VIDEO: Present as a Leader

Have you ever seen an executive scurry across the stage, head down, clutching a copy of his presentation, and on reaching the podium, immediately begin speaking?

In doing this, the exec resembles a mouse seeking shelter more than a leader about to deliver an important message! Very unleader-like!

When you take the stage, you want to own it. Presenting effectively will put the audience in a mood to listen to you. Find out how in this new video.

First posted on Smart Brief 3/14/2014

Three Ways to Keep Your Ego in Check (HBR)

“It’s okay if other people think you’re God, but you’re in trouble if you start believing it.”

David Cornwell, a sports attorney, recalled that quote as one uttered by his father, a surgeon. While Cornwell was speaking on Larry King Liveabout Tiger Woods’ foibles, the quote has relevance to anyone in a leadership position, not just doctors and big name athletes.

Sure, leaders have to believe in themselves — otherwise no one else will. Their conviction in their own abilities has to be strong as well as resilient, but such self-assurance cannot be allowed to become arrogance. So often when we see business leaders making poor decisions it seems as if their ego is speaking louder than their voice of reason.

And yet we need to remember that, while it’s easy to throw stones at people and power, and lampoon their outsized egos when they stumble, so often that outsize ego is the result of the relentless fawning of others. You do not rise to power without followers, but if that followership is more sycophantic than supportive, the leader can lose his bearings.

Keeping your ego in check is an exercise in humility, with the emphasis on the word exercise, so here are a few tips:

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First posted on 12/10/2009

VIDEO: Make the Audience Feel Welcome

For many of us, speaking in public is our No. 1 fear.

Fear of speaking in public stems from many things such as uncertainty about what to say, the perception that you might embarrass yourself, or even self-consciousness about how you will sound. These feelings stem from one thing: lack of self-confidence.

Find out how can you gain more confidence as a speaker.

First posted on Smart Brief on 3/28/2014

Craft a Narrative to Instill Optimism (HBR)

“We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks. “Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.”

Brooks’ explanation about choice of narrative can apply to leaders seeking ways to navigate our recession. The relentless tide of bad news may tempt those in charge to adopt a pessimistic view point, but leaders owe it to their followers to spread optimism. Without excluding reality, leaders need to inspire not simply hope, but also resilience. Storytelling can help in this effort. Here are some suggestions for crafting your own story to make sense of adversity.

Start at the beginning. Focus on what is happening. Be straight about the challenges your organization is facing regarding external factors like the economy and competition as well as global influences. Talk about what your company did right as well as what it might have done better to prepare for the downturn.

Develop characters. An organization is a collection of individuals. Discuss how you need the skills as well as the will of your team to survive. Make it clear you don’t want to go through the motions, you want new ways of doing things. Highlight the good things that people are doing despite the tough times.

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First posted on 12.17.19

VIDEO: Stand Up Straight and Don’t Forget to Breathe

Posture is critical to public speaking.

The stance of a speaker says much about how a speaker feels about what is saying as well as how he wants the audience to receive the message. A speaker hunched over at the podium, or one who is furtively glancing sideways or upwards, but never at the audience, radiates discomfiture.

James Lowther, Speaker of the British House Commons early in the 20th century, gave this advice, “There are three golden rules for Parliamentary speakers: Stand up. Speak up. Shut up.”

The first two relate directly to posture, the third bit relates to common sense. And that is something no speaker can project enough.

First posted on Smart Brief on 4/11/2014

How to Crack the Self-Awareness Paradigm (HBR)

To bring people together around a common cause, it is critical that a leader be self aware. Jeff Immelt’s recent comments to the cadets at West Point reminded me of this fact.

Immelt, CEO of General Electric, said he he’s learned lessons from the Great Recession that have made him “humbler and hungrier… I needed to be a better listener coming out of the crisis… I should have done more to anticipate the radical changes that occurred,” he added. Such an admission reveals an executive who is comfortable in his own skin, even as he is making hard decisions about the future of his company.

Coming to terms with yourself is a private matter. But if you fail to come to terms with your own limitations and it affects your ability to lead then it could be worthy of public scrutiny. Toward that end, here are three questions leaders can ask themselves, or a trusted associate or two, about their own managerial performance.

1. What more do I need? This question might seem easy because a leader will always say she needs more time. True enough, but lack of time is often an excuse for failing to address simmering issues or to carry projects through to fruition. Ask yourself and others what you need to do more of; one answer might be “doing less.” That is, learn to delegate more and devote your time to thinking.

