Brenda's Blog

Self-Leadership Challenge #8: How Your Thoughts Impact Success

When Victoria showed up for her executive coaching session with me, she looked forward to focusing on three behaviors that she had identified as holding her back in her career progression. Here’s what she had written down:

  1. I need to speak up more in meetings, particularly with senior leaders.
  2. I need to stand up to pushy clients.
  3. I need to become more comfortable promoting myself to top management.

But during our session together, it quickly became clear that the issue for Victoria wasn’t necessarily these behaviors. Instead, it was her underlying mind management driving those limiting behaviors.

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It isn’t unusual for a potential coaching client to show up for a trial session with a change-in-behavior objective, and then realize that their thoughts are actually at the heart of the challenge.

In Victoria’s case, through our discussion, she discovered that she had been quietly talking herself out of embracing the very behaviors she wanted to embody. She had been listening to that little voice inside her head that says, “If I speak up, I’ll probably be wrong and make a fool of myself.” Or: “Even if I don’t agree with a client, I don’t want to rock the boat, so I just go along with it.” Or: “I’ve never been any good at self-promotion, so my chances of getting anywhere in this job are slim.”

Does Victoria’s dilemma ring true for you, too? These kinds of limiting thoughts can pass through your mind so quickly that you don’t even consciously realize it. But these thoughts are incredibly powerful and can have a dramatic effect, causing you to postpone actions and make all sorts of excuses for not initiating positive change.

What’s at the heart of it all? One of the worst enemies of self-leadership is a fear of failure, and it plagues even the most high-ranking executives.

Here’s another example: Sarah is a woman who helped start up a successful high-tech company. Previously a strong individual, full of energy and excitement, she and her fellow leaders grew the company from a dozen employees to a thriving organization of several hundred.

By that time, Sarah had become a mother, with one child already born and a second one on the way. She found herself struggling to balance the demands of work and home and realized that her family was getting the short end of the stick. So, after serious consideration, she decided to leave the work world for a few years to focus on raising her kids. Those “few years” turned into more than 10 years of being out of the corporate environment.

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That’s when Sarah arrived at my office for coaching. “I thought I could just pick up my career where I left off,” she said, “but I realize I was being naïve. What was I thinking?”

She then proceeded to tell me about how she was certain she had completely blown her recent interview for a new position. “You won’t believe what I said, Brenda,” she told me. “What an idiot! How stupid can I be? Some of the answers I gave to questions were ridiculous, the more I think about them.”

I looked at her and quickly changed my demeanor. “I can’t believe you did that either, Sarah! What were you thinking? You really are an idiot, you know that? How stupid can you be! Your answers were completely ridiculous!”

Sarah looked at me with shock on her face, clearly taken aback by my words. But it only took her a moment to understand my purpose. When I saw the recognition register on her face, I returned to my normal tone of voice and asked, “Now, if I were your boss, Sarah, and I spoke to you that way, would you work for me?”

“No!” she said, “Of course, not! That would be the worst boss in the world!”

I responded, “But, all I did was mirror back to you exactly what you’ve been saying to yourself. My point is: You have been listening to the worst boss in the world—and it’s that nasty little voice in your head.”

The Power of That Nasty Little Voice

When it comes to mind management—a foundational element of self-leadership—it’s absolutely critical to watch the little voice inside your head … like a hawk. Many executives deal with the same problem, so much so that author Seth Godin even wrote a blog post about this very issue called, “The World’s Worst Boss.”

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If you think about it, that inner voice is the one that talks to you the most (no matter how chatty your spouse or others in your life might be). So, it’s fundamental to pay attention in order to get clear about what that voice is saying to you morning, noon, and night. Simply by paying attention, you can bring these thoughts to the surface and change the dialogue you have with yourself.

Remember: That voice has no right to treat you in a way that you wouldn’t allow others to treat you. It’s your choice which voice in your head you listen to—the one that tells you that you are ready to handle any job/challenge that comes your way … or the one that will defeat you.

Great self-leaders recognize the power of their thoughts. How will you begin to change your inner dialogue today?

Want to learn more? My book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success,” includes many more tips and tools to help strengthen your mind management for greater self-leadership success.

