VIDEO: Leverage the Energy of the Room

Energy is critical to the success of any presentation. Leaders need to learn to harness it to their advantage.

So what can you do? Learn to read the room and make the situation work for you. Doing so will open the door for you to become a more accomplished speaker. Keep one key point in mind. The audience wants you to succeed.

No one likes to see a speaker “die” on stage. So be cool, be brief, and keep smiling and you will do just fine.

First posted on Smart Brief 5.30.14

How Leaders Should Think Critically (HBR)

If you want to succeed in 21st Century business you need to become a critical thinker. Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management figured this out a decade ago and as dean, has been working to transform his school’s business curriculum with greater emphasis on critical thinking skills. As Lane Wallace explained in the New York Times, what Martin and many others are seeking to do is approach learning and problem solving from a multicultural platform that borrows from academia, business, the arts and even history.

Critical thinking has always been a prized attribute of leadership, but over the years, especially as business schools have emphasized quantitative skills over qualitative ones, critical thinking dropped by the wayside. Now as the rate of complexity rises, the need for critical thinking resurfaces.
David A. Garvin of the Harvard Business School told the New York Times, “I think there’s a feeling that people need to sharpen their thinking skills, whether it’s questioning assumptions, or looking at problems from multiple points of view.” With this, Garvin, who is a co-author of Re-Thinking the M.B.A.: Business Education at a Crossroads, neatly summarizes a foundation for how to begin to instill a critical thinking mindset.

Let me expand further what you need to do to think critically:

Question assumptions. Critical thinkers are inquisitive and look to find the what and the why behind every proposition. We saw the need for this when our financial markets melted in 2008. Crisis can bring out the best critical thinking because it forces you to question how and why you ended up in trouble.

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First posted on HBR.org 1/20/2010

VIDEO: Developing Your Leadership Presentation

One of your principal duties as a leader will be to deliver speeches.

Learn how to develop your presentation so that it conveys your message as well as your convictions and your style.

You can sum up what it takes to develop and present your presentation with with one word: preparation. The more prepared you are, the greater your odds of success.

First posted on Smart Brief 6/13/2014

How to Encourage Small Innovations (HBR)

Innovation plays a critical role in a company’s future, but companies often hinder themselves by focusing on finding the next big thing, when in reality, the next small thing might be more beneficial.

The more that employees are encouraged to think creatively and apply that creativity, the more flexible in practice and nimble in responsiveness a company becomes. When you take pressure off people to come up with a “big” idea, you encourage the creativity that can bring about incremental innovations. As a result, a new service or product offering may emerge, but it’s more likely that you will optimize your operations for cost, quality, efficiency, and speed.

At its core, innovation is applied creativity. And, it is my belief since I have seen it for years is that most employees can be encouraged to be creative, if you want them to be.

How can you encourage small innovations?

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First posted on HBR.org 1/29/2009

VIDEO: It’s Okay to Second Guess Yourself

The challenge of leadership is to do what is right for the organization even when it means reversing a decision.

When reconsidering a decision it is important to decide what you did, why you did it, and what will be the consequences of reversing the decision. Shrewd leaders think ahead, and are willing to reconsider decisions when situations change.

First posted on Smart Brief on 6/27/2014

How to Face Your Critics (HBR)

When people criticize you, what’s the best thing to do? Show up and face the music… and your critics!

Show up. Let your critics see you for the leader who you are. Adopting a “hide in the bunker” attitude only plays to them. It gives them free rein to paint you however they like — demon, demagogue, or do-nothing. By showing up you demonstrate that you are not afraid.

Be open. Shoot video of your meeting and broadcast it over a controlled-access website. In doing so, you demonstrate transparency and show your willingness to engage those who disagree with you. Videotaping also challenges people to be on their best behavior because they are being recorded.

Be cool. When people criticize you to your face, breathe deeply. As an opponent’s voice rises, lower yours. Speak deliberately and with a sense of calm. The more control you have of your emotions, the stronger you will appear.

