Tag Archives: Change

Improving Executive Presence One Bite at a Time

Justice Potter Stewart coined an idiomatic phrase so useful it’s like a linguistic hammer. Instead of continuing the struggle to define a nebulous term (in his case, hard-core pornography), he simply stated that “I know it when I see it.” In addition to potentially revealing a little too much information about what he did in his spare time (how does he know it when he sees it if he hasn’t seen it before?), Justice Stewart gave us a catch-all term that relieves us from the burden of succinctly describing the indescribable. Since that fateful judgment in 1964, every elusive word or phrase too subjective to be neatly corralled by a singular definition gets nailed into our lexicon by the conclusive force of the description “I know it when I see it.” Executive Presence is one of those terms.

You Know Because You’ve Seen It

Executive Presence is best defined by the behaviors of people who possess it. In a comment about the post Executive Presence: The Power of First Impressions, Gina Rudan of Genuine Insights said, “Whether you are a right brainer or a left brainer doesn’t matter it’s how you carry your expertise, passion and credibility.” V.J. Singal, speaker, coach and author, says Executive Presence is “Displaying gravitas in the way you speak or move.”

As you read through the following check list of qualities exuded by people with Executive Presence, decide which of these you possess and to what degree:

  • Commands attention without demanding it
  • Displays a level of personal engagement that leads everyone they meet to immediately conclude he/she is exceptional
  • Shows confidence
  • Handles pressure gracefully
  • Treats others, regardless of their status, with respect in all circumstances-good or bad
  • Easily and naturally relate to others
  • Is genuine
  • Is humble enough to listen to others and continue to learn

If you could increase the degree to which the above qualities describe you, and therefore improve your Executive Presence, how would that impact your results at work, in your career, in your community?

Creating a Development Plan for Executive Presence

Improving your Executive Presence is a lot like eating an elephant. If you think of trying to swallow it whole you become overwhelmed. The best approach is to take it one bite at a time.

Select 1 to 3 of the items above which describe you to the least degree. For each item, select one behavior you will commit to changing. On an index card, or someplace where you’ll be able to reference it throughout the day, write down a brief example of how you display the behavior today. Below that, write an example that describes how you’d ideally like to behave. This second description is your goal. Every morning, take a few minutes to read your notes and re-commit to this goal. Every evening, write down (or at the very least think about) specific examples of how you behaved according to or more closely to your “ideal” level for each behavior. Once you’ve mastered a behavior, pick another to improve.

Case in Point

Dawna Watson, a successful realtor, one of the best listeners I know, and a person who radiates Executive Presence, wrote “You can’t be “genuine” if you’re thinking about where you’re headed next or who you need to talk to. I often find myself leaving a conversation realizing I never said much. I get so wrapped up in the other person’s story and trying to help or support them that it ends up being all about them.”

If Dawna’s words were to inspire you to “Be humble enough to listen to others and continue to learn,” your development plan might look like this:

Current State: I find my mind wandering when others are talking. I have to ask the other person to repeat what they said. Often, I just keep my reaction vague enough that it appears to be an appropriate response.

Ideal State: Stay in the moment when others are speaking. Instead of planning my response while they talk, try to anticipate where they are going with their ideas. Paraphrase what others have said to demonstrate that I’ve heard their point of view. Respond to others with open ended questions instead of my opinions.

Notice how easy it would be to review a day’s interactions and categorize them as either “Current State” or “Ideal State” level behavior.

A Few Examples to Get You Started

Here are some ideas to help you develop your own Executive Presence Development Plan.

Posture and Body Language

Sit up straight, arms uncrossed, both feet planted on the ground. Women, although we were taught at a young age to keep our legs crossed, we command a stronger presence with two feet flat on the ground.

Stand with your weight equally distributed on both legs. Try not to sway, rock, or shift your weight from side to side.

Keep a note pad with you for an entire day. Every time you catch yourself fidgeting, slouching, cracking your knuckles, etc. make a note of the behavior and the circumstances. Once you have your baseline of undesirable habits, use a tally system to track your progress. Your goal is to go at least three days in a row with no marks.

