Brenda's Blog

All articles from the 'Personal Branding' Category

Do You Fall into This Trap? When Strengths Become Weaknesses

resolutions

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?

resolutions

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?

resolutions

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 herehttp://www.brendabence.com/Leading_YOU_Excerpt-End_Game_Chapter.pdf to read an excerpt from Leading YOU™.

The 15 Most Important Characteristics of Executive Presence

I am often asked, “What is the most popular topic clients request when it comes to leadership development?”

Boost executive Presence

My answer? “Presence” — specifically Executive Presence. I have found that Executive Presence is that “special sauce” which separates good leaders who “do well” from outstanding leaders who catapult to the top of their organizations.

Let’s face it – most leaders have good enough technical skills, business acumen, and all-around smarts to achieve a certain level of success in an organization. But, a powerful sense of “presence” – that je ne sais quoi – is often what’s missing, and that is what can hold back many leaders from advancing in their careers.

What is Presence? And, more importantly, how do you get it? The way I like to define Executive Presence is a certain set of attitudes, behaviors, and skills which – when combined – send the right signals, influence others, and ultimately drive results. When you develop powerful Executive Presence, you automatically strengthen your Leadership Personal Brand, i.e., the way others perceive, think, and feel about YOU™, which is a critically important foundation of success.

YOU(tm)

“That sounds appealing,” many clients have told me, “but can Executive Presence really be developed?” Absolutely. Let’s face it: No one is born with Presence – it is a learned behavior with multiple facets which is strengthened through intention and practice.

What is the essential first step in developing your own Presence? It’s getting clear on how well you currently fare with the various aspects that make up Presence.

With that in mind, I’m sharing with you below a self-assessment that highlights some fundamental facets of Executive Presence. This will help you review the state of your own Presence, both in your personal and professional life.

In addition, further below in this newsletter, you will find a link to more complimentary tips through dozens of articles I have written on Executive Presence and leadership branding.

Assess the State of Your Own Executive Presence

Take this quiz, and see how well you are doing on these key facets of Executive Presence, which can in turn impact your Leadership Personal Brand.

test taking

On a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 the lowest score and 6 the highest score, rate yourself in the following areas. (Be honest with yourself!)

  1. I have a strong positive influence on my family, my team, coworkers, colleagues, and superiors.
  2. I manage my emotional reactions well at home and in the workplace, and I stay calm under pressure.
  3. When I need to let someone know I’m unhappy with a situation, I speak to them calmly and assertively. I don’t express my feelings in a passive-aggressive way.
  4. I am resilient when pressure builds at home or on the job.
  5. I speak up in very important meetings and when in the presence of more senior leaders.
  6. When I am attending a gathering or a meeting, I am able to focus 100% on the topic at hand, without distracting thoughts or checking my phone for messages.
  7. Based on the way others relate to me, I believe I exhibit charisma both at home and on the job.
  8. I have inner self-confidence, and I believe in myself.
  9. When team members and others push back on my decisions, I manage the situation in a professional, balanced way so that the best choice is made without harming workplace relationships.
  10. I’m capable of thinking on my feet when under pressure.
  11. When conflict arises, I manage it steadily, without damaging personal or professional relationships.
  12. I am aware of and effectively manage my Leadership Personal Brand, not just within my organization, but also externally within my industry.
  13. I know how to maneuver office politics, as necessary.
  14. When I’m called upon to make a presentation, I do so powerfully, engaging my audience from beginning to end.
  15. I use storytelling as a means of engaging others when I communicate

Obviously, if you rated yourself a “5” or a “6” on all 15 of these Executive Presence attitudes, behaviors, and skills, good for you – well done! Based on my experience though, that would be rare. It’s not unusual to have room for improvement on a fair number of these attributes.

So, take a moment to review your self-scores, and write down two or three aspects of Presence that are the most important for you and which you would like to improve.

Action Steps

review

Sit back, and assess your scores. Where did you do well? In which areas did you score lower?

