-4:00 every afternoon. If you plan for this focus and make it an ongoing habit, you’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish.
  • Get voice-activated software, and dictate your emails by voice instead of typing them. I use software called Dragon Naturally Speaking, but there is other voice-activated software to choose from, too. Be sure to program it to understand your accent and your specific enunciation patterns. Once you do, you may become addicted to it like me, especially if you aren’t a particularly speedy typist. I’ve seen this type of software save hours per week for many of my coaching clients as well.

How much time do you think you can save by following these two key tips?

Want to learn more? My book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, includes several more valuable time and meeting management techniques for self-leadership success.

Self-Leadership Challenge #1: What Does it Mean to Be a Great “Self-Leader”?

Often, when we hear the word “leader,” we think of an individual who leads others. But people-leadership is only one part of an executive’s journey. Yes, people-leadership skills are absolutely critical to success … but on their own, they are not enough to help you reach your full potential. Before you can effectively lead subordinates, you must first effectively lead yourself.

Self-leadership is the missing piece for so many executives—
a key area of leadership that often gets neglected.

In other words, you cannot successfully manage others until you’re adept at managing your own mindset, actions, and reactions.

How do I know this is true? It has become clear to me in my career as an executive coach, during which I have worked with hundreds of leaders from more than 60 nationalities and a wide variety of industries. Before that, I was an executive myself in multinational corporations, building brands across dozens of countries on four continents.

My first lesson about self-leadership occurred years ago during an unexpected encounter with John Pepper, then-Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble (P&G). It was a hot August night in Cincinnati, Ohio, the home of P&G’s world headquarters. I had just flown in the day before from China, where I was living and working for P&G as an expat, to attend a global meeting for the company’s marketing leaders. Once the all-day event was over, I holed myself up in a corner of the darkened 9th floor—my old stomping grounds when I worked there—in order to catch up on emails.

Glancing at my watch, I realized it was almost 9:30 p.m., so I packed up my things to head back to the hotel. Making my way through a half-lit hallway, I reached the elevator bank and pushed the “down” button. As I glanced up, I realized the elevator was descending from the 11th floor.

Back then, the 11th floor of P&G’s world headquarters was called “Mahogany Row” due to the beautiful mahogany desks that graced the space. Those desks belonged to the highest-level leaders in the multibillion-dollar corporation—P&G’s C-Suite Executives: the CEO, the COO, the CFO, the CMO, the CIO, the C-I-E-I-O (you get my drift).

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Standing there watching the elevator numbers counting down from 11 … to 10 … to 9, a thought flashed through my mind: “I wonder if anybody from the 11th floor will be sharing the car with me.”

As if on cue, the elevator doors opened, and sure enough, there stood John Pepper. As I stepped inside, it suddenly hit me: I was going to have nine floors—count ‘em, nine—of one-on-one time with the company’s #1 executive.

Because I had presented to John many times, I knew he was aware that I was managing key company brands in Greater China, an important strategic location for the company. I also knew that after 30 hours of long-haul travel and attending an all-day meeting, the pistons of my brain-engine weren’t exactly hitting on all cylinders. That’s when I heard inside my head the wise voice of one of my favorite mentors, saying, “Brenda, always be prepared with a question for upper management in case you run into them. Because if you don’t ask them a question, they will ask you one.”

So, to avoid being faced with a brain-challenging inquiry in my exhausted state, I turned and said, “Good evening, John. It’s nice to see you. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Not at all,” he answered. “Feel free.”

“There’s something I’ve been wondering about,” I said. “I understand what it takes to progress from Assistant Brand Manager to Brand Manager. And I’m clear about what’s required to move from Brand Manager to Associate Marketing Manager and from there to Marketing Manager. I’m even clear on what it takes to advance from Marketing Manager to Marketing Director and from Marketing Director to Vice President. But above those levels, what is required to get promoted from, say, Executive Vice President to Senior Executive Vice President? In other words, at the most senior levels of the company, why do some leaders keep moving up the ladder and others don’t?”

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I’ve never forgotten what Mr. Pepper shared with me late that August evening. “Those who do not make it to the highest levels of the organization are the executives who stop being ‘coachable.’ They believe they no longer need to accept feedback. They don’t try to keep learning or growing, and they don’t believe they need to stretch themselves anymore. They sit back, earn the big paycheck, and take in all the perks that come with a grand title. They believe they’ve ‘made it.’ Those are the leaders who don’t last long because being coachable is fundamental to leadership success.”