Self-Leadership Challenge #7: How Great Self-Leaders Influence Others — Even Without Title or Authority

My executive coaching client, Mei, had just received a high-visibility promotion. It would shift her from leading the sales function (with full profit and loss responsibility) to taking over a regional sales job in charge of 11 countries. However, with this new move, P&L responsibility would remain with the 11 country heads.

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Her new regional job meant that there were dotted-line reports in each of the 11 countries, but she had no “direct” authority over those reports or the country heads. Essentially, Mei shifted from a post with full authority and title to a position without any official power. She could no longer rely on an “I’m the boss” approach.

Mei came to me for coaching because she had never been in a job which required her to rely solely on her ability to influence others; she had normally relied on authority and title to get things done. As such, she felt the need to strengthen her influencing skills—and quickly—if she was going to succeed. Given the high visibility of her new position, not to mention how critical this was for her career, one thing was clear: Failure was not an option.

The need for greater influence skills is more and more common in today’s matrixed world. Indeed, due to flattening organizations, many executives today don’t have the positional power they had in the past.

To further complicate matters, in today’s global work world, the need to influence frequently happens remotely, with less face-to-face contact than in the past. That means we don’t have the benefit of reading body language or using our facial expressions to help us persuade others to our point of view. Often, we must speak to people in different time zones late at night or early in the morning, when we may not be operating with the full energy required.

As a result, influence is one of the most important skills of contemporary self-leadership, and that’s why it’s also one of the most common issues I see in my executive coaching practice.

How Great Self-Leaders Influence

When you think about people who have a great deal of influence, does someone in your organization come to mind? What does this person do to influence others? Is the influence based solely on position and title, or is it based on a skill or quality like warmth and likability?

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Even though my client, Mei, had never previously been forced to rely solely on influence, I reminded her that she had certainly influenced her colleagues and others on a number of occasions. I asked her to make a list of ways that excellent self-leaders persuade, recalling situations during her career in which she herself had successfully done so, as well as times she had observed other great leaders compel others to act.

Here is Mei’s list:

  • “Great self-leaders influence by being fair and objective with others. A number of my colleagues have reported to bosses who treated them unfairly at some point in their careers. That stays with you, and when you work with someone who does treat you fairly, you want to do right by that person.
  • Great self-leaders influence by having no hidden agendas. It’s important to be transparent. If people trust that I’m honest and up-front, they’ll be more likely to accept what I have to say.
  • Great self-leaders influence peers by earning their respect. If my peers don’t respect me, I will be less likely to win them over.
  • Great self-leaders influence better when not attached to a specific outcome. I’ll be more influential if I stay flexible and don’t insist that everything must be done in a certain way.
  • Great self-leaders influence by doing what’s right for the team or the organization. I need to keep in mind that it isn’t personal; it’s about doing what’s best for the company.
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  • Great self-leaders influence by asking powerful, open-ended questions that don’t lead to simple “yes” or “no” answers. These kinds of questions encourage dialogue, which, in turn, strengthen trust.
  • Great self-leaders influence by being inclusive, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, or body type. I need to watch any tendency toward unconscious bias and make sure I don’t allow labels to negatively impact outcomes.
  • Great self-leaders influence by not overwhelming others with lots of details. I need to stay aware of how much information people actually need in order to see my point of view, and then offer no more than that.
  • Great self-leaders influence by steering clear of drama and problems. I need to remain positive and avoid complaining or focusing on what isn’t working.
  • Great self-leaders influence by being excellent listeners. My influence is more likely to be successful if I talk with people, and listen actively, rather than talking at them without listening.”

Armed with these ideas and the Influence Toolbox included in my book, Leading YOU: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, Mei felt more confident about her new position, and her trepidation about taking on the challenge changed to excitement.

What other examples have you seen great self-leaders use to successfully influence others?

We’re celebrating! Find out why…

This past Saturday, April 1st, 2017 was a big day for us here at BDA. Not just because it’s April Fools’ Day (although we do have a lot of fun with that) but because 15 years ago on that date, our company, Brand Development Associates (BDA) International, was born!

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In this blog, I share more about this very personal brand-building journey.

And, to add to the 15-year anniversary excitement, I was also humbled to learn that I have been recognized as one of the Top 25 Global Coaching Gurus and one of the Top 20 Global Branding Gurus for 2017! And, to honor these exciting milestones, we are offering great prizes to 15 lucky winners – you’ll want to check out the details below!

