Tag Archives: Leadership development

Executive Presence: The Power of First Impressions

Observing Art and Preppy

I tried to stay focused on writing my blog post, but the scene at the next table had the dramatic pull of a multi-car pileup. I couldn’t help  marveling at the Albert Einstein-esc coif exploding out from the man’s head. It looked like a zany tutu wildly encircling a large damp cantaloupe. His ensemble of warn out khaki clothing and beat up Chuck Taylor’s completed the cliché. Behold, “The Writer, The Artist.” I searched the Starbuck’s parking lot for the oldest clunker I could find and made myself a bet that he’d drive away in that car. The part of the tableau I found most baffling was that instead of pitching a screenplay or discussing the virtues of the third person omniscient voice, this guy was walking a client through the resume he’d drafted for him. A very clean cut corporate individual had chosen to have his resume, his personal branding message, the first piece of information a potential employer would see, developed by a man driving a Pinto.

Despite the warnings, we do judge books by their covers. So how did this odd couple, let’s call them “Art” and “Preppy,” end up working together on a resume project? The only two possible conclusions that seemed to reconcile the conundrum for me were that either…

A.“Art” and “Preppy” are brothers

or

 B. “Preppy” hired “Art” before meeting him

“Art” might be the world’s greatest resume writer. His clients probably rave about the responses they receive from potential employers regarding the quality and clarity of their resumes. He just doesn’t look the part. Assuming they’re not brothers, human nature tells us that if “Preppy” met “Art” before hiring him, his first reaction wouldn’t be “Wow, this guy must really know his way around the corporate world.” It’s more likely he’d make a mental note to slug the guy who referred him.

Split Second Timing

When we meet someone, our brains want to instantaneously catalog that person. The most salient information available is physical appearance and behavior. It would be great if we could put a blank placeholder in our minds until we’ve had sufficient time to file the individual in our mental database according to a thorough character assessment. However, the speed of first impressions is deeply rooted in primitive survival instincts.  The ability to use behavior and demeanor to gauge intentions was a priceless resource when bumping into a  Saber Tooth Tiger on the way to the watering hole. Regardless of the advancement in human civilization, our brains have yet to outgrow that automatic split second judgement.

As influencers or aspiring influencers, we can’t discount the power of first impressions. They determine success factors such as whether or not we get invited back a second time or how many hoops we’ll be jumping through before the person is willing to listening to our ideas. Influential leaders have mutually supportive relationships with people representing a variety of knowledge bases and hierarchical levels throughout their organization, industry, and/or community. Each of these critical relationships began with a first impression that earned the leader a check mark in the win column. Displaying a level of personal engagement that leads others to quickly conclude you are exceptional is the characteristic known as Executive Presence.

Beyond the Boardroom

Though Executive Presence is often sought after because it is believed to be needed to successfully interact with senior leaders, it is a valuable asset for effective communication at any level. Winning first impressions open doors to an array of valuable relationships. Executive Presence increases your visibility outside of your functional area; giving you wider access to information, resources, and support systems.

In order for powerful first impressions to maintain their luster over the long term, you have to be support them with consistent evidence of integrity, trust, and credibility.

 Improving Executive Presence entails a conscious effort to fine-tune specific interpersonal skills and modify certain behaviors. If you are interested in getting better results with less turmoil, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to pursue.

People who radiate Executive Presence:

  • Show confidence
  • Handle pressure gracefully
  • Easily and naturally relate to others
  • Are genuine
  • Are humble enough to listen to others and continue to learn

Coming Soon…

In our next post, we’ll be discussing tactics for improving Executive Presence. If you’d like to contribute your ideas on how to improve Executive Presence, we’ll incorporate those into the post and, where appropriate, link to your site and/or sources. Please email your ideas to nicole@writeinfluence.com.

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How to Delegate Effectively

Last week’s post, The Pros and the Pros of Delegation, covered the What and the Why of effective delegation. This week’s post is about the How. Here is a step by step guide to assigning a task to someone else and then putting a system in place to provide that person with meaningful support.

1. Deciding to Delegate

The first step in delegation is deciding whether or not a responsibility or task should be delegated.

A good rule of thumb is for business leaders to spend the majority of their time on tasks and responsibilities that directly impact organizational or personal objectives.