Mr. Pepper’s powerful advice has influenced me ever since. Since then, I have tried to emulate great self-leaders by initiating a daily habit of asking myself, “How coachable am I today?” And I have suggested that my executive coaching clients do the same.

Break the “CCODE”

I believe great self-leaders also follow what I call the “CCODE,” an acronym that is a recipe for self-leadership success. The ingredients are as follows

  • C is first for Courage. The first step in your evolution as a capable self-leader is taking a good, hard look at yourselfyour work habits, your fears, your personal style, your relationships, where you thrive, and where you fall short. A true, no-holds-barred self-assessment takes guts. Confronting yourself and realizing that you have flaws that are holding you back can be painful. It takes courage to open your eyes, look in that mirror, and make changes that will have a powerful impact on your career.
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  • C also stands for Commitment. Self-leadership isn’t a goal to which you can aspire “a bit.” It’s like being a “little” ethical; you either are, or you aren’t. Once you commit to being coachableonce you say you want to examine yourself and make whatever changes are necessary to be an effective self-leaderthen you must devote yourself to the process, embrace it, and keep it at the top of your priority list. It deserves your time,  focus, and attention.
  • O means you are Open to new ideas, new mindsets, and new ways of looking at your life, your work style, and your relationships. You’re also open to changing the way you work. As I mentioned earlier, self-leaders are willing to at least listen to new ideas.
  • D is for Discipline. This means putting systems in place and organizing yourself in a way that supports your progress. It involves arranging your schedule to find time for the changes you want to make. Disciplined self-leaders also make regular self-assessments a part of their routine so that they are continually checking progress and making adjustments.
  • E is for the Energy you must devote to this important mission. Don’t underestimate the amount of energy you’ll need to make changes to yourself. It amounts to conscientious self-care, and that’s not something senior executives are always good at. It’s too easy to blow off daily objectives like getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy foods, and fitting in regular exercise. But you cannot achieve your goals if your body and mind are tired. That’s why this might be the most important CCODE component because, without healthy energy, the other objectives will be out of your reach.

Those are some of the key basic attributes that make for a great self-leader. In my new book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, I reveal the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors that I regularly see in my executive coaching practice, and I provide dozens of tips and techniques you can immediately apply to correct or improve these behaviors.

In what ways do YOU want to improve in order to be a great self-leader?

 

The New Year / New YOU™ Self-Leadership “Stillness” Challenge

Happy New Year! I hope that 2017 has started wonderfully for you.

Are you a New Year’s resolution kind of person? I personally like the idea of setting new intentions when a new year begins. But this year, I decided to take it up a notch –  to forego a traditional new year’s resolution, and challenge myself instead with something related to the topic of my latest book.  I call it my personal “self-leadership challenge,” and it’s a good, meaty one, I can tell you!  I would love you to join me as a way to strengthen your brand this year.

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Titled Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, the book focuses on the critical topic of self-leadership – one of the most important yet often overlooked skills necessary to be an effective leader. In the book, I share the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors I regularly see in my coaching practice and offer dozens of tips and techniques to correct them.

One of the first 15 behaviors I write about in Leading YOU™ is mind management. It’s covered early on in the first few chapters for a good reason – strong mind management is the foundation of self-leadership. All the remaining 14 behaviors stem from that.

Now, to be honest, I’ve practiced mind management for years, which has helped me focus my thoughts, shift quickly from negative to positive energy, and much more. But this year, I wanted to take mind management a step further: I decided to practice total stillness of mind and body.

What does that mean exactly? Well, “body stillness” is pretty obvious. I mean, we don’t move our bodies at night while we sleep, right? But I wanted to integrate that same level of body stillness into the hustle and bustle of my typical days. I felt reasonably confident I could do that.

But, mind stillness” (not meditation)? Well, that’s a different ballgame altogether!

If you’ve ever tried meditating, you might have focused on your breathing, stated a mantra, chanted, counted your breaths, or focused on the air moving in and out of your nostrils, for example. That’s all good, but those activities continue to keep the mind “busy.”

No, I wanted to challenge myself to have “zero” activity in my mind – absolutely no thoughts at all. No ideas passing through, no counting breaths, not even experiencing any feelings – nothing. Just 100%, pure mind and body stillness. Could I do it?….