Looking Back to Look Forward – Our Entrepreneurship Story

It feels like April 1, 2002 was only yesterday. I sat in my new office – well, at that time, it was actually a converted small bedroom in our home – and thought with such excitement, “I did it! I started my own business!” After almost two decades of working in big companies, I felt an incredible sense of freedom to go out on my own.

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But it didn’t take long before fear seeped in, with questions like, “I’ve given up the comfort of a high-paying corporate job with all the perks. I’m starting from scratch with nothing! What have I done?”

In fact, I jokingly say I chose April Fools’ Day to start the business because if it didn’t work out, I could always go running back to the corporate world and say, “Just kidding!”

In all seriousness, though, I was determined to make it work. I had some savings, but I knew I had to spend funds wisely if my business was going to survive. I had to get smart – fast – about how to do that.

Faced with this dilemma, I took a deep breath and gathered up all the tips, tools, and techniques I had learned during those many years of big-brand management. I began applying them diligently to building my own brand – but this time, in ways that didn’t cost much. I kept my eye on the target – on the brand I wanted to build – and that brand became the North Star to guide every day-to-day decision I made. In other words, I focused on what I did have, rather than what I didn’t have.

In the process, slowly but surely, I uncovered hundreds of ways to build my brand using the same methods I had employed with household name brands, but without the need for the deep pockets I had in the corporate world. Then, I was able to take what I learned and teach other business owners how to do the same. I started out showing them how to master corporate and product branding, and my focus eventually evolved into leadership branding – how to help individuals, executives, and leaders build brands for themselves.

Looking back 15 years later, I can honestly say this journey has been the most amazing ride, and I’m grateful for every minute of the experience. Five years into the company, Daniel Jackman joined our team, and that’s when the magic really kicked in!  The business grew and grew to the point where, today, it’s been enormously rewarding to serve as a professional speaker, corporate trainer, and senior executive coach to dozens of the most recognized companies in the world.

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Currently, BDA International has had the honor of working with clients across six continents and 70 industries, and people often ask us how we achieved that. In fact, such a large number of clients and other individuals ask about how to become a successful entrepreneur that I decided to write a short book in which I share the top 15 lessons I’ve learned from 15 years of running my own business. Watch for the release date – it will be out in a few months!

Do YOU Have What it Takes, Too?

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you two of my favorite articles about what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur. It’s an active, engaging topic, as more and more people decide to take the plunge and start a business. What are the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, and … if it’s appropriate for you, do YOU have them?

10 Traits All Successful Entrepreneurs Share

8 Successful Entrepreneurs Reveal the Best Business Advice They Ever Got

Don’t think this topic applies to you? Think again: Even if you work “inside” a company, are you an “intra”preneur, using your entrepreneurial skills within the organization to get faster, better, and more innovative results? Those skills will help you both inside or outside the corporate world.

Thank You!

As we celebrate our 15-year milestone, I want to say thank you to all of our fantastic clients – both corporate and individual – and all of our blog readers who have followed us all these years and been so supportive. If it weren’t for you, this company would be nothing, and we are incredibly grateful to you every single day. Thank you for the incredible support you have offered our company over the years!

Self-Leadership: Important for Entrepreneurs and “Intra”Preneurs, Too!

During my years of coaching senior executives, I came to understand that self-leadership is the most important – and most overlooked – driver of overall success. It’s a key part of being a successful entrepreneur – and a successful “intra”preneur, too. Self-leadership allows you to lead yourself to reach both “doing” goals – (Executive Presence, speaking up, effectively addressing conflict, etc.) and “being” goals (strengthening confidence, staying calm when facing tough situations, making difficult decisions, etc.)

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As a coach, I was able to pinpoint the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors, which became the basis of my latest book: Leading YOU™: The power of SELF-LEADERSHIP to build your executive brand and drive career success. As always, I’ve filled the book with lots of practical ways to correct these behaviors in your world, along with real-life executive coaching case studies that illustrate how these tools and techniques can help you become a markedly better leader.

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This book picks up where Would YOU Want to Work For YOU™? left off, providing what I believe is the missing link for most executives and entrepreneurs across the globe.

