Brenda's Blog

All articles from June, 2017

How Well Do YOU Manage this Critically Important Balance? Self-Leadership Challenge #13

My executive coaching client, Myra, struggled with what I call the “Strategy vs. Execution Dilemma.” She was a successful leader, in the running to become a Senior Vice President. She had gotten there by being known for producing, for always making sure that she and her team members were seen as delivering desired outcomes.

At the surface, this would seem like a good thing, right? So, you can imagine Myra’s surprise when, during her performance review, her boss told her point-blank that the promotion she wanted so badly wasn’t going to happen. The reason? Myra wasn’t considered a strategic thinker. Ouch.

resolutions

Myra immediately reached out to set up a coaching session. As she settled into the chair across from me, she admitted right up front that it was probably true. “Ever since my boss gave me the feedback, I’ve been thinking about what he said … and it’s true. I do typically make sure the team and I are busy doing things, reaching our daily, weekly, and monthly objectives toward delivering our major projects. And that means I do spend the bulk of my time attending to details. That’s been a good way to get where I am. But clearly, it isn’t going to get me to where I want to go.”

After a bit more reflection, Myra shared that this tendency actually went way back. Getting things done efficiently and with excellence was how she impressed teachers as a student in school as well as every boss she’d ever had. And she had always been rewarded well for her “get it done” behavior, too—earning good grades as a student and collecting raises and promotions once she got into her career. Clearly and consistently, she proved that she was a go-getter and a producer.

But now, that seemingly positive behavior was holding her back. Indeed, while Myra and her team were delivering consistent excellence in execution, she wasn’t doing the strategic work necessary to take her team, her function, and, therefore, the company to the next level.

Given her busy day-to-day world, it had never occurred to Myra that taking time to sit quietly and think strategically was actually what she was being paid to do. But, now it struck her that she was actually only doing part of her job—in short, she was underperforming as a leader by not taking regular time to focus on strategy.

For Myra, thinking strategically would represent a shift. It would take time away from attending to the day-to-day details of her workplace. It would mean sitting still, not visibly “doing” anything except thinking, reflecting, and challenging herself mentally. She had been so busy “doing” all of her life, and the road to success had been paved with accolades related to her level of activity. So, this shift felt incredibly awkward, even “wrong,” “wasteful” and “not productive.” She had fears of people judging her for being lazy.

Can you relate to Myra’s situation? If so, you’re hardly alone. There seems to be an unspoken belief at work that just sitting and thinking is not a justifiable use of time. Some clients have told me that they feel so guilty if they aren’t visibly “doing” something all of the time that they close the door or pull the shades in their office when they need to take time to think. They want to avoid being perceived as “not productive.”

resolutions

As children, we’re often warned to stop “daydreaming”—both in school and at home. Our parents, teachers, and other authority figures may not have had much respect for staring out the window. Today, even though you are now in a higher-level position, that old conditioning may still be in your head, causing you to feel as though you’re wasting time if you schedule “strategic thinking” in your calendar. But, just like Myra, this belief may be holding you back from future career success.

When this self-awareness surfaced in our discussion, Myra’s initial dismay and frustration turned to excitement as she began to contemplate the possibility of spending more of her time thinking strategically. But she wasn’t sure what that would look like or how to go about doing it.

How to Balance Thinking and Doing

Here’s what I asked Myra to do, and you can try it, too, right now: Grab a piece of paper, draw a circle on it, and let it serve as a pie graph that represents 100% of your time. At the top, title it “Strategy vs. Execution.”

Divide the graph into two pieces—one portion that reflects how much time you currently spend executing tasks and attending to details (execution/doing) and the other that reflects how much time you currently spend on thinking strategically (strategy/thinking). Be honest!

Label this circle “Current.” If you’re like many leaders I’ve worked with, your chart may reveal that you spend anywhere from 80-90% of your time executing, and only about 10-20% strategizing.

Next, underneath the same circle, draw a line, a colon, and another line that looks like this: ___________ : ___________.

resolutions

Let this represent the optimal ratio for these two aspects of self-leadership—how you probably should split your time between strategy and execution, given your current position. Is it 60% strategy/40% execution, 50:50, or something else? The best ratio for you will depend upon your organization and the expectations of your position (be sure to keep in mind the position you hope to achieve in the future, too).

Now that you’ve reflected on how much time you should optimally spend on strategy, it’s time to make changes. I’ve found that the only way strategic thinking will “happen” in the middle of a busy week is for you to actually make it happen. How? Well, here’s what Myra did: She started with reserving one hour of strategic thinking per week and increased those hours over time until she had reached her optimal ratio. As a result, her next performance review was much improved, and within a year, she was once again being considered for a Senior Vice President position.