Before delivering your next presentation, video yourself practicing. Do you look confident, secure, and in command of your content? Are you speaking with authority, enthusiasm, and passion? If you’re not seeing Executive Presence, pick one behavior or attribute to change. Capture yourself on video practicing the presentation until you’re able to consistently maintain the behavior change. Repeat the process for each behavior you want to change.

Meeting Etiquette

Come to all meetings prepared with relevant materials as well as a pad and pen. No laptops open in front of you, no using your Blackberry to capture notes—sorry, both are just too impersonal and create a physical barrier between you and others. Do not answer calls or check emails during meetings. Even if your CEO does this and/or it’s ingrained in your company culture, the point is to be perceived as exceptional. Be the exception to this norm. Stay focused throughout the entire meeting.

Voice Quality

Tape your side of a phone conversation. How would others perceive you? Practice speaking in deeper more even tones. Unless you are asking a question, do not end sentences with an upward inflection. Eliminate generational colloquialism from your vernacular. For example, drop such timely classics as: “dude”, “cool”, “awesome”, “whatever man”, “um”, “like”, “no, really?”, “groovy”, “neomaxizoomdweeby” etc.

Measure your Words

Listen more than you speak. You’ll be leveraging the laws of economics in your favor. Think of supply and demand. When you’re constantly putting in your “two cents,” ultimately that’s all your opinion and ideas will be worth. Whenever possible, replace your “two cents” with the $64,000 question.

Facial Expressions Make Big Impressions

An important skill for improving Executive Presence is the ability to control your facial expressions so that you don’t inadvertently send the wrong message. For example, when I am concentrating, I tend to furrow my brow. This gives people the impression that I’m confused or upset—when in fact I’m just intent on what they are saying. When I feel my eyebrows draw together in a conference above my nose, I loosen my facial muscles and relax into a more open expression.

Stand in front of a mirror. Cycling through a range of emotions, watch and feel how your face changes for each. During the day, be conscious of how your face feels as you react to others. Practice controlling your facial expressions so that you are remaining neutral to warm in as many situations as possible. Make a conscious effort to smile at others as often as possible.

You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

The combination of self diagnosis and personal accountability require you to climb the mountain without a Sherpa. Although possible, the journey could be more treacherous than necessary. A less stressful more productive approach to better Executive Presence is to engage the expertise and support of an Executive Coach; someone who can help you develop a personal plan, guide you, and hold you accountable. I recommend Dennis McGurer at McGurer & Associates, Inc. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Denny on several projects and the transformations his clients achieve are dramatic. You can go it alone but it’s nice to know you don’t have to.

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Breaking Down the Barriers to Influence

By a show of hands, how many of you have a membership to a gym?

gymFor those of you getting funny looks because you’re sitting in front of your computer with your hand in the air, when was the last time you worked out at the gym? Here’s what just happened: some people quickly scanned back across the previous 12- 24 hours to remember their last workout. Others had to think back 12-24 months to remember the last time they were even at the gym. Yet, what both groups have in common are the choice to join a fitness center and the good intentions to use the membership to improve their health. It’s what happened next that differentiates the “regular attenders” from the “card carrying non-users.” The portion of people who workout at the gym regularly changed their attitudes and behaviors to incorporate routine exercise into their lifestyle. The “card carrying non-users” didn’t make the changes in mindset and schedule required to get the most out of the membership.

Just like improving physical fitness, becoming more influential is a about making lifestyle adjustments to prioritize certain activities over others. Though two people may make the same choice to enhance personal influence as a means to achieve objectives for “the greater good,” it’s the one who commits to an Influence Style who will succeed. An Influence Style, or I-Style for short, is an attitude and set of practices that are part of an influential person’s routine.

Influence, or motivating others to willingly take action in support of your goals to benefit the organization, is derived from: personal characteristics, the ability to identify and capitalize on situational advantages, and a willingness to lend personal resources when they fit a situational need.

