VIDEO: Engaging Your MOXIE

I’m a big fan of old movies, and I especially like the dramas that focus on men and women who beat the odds. We say those characters have moxie.

Moxie sums up the guts and gumption a leader needs to succeed when times are tough and the circumstances are daunting.

Leaders with moxie are do-ers, enablers and achievers. Individuals with moxie are those who seek to make a positive difference in their own lives as well as lives of others around them.

Leaders with moxie are those with the courage to be counted, the get-up-and-go to take action, and the desire to get recognition for their teams as well as themselves.

First posted on Smart Brief 10/17/2014

How to Lead without Saying a Word (HBR)

Leaders can sometimes communicate more without words than with them. What matters is poise and conviction.

That came to mind as I watched Kevin Bacon’s performance in Taking Chance, an HBO movie based upon Lt. Col. Mike Strobl’s moving account of escorting a slain Marine, Lance Corporal Chase Phelps, to his final resting place in Wyoming. While Bacon has the lead role, it seems he has no more than 10 pages of dialogue to deliver and most of that in one to two sentences at a time. Without the benefit of words we see the compassion he bears for the young Marine, the conflict he undergoes because he is not in combat himself, and the strong bond for service he carries.

What Bacon’s performance reminds us is that a leader need not always use words to convey meaning; non-verbal cues often say more than words can ever do. Unfortunately, too often non-verbal cues are displayed to the wrong effect, that is, to display distraction, disregard or even distaste. Those in charge, especially those in very senior positions, must be careful not only with their words but with their body language. Here are some suggestions.

Relax your facial muscles. I once worked with a talented engineer who had a real affinity for teaching others; it was something he enjoyed doing. But since he was new to his firm, people didn’t know him and when they saw him they would see him in his office with his face scrunched up and seeming very intense. His body language said, “Stay away!” In reality he was deep in concentration but with people he could be engaging. He worked on reminding himself to relax his facial muscles. When he did so, he seemed more approachable, and as such was able to connect better with his new colleagues. (Yes, you can practice relaxing your facial muscles by looking in a mirror. This is not vanity.)

Invite inspection. Ask a trusted colleague to watch your facial expressions and your posture during a meeting, particularly a meeting where there will be intense discussions. If you look bored or irritated, or if you are slumped in your seat looking out the window, you are sending a message that you would rather be elsewhere. If your face bears a severe expression, you may be radiating irritation. Be conscious that people are not only listening to what you say, but how you carry yourself when you say it.

Keep your powder dry. In some cultures, notably Native American and Scandinavian, the person at the top says very little, often speaking last on important issues. Business leaders can also encourage subordinates to speak first and freely; only interject when you have something of real substance to add. When the fur is flying, what gets people’s attention is quiet confidence. Don’t raise your voice. Instead, once you have people’s attention, speak calmly and with conviction. Nothing radiates power like controlled emotions when everyone else is shouting at each other.

Leaders need not walk around with facial expressions that appear “botoxed.” If real issues are at stake, it is wholly appropriate to show some emotion, and not simply with words. A leader is entitled to communicate with authority and vigor, and make it known the urgency of a moment. For example, if a team does not seem to be responding to deadlines, and they have the tools and resources necessary, a pep talk with heat is wholly in order. Such emotion expended for a good cause is a great way to focus attention on important matters at hand.

Of course, you must do it with discretion. I remember a conversation I had with the legendary University of Michigan hockey coach, Red Berenson. He said that if he raised his voice with a freshman, he might cost the kid his confidence. On the other hand, if he didn’t raise Cain occasionally with a senior, that player might lose his concentration. It’s a matter of picking your spots and acting appropriately.

One of the most poignant scenes in Taking Chance is when Bacon’s character eyes the body of the fallen marine in his casket. No one else will see the body, but Bacon feels it is his duty to ensure this young Marine is dressed appropriately for burial. No words are spoken. Bacon’s countenance tells us all we need to know.