Acknowledge your shortcomings. Standing up to criticism is an opportunity to admit your own failings. Do it with a sense of earnestness, that is, demonstrate through words and passion that you have done what you think is best. At the same time, do not be defensive. Act with honest confidence, even when you admit mistakes.

Criticize gently. The spotlight may be on you, but the heat is also on your critics. Give as good as you get, but do it with a sense of diplomacy. A good-natured jibe here or there is good for you as well as others. It reveals your humanity.

Smile frequently. Lighten things up by relaxing your facial muscles. This demonstrates that you are in control. Smile when appropriate, but never smirk. Don’t let them see you sweat, either. Smiling keeps you on a more even keel.

Leave them wanting more. Know when to close the engagement. You can ruin a good thing by hanging around on stage. It may be appropriate to meet and mingle off stage, in fact that’s a great idea, but know when to get off the stage and let others talk.

When the heat is on, showing your face to your sharpest critics is a great way to demonstrate that you are in control of yourself as well as your message. Standing up to those who oppose you is a strong measure of demonstrating that you have what it takes to lead.

First posted on HBR.org 2/03/2010

Learn to Ask Better Questions (HBR)

Every leader I know has at least one need in common: a need to connect honestly with others. One way to help foster improved connections is by asking good questions. Leaders who excel at asking good questions have honed an ability to cut to the heart of the manner in a way that disarms the person being interviewed and opens the door for genuine conversation.

Whether they are talking to customers, interviewing job candidates, talking to their bosses, or even questioning staff, executives need to draw people out. And so often, it is not a matter of what you ask, it is how you ask it. Here are some suggestions.

Be curious. Executives who do all the talking are those who are deaf to the needs of others. Sadly, some managers feel that being the first and last person to speak is a sign of strength. In reality, though, it’s the opposite. Such behavior is closer to that of a blowhard who may be insecure in his own abilities, but is certain of one thing — his own brilliance. Such an attitude cuts off information at its source, from the very people — employees, customers, vendors — whom you should trust the most. Being curious is essential to asking good questions.

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First published on HBR.org on 2/16/2010

VIDEO: Exude Confidence When Speaking to Your CEO (Part 1)

It is important to make a personal connection when you meet senior people in your organization. This is especially true when presenting to an executive team or the board of directors. Below, I discuss three things to do.

One final note: When you present to your CEO or a high-ranking executive, you need to exude a degree of confidence. That means you need to demonstrate poise as well as self-awareness.

Act on that thought — and stay humble – and you will do just fine.

First posted on Smart Brief 7/11/2014

Know When to Back Down from a Challenge (HBR)

You don’t get medals for common sense — but perhaps you should get a pat on the back.

Edwin van Calker, driver on the Dutch four-man bobsled team, told his coach that he would not pilot the bobsled down the icy, treacherous track at Whistler Sliding Centre at the Vancouver Olympic Games. His coach Tom de la Hunty said, “I’ve never seen someone get to a major event and not compete because they’re scared. You keep your inner fears to yourself and do it.”

Not van Calker. He had crashed on the track during the two-man bobsled competition and did not think he could safely pilot the much heavier four-man sled. And he didn’t blame the track, which has seen multiple crashes and the death of a Georgian luger at the start of the Games. “[J]ust my lack of confidence at the moment.”

Perhaps there is a lesson for leaders in van Calker’s admission. The mettle of a leader is tested by adversity; history lauds those leaders who take on the odds and win. But savvy leaders are those who also know when to say no. Unfortunately, we brand folks like that as quitters, when it may be more correct to say they have the guts to know when they’re licked.

So how do you evaluate whether you should take on that challenge, or back down? Here are some thoughts.

Know the odds. Assess what you are up against. You can often quantify a challenge through the metrics you employ to manage your business. Weigh the costs of going forward against the costs of holding back. Try not to undercount the costs on either side. Remember, this type of equation is often used to justify mergers and acquisitions, where two businesses come together to avoid competition that will tear them apart. Yet most mergers end in failure.

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First posted on HBR.org 2/26/2010