What are the benefits – to you and YOU™?

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Let’s admit it: We’ve become addicted to busy-ness. I’ve seen it in myself and in my coaching clients. Most of us rarely have a moment of stillness (at least not while we’re awake).  Whenever my husband and I go out to dinner, I look around and regularly see couples and families sitting together, everyone on his or her individual smart phone or iPad. Instead of experiencing any degree of stillness, we seem to be addicted to always keeping our minds busy. But all that does is increase our stress levels, close us off from creative thinking, and make us mentally tired.  That’s one of the reasons why I set this goal for 2017.

So, how does this relate to successful self-leadership and branding yourself a leader? A host of studies have found that …

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  • Besides improving focus, regularly experiencing stillness can decrease anxiety, encourage calmness, and help regulate emotions in order to handle stress better.
  • With stillness, the mind can “clear the slate” and come back to address challenges from a truly fresh perspective with renewed creativity and ideas.
  • This, in turn, helps manage reactions to situations on the job, staying calmer when issues and conflicts arise.
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And all of that helps build a stronger brand for yourself as a leader at work.  Because doing so impacts the way you act, react, look, sound, and think. And that is how you communicate your brand, impacting how others perceive, think, and feel about “YOU™.”

Ready, set, go!…

So, I set my sights on a goal for 2017: To spend 17 minutes a day in complete, continuous mind and body stillness. I’m not talking about 1-2 minutes a few times here and there, throughout the day. No, I mean 17 minutes in a row with no mind or body activity whatsoever.

How is it going so far? Well, I said I was going to challenge myself, and it has indeed been a challenge!

On January 1 – Day One of my experiment – I was in Thailand, sitting on a balcony that overlooked palm trees. I closed my eyes to begin my first 17 minutes of stillness. Suddenly, all the noises around me seemed to amplify as if blaring through speakers…. Birds of every conceivable type were squawking loudly. Cars and trucks were revving and honking on the distant roads. I heard water rushing, trees swaying in the wind, and the whir of the ceiling fan overhead. All of that proved to be massively distracting from my goal of total mind stillness. I was clearly off to a rough start…

So, my Day Two strategy included … EARPLUGS! Thanks to that, I was able to achieve a bit of time – albeit very short – of true, concentrated, complete stillness. Each day since, it’s been a mix: I’ve had some good sessions, some not-so-good sessions. But despite the ups and downs, I have stuck with it, daily.

At this point – a little over three weeks into this year’s goal – I estimate the maximum true, total mind stillness I’ve been able to achieve is about 4-5 minutes at a time, but I’m still working toward that continuous, 17-minute stretch. I am determined!

What about YOU? Are you up for the “New Year / New YOU™ Self-Leadership ‘Stillness’ Challenge”? No matter how long you manage total quiet and stillness, you will experience big benefits, strengthen your self-leadership, and help to build your individual brand. How about giving it a try?

 

Which of these self-leadership mistakes have you made?

Author Anais Nin is quoted as saying, “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing, but in the midst of living.”

Of all the books I’ve written, both Leading YOU™ and its companion book, Would YOU Want to Work for YOU? are the two for which this quote holds most true.

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More than a decade of work and thousands of hours of coaching have brought Leading YOU™ into existence. Packed with real-life Executive Coaching case studies from around the globe, Leading YOU™ reveals the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors I regularly see in my coaching practice, and it offers dozens of tips and techniques you can immediate apply to correct or improve these behaviors.

Here are just a few of the self-leadership mistakes and solutions revealed in this book:

 

Top Self-Leadership Mistakes:
Selected Chapter Titles

 

In Leading YOU™,
Learn How to…

Believing You’re a Victim at Work Quit acting like a victim of your calendar, your time, and “the system”
Not Managing Your Mind Take control of powerful mind management techniques to stop limiting behaviors
Underestimating the Significance of Self-Promotion and Visibility Promote yourself without bragging, to help you gain the visibility you need and get the job you want
Not Knowing How to Influence Without Authority Successfully influence others even if you don’t have an official title or authority
Struggling with Tough Decisions Make even the most difficult decisions with ease
Saying “Yes” When You Want to Say “No” Say “no” with calm self-assurance
Failing to Address Conflict When It Arises Manage conflict in a way that strengthens relationships
Getting Stuck in Back-and-White Thinking Avoid black-and-white thinking and get comfortable living in the grey

And several more key self-leadership topics!