First posted on on 5/18/2010

VIDEO: MOXIE-Getting Your X-Factor Right

Leaders are always judged by others. The higher their profile the bigger the stage, and their words and their actions are magnified by the roles they hold.

X-factors are comprised of many things that work individually — and collectively — to help the leader. These include ambition, creativity, humor and compassion, as well as three more words that begin with “C” — character, courage and confidence. X-factors strengthen the leader’s commitment to doing what’s best for the team and the organization.

The sum of your X-factors attributes give you the foundation to do what you do better than anything else. It also lays a foundation of trust.

Trust is the bedrock upon which you build followership.

First posted on Smart Brief 10/31/14

Adapted from MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership

Get More Value Out of Busywork (HBR)

The other day a senior executive with whom I was working told me that one thing he strove to do was turn “make work” projects into “make work for you” activities. One example: the performance review. For too many organizations, performance reviews are onerous activities that managers and direct reports go through because they have to, not because it adds value to the organization.

The opposite was true with this executive’s company, where performance reviews were tied explicitly to performance metrics themselves tied to corporate objectives. His company had managed to keep the review from becoming another pro forma exercise.

This lesson has merit for every manager struggling to optimize operations, especially at a time when managers are continually challenged to do more with less — fewer people, fewer resources, and less time. Sometimes you can find points of leverage by finding ways to turn what some perceive as useless activities into productive ones.

Here are some suggestions.

Itemize what you do. Do a task assessment to identify how people are really spending their time. They may be working hard, but are they doing what the team needs them to do? How much time are they spending on processes — and which processes? Sometimes we are so busy with tasks that we lose sight of the big picture.

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First posted on on 6/03/2010

VIDEO: Let Us All Praise the Quiet Leader

There is one advantage that quiet people have over those of us who like to hear the sounds of our own voices. They are good observers.

This is a point that actor Liev Schreiber made about the title character he plays on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan.” During an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Schreiber said that Donovan’s character, who in Dave Davies’ words “doesn’t say much,” instead spends time taking things in. That is, he listens to what people tell him.

A quiet leader is one who values his own strengths but also has the ability to see the world as others do for one simple reason. Such leaders listen. Knowing how another thinks is essential to persuasion.

Speaking less and listening more is a good exercise for any leaders. It’s an advantage that introverts may have but it is a learned behavior that extroverts can make it work for them.

First posted on Smart Brief 11.14.2014

Wield Power Gracefully When Making Decisions (HBR)

If you want to lead others, you need to get comfortable with the concept of power. In my experience, emerging leaders sometimes stumble over the use of power for one of two reasons. Either they are too comfortable with it and wield it ruthlessly, or they are so fearful of it they avoid it completely.

Leaders must strike a balance. “The sole purpose of power,” as the great 17th century Jesuit philosopher Baltasar Gracián wrote, “is to do good.” That is as an effective approach because it gets to the nature of what leaders must do: achieve positive results for the organization.

This prescription may be altruistic, but it is not a prescription for avoiding the tough issues. Leaders must often make decisions that will cause pain to individuals, but those decisions should always be undertaken with the intention of helping the organization succeed.

Using power appropriately is the secret to leading effectively. Here are some suggestions (adapted from my book) on how leaders can apply power to enhance their ability to get things done — and done right.

Decide when to lay off power. It’s true that sometimes you can be more effective by not using your authority. Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, once told the New York Times he had to tell people, “You’re doing it my way,” between 7 and 12 times annually. If he did this only three times, the organization would lack discipline; if he did it 18 times, good executives would flee. As long as the decisions your people make are consistent with the mission and values of your organization, allowing them to make their own decisions increases your own authority and credibility.

Know when to use power. While you want to push decision making to the front lines, there will be times when you need to make a big decision. Making that call will mean you have to exert power. So make the decision and communicate it so that everyone understands its implications and what they need to do to support it.