These mission-critical tasks that affect long-term success require leadership attention. Everything else is fair game for delegation.

This cut and dry rule of thumb is good when there is a clear delineation between mission critical and non-mission critical activities. For situations with more of a gray area around the nature of responsibilities, use the following questions to determine whether or not a task is worth delegating. The more yes answers, the more likely a task or responsibility should/can be delegated:

  • Does someone else have (or could be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task?
  • Would this be an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?
  • Is this a recurring task?
  • Has this task not yet been delegated because of expediency, habit, or because it falls squarely in the leader’s comfort-zone?
  • Can you schedule sufficient time to delegate appropriately and thoroughly?
  • Can enough time be allocated for adequate training, questions and answers, progress checks, and possible rework?

2. Selecting the Right Person

To ensure that the task is completed to the leader’s satisfaction, it is crucial to select the “right” person for the job. Effective delegation is about assigning challenging jobs to the person most qualified to complete the work as well as most interested in taking on the challenge. When deciding with whom to trust a task or responsibility, consider the following questions.

  • Once trained, will this person have the capacity to do the job unsupervised?
  • Does this person have a track record of open communication?
  • Do this person’s strengths match the required skill set and/or knowledge base to successfully complete the assignment?
  • Is it realistic to add another responsibility to this person’s workload?
  • Do you trust this person enough to be patient as he/she progresses through his/her learning curve?

Again, the more “yes” answers, the more likely the individual is a good candidate for delegation.

3. Setting the stage for success

When the time is right to assign a task or responsibility to the carefully chosen person, use the following steps as a check list. Covering each of these items gives the person receiving the assignment the best possible chance for success.

  1. Gain the Person’s Buy-In. At first, the person receiving the assignment may not see all of the benefits of having something added to his/her workload. Before speaking with the person about the assignment, consider what he/she values. What outcomes would this person deem worthwhile? Then, when presenting the assignment, take the time to discuss the upside to successful completion of the task from the other person’s perspective. Cover the impact on financial rewards, future opportunities, recognition, and other desirable outcomes that would motivate the individual to willingly take on the challenge.
  2. Set Clear Expectations. Include specific parameters around performance standards, a detailed explanation of the desired results, the scope of the individual’s authority, available resources, communication strategies, and schedules. As much as possible, capture this information in writing.
  3. Explain/Coach/Train. Make sure the person knows what works. Alert the individual to potential pitfalls as well as methods that have had less success in the past.
  4. Keep an Open Mind. Unless the particular steps to completing a task or carrying out a given responsibility are truly “written in stone” or must comply with a particular mandate, maintain the flexibility to consider different methods. Be willing to entertain the possibility that the other person may devise a better way to get the task done. Whenever possible, focus on the end-result and leave the means (the how to get there) up to the individual. The more input a person has in the task/responsibility, the higher their level of personal ownership; which will in turn enhance their attention to detail and the quality of their output.
  5. Maintain Communication. Talk about what needs to be done and the specific output you expect. Proper communication prevents misunderstandings and helps the other person to fulfill his/her potential.
  6. Establish and Adhere to a Periodic Review Schedule. Make yourself available for progress reports and questions.CB100472
  7. Try Not to Catch “The Boomerang”. If there is a problem, don’t allow the person to throw responsibility for the task back to you. When presented with an issue, avoid the urge to provide an immediate answer. Ask the person to provide recommended solutions instead. Then, ask the person to prioritize the options and explain the rationale he/she used. Work with the individual to select and refine the best option until a mutually agreed upon solution is developed.
  8. Provide Recognition. Be generous and genuine with praise. Give recognition in a manner that is most valued by the individual. For example, publicly thank an outgoing ambitious person in front of an audience of organizational leaders.

Well executed delegation is a morale booster, a tremendous force for productivity gains, and a significant development tool.

The key phrase is “well executed.” Haphazardly throwing responsibility over the wall in hopes that the other person actually catches it will only frustrate the person hit with the added burden and cost the leader precious time fixing mistakes and rectifying issues. When delegation is properly leveraged, leaders are free to concentrate on organizational imperatives and the individuals entrusted with tasks and responsibilities grow their skills and enhance their importance within the organization.