Click here to find out more!

How to Demonstrate Good Self-Leadership During the Year-End Holiday Season: Create Your Own “Holiday-Season Mantra!”

To celebrate year-end holidays, millions of people around the globe will soon be traveling to reconnect with loved ones. Whether the trip is just across town or half-way around the world, reunions with friends and family can make this time of year a time of joy, laughter, and peace — or just the opposite.  Crowded airports, increased traffic, the stress of meeting expectations, and the lack of sleep can lead us to react in ways we regret later, and/or to do or say things we wish we hadn’t.

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 How can you get through this year-end holiday season in a way that you will look back on and be proud of? Here’s a fun, powerful, yet simple way to do just that:

Fast forward in your mind to the end of your holiday season, days or weeks from now (depending upon how long you’ll be gone)… think of the time when you are getting ready to say goodbye to the friends, family, and loved ones you have visited. Perhaps in your mind you are in your car, backing out of the driveway of your host’s home, or maybe you are waving goodbye as you walk toward the airport gate to catch your return flight.

As you pull out of the driveway or as your hosts catch the last glimpse of you heading into the jetway, those loved ones turn to each other and say, “Wow, this year, he was really _______, ________, and ________!” or “She was so _______ this season!” What five positive adjectives or descriptive words would you want them to use to describe YOU at the end of this holiday time?

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Take a moment to really reflect on the five descriptive words you would like to “own” by the end of this festive season. For example, you might choose words like happy, calm, quietly confident, peaceful, fun, enjoyable, pleasant, helpful, supportive, loving…”  Pick whatever five words resonate with you the most.

Throughout your entire holiday season, keep these five words in the forefront of your mind, day in and day out, from morning to night. Make them your “holiday season mantra.” Write them down and keep them in your pocket, purse, or anywhere you might see them regularly.  Write them on the inside of your hand or on your arm, under the sleeve of your shirt. Heck – you can even sing them to a favorite holiday tune, if you want! Whatever you do to remind yourself, the goal is to keep them top of mind at all times.

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Once those words are chosen and you are keeping them at the forefront of your conscious, now begin to “embody” those five words.  How do you do that? By reflecting those fives words through the core activities you do each and every day that most communicate your brand:  the way you Act, React, Look, Sound, and Think. (Remember:  a brand is not communicated by what you say you want to be, but by what you do.)

As you take an action, ask yourself, “Am I acting like someone who is ‘calm’ would act?” “Is this reaction consistent with my goal of ‘peaceful’?” “Does how I look communicate ‘confidence’?” “Is what I am about to say in line with someone who would be described as ‘helpful and supportive’?” “Am I thinking like someone who embodies the word ‘loving’?”

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Watch yourself like a hawk! Your goal is to be 100% consistent with those five words in all that you do, say, and think.  That’s how you create the brand for yourself you want during the holidays… and beyond.

What happens if you reach a boiling point, have a melt-down, or blow up at someone?  Don’t beat yourself up!  Judging yourself will just cause more angst and frustration. Simply apologize to yourself and others with authenticity, review your words one more time, and choose again. Building a brand for yourself is a journey – your goal is to be as consistent as possible, so just keep at it!

Remember: What you think is what you get.  Keep your desired five words top of mind, and have fun with this holiday experiment!

By the way, I would love to hear your five-word choices and to learn about the outcomes of your “holiday mantra challenge.” Please send me an email at Brenda@BrendaBence.com and let me know how it goes!

 

Do You Fall into This Trap? When Strengths Become Weaknesses

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Ahhh, September! Depending upon where you are, this month may mean dropping temperatures and leaves turning various shades of red and orange. For others, it marks the advent of spring, flowers blooming, and the anticipation of warmer weather.

Here in Singapore, no matter the date on the calendar, we are so close to the equator that the temperature is always about the same. (In fact, I read somewhere that one of the most boring jobs in the world is to be a weather forecaster in Singapore. That makes sense!)

Personally, I love the year-round warm weather. No need for cumbersome coats or boots, no pain of chapped lips or falling on slippery sidewalks. But I admit that living in warm-weather climates for the past 16 years has definitely made me a bit of a “wimp” when it comes to traveling to countries in the wintertime.