On the statements where you scored well, ask yourself what allows you to do that. What makes you think those are areas where you exhibit strengths?

Now, look at the statements where you ranked lower and choose a specific aspect of Executive Presence that you would like to strengthen the most.

  1. Find a role model (boss, peer, colleague) whom you think embodies that particular aspect, and seek their advice on how they have managed to succeed in that area. You might even ask them if you can observe them in action and take note of what they do to really excel at that particular Executive Presence characteristic.
  2. Check out the articles I’ve written on various executive and leadership topics. These articles can be found here.
  3. Lastly, consider having an “accountability buddy,” someone to help support you in developing your presence, and share your plan with them. Ask if that person would be open to following up with you on your plan as well as giving you honest feedback as you progress.

Are YOU interested in the topic of Executive Presence?

I regularly present keynotes and offer interactive, live-learning programs on the topic of Executive Presence to audiences around the world. These programs, which are popular with corporate clients, have been proven to drive lasting mindset and behavior changes in leaders.

Click here to learn more about our Executive Presence keynotes and other popular programs we offer, or feel free to contact me at Brenda@BrendaBence.com.

Of course, I also work one-on-one with individual coaching clients to build and strengthen Executive Presence. You can find out more by visiting www.BrendaBence.com/Coaching.

Here’s to YOU™!

The Secret to Avoiding Failed New Year’s Resolutions

I spend a large part of the year in Asia, so this is one of my favorite periods of time. We’ve come off of the busy-ness of calendar year-end holidays and we’re approaching the end of the festivities of the Chinese New Year. The energy is great – people are having fun, celebrating with family, sharing oranges, and spirits are generally lifted!

But, no matter where you are in the world, this is also the time of the year when one seemingly-universal phenomena has taken place: Those calendar year-end New Year’s Resolutions – which everyone was so intent on achieving on January 1 – have by now fallen by the wayside.

The statistics around failed New Year’s resolutions are not pretty. In 2013, Forbes magazine stated that only 8% of resolutions are actually met, which means 92% fail. U.S. News had a slightly more positive take, reporting in 2015 that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail. No matter which source you refer to, those are high rates of unfulfilled goals!

resolutions

What is the reason behind so many of us “falling off the wagon” when it comes to achieving what we wanted at the beginning of the year? Multiple studies have tried to answer that question, but in my experience as an Executive Coach, I believe there is one critical yet overlooked cause of our inability to stick with what we set out to do.

It’s not that we don’t want those goals to come to fruition. We definitely desire to lose weight, exercise more, be better organized, stop procrastinating, listen better, delegate more, and on and on. So, it’s rare that a lack of motivation is the true cause of resolutions going off track.

Instead, I believe the heart of the issue is our belief that if we just “do” things differently, all will be well.

For example, I often hear, “Once I get my calendar under control, I’ll be more productive.” Or, “Once I make more money, I’ll be happier.” Maybe you’ve made a similar statement in the past?

But, in my experience coaching executives across the globe, those types of “if-then” statements rarely become reality. And, when you don’t achieve your resolutions, you’re likely to feel more angst and frustration than you did before … not to mention feelings of failure. That just makes it even harder to set and achieve new goals in the future.

The “Ah-ha!”

So, what do I think is the biggest reason that such a large percentage of New Year’s resolutions aren’t achieved? It’s because the types of goals we set tend to focus on what we hope to “do” rather than how we need to “be” to achieve what we want.

a ha moment light bulb

We must first change how we are “being” before we can truly alter what we’re “doing.” After all, we are human beings, not “human doings,” right?

Let’s look at an example: Put yourself in the shoes of a leader at work. Your stakeholder feedback reveals you have a tendency to “tell” more than “ask,” and this behavior is having an impact on your success. Since you’re simply “telling” your team what to do, they aren’t developing as they should. If you asked powerful questions instead, you would develop their thinking and leadership capacity.

