VIDEO: Get Your Aspirations Right

Aspiration is about setting goals that push the organization to strive to become better than it is now. Aspiration is a process of reaching for the stars. But before you can reach for the stars, you check the ground upon which you are standing.

Aspirations must be feasible –and attainable. It’s one thing to reach for the stars, but if you trip on the stairs you could end up hurting yourself — and your organization.

First posted on SmartBrief on 2.01.2013

To Lead More Effectively, Increase Your Self-Confidence (HBR)

“How can I feel confident when I am speaking?” asked a participant in a recent workshop I conducted. While the question was specific to public speaking, the answer I gave is relevant to any leader, whether she is on stage giving a presentation or working with her team on an important project. The answer lies within you.

When it comes to leadership in the workplace, the primal spring of self confidence is an understanding of what you have accomplished and what you feel you can do next. This is not happy talk. Consider what has enabled you to achieve what you have achieved to date. When it comes to finding sources of accomplishment, you want to focus on the positives, your moments of triumph — those opportunities where you shone, helping yourself and your team achieve a goal.

Isolating your moments of strength is not the same as writing your curriculum vitae; graduating from college and landing a good job are highlights, of course, but when it comes to self-confidence you want to dig beneath the surface. Here are three related questions you can ask yourself to help you uncover your triumphant self:

What do you do well? This question opens the door for you to itemize the abilities that have enabled you to succeed to date. Focus on your talents: what you do well. For example, you may possess strong conceptual skills. You may be one who can think strategically, a person who can look at the big picture and see opportunities where others see only blue sky. Such abilities are your strengths; you owe it to yourself to recognize them.

Why should people follow you? You need a strong sense of self to lead others, so consider how you assess problems and find solutions. Look at occasions you have mobilized yourself and your team to tackle a tough assignment. Perhaps you took on a failing project and turned it into a winner. Or perhaps you found ways to reduce costs and improve efficiencies when others said it was impossible. In these instances, and in others you can remember, you have given people a reason to believe in your ability to get things done.

What have you done to earn the trust of others? This question should provoke a recall of what you have done to instill followership. You may have defused a conflict between two colleagues, or took the lead on nasty assignment that no one else wanted to handle. Or perhaps you went out of your way to see that senior management recognized the efforts of your team. Maybe you always accept accountability, not just for what goes right, but for what goes wrong.

The search for the inner source of confidence is neither an excuse for overlooking your weaknesses nor an invitation to hubris. Rather it is an identification of the strengths that make up the authentic you. Self-awareness is an attribute vital to leadership effectiveness. While leaders know their weaknesses all too well, even good ones sometimes overlook their strengths. That mindset can lead to an erosion of self-confidence.

“Confidence is like a muscle,” said a colleague of mine, Scott Litchfield of WJM Associates. If you don’t use it, you will lose it. I like that analogy for two reasons. First, it connotes that confidence comes from within ; it is something we can work on. Second, it puts leaders who must demonstrate confidence in order to attract followership on notice that it is their responsibility to nurture it.

It’s a leader’s job to set direction and determine outcomes; that only happens when leaders feel confident in themselves.

First posted on 7/13/2009

VIDEO: 3-Step Method to Better Presentations

Getting a presentation ready for prime time can sometimes be frustrating. Content is seldom an issue; organization is. So let me share some advice I received from a Jesuit speech teacher who learned it from Aristotle.

Simple, direct and memorable, Aristotle gives us a handy method to employ whenever you need to make a presentation, long or short, that you want people to remember.

First posted on SmartBrief on 2/15/2013

How to Make People Passionate about Their Work (HBR)

I know two CEOs: one in publishing is a friend; the other in manufacturing is an email correspondent. There is a common bond between the two; both are in their sixties and both act as if they are closer to twenty-two. Their sense of vitality springs from their passion for what they do.

Each feels a sense of pride in the businesses he leads; more importantly, each is pushing his respective organization to new heights with a vigor found typically in much younger men. Their can-do attitudes seem almost corny, as if sketched from an earlier age or at least from musicals like The Music Man. But both men are in exactly the right positions at the right time.

Generating enthusiasm, or passion, for what you do is essential. It is doubly so in perilous times. When everything around us seems to be coming apart, a leader who has a passion for what he does is essential. Such a spirit fuels the engine of enthusiasm needed to spark the enterprise. More importantly, such passion is vital to convincing others that the work matters. It is easy to get discouraged by today’s market news and so it is vital that someone, be it the CEO or another senior leader, serves as the organization’s designated cheerleader.

Ultimately instilling passion for the work is not an exercise in rah-rah; it is a search for meaning and significance. So how can you cultivate passion for work in others and do it in ways that have significance? Here are some suggestions.

Focus on the positive. Passion in leaders can be palpable; you know in an instant that the executive cares about the company. In my experience, those senior leaders who stroll through the halls with a nod or good word to say to all are those executives who get things done. And it is because they are out and about, not cloistered in their offices on mahogany row. Rather, they are meeting with employees and customers, vendors and investors, getting to know issues and concerns. They also use these times to talk up the good things.

Address the negatives. Passionate leaders are not Pollyannas; they know the score, precisely because they spend so much time out of their offices. They see firsthand what is working and what is not, and because they have a relationship with people in all levels of the company, they can more readily mobilize employees to solve problems.

Set high expectations. Those who care about the work and set a high standard challenge others to do the same, but they should remember to balance their approach — knowing to sometimes ease up on workloads but never on expectations.

As much as generating passion for the work matters, it is no guarantee of success, or even survival. Radiating passion is no excuse for ignoring attention to the fundamentals.

Yet successful organizations are more than the sum of fiscal prudence. Good ones are the collective values and aspirations of dedicated men and women who have made a choice to work there. Such organizations, be they in healthcare or manufacturing, consumer goods or government, ultimately depend upon the commitment of individuals pulling together to make things work. That’s why you need leaders who have a passion for what they do and are able to spread that passion to others so that people feel better about what they do, and ultimately, what they can do better.

First posted on 7/16/2009