Make a commitment to set aside strategic thinking time, like Myra did: Shut your door and just think. To start, I suggest you begin with one hour, once or twice a week. Don’t agree to take calls during that reserved time, and don’t be tempted to go to meetings. Just look at either your team, your function, or the entire company (as appropriate, given your position), and reflect on where and how your area of the company gets stuck, how to improve that and move forward, and how the company’s progress and prosperity might change for the better as a result. Don’t think about any details at this stage—only strategy. Decide that you’ll set aside at least that much time every week, no matter what.

That’s how great self-leaders achieve a positive balance of thinking and doing.  So, how does YOUR ratio look right now when it comes to strategy vs. execution?

For more self-leadership tips, pick up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

Announcing the First-Ever International Speakers Summit from June 19 to 30, 2017: Yours for free as a reader of my blog!

In addition to following the tips mentioned in my blog post about presenting powerfully, I invite you to take your presentation and public speaking skills to a whole new level by tuning in to the first-ever online International Speakers Summit – which is absolutely free!

resolutions

There has never been an event like this before. Over the 12-day period of June 19-30, 2017, you’ll be given unprecedented access to tips of the trade from nearly 60 top professional speakers, including myself, Jack Canfield, Simon T. Bailey, Rob “Waldo” Waldman, Lenora Billings-Harris, Stephen Shapiro, Tony Alessandra, Terry Brock, Fredrik Haren, Michael Port, Mark Bowden, Daniel Gutierrez, and – literally – dozens more!

When you tune in, you’ll discover:

  • How to craft a winning presentation or speech
  • How to present in a way that reflects who you really are
  • How to get asked to speak more frequently and strengthen your internal and external brand in the process

And much, much more.

It will be lots of fun, too!

As one of the speakers participating, I’ve been given complimentary passes for all of my blog readers, so I’m very happy to be able to share this benefit with you!

CLICK HERE today to reserve your complimentary pass. Please don’t wait because spots for this event are filling up fast!

I look forward to seeing YOU™ at the International Speakers Summit!

CLICK HERE to find out more and to reserve your free pass.

Which of These Top Presenting Mistakes Have YOU Made?

Consider these scenarios: Your boss informs you that you will be presenting to a high-level group of senior leaders in three days’ time.

Or… you get a call from the President of an association asking you to speak to an audience of 250 at a well-attended industry conference.

Or… you’ve been asked to give a toast at an important corporate banquet, in honor of the company’s retiring Chairman.

resolutions

What’s your immediate reaction? Are you calm, cool, and collected – even excited about the opportunity of presenting? Or does your heart skip a beat as you begin to fret, knowing that you won’t sleep well between now and the date of your presentation?

Based on my experience conducting leadership branding programs across multiple continents, the second reaction seems to be much more common than the first. In fact, for millions around the world, the mere thought of presenting is enough to cause nerves and an upset stomach.  Does that sound familiar? If so, read on! I’ll share some important presentation tips I’ve gained while shadowing executives in the workplace and also from being a professional speaker myself for the past 10+ years.

We Know the Basics of Powerful Presenting…But What Really Matters?

If you have any experience presenting at all, you probably already know the four basic P’s of Powerful Presenting:

  • Plan
  • Prepare
  • Practice
  • Present

You know you should have a solid flow and presentation structure, stand up straight, articulate clearly, watch your pace and pitch, use body language to communicate your points, and maintain good eye contact with the audience. These are just a few of the standard tips and tricks you can do to strengthen any presentation.

Yet… around the globe, the most senior leaders I work with regularly complain about their team members not knowing how to present powerfully. What more are those leaders looking for? Let’s investigate.

resolutions

Here are three of the top 10 “subconscious” mistakes I regularly see leaders commit when presenting, and which I share when I train on this topic at client companies. They’re some of the most critical errors, yet they’re often overlooked.

Do you commit any of these top mistakes, too?  If so, you may want to participate in the free International Speakers Summit taking place on June 19-30, 2017. Find out more about the Summit in this blog post.

Powerful Presenting Mistake #1: Not Knowing What the Audience Wants or Needs

We prepare what we’re going to say, but we often don’t find out ahead of time if our presentation is appropriate for the audience. The key to successful presenting? Don’t guess or make assumptions!