Leveraging an I-Style makes it easier to naturally tap into available sources of influence giving us the trust, credibility, and value we’ll need to inspire others to action.

When you’re working with I-Style, you:

  • Focus on building trusting relationships.
  • Position yourself in the center of strong personal and business networks both face-to-face and through Social Media.
  • Find ways to make meaningful connections for the people in your networks.
  • Learn what is valued within the context and culture of your organization, team, or group. Determine if/how you can make meaningful contributions based on this value system.
  • Actively improve your insightfulness.
  • Identify and, if possible, use your skills and resources to bridge the gap between groups or within a given process.

Although some were pleased that at least a few of these items are already part of their modus operandi, many readers were listing the reasons why these practices won’t work for them. The latter reaction is natural. When faced with a behavior change that we know is going to cause discomfort or require a steep learning curve, our first inclination is to tighten our grip on the status quo. Despite the advertising slogans, our personal motto becomes…

“Some pain, hmm, is it worth the gain?”

When we’re not completely convinced that the price is worth the prize, we tend to construct barrierstime out of excuses and rationalizations. A typical self-constructed barrier is to look at the effort it will take to modify schedules and activities and then determine that “there’s just no time.”  Realistically though, this is not a very accurate complaint. We all have the same 24 hours each day. No one person has more time than another. The real issue is that we’re reluctant to channel time away from activities that are within our comfort-zone.  This particular barrier is not as much about having time as it is about making time.

While many of the self-imposed hurdles, such as perceived time constraints, arise from a reluctance to re-prioritize our focus, some spawn from misconceptions about influence. Think back to a time when you knew someone was trying every trick in the book to get you to do what he/she wanted despite your interest or desire. How did you feel about that person? What word comes to mind other than “influential” for describing that person? Is it “manipulative?” The tendency for persuasion, manipulation, and influence to be used interchangeably makes us timid about applying influence techniques. We are concerned about being perceived as coercive.  However, the difference in meaning between influence and its negative siblings in the lexiconic family lies not in the dictionary but within ourselves. If our intent is self-promotion, then the recipients of  our actions will feel they are being forced and manipulated.  On the other hand, if our intent is to promote the organization, then our actions will make others feel that they are being included in a worthwhile cause. 

Look back at the list of common practices influential people engage in on a regular basis. If  you are having difficulty getting others to contribute time, attention, or resources to initiatives outside of their typical job duties, and yet very few of the practices on the list are part of your work-style, what has been holding you back from adding influence to your leadership development plan? In order to make some or all of these a way of life, we have to begin by naming and conquering the personal barriers that have prevented us from enhancing our influence to date. Here are a few more common hurdles. Do any of these ring a bell?

  • I feel that when the truth is obvious, I shouldn’t have to influence others to earn their buy-in
  • I tend to be cautious about trusting others especially those I’ve just met or have not known for very long
  • Work is hectic so I often “seize the moment” when an opportunity arises to address ideas or concerns with people
  • I prefer to spend my time with colleagues and coworkers “in my area.” I’m not one to branch out and meet new people throughout the organization

If none of these barriers relate to you, what if any personal issues have been keeping you from becoming more influential?

Influence is not the hammer you pull out the moment you see the nail. It is the apprenticeship and training you go through long before you attempt to build a house. The best time to start enhancing your influence is as far in advance of when you’ll need to use it as possible. The next best time to start is today.

Begin developing your  I-Style by determining 1 or 2 steps you can take to remove your top 3 personal barriers to influence. Return next week to learn more about how to incorporate each of the I-Style practices into your routine.

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How to Successfully Transition into a New Role

When people ask you “So, what do you think?” they’re not really asking “So, what do you think?” That question is a euphemism for “So, we worked really hard on this and need validation. Please find a way to praise this.”

I was recently interviewed for an instructional designer role on a project. One of the interviewers pointed out that I would be joining a team of four that had been working together for three years. She asked me how, given the project’s 30-day deadline, I would handle becoming part of an existing team. My initial response was to make the point about the true meaning of “So, what do you think?”