I’m excited to share that the book is receiving positive feedback and impacting leaders around the world! Here are just a few of the comments that people have shared with me after reading the book:

“I recommend Leading YOU™ to anyone who is a leader – or aspires to be. As I look at myself and others in my profession, I can see that author Brenda Bence is right: Self-leadership is the missing piece for most of us. Brenda has been invaluable to me at critical points in my career, helping me bridge my current role with my aspirations. A decade later, I continue to view my work with Brenda as a true breakthrough moment.”
Andrew Padovano – Managing Director, Citibank New York

“This book closes on the value of coaching to help you implement changes. I can personally attest to this. I was fortunate enough to enlist Brenda as my coach 6 years ago, and I estimate she has added well over US$150,000 to my compensation since that time.”
Marion McDonald – Chief Strategy Officer, Ogilvy PR, Asia Pacific

“Almost every leader focuses on leading others. [In this book], Brenda shows that self-leadership is just as important – maybe even more important – because it’s the foundation of all leadership.”
Dale A. Martin – CEO, Siemens Hungary

“Many practical tips in this easy read as Brenda uses many real-life scenarios as illustrations. It spoke to me in so many ways – I highly recommend this book!”
Angelia Kay – Regional Director, Garlock Asia Pacific

“Just what I was looking for! Brenda cuts right through the confusion on this topic and she provides a clear pathway for career development. I highly recommend Leading YOU™ to anyone looking to find the right balance and direction in their career.”
— Reid Velo – Consultant, Trust Edge Leadership Institute, Minneapolis

See You in Thailand!

“Please let me know when you’ll be speaking at a public event!”  This is a phrase I hear often because I normally only present at private corporate meetings, conventions, and conferences.

However, next month, I will be speaking at a regional coaching conference in Bangkok, Thailand on May 26 – and it’s open to the public!  At that conference, I will be presenting material from my upcoming book, The Choice, where I reveal a simple yet powerful choice that every leader has before them – whether focused on leading self or leading others.

I would be delighted if you would come join me!  Click on the visual below to find out more.  I hope to see you there!

Self-Leadership Challenge #6: The “Secret Sauce” of Powerful Executive Presence

What is Executive Presence? I have found a lot of confusion among executive coaching clients about the true meaning of this “buzz phrase.” The way I like to define it is: “a set of attitudes, behaviors, and skills which—when combined—send the right signals, influence others, and ultimately drive results.”

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If you’re a senior leader, you no doubt already have some degree of Executive Presence. It’s how you’ve reached your current level in the first place. The most admired people have Executive Presence in abundance—people like Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Branson, to name a few. You know when you’ve met someone with powerful Presence. You feel drawn to that person and you want to connect with him or her.

“But can you learn Executive Presence?” clients ask?  Yes. And doing so improves your self-leadership, strengthens your executive leadership brand, and helps you advance in your career. Want proof about how important it is? According to a study of 236 senior executives, who make decisions about promotions within their organizations, Executive Presence accounts for more than one-quarter of what they look for in someone who is aiming to reach the next level.[1]

Many similar studies exist, all pointing to one outcome: Executive Presence is fundamental for those who want to reach increasingly higher levels in any organization. And it takes strong self-leadership to stay aware of and demonstrate the specific attitudes, behaviors, and skills required to embody powerful Presence.

So, what can you do to develop powerful Executive Presence? What’s the “secret sauce”?

The Most Important Ingredient of the “Secret Sauce”

I believe that underlying every aspect of Executive Presence is one core element: confidence—the absolute certainty that you can do what it takes to succeed in any situation. When you have confidence, you believe in yourself, so that—even if you’re undertaking something new—you know you’ll be able to figure it out when you get there.

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Yet, many accomplished leaders lack the confidence they need to cultivate strong Executive Presence. One indication of that: I’ve met a large number of leaders who suffer from the “Impostor Syndrome.” That’s a term which describes high-achieving people who don’t really trust their successes. They are constantly afraid of being exposed as a fraud, no matter how much they’ve accomplished. “I just got lucky,” they might say. As much as they want a higher level of responsibility or a specific promotion, deep down they question whether they are good enough to get it.

Then, there are other leaders like my client, George, who allowed a setback to damage his confidence. He had 29 years of experience in the corporate world. For 27 of those years, he was a dynamic go-getter, moving up the ladder and achieving great success every step of the way—not just in his professional life, but in his personal life as well. For the last two years, though, things hadn’t gone so well for him.