Instead, find out ahead of time:

  • What is the audience’s current knowledge on the subject?
  • What background do they have on the subject matter?
  • What specific problem can you solve for them?
  • How do they plan to use your information?

If possible, of course, ask the questions bulleted above to whoever will be in the audience (even if your “audience” is one person!) Or, get a sampling of the audience to share their thoughts on these questions, if you’ll be presenting to a larger crowd.

If that’s not possible, then put yourself in your audience’s shoes, and ask: “Based on the amount of knowledge I anticipate the audience to have about this topic and how they would plan to use the information, what would I most want and need to learn, if I were them?”

Then, be careful about choosing the “wrong level of abstraction.” By this, I mean that you might provide too many details or not enough details when presenting. Do they want the big picture and generalities? If so, guard against adding in too much data. Or do they prefer a lot of details? If so, your presentation could end up being too general for participants, leaving your attendees frustrated and feeling they’ve wasted their time listening to you.

Find out, too, if there are any “hot buttons” to avoid. Certain words may strike a negative chord with a particular audience or with one particular senior leader. For example, an executive once told me that he didn’t like to use the word “weaknesses.” He wanted everybody to refer to potential issues as “opportunities for improvement.”

Powerful Presenting Mistake #2: Not Making Your Presentation Two-Way (Only One-Way)

Too many speakers talk at their audience rather than engaging with them. Remember that your presentation should be a two-way conversation. Pause now and then, and ask a question to those in attendance. Check in and see how well what you are sharing is resonating.

What can you do if the format doesn’t allow for a lot of back and forth with the audience throughout your presentation? Then, be sure to leave time for Q&A at the end.

resolutions

If you do have a Q&A, here’s a helpful tip: Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” as an opener. That’s a “yes” or “no” question that makes it too easy for people to simply say “no” (and which often just brings blank stares in response). Instead, scan the audience and make eye contact. Then, ask, “What questions do you have at this point?” You’ll most likely get a few hands raising.

One last point: To set the tone for an inclusive conversation – no matter how large your audience – be careful to not use “I” too often. Instead, use “you,” “we,” and “us.”

Powerful Presenting Mistake #3: Including too much content

In a survey of top executives from large companies, they were asked, “How could people present to you more effectively?” The answer? “Make presentations shorter and more candid.”

So how can you accomplish that? Here are the best ways I know:

  1. Focus on the “bottom line” – get to the point.
  2. Honor the audience’s time, remembering that it’s valuable (re-read Powerful Presentation Mistake #1).
  3. Only use as much data as necessary to make your point, but be ready with supporting data if they request it.
  4. Remember that presenting isn’t about making it clear how much you know. It’s about giving those in the audience exactly the amount of information they need – no more, no less. And again, if you don’t know how much to include, ask!

If you follow these tips, you’ll be way ahead of the game as a presenter, you’ll bring power to the podium, and your attendees will appreciate you immensely.

Presenting powerfully is only one self-leadership capability; find out about others by picking up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

How Adaptable Are You? Take this Quiz and Find Out – Self-Leadership Challenge #12

As Senior Director of Finance for a major insurance company, my executive coaching client, Marilyn, knew more about rules and regulations than most of the people in her company. And she stuck to them—down to the tiniest detail. She acknowledged that she might be a bit rigid, but being flexible in her industry brought risks she just wasn’t willing to take.

resolutions

You see, over several years of working in such a highly regulated industry, Marilyn had learned the “right way” to do things, and once learned, she felt strongly that the company should stick to those “right ways.” Given that she was also responsible for leading others, Marilyn was afraid to set a precedent by questioning a proven procedure or by doing anything substantially different from the past. She feared that her employees would get out of control and start bending the rules. “Color inside the lines,” she told them. “That’s how you avoid problems in this function and in this industry.”

The higher Marilyn reached in the organization, however, the more this “black-and-white thinking” approach brought unexpected consequences. By the time I got involved with her as an executive coach, it had reached a point where Marilyn’s colleagues wouldn’t even approach her for opinions because she seemed unable or unwilling to offer useful, creative solutions. My verbal interviews with stakeholders revealed that, because of her rigidity around rules, she came across as cold and incapable of being collaborative.

As a result, Marilyn’s colleagues were holding separate sidebar conversations. And, one by one, she watched other functional peers get promoted while she stayed at the same level.

Don’t get me wrong—Marilyn was very good at what she did. She was reliable, incredibly knowledgeable, and she and her team produced good quality work. But based on my key stakeholder interviews, it was obvious to me that her attachment to black-and-white thinking was holding her back from moving forward in the organization. That’s because at the higher end of any organization, being strategically and executionally creative—even in something as numbers-driven as finance—is critical to success.

