VIDEO: Leader’s Guide to Speaking with Presence

What do people want most from leaders? The real deal!

This is especially true when leaders open their mouths to speak.  We want people in charge to be honest and we want their words to ring with integrity. Never is this truer than when the leader is making a formal presentation or delivering speech.

The Leader’s Guide to Speaking with Presence” focuses on delivering the authentic message, and doing it as a leader full of presence. There are chapters on crafting the presentation as well as delivering it. Communication leads to authenticity. A leader’s presence affirms that what a leader says is an indication of what he believes. And when we sense that the leader means well we will want to follow his lead.

First posted on Smart Brief 11.13.2013


The Smart Way to Influence Your Boss (HBR)

How can I sell this idea to my boss?

This is something that executive coaches hear regularly. It usually comes from someone seeking to lead from the middle. To begin to answer this question, let me tell you a story.

Ronald Reagan is credited with hastening the end of Cold War between the USSR and the USA. While he had long preached nuclear disarmament, his argument gained personal impetus after watching the made-for-TV movie, The Day After, which depicted the destruction of Lawrence, Kansas, after a nuclear blast. The movie, according to The Dead Hand, a recent history of the Cold War era by David Hoffman, left Reagan depressed for days and gave him even more resolve to seek nuclear banishment. Skeptics may scoff that it took a movie to influence the president, but as Hoffman explained on NPR’s Fresh Air, movies helped to shape Reagan’s world view.

Few managers who seek to influence upward have the resources to make a motion picture, but many managers have the cleverness and street smarts to craft an argument to win their cases. As I illustrate in my new book, Lead Your Boss, The Subtle Art of Managing Up, critical to developing a strong case is first and foremost to frame your argument according to the business case: why is it good sense for the organization to pursue your idea? Without a foundation based on either improving or saving the business, your idea has no chance; with it, you can begin.

To build upon your business case, you must frame your argument, in effect your sales pitch, in ways which appeal to the person with authority. Here’s how.

1. Adopt your boss’ point of view. Marshall Goldsmith taught me that if you want to influence the CEO then you need to see the world as he or she sees it. CEOs take a corporate-wide view of performance, of course, but each of them has hot button issues around products and services, employee morale, or their legacies. If you have a boss who’s a cost-cutter, frame your pitch as a means of cutting costs, or at least reducing expenses. Likewise if you have a boss who is focused on customer issues — frame your pitch as a way to improve customer service or product benefits. The angle of your pitch depends upon the boss’ interest.

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First posted on on 10/14/2009

Develop Your Leadership Presence (HBR)

What about when you are pushed in front of the microphone or given very little prep time for something like an introduction of a guest speaker?

This question came from Tonya in response to my previous post on developing your leadership pitch.

Here’s the quick answer, you walk to the microphone and you smile. You take a moment to size up the audience and then you say what you have to say briefly and to the point. Most importantly, as they advise running backs who score touchdowns, act like you have been there before. The great ones hand the ball back the referee; the wannabes whoop and holler.

At the microphone, remain calm. Why? Because you are in control! Your stomach may be churning and your palms may be sweaty, but you must realize the microphone is in your hands. This is a little secret that I share with people I coach: people have to listen to you. Whether you croon or wax eloquent, the audience is at your mercy.

You are the master of your destiny, or at least the next five minutes. When you keep that thought in mind, you will realize that yes, you can do this. You can speak in front of an audience and you will be okay.

Such behavior is how you cultivate your leadership presence, a topic I address in, Lead Your Boss, The Subtle Art of Managing UpI define leadership presence as earned authority. You may have a title, but you need to earn the respect and trust of your coworkers. Presence is rooted in fundamental competence, and for anyone who aspires to lead, presence is essential. Developing this is a long process that goes far beyond speaking in public.

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First posted on 10.21.2009

VIDEO: To Win the Confidence of Others, Speak Up

Leaders need to inspire the trust of those they lead. When the heat is on, leaders need to radiate calmness, clarity and most of all confidence.

Belief in yourself is essential to leadership that must be communicated through words and example to others whom you are asked to lead. They are looking to their leader for direction as well as for hope and often inspiration.

A leader who shakes in his boots is not someone whom others want to follow.

First posted on Smart Brief on 12/23/2013 

How to Create Clarity Amidst Uncertainty (HBR)

Companies have the right to demand that employees pay attention to their jobs — it is a base requirement for performance. However, as the 2009 incident involving two Northwest Airlines pilots illustrates, when other issues are pressing, employees lose focus.