Follow through with power. Decision-making is the first step. It is up to the leader to bring people together to implement it. When organizations fail, it’s often because people end up doing their own thing — instead of the right thing. They become distracted by competing priorities and fail to follow through on their commitments as a consequence. Leaders who use their power to make sure decisions are executed in a timely fashion ensure that the initiative won’t lose focus or momentum.

The concept of power carries with it lots of baggage. Anyone who has worked in a large or mid-size organization has likely experienced the wrong end of a decisive power struggle. Likely you, your team, or your boss has lost a major argument and as a result received rough treatment by the victor. Power has been used to punish you and as a result you may be wary of using it yourself.

If you are intending to lead, however, use it you must. Remember the bitterness you felt when it was used vindictively against you, so that when you wield power you will do it with a degree of authority coupled with grace. Acting magnanimously is the soft side of power, one that establishes your humanity and enables you to lead with even greater authority.

First posted on 6/29/2010

VIDEO: How to Break a Stalemate

Creating an undesired stalemate is the height of stupidity.”

That anonymous quote sums up the feelings of many of us who find ourselves stuck in a stalemate where neither side wants to give an inch.

Mutual benefit requires mutual consent. As we call know, a true vision for the future must be shared and that requires everyone pulling together in the same direction.

These practices are fundamental to the biggest “c” word in management — communication: open, honest and mutual.

First posted on Smart Brief 12/05/2014

Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Taking a New Job (HBR)

There isn’t much good that has come out of the Great Recession to date except the humbling of some big egos on Wall Street. However, there might be one small benefit that I’ve noticed after doing some coaching with executives pondering next steps in their careers.

Being out of work has forced highly capable men and women professionals to consider what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Some, due to financial pressures, need to get back to work immediately — and so are ready, willing and able to take a job, any job that comes their way. But a good many others, particularly those with more than two decades in the workforce, have an opportunity that has not occurred to them since college: The chance to ask themselves, again, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

To answer this question, you need to do some homework… on yourself. The five questions below will prompt responses that challenge your assumptions about the way you live your life now — and the way you want to lead it from now on.

Where do your talents lie? Talent is a mixture of ability and proclivity. You have a capacity to do certain things, whether it’s think creatively or keeping a disciplined schedule. At the same time, you have preferences such as working independently, collaborating in teams, or leading projects. Some talents are evident in youth, others emerge over time in the workplace. Recognizing both your abilities and proclivities is essential to your personal growth.

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First posted on 7/19/2010

VIDEO: How to Involve Yourself in Change

Major change initiatives may bubble up from the ranks, but their success depends upon the advocacy of those at the top. Winning those folks to your side is essential, but it’s not enough. You have to make your influence felt one on one, person to person.

Get involved where you can have the most positive impact.

As a change agent, your challenge is to integrate your way of thinking into the organization in ways that do not threaten individuals but rather complement the goals and strategies of the organization.

First posted on Smart Brief on 12/19/2014

Prevent Taking a Bad Day Home (HBR)

Feeling frustrated at work, especially late in the day? Most of us feel this way from time to time. The challenge is what to do about it.

Do what competitive divers do: get up on the diving board and execute a dive in which you excel. Then call it quits for the day.

That advice was given to my daughter, a drop-in diver in a collegiate program. She was a competitive diver in her teens; now that she’s taken up the sport again, she’s struggling to regain her peak form. Diving is a discipline that requires a combination of athleticism, timing, and more than a touch of grace, not to mention strong nerves with equal parts will power.

One day she had hit a wall and was about to leave when her coach pulled her aside and said, “You can leave now if you like, but instead of leaving in state of frustration, why don’t you finish practice with a dive you know you do well?” My daughter followed her advice and ended up finishing practice feeling much better about herself and her abilities.

And that’s exactly what us non-divers need to do at the end of our frustrating day. Things do go wrong, whether as the result of our own mistakes or from those of others, or from a system or process that failed. And whatever the cause, tension builds. To prevent that stress from ruining our evening, or the next day, it’s good to find ways to dissipate it. Doing so at work — before you head home — is a good first step. Here are some suggestions.

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First posted on 8/09/2010