Marilyn failed to realize that her ingrained belief in sticking to rules, which had served her well as a more junior leader, was now potentially sabotaging her ability to advance to more senior levels. She had gotten stuck in the fact that entry-level/junior positions in most professions are very often based on strict guidelines—what is right/wrong and good/bad.

resolutions

It’s true that early in your career, you have to learn the rules and work by them. But eventually, you do need to be confident enough to see smart ways to bend—or even change—those rules and to know when to bend or change them. In Marilyn’s case, her growing organization needed a Finance Director who knew the rules well but who could also see the gray areas between black and white. Why? The higher up you get in an organization, the best solutions actually exist in the gray.

So, as you progress in any organization, the more important it is that you get comfortable being in the gray in order to be ready to solve challenges with creative solutions. In other words, letting go of rigidity and assessing the subtleties of each situation are important aspects of self-leadership.

How Do You Know if You’re Operating in Black-and-White Mode?

In the interest of becoming more aware of your habits and thinking, let’s find out if you, too, could benefit from becoming more flexible. Take this quiz to assess your own tendency toward black-and-white thinking.

Note: Respond “yes” if the answer holds true 50% of the time or more, and “no” if the answer holds true less than 50% of the time.

  1. At the gut level, do you tend to judge decisions or people’s actions immediately as either “right” or “wrong”? Yes___ No___
  2. Do you quickly and instinctively look at situations that arise at work as either “good” or “bad”? Yes___ No___
  3. Do you view other people or their choices as either “strong” or “weak,” with no in-between? Yes___ No___
  4. Do you find yourself labeling colleagues who agree with you as “smart” and those who disagree with you as “stupid” or at least “less competent”? Yes___ No___
  5. Do you typically think in terms of either “success” or “failure,” viewing failure as a catastrophic event? Yes___ No___
  6. Do you rely primarily on previous experience to make judgments—not only about colleagues and their behaviors, but about whether a decision is right? Yes___ No___
  7. Do you find yourself so pressed for time that you resort to quick choices based on what’s been done in the past, without pausing to assess the specifics of the current situation? Yes___ No___
  8. Do you find yourself frequently defending decisions by saying, “Well, that’s the way it’s been done before”? Yes___ No___

Now, add up the number of times you responded “yes.” If you answered “yes” to only one or two questions, that can indicate you’re reasonably flexible and seem comfortable working in the gray.

If you answered “yes” to three to five questions, you’re spending some time in the gray but could definitely benefit from paying closer attention to situations where you fall back on black-and-white thinking.

If you answered “yes” to more than five questions, your self-leadership will improve immensely if you practice assessing each circumstance on its own merits, and avoid judging people or situations in black-and-white terms.

resolutions

Learning to Thrive in the Gray

Making a conscious effort to see the nuances of gray in any situation requires more of us. The key is to stay open to new modes of thinking. The world moves too quickly for any of us to stay stuck in patterns, simply relying on the way things used to be done. Given the speed of life today, I predict we will all have to reinvent ourselves many times over during the course of our careers.

There is little to be gained from black-and-white thinking, but much to be gained from making the effort—and having the courage—to get out of the right-or-wrong world and not just survive, but thrive, in the gray.

For more ways to get comfortable in the “gray,” pick up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

How to Avoid Saying “Yes” When You Really Want to Say “No”— Self-Leadership Challenge #11

If you’re like most of the busy executives I work with as an executive coach and corporate trainer/speaker, your day may go something like this: Headquarters wants your profit projections for next quarter a week in advance of when you and your team had planned. There’s a line of direct reports outside your office door waiting to meet with you, your inbox is filled with 300+ unanswered emails, and you haven’t yet prepared the keynote speech you are giving tonight at a charity dinner. Meanwhile, your son needs help with his math homework, your spouse complains because you haven’t been home for dinner in a week, and your ailing parents’ financial situation needs your attention.

resolutions

It’s enough to make anyone feel dizzy and stressed out. And the truth is, something has to give if you don’t want to crack under the pressure. But the question is: What?

When I say “something has to give,” what I really mean is that you need to say “no” to some of these pressures. And in order to do that, you must draw strength from your self-leadership bank because learning how and when to say “no”—unapologetically and without guilt—is fundamental to leadership success.

You don’t want to turn away from the people who need you—neither at work nor in your personal life—but that doesn’t mean you need to become a pushover either. For many leaders, it means learning to avoid being so “nice” that you overextend yourself.