I explained that this was a lesson I learned the hard way at the tender age of 23. On the first day at my first “corporate job,” I attended my first staff meeting. Because I had written and produced a newsletter for my previous employer, my boss asked me to take a few minutes and share my thoughts on the department’s newsletter. Now, what I thought she meant was that she wanted me to share my thoughts on the department’s newsletter. What I later learned was that she meant she was giving me an opportunity to make nice endearing comments that would help break the ice and encourage people to trust me.

I used to think “wet behind the ears” had something to do with residual birth fluids on a new born mammal. That night, I came to realize it refers to the tears that pool behind your own 23 year old ears as you cry yourself to sleep clutching your pillow like a security blanket. You see, after I gave my opinion of the newsletter which included pointing out the vast number of typos and poor layout, my boss called me into her office and informed that I had just alienated all of my co-workers. It was at that very moment that I learned the concept of “earning the right.”

Respecting the rule of “earning the right” means recognizing that every time we enter into humblepiea new situation, whether it is a job, a promotion, or a position on a team, we are instantly demoted to freshman status. The glorious achievements that earned us entry into the situation do not provide instant rapport, credibility, and trust with the group. We have to earn those through our actions within the current situation. We have to “earn the right” to provide constructive criticism, challenge existing decisions, and have our ideas considered and adopted. This transition process requires swallowing a big slice of humble pie. Despite my desire to quit, take a vow of silence, and join up with a cloister of monks, I returned to work the next day, apologized to my boss, and asked for her advice on how to mend the fences. It really wasn’t that difficult to humble myself. Although I had early wins in my first job out of school, my co-workers had far more corporate experience so it was easy to drop the arrogance and begin to learn from them.

The interesting thing about humble pie is that, like cotton candy, the older you get, the harder it is to choke downcottoncandy large quantities. Leaders with a track record of success typically find it harder to accept that humbling walk back to square one. Shedding the arrogance borne out of success and learning what you need to know about your new situation before trying to change it is a crucial first step.

Just three years later, I was managing a team at the same company. Our leadership group decided that it was more economical to outsource our department and sell our services back to the main company. In other words, we were going from cost center to profit center. A seasoned industry professional from a prestigious management consulting firm was brought in to spearhead the new organization.

We all sat around a conference room table; eyes anxiously darting back and forth awaiting his arrival. When he strode into the room (not wanting to dive into a trite metaphor, I’ll just put this image in your head, “foghorn leghorn”), he clearly had not considered the possibility that we might not trust or even like him. In an attempt to cast a vision of how much better things would be under the new arrangement, he began disparaging much of the work we had been doing. For example, he held up a black box containing a series of self-study booklets. He insulted the look of the packaging and the flimsiness of the contents. Little did he know, for the last 2 years we had poured our hearts into writing each booklet. He never bothered to find out that we spent months agonizing over packaging options, color schemes, and types of binding. In that instant, he demoralized the team, insulted us, and alienated everyone at that table.

I wondered how someone with so much experience and such a pedigree could make such a rookie mistake. How did he not know the “earn the right” rule? The man never recouped our trust. He walked into the room assuming that his past success and vast experience was enough to win us over. He made the mistake of thinking his resume bought him instant trust and credibility.

The team interviewing me wanted an outside resource for an objective point of view and fresh ideas. My response to the interviewer’s question about how I would handle coming into an existing team was simple. When asked, “So, what do you think?” my answer is tell me how we got to this point. What’s the history behind the decision and the cultural context? Chances are by answering my question; they’ll either validate their choice or recognize areas for improvement. Giving my opinion out of context is meaningless. Providing a sounding board for them to self-assess adds value and speeds me over my learning curve. Over time the deliverables I produce, my loyalty to the team and the value I add will earn me the right to proffer an opinion. As Michael Watkins states in his book The First 90 Days, “It is essential to figure out what you need to know about your new organization and then learn it as rapidly as you can.”

Remember, when you find yourself transitioning into a new role, bypass the hubris, no matter how tasty it looks, and go for a big whopping slice of humble pie.

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