You’ve been told that your own career will stall if you keep this up because you won’t have developed a successor who can take your place. So, this behavior is not only preventing your direct reports from moving up, but it will also hold you back from moving up progressing, too.

Knowing this, you’re now very determined to make this change! You set a goal for yourself to ask more powerful questions rather than to tell subordinates what to do. You even go so far as to establish a measure – you’ll ask 60% of the time and tell only 40% of the time, at least as a start. (That’s a big shift from where you are now, which is 90% telling and 10% asking).

behavior change

At first, you do well with changing your telling and asking behaviors. But then, pressure builds up at work, and you think it takes too much time to ask. So, within weeks, you’re back to your old self, telling your subordinates what to do 90% of the time. You’ve gone full circle, and you’re back where you started.

Get to the Core

The goal of “telling less, asking more” is an example of a “doing” goal. If you only stay at that level, you haven’t yet reached the crux of the issue. It’s fundamental to ask yourself: What is at the core of my need to tell so much?

That core is about how you are being, feeling, and thinking. At the heart of every desired change in behavior is a deeper state of “being” that must first be addressed.

Target into Bulls eye

In our sample case, what’s driving the need to “tell?” It could be many things. Two possibilities are: (1) a need to display all that you know so that people think you’re smart; (2) a “need for speed”

and a strong desire to get things done quickly because you believe it takes less time to tell someone what to do.

Let’s work through this second perception. How can “being,” feeling, and thinking differently result in different outcomes that create long-lasting, positive change?

A Case in Point

My client, Augustina, always wanted to get work done quickly, and felt that telling her direct reports how to do it (as opposed to asking them to discover ways to do it for themselves) was a more efficient way to meet deadlines.

So, we addressed this issue with the use of my “Think-Feel-Behave-Results” triangle below, starting from the bottom and working our way up.

First, I asked Augustina to tell me what she “thinks” about telling direct reports what to do, versus asking powerful questions. Her answer was, “Telling them what to do is faster and more efficient than asking questions.”

Next, I asked her how that thought made her “feel” about telling when the need to do so arises. Augustina said, “I feel productive and in control, and satisfied things are getting done quickly.”

“So, how does that emotional reaction make you behave? What are the actions you take as a result?” I asked her. “I quickly tell direct reports what to do without wasting time,” Augustina responded.

Lastly, I asked her about the outcomes of this behavior. She thought for a moment, then said, “Well, it’s true that things do get done on time, but my team doesn’t grow, and I won’t progress in my career long-term if I keep that up.”current - what you think

When I asked her to sit back and reflect about the overall impact of this behavior on her individual brand as a leader, she admitted that this probably made her look like an ineffective leader. She agreed that wasn’t the outcome she wanted.

Let’s Shift the Thinking …

In order to alter that result, we went back to the beginning and changed the way Augustina was “being” – how she thought about telling people what to do – keeping in mind that “what you think is what you get.”

This time, I asked Augustina to come up with a constructive thought about asking powerful questions. This thought would replace her existing thoughts about telling. She responded, “Asking direct reports powerful questions helps grow my team and will help my future career success.”

“Great!” I said. “Now, how does the thought of helping grow your team and your own future career success make you feel?”

“I feel empowered and proud. It feels good to think of being helpful by asking my direct reports powerful questions, and it certainly feels good to be more successful myself,” she said.

Identifying the feeling helped Augustina begin to behave differently than before. She would ask powerful questions far more often, no matter how much time it took.future - what you think

The ultimate result? Her direct reports would grow in their roles, which would lead to increased productivity, and Augustina’s ability as a leader would improve and be recognized, too. That, in turn, would end up providing more career opportunities for herself.

By simply changing the way Augustina was being and thinking about a limiting behavior, and by changing her feelings about that, she could immediately become a stronger leader. This would, in turn, improve her leadership brand.