This lack of adaptability has an analogy when it comes to self- and career-management, too. There comes a time when you need to ask yourself: Am I getting too complacent with one particular leadership style? Am I too comfortable with my most-used means of communication? Do I depend too much on one or two “signature strengths” on the job?

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Given the fast pace of today’s changing world, there are dangers in becoming “stuck” in day-to-day work patterns. So, how do you know if you need to become more adaptable? Well, that’s what this blog post is all about!

 

 

 

Have Your Strengths Become Weaknesses?

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As an Executive Coach, people often ask me: “What should I focus on most… building up my strengths, or working on improving my weaknesses?” Based on my years of experience, I had my own thoughts and opinions on this topic, but first, I wanted to get an understanding of what research tells us. So, I went in search of the answer.

The clearest research I found follows…

How Strengths and Weaknesses Impact Your Executive Leadership Brand

A study of 6,000 leaders focused on whether people possessed strengths or weaknesses and how that impacted each individual.

The first group consisted of leaders who had one or more serious weaknesses or fatal flaws. They were seen to be performing at the 18th percentile in the eyes of their peers, direct reports, and bosses. This was true even if they had many strengths. It only took one serious fault to put them at the bottom.

The second group consisted of leaders who had neither strengths nor weaknesses. (This seems to be true in general of about one-third of leaders.) They performed in the middle of the curve at the 50th percentile.

The third group of leaders had one or more prominent and clear strengths, and they were seen as performing at the 81st percentile.

What does this tell us? If you have a clear strength, don’t abandon it! It will help you stick out for sure. The key is not to rely on it too much. After all, a one-legged stool has nothing else to stand on and will eventually fall, right? Instead, I encourage you to make sure you are balancing that strength by focusing on improving any obvious opportunities for development as well.

So, What Does This Mean For You?

When I coach leaders, I often conduct verbal feedback sessions with their colleagues, direct reports, and bosses. Then, I recap the feedback with the client, making note of what was said, starting with what I heard most and working my way down to what I heard least. Usually, two or three very clear strengths emerge for each executive, along with two or three clear opportunities for development.

But occasionally, I run across leaders who have such prevalent and clear strengths that these positive behaviors or skills have actually turned into weaknesses as they’ve progressed in their careers.

How can this be true? Often, when you’re younger, certain behaviors are admired and useful – they help you get promotions, increased compensation, and bonuses. But as you find yourself at increasingly higher levels of your organization (from middle management upwards), these same behaviors can be described as “derailing.”

Here are just a few examples of behaviors that can start out as strengths but later become weaknesses:

  • Being “too” passionate or ambitious. The higher up you get, the more a calm, confident Executive Presence will get you where you want to go.
  • Being excellent at execution, but not very good at strategy.  At the lower levels of leadership, execution is important. As you rise in the ranks, however, you do less of the ground work and more of the strategizing that moves the company forward.
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  • Volunteering to go above and beyond. This is an excellent trait early on in your career, but as you take on higher ranking positions, you start to appear like someone who simply can’t say “no” – and that could mean a lack of self-leadership.
  • Managing down very well, but ignoring “up” and “across.” Younger leaders spend the majority of their time managing “down” to their teams. The higher up you go in an organization, though, the more critical it is to manage up and across (to your superiors and your peers).
  • Being “too” democratic.  Earlier in your career, being democratic helps build relationships and forge ties. But sometimes, as a more senior executive, you simply have to take charge and make a decision. This is exactly why leadership at the top can be so lonely.
  • Being excellent at building business but not at people-leadership skills.  Many leaders rely on their outstanding business results to get them moving up the ladder. That may work earlier on in your career, but failing to pay attention to the importance of relationships often causes leaders to fail at the upper echelons of an organization.

Do you recognize yourself in any of those descriptions?

Actions to take:

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1. If you have a clear strength, it will show up consistently in the feedback you receive. Think about what you’re really good at – the #1 compliment you tend to hear. What would happen if you were too much of that?

  • Too outgoing
  • Too smart?
  • Too respectful
  • Too adaptable/too flexible

2. How balanced are others seeing you right now? If it has been a while since you received feedback, be sure to get some 360-degree inputs soon to determine if your strengths are still strengths. Get clear on how others perceive, think, and feel about you so that you know the condition of your brand as a leader.