As the story goes, the pilots were trying to figure out the new Delta scheduling system that now governs what flights they’re assigned. (Delta acquired Northwest in 2008.) In doing so, they overshot their destination by 150 miles and did not respond to repeated queries from flight controllers. As reported in the New York Times, pilots’ lifestyles are affected by what schedules they work; every pilot works diligently to sign up for a schedule that best suits his or her needs.

Earlier in 2009, Northwest was correct in telling pilots to “Leave distractions about personal, corporate or other external issues outside of the flight deck.” But this overlooks a basic element of human behavior; it is not easy for people, even trained professionals, to turn off issues that are bothering them.

Pending mergers, suspected layoffs, or even management changes at the top cause employees to focus more on the unknown than what they know — their jobs. I have seen far too many organizations paralyzed for weeks, even months, when uncertainty hangs in the air. It is management’s job to get employees back to work. Here are some suggestions.

1. Raise the issue. Ignoring significant issues, like mergers or layoff rumors, is foolhardy. Employees think about these things, so you as a manager need to address them. Very often, rumors are rumors and can be punctured. That’s the easy part, but when rumors are reality and organizational changes are pending, unease sets in. Understand that as a manager you cannot make the issue go away, but you can be front and center explaining what you know. You also must assure people that you will be the first to announce changes as soon as you know them (and are permitted to disclose them).


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First posted on 10/29/2009

VIDEO: Take a Hard Look in the Mirror

Change is easy if we are not the one altering our thinking or our behaviors. But within organizations, no one is exempt from change; everyone must do his or her bit to advance the process.

“Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change,” Confucius once said. Most of us know plenty of the latter but few, if any, of the former.

And change is possible when you acknowledge the obstacles but refuse to allow them to overwhelm you.

First posted on Smart Brief on 12/22/2013

How to Use Humility to Drive Performance (HBR)

I’ve written before about the importance of humility as a leadership trait. But, as was recently pointed out to me, humility is an important trait in employees, too.

When people act humbly, they are acknowledging their limitations and accepting that they cannot go it alone. This mindset is valuable to a team because it serves as an invitation for others to help. Humility, however, is not an excuse for slacking. It also means having the willingness to help others do their jobs when the need arises. It is a means for allowing different personalities to coordinate with each other.

Rick Hensley, an executive with Messer Construction, reminded me of the importance of this trait in employees after I mentioned humility in keynote address I recently delivered at Miami University. Rick, a vice president for information technology, has developed a “personal humility index” that he uses when interviewing job candidates.

Among the things Rick looks for are self-awareness, a “strong sense of modesty,” the “use of we and team versus I and me,” and the candidate’s desire to develop different levels of employees. Rick wants candidates to “see themselves as others see them.” Trustworthiness, along with integrity and honesty, are essential.

Fostering humility at work requires leadership and putting what you believe into action. Here are some suggestions.

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First posted on on 11/05/2009

VIDEO: Speak First to Declare the High Ground

I have always advised leaders to be the last to speak up about important issues to allow others to state their points of view.

But sometimes a leader must be the first to speak up, as Abraham Lincoln did when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and linked the cause of preserving the Union with the abolition of slavery.

Such a measure had three key elements: importance, impact and integrity.

First posted on SmartBrief on 1/10/2014

What It Takes to Lead Now (HBR)

A majority of managers just don’t understand what it means to be a leader.

That’s a conclusion that I draw from a recent global survey by McKinsey and Company about what it takes to manage corporate performance. Only 48% of managers surveyed believed that they need to inspire and only 46% believed it was their responsibility to provide direction during this crisis. The numbers for inspiration and direction actually drop to 45% and 39% respectively when considered as behaviors for how to manage post-crisis.

More troubling, only 30% of managers felt that they needed to motivate their employees during the crisis and just 23% did post-crisis. The need for accountability ranked low too, just 23% for crisis and only 18% post-crisis. Innovation also ranked low, just 33% believed it was necessary now, but some 46% did believe it was necessary post-crisis.

If a majority of managers do not feel that inspiration and direction are necessary for managing corporate performance, and that motivation and accountability are not essential, then our companies are in far worse shape than imagined.

The study does not measure what I believe most managers think their jobs are: getting things done. But execution without adequate leadership is short-sighted. It will carry a company through a quarter or a year, but it will not provide a foundation for what organizations really need to do, and that is to grow. Leadership requires foresight as well as the ability to execute. Foresight points you in the right direction so that your execution can serve customer needs now and lay the foundation for continued service.

Therefore, it is necessary to reframe what inspiration and direction means.

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First posted on 11/13/2009