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First posted on 12/23/2009


VIDEO: Turn Power Point into Performance Art

A big challenge when presenting in PowerPoint is the dual task of creating content and delivering authenticity simultaneously.

While the slide may contain information, it is not your whole message: the total message is what you say and how you say it. This balancing act creates a dilemma that pulls at two distinct disciplines: creativity and delivery.

You can simplify this dual challenge by preparing not only your message but also your delivery in advance. Sharpen your message as you do your slides and the presentation will come more naturally. You will be ready to engage your audience.

First posted on Smart Brief on 4/25/2014

Good Recoveries from Bad Communications (HBR)

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and All the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

But maybe someone in human resources can!

I was reminded of this nursery rhyme when I received a query from an HR manager seeking advice on how to help one of her colleagues. An email announcing news of a reorganization had unsettled employees. It fell to the managers to calm everyone down and try to restore team effectiveness and performance.

This story is not unique; it happens in large and small organizations regularly. People in charge release information in ways that demonstrate a profound lack of sensitivity toward individuals and teams. The communicators, very often senior leaders, mean no harm; they are merely acting without thinking enough about what they are communicating. And so when things are communicated poorly, it falls to managers on the ground to “put Humpty together again.”

If you find yourself having to smooth over a bungled communication, here are some things you can to try to set things right.

Acknowledge the problem. People are upset and confused. You need to note their disgruntlement. To ignore it is to be as rude as the communications directive.

Apologize. Take the high road. Even if the mistake was not yours, as part of management, you should accept blame and apologize. You may express sympathy but do not throw senior management under the bus. Doing so will only make you seem like a finger-pointer.

Refocus on the reason for the communication. Explain the reason for the communication and why the initiative is necessary. This gets you past the poor delivery and focused on the business.

Allow people to express their points of view. Let them vent. Sometimes reorganizations will bring personal hardship, such as more responsibilities, lack of additional compensation, or worse — loss of a job. You are allowed to acknowledge the pain.

Refocus on the initiative. Put an end to the formal venting and refocus on the business case. Even though the communication was mishandled, the reasons for it may be sound. Stand up for the company.

Being honest, none of this is guaranteed to work. When management sends out emails announcing reorgs or initiatives without advance preparation, it sends a strong signal that people really do not matter. While such an attitude may be perceived as more acceptable in today’s tight job market, it erodes morale and confidence in senior leadership. Employees may not be able to leave immediately, but they will start to look elsewhere — at least that’s what good employees will do. In the meantime they will shift from “commitment” to “compliance,” that is, going through the motions.

Still, it falls to managers in the middle to do what they can to make things better. While you may not reverse attitudes toward the company, you can position yourself as concerned and trustworthy. This is critical when it comes to getting people focused on the task at hand as well as asking them to do more with less in these challenging times.

Doing so may allow you to achieve what all the King’s horses and men could not do — put the whole thing together again, and in doing so, earn the respect and trust of your followers.

First posted on 12/30/2009

VIDEO: Learn to Tell a Good Story

All of us love a good story. So my advice to leaders is to make good use of them.

Good stories can do three things: inform, involve and inspire. Good stories give use hope in times of trouble.

A leader picks the right story at the right time to drive her point home, leaving no doubt about the importance of an initiative and its effect on the organization. It’s up to a leader to use stories to dramatize urgency and humanize events — so that listeners become followers.

First posted on Smart Brief on 5/9/2014

Importance of Resourcefulness (HBR)

Being resourceful is now a necessary skill for today’s generation of leaders. It is not simply a matter of doing more with less — companies have preached this for at least a generation. Rather, what’s important is the realization that you can do more with less because you and your colleagues are more capable than you first believed.

Resourcefulness is not a means of coping with deprivation; it can be a virtue that opens the door to greater accomplishment. Based on my observations of what resourceful leaders do, here are some suggestions for being resourceful.

You must first start with an open mind. “Redefine the possible.” This is line is attributed to Nandan Nilekani, a co-founder of InfoSys, India’s $2 billion IT services company. According to The Economist, Nilekani used this statement to encourage fellow Indians to realize how they could leverage their talents and resources to empower themselves to fulfill their goals. Being open minded about new possibilities is critical to putting resourcefulness into action. The leader who steps up and says “yes we can do this” is one who can push colleagues to do things that some might consider impractical.

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First posted on 1/13/2010