3.  Use the “circle exercise” to gauge how balanced you are in terms of a specific behavior. Let’s say you need to assess whether you’ve managed down too much and not enough up and across. Draw a circle on a plain sheet of paper, and look at your calendar over the course of any given week. What portion of a typical week do you spend with your team, as opposed to grooming relationships with peers and bosses/superiors? Divide the circle into a pie chart, with one section signifying the total time you spend managing your team, another for the time you spend managing peers, and another for the time you spend managing bosses/superiors.

  • How do the three sections compare? Are you devoting enough time to developing good connections with all stakeholders, or do you spend more of your time with one group than others? This is an extremely important perspective to keep in mind and will help you make sure you are balancing your self-leadership energies at the appropriate amounts with the right stakeholders.

4.  Focus on developing one or two core areas of development, while maintaining the powerful strength or two that you already have. Find the balance between keeping your signature strengths and adapting them for the position you now hold.

5.  How do your strengths need to be adjusted as you move up the ladder? What do you need to do differently for your next desired position? For clues, be sure to observe successful leaders in higher positions. What can you learn from them?

I’m also excited to share with you that my new book, Leading YOU™: The power of self-leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, will be released January 2, 2017! In this companion book to Would YOU Want to Work for YOU™, I share the top 15 self-leadership mistakes I regularly see in my coaching practice, and provide you with dozens of tips and tools to help you immediately correct them and advance in your career. If you have found this blog post helpful, I think you’ll love Leading YOU™! In the book, I provide many more techniques and suggestions for how to deal with the most prevalent self-leadership challenges.  Click here to read an excerpt from Leading YOU™.

An Excerpt From My Next Book, Leading YOU™

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My new book, Leading YOU™, will be released before year’s end. You may have read another one of my books, Would You Want to Work For YOU™?” which focused on the top 15 damaging behaviors I see when coaching leaders of others. Well, this new book – Leading YOU™ – outlines the 15 damaging self-leadership behaviors I regularly see and offers tried-and-true tips, tools, and techniques to help correct them.

One key skill that almost all of the world’s top leaders have in common is powerful self-leadership. They have learned how to rein in their least effective traits and harness their best attributes to their advantage. After all, great success isn’t just about leading others. It’s first and foremost about leading yourself.

To give you a taste of what’s to come, read the excerpt below!

“Keeping Your Eye on the Target: What’s Your End Game?”

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”
-Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle

These are interesting times in the lives of business leaders. Technology is changing the game every day, finding a new job can be difficult, and the international economic climate is as fickle as the weather in London. If you are like most executives, it’s hard to find the time to sit down and contemplate where your career is going. But how can you be a good self-leader if you don’t know exactly where you are leading yourself to?

It takes time and conscious effort to focus on your future, and most executives I’ve worked with have found that it’s just easier to live from one moment to the next rather than make any kind of plan. But the truth is, if you don’t make the time to determine your future, who will?

You’re no longer at a level where you can leave your fate to “the powers that be” at headquarters or to your immediate boss. If you wait for something outside of your control to change, you could end up waiting a very long time. So, in reality, there is nobody better than you to look at the big picture and set the direction for the next move within your career.

Take my client, Scott, as an example. A very successful lawyer in a large multi-national firm, Scott hadn’t taken the time to look at his career in a “big picture” way. Don’t get me wrong – he was progressing up the ladder, and quite nicely at that – but not in a strategic way. He was simply moving along from job to job. He had no long-term perspective because he had gotten too caught up in each position’s “specific set of responsibilities” and only focusing on how to move forward to the next one. He had never thought about how each job could actually position him for much longer-term success.

Scott said to me (and I hear this a lot), “The truth is, Brenda, I’ve just been lucky all my career. The companies and opportunities have simply come to me; I didn’t need to plan or strategize.”

If this sounds familiar to you, I understand why. Early in your career, it isn’t unusual for the next opportunity to just land in your lap. You produce, you deliver, and that results in more jobs, opportunities, and choices that appear on the horizon.

But as you move up the ladder to increasingly senior positions, the sheer number of jobs at that level diminishes. It becomes important to shift from being reactive – simply choosing from among the various positions that come your way – to being proactive. When you’re proactive, you ask yourself important questions that can change the trajectory of your professional life for the better: What do I want long-term? Is my current position likely to lead me there? In order to reach my long-term goal, what makes the most strategic sense for my career short-term, medium-term, and long-term?

Click here to read more.