Actions to Take:

Self check

Walk through the triangle exercise, from bottom to top, asking yourself about your thoughts related to a challenge you’re facing. How does that specific thought make you feel? How does that feeling cause you to behave? What outcomes does that behavior have on your success and on your brand as a leader? Sit back and reflect on how that underlying thought – how you are being – is impacting the results you get.

Then, work your way through the triangle a second time, this time thinking a positive, forward-focused thought about that same challenge. How does this new thought make you feel? How would this feeling make you behave? What result would you get from this new behavior?

Changing the way you are being and the thoughts you have create a powerful shift that will drive positive, long-lasting change.

Make a commitment to yourself that the next time a challenge arises in the workplace, you’ll remember to think differently about that challenge, and alter the way you are being/thinking/feeling. Ultimately, that’s what will result in greater short- and long-term outcomes … and, yes, successfully achieving your New Year’s resolutions!

When Risking Failure is a Good Thing

How can failing ever be a good thing? The best leaders know that if you aren’t risking failure at least part of the time, you’re playing it so safe that no one on your team is learning and growing. “Failing small” can be a great way for everyone in your company to learn. After all, isn’t that how you learned the best lessons in your own career?

Sounds intriguing but not sure how to put this into action?

–          Allow enough leeway in projects so that if small failures occur, you have time to recover, learn specific lessons from the failures, and get back on track.

–          If you’re concerned about your employees making costly mistakes, determine the points at which you need to influence the project’s outcome the most. Then, set up specific times to meet with your direct reports, either by date or by completion of certain steps (check out the “metered with milestones” delegation style in Would YOU Want to Work For YOU™?). In that case, if something is truly off track, you can realize it, say something, coach them through it, and have enough time to make a correction.

Playing it 100% safe in business is not how the most successful companies have gotten where they are today. You have to step out and take calculated risks now and then in order to get big rewards. What risks will YOU take today?

Brenda Bence Bio

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Development is an Ongoing Task

 

professional-development

In my recently released book – “Would You Want to Work For You?” How to Build an Executive Leadership Brand that Inspires Loyalty and Drives Employee Performance – I argue that building people is simply part of your job as a leader, and I offer strategies for developing your employees on a day-to-day basis.

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Where do you place your focus as a leader?

The focus of your attention affects everything you do as a leader. Where you choose to place your focus and how you choose to use your time says as much about you as a leader as any other indicator.

A model called the “Five Levels of Focus” gives you a simple but powerful framework for this. Created by Australian author and consultant David Rock, applying the Five Levels of Focus helps leaders choose where to place their energy and attention at any point in time. According to this model, there are five distinct levels: (1) Vision, (2) Planning, (3) Details, (4) Problems, and (5) Drama.

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Would you rather be liked or respected?

 Liked vs Respected

As leaders, we want to be liked, but we also want to be respected. Can we be both? Not only do I believe it’s possible, but I’ve personally witnessed many leaders walking a beautifully balanced line between the two.

Accomplishing both isn’t always easy, though. What happens when the balance tips too far in one direction or the other?

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Quiz: What is the #1 cause of employee turnover?

 

Bad-management

To answer this question, take a moment to reflect on the best and the worst jobs you’ve ever had. What role did your boss play in how you felt about those positions? If you’re like a large number of the leaders I’ve worked with, the best jobs you’ve had involved a great boss who spent time with you and taught you a lot. Your worst jobs, on the other hand, probably involved a boss you didn’t like that much—someone who micromanaged your activities or put you down.

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Put an Employee in Your Shoes

In my upcoming book – Would You Want to Work For You? – I discuss employee development strategies and how to build your people without losing precious time. I also talk about the importance of receiving feedback from your team.

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Does your company “get” you?

1 team(4)

Communication is everything, so if people aren’t understanding your message, you may as well be speaking to the wall. This recent Forbes.com article, “When CEOs Talk Strategy, 70% of the Company Doesn’t Get it” outlines the issues that cause miscommunication and misalignment and ways to make sure your people “get” you and your message.

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