Saying “yes” to too much causes physical and emotional stress, can damage relationships, and can leave very little time for self-care. That can result in rising blood pressure, poor health in general, and may cause you to fall ill. It’s a vicious cycle if you don’t put a stop to it.

Being in charge of when you say “yes” and when you say “no” is key to taking control of your life. Saying “no” in a calm, collected, and respectful way becomes more and more critical as you take on increasingly high levels of responsibility.

Yes, You Can Learn to Say “No”

resolutions

If saying “no” is difficult for you—whether it’s always challenging or only in certain circumstances—you can make it easier by following some key steps:

 1.  Get clear on how your life would be better if you didn’t have so much on your plate. Make the longest list possible of all the benefits of saying “no.” For example, your list might include: (1) less stress, (2) more time to spend with family, and (3) fewer feelings of resentment toward the people who expect so much of you. Keep writing until you’ve uncovered all of the possible upsides of saying “no.”

2.  Accept that you do need to get better at saying “no.” Review your to-do’s, and put a checkmark next to each task or activity that you would honestly like to cross off. What issues are you encountering due to having said “yes” to these tasks?

3. Recognize opportunities to say “no.” For a week or two, take note of all the times when you could have said “no” but chose to say “yes.” What drove those decisions? Note the times when it felt right to say “yes,” and those when it didn’t. What would have happened if you had said “no,” and what are the consequences you fear in each situation if you were to say “no”? Assessing these opportunities will help you sort out what’s most important and which fears are stopping you from saying “no” when that’s what you really want.

4.  Practice saying “no” to smaller requests first. A sympathetic yet firm “I’m not able to do that right now” works well. If you’re asked why, simply let them know it’s conflicting with more critical priorities. Most reasonable people will accept this as an adequate response. Are you unsure if you should say “yes” or “no” to a request? Consider saying, “Let me think about that, and I’ll get back to you by 4:00 p.m.” Then, take the time to reflect—without the pressure of someone standing there—to determine if saying “yes” is really the right thing to do.

5.  Literally practice saying “no.” If saying “no” is a particular problem for you, practice it in front of the mirror or on an audio recording. Remember: You want to sound assertive rather than unsure or angry. Remind yourself that you have every right to say “no,” and say it calmly and with confidence. If you say it with aggression or anger, you’re almost certain to cause negative feelings between you and the person making the request.

6.  Stick to your convictions. If someone tries to convince you to change your “no” into a “yes,” ask that person to respect your decision as final. Don’t offer reasons for saying “no” unless you really believe doing so will defuse a potentially explosive situation, or if you feel the individual making the request deserves to hear your reasons.

Most of the time, however, you don’t owe anyone excuses or reasons why you need to say “no.” An exception to that rule: If you’re saying “no” to your boss, of course, it’s smart to offer clear reasons why you believe you can’t take on a new task. If you do offer reasons, be succinct, calm, and confident. Going on and on with multiple reasons could actually cause you to sound guilty and defensive.

7.  Watch your body language. If your mouth is saying “no,” but your body language is saying, “I’m not sure,” you’ll have what I call an “executive brand buster” on your hands. To make sure your body is helping you stick to your convictions, turn full-face to the person you are addressing, and maintain an open yet confident stance. Avoid crossing your arms protectively or looking away when you say “no.” If you are standing, avoid shifting from one foot to the other. Whether you are standing or sitting, be sure to maintain eye contact with the person.

resolutions

8.  Take note of what it’s like to say “no” to the little things. After each positive experience of saying “no,” sit back and assess. What did you experience? Relief? Self-confidence? Pride in your ability to push back? Or did you feel discomfort and guilt? If so, assess what that is about, and keep practicing. Eventually, it will get easier for you. Recognize and reward yourself for each successful “no.”

9.  Make saying “no” a regular habit. After some practice, you’ll find yourself able to say “no” to increasingly bigger requests. You’ll be able to discern quickly when you want to avoid something and when you know it’s right to say “yes.”

You may never be completely rid of your guilt feelings or discomfort when you have to say “no” to someone. But over time, you won’t be as affected by it. Remember: You’re not a bad person because you don’t say “yes” to everything that’s asked of you. You will actually do less good for others if you haven’t done what’s right for you first before attending to others’ needs. That’s just one more benefit of successfully mastering the art of saying “no,” and it reflects good self-leadership, too.

For more ways to say “no” effectively, as well as dozens of self-leadership tips, pick up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.