He had taken over a division that was new to him, and it wasn’t performing well under his leadership. When we met, I could sense George’s energy. He was like a balloon that had been deflated.

“George, for how many years did you have tremendous success?” I asked him.

“Twenty-seven years,” he responded.

“And for how long have things been a bit rocky?”

“These past two years,” George replied.

“So, you’ve had 27 years of positive, ongoing successes, and only two years—24 months—of less-than-positive outcomes. Is that correct?”

I could see the realization of this sinking in. “You’re right—I have to keep that in perspective,” George said. “I can’t let these past 24 months cloud a career and a life that has gone so well. It’s only a small portion of the whole.”

George is an example of how quickly confidence can fade if we’re not careful to nurture it. And once confidence fades, Executive Presence takes a hit.

Keep Your Confidence Level Steady

If you take an inventory of your successes and how they came about, you’ll most likely recognize that it was definitely not “all luck.” Your talents, skills, and hard work are why you’ve achieved success.

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Here’s an exercise to help you look honestly at what you have done and the skills you’ve developed, while acknowledging what you believe you genuinely lack. Make two columns on a legal pad or on your computer, and on the left-side column, list your most valuable attributes. Don’t stop adding to the list until you’ve run out of qualities and skills (and don’t be humble!)

Then, in the right column, list the areas where you still need work. Be objective about what you could do better. Once done, sit back and review the two lists. If you’re like most of my clients, I suspect you’ll be surprised at the outcome, because we often underestimate what we can do versus what we think we cannot do. (I assigned George this exercise, and this one task alone gave him more momentum than he’d had in a long while.)

It’s critical to look at yourself the way others do, but it’s difficult to see yourself through an objective lens. That’s why it’s so important to getting meaningful feedback—and why I devoted an entire chapter to that topic in my book, Leading YOU: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

The single most powerful and productive exercise I give my clients is the task of keeping a “Confidence Journal.” It’s simple: As you go through your day, and you have an experience that either increases or decreases your confidence level, write down what happened and why. Whether you are being challenged by a peer, find yourself on the receiving end of a compliment from the CEO, needing to fire someone, or struggling to influence outcomes, make sure to remain objective, and ask yourself: “What’s happening to my confidence right now?” Go inside and figure out how the experience is impacting you. What’s the context? Who’s involved, and what’s triggering the “boost” or the “bust”? What’s really causing those ups and downs?

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Jot every incident down, and give your confidence level a score based on how you feel: 1 = Not feeling confident at all, 10 = Feeling fully confident. Don’t judge yourself as you write—just be objective. Detach emotionally for a moment, and become an impartial reporter of what’s happening inside you, noting what triggered your shift in confidence.

Depending upon how many incidences you have, after a week or two of keeping track, pick up your confidence journal, and look for trends. What do you see, objectively? For example, it might be that your confidence level drops when you address very senior leadership, but you feel fully confident when addressing and leading direct reports.

Or maybe you wrote: “When I’m dealing with peers over whom I have no direct authority, my confidence level drops.”

Or: “When I’m involved in a conversation in my area of expertise, my confidence is high, but when I’m called upon to discuss areas outside my division, my confidence is reduced.”

Some clients keep the journal for two or three weeks, while others like to keep it going for two months or longer. It’s up to you. Once you understand the triggers that are causing confidence highs and lows, you’ll then be better able to preempt the triggers so that you can avoid confidence dips.

If you strengthen your Executive Presence in this way, you’ll be much less likely to allow a setback to diminish your belief in yourself. Keep in mind all of your achievements, and use them to keep you moving forward, even when faced with a challenging situation.

Assess the state of your current Executive Presence by taking my  Executive Presence Quiz.

[1] Hewlett, Sylvia Ann; Leader-Chivée, Lauren; Sherbin, Laura; Gordon, Joanne; Dieudonné, Fabiola; “Executive Presence,” TalentinInnovation.org, http://www.talentinnovation.org/assets/ExecutivePresence-KeyFindings-CTI.pdf.

Want to learn more? My book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success,” includes many more tips and tools to help strengthen your Executive Presence for greater self-leadership success.

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.