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Trust to be Trusted

The post on Breaking Down the Barriers to Influence introduced a list of best practices that comprise an Influence Style or I-Style. The goal is to make these activities a natural part of your business (and personal) life in order to ensure you are continually enhancing your influence. Focus on Building Trusting Relationships tops this list because trust is at the heart of your ability to succeed in all the other I-Style activities.

 

Pop-Quiz: If you were asked to build trusting relationships with co-workers, vendors, prospects, clients, or managers, which set of behaviors would you apply to the task? Blue side or White side?trust

 

 Hopefully this exercise was not rocket science (that means I hope you thought the White side is the obvious choice!). In general, it is easy to list out behaviors that either build trust or destroy trust. But when faced with a trying or spontaneously challenging situation, it’s equally easy to be spurred into non-trustworthy behaviors. Making a conscious effort to improve the ability to motivate others to take action creates a hyper-vigilance around demonstrating trust-building behaviors and avoiding actions and attitudes that tear down trust. Being Trustworthy is seen as the single most important aspect to earning the trust necessary to be influential.

By putting so much emphasis on being trusted by others, we tend to neglect or maybe aren’t aware of the second aspect of the trust building process: Trusting Others. Granting Trust is as important as Earning trust. It’s like an exercise in 9th grade logic: If, A. People are more likely to follow leaders they trust and B. People are far more willing to trust someone they know trusts them. Then, C. People are more likely to follow leaders who demonstrate trust in them. In the foreword to the book, Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life, Norm Blake, the former Chairman, President, and CEO of USF&G Corporation describes the two sides of the equation as such:

“Paramount to earning trust is consistently demonstrating that you are fair, honest, open, and competent. People need to know that you tell the truth and earnestly act on your principles and beliefs…Equally important to your ability to successfully turn a company around is being able to trust those you are dependent upon for making it happen.”

Being trustworthy is a product of behaviors. Trusting others is a matter of mindset. I had the pleasure of meeting Linda Stroh, the author of Trust Rules, at a launch event for her book .

As part of her presentation, she challenged us to use a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “totally unwilling to trust” and 10 being “totally willing to trust,” to rate how much we trust someone we’ve just met. Take a moment and consider how you’d rate yourself on that scale.

Some people tend to be on the lower end of the scale because they’ve been burned in the past by trusting too much too soon. For these folks, trust is a treasured gift they mete out conservatively. At the other end of the spectrum, are those who steadfastly adhere to the “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy and grant complete trust from the onset of a relationship. Linda Stroh points out that, “trusting too much is just as detrimental to our welfare as not trusting enough.”

The amount of trust we are willing to grant others is affected by our life experiences and the need for practical discernment. An effective strategy for trusting others is to adopt the mindset that there exists a common ground between others and us. Then, actively pursue that common ground with people you need to be able to trust. The strategy of Seeking Common Ground allows you to give people enough trust upfront so that the relationship can progress forward without making yourself too vulnerable to blind-faith in that person. Seeking CommonGround means identifying the mutually beneficial terms under which the relationship can exist.

Here is an example to demonstrate the process:

Devin is a sales person who has been burned badly by people in the past. His tendency is to not trust anyone until they’ve proven themselves worthy (which is an arbitrary test over the course of an indeterminate amount of time). He has been asked to partner with Sue from marketing on a project for a specific account. The team is on a tight deadline with little margin for error. They have to work together. Although Devin’s inclination is to be suspicious of Sue, he tries to find common ground upon which to start their working relationship. What do you think that would be? Maybe it’s a shared interest in helping the customer or a shared desire to see the project succeed. By finding this common ground, Devin can give Sue enough trust to earn her trust and to collaborate efficiently and effectively. During the course of the project, Devin can watch Sue’s behaviors, learn more about her character, and decide how trustworthy she really is. Alternatively, he can use the context of the project to demonstrate trust building behaviors to earn a deeper level of trust from her.

As part of the Seeking Common Ground strategy, I recommend leveraging tools such as the Trust Rules Questionnaire that Ms. Stroh developed based on extensive research. The tool helps you determine how trustworthy you perceive someone to be based on a set of twenty characteristics. It’s an excellent way to put some rigor around the usual vagueness of “gut instinct.”

Influence as a leadership asset hinges on our ability to earn trust and our willingness to prudently grant trust. This means we have to be intentional about our behaviors and use strategies such as Seeking Common Ground to lay strong foundations from which to build lasting relationships.

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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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