Motivating Your Team: Why the Golden Rule Doesn’t Always Apply

MotivationWe all have different preferences. My wife, Mary, watches sports. I watch nature shows. She roots for the Knicks. I root for the young impala dodging the cheetah. Occasionally, I surprise her with tickets to a game at Madison Square Garden. While she whoops and hollers, I get a beer and hot dog, and enjoy people watching, which is really just another nature show.

For all of us, our varying likes and dislikes are what make us interesting, but also what lead to some confusion. While we all know we are unique individuals, we also tend to think that we are each fairly normal. Therefore, we tend to think, ‘What motivates me, will motivate others.’ That’s where we get into trouble.

Some organizations are structured in a traditional linear fashion with clear lines of reporting. Others are a matrix structure, with lots of dotted lines and concentric circles of influence. The structure of our organization dictates to what degree we can demand performance from people and hold them accountable for delivering. But regardless of which structure we work in, we get better performance from people when we motivate them to do their best work.

At work, there are two general types of forces that influence our behavior – External Maintenance Factors and Internal Personal Motivators.

External Maintenance Factors

External Maintenance Factors are the elements that are largely dictated by others and over which we have little control. They include basic features of our employment, such as:

Salary – usually dictated by the market.

Benefits – provided on a company-wide basis, not particular to an individual.

Working conditions – determined by the nature of our work and the economics of our industry.

These elements keep us showing up each day, and play an important part in our commitment to doing our job well. When you are trying to influence someone to do her best job for you, whether you manage her directly or indirectly, it’s hard for you to leverage these factors because you don’t control them. If you help set someone’s bonus, that certainly is a powerful factor in influencing her behavior, but most of us as managers have a very limited ability to affect these factors.

Internal Personal Motivators

Internal Personal Motivators are those elements unique to each of us that keep us engaged. They keep us providing not just the minimum performance to get by, but motivate us to do our best on the job.

These “true motivators” include:

Achievement – which we each define differently.

Recognition – of our hard work and added value.

Foreseeable growth – whether in what we do or how we do it.

If you need to influence others, these are the factors you can leverage to get better results.

Each of us has what’s called “discretionary energy,” the effort and enthusiasm that we bring to work beyond what it takes to perform at the minimum level of expectation. If you effectively motivate those around you, they are more likely to expend that discretionary energy to do a better job for you. If you don’t pay attention to motivating others, they are likely to use that energy while at work to shop on-line, play ‘Words with Friends’ on their phone, or work on their resume.

Awareness of your own motivators is the first step in understanding how to motivate others. What keeps you engaged at work? My colleagues frequently come to me, unannounced, with complex questions, and ask for a few minutes to brainstorm. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation and the acknowledgement that I can help them. Frankly, I also like the interruption because I get bored easily. I expect people to say ‘thank you’ at the end of the meeting, but beyond that, I don’t have a high need for praise. Now, if I assume others are motivated by these same things, I will show up unannounced, distract them from their concentration, and then show only a modicum of appreciation. But, if the person I interrupt values respect for his or her schedule, time to thoroughly analyze an issue, and effusive praise after the fact, I have undermined his or her dedication to their role.

So ask yourself, ‘What keeps me engaged at work?’ Keep that list of attributes in mind.

Now think about someone that you need to motivate to do a better job. What factors motivate that person? Are they the same elements that motivate you? If not, how can you approach this person not as you want to be approached, but in a manner that works for her?

How can you figure out what motivates those around you? Ask. Whether during a performance review or in a less formal setting, checking in with someone about what keeps them engaged is the first step toward actually keeping them engaged. It’s not hard. Here are some simple starter questions.

  • What do you like about your current role? What don’t you like?
  • What keeps you engaged here at work?
  • What could I do to help you get the most out of your role?
  • What learning opportunities have you had lately?
  • What’s the hardest aspect of your job?
  • Asking these questions, and then listening well to the responses and asking follow up questions will help you understand how best to keep someone engaged.

Jack wants to motivate Jill to hike up the hill to fetch a pail of water because Jack likes physical exercise and the great outdoors. He says, ‘You’ll enjoy the crisp breeze and the chance to break a sweat.’ However, Jill’s idea of enjoying the great outdoors is to sit at the kitchen window with a glass of chardonnay watching the blue jays at the birdfeeder. Jack needs to try a different motivator. He’d be better off saying, ‘Why don’t I grab a blanket and a bottle of wine and we can enjoy the sunset from the hilltop?’

The Golden Rule has certain assumptions built in – that others want to be treated the way we want to be treated. That may be true on the most basic levels of fairness and human behavior.

But motivating others requires a more nuanced approach that steers away from the assumptions and toward an approach focused on the individual.

So, what motivates you?

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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Feedback: Pick the Right Time and Approach

The process of sharing feedback with colleagues is essential in business. Clear, consistent feedback develops skills, builds confidence and motivates. But, too much or poorly timed feedback can destroy confidence and undermine trust. If you are planning on giving negative feedback to a colleague or employee, it’s crucial that you pick the right time and approach.

Schedule a Feedback Meeting

There is nothing worse than hearing “do you have a minute to chat” while walking to the restroom. Planning ahead gives you time to gather facts and reflect on the feedback in a non-emotional way. And, the person receiving the feedback won’t be blindsided. They will come to the meeting more open and prepared to hear feedback.

Make Sure the Feedback is Significant and Supported

Before you deliver feedback, reflect on what you plan to discuss. The feedback should be substantial and directly relate to a professional development opportunity or impact on the organization. Be sure to gather concrete examples to support the feedback.

If the feedback doesn’t
impact the business or isn’t helpful to the individual’s development, it’s best to hold your tongue. Feedback should never be “nitpicky,” trivial, or unsupported. This type of feedback can result in damaged relationships and resentment.

Ask Questions

Don’t go into a feedback meeting thinking that you are going to tell someone they need to change and it’s just going to happen. After you raise an issue, ask open-ended questions to gauge whether it’s an appropriate time to deliver feedback. You can say “What is your perspective?” or “Would it be OK if I gave you feedback about …?” You should also ask questions to uncover the cause of the issue. Maybe the feedback recipient has a problem you were unaware of. Finally, ask the recipient for solutions and collaborate.

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Responding to, “So…tell me about yourself.”

I have two kids in college and two recent graduates. If their early work life is like mine, every few years they’ll be changing jobs or even careers. When you’re in your twenties, it’s always ‘interview season.’ Even later in life we’re occasionally asked to explain our career arc to others when speaking on a panel or starting a presentation. How can you best respond to that question, ‘So, tell me about yourself?’

Let’s say I’m interviewing you for a job. If I’ve done my job well, I have read your resume and made some notes about your work history. I’m ready to ask some pointed questions to find out if you have the skill set to perform the job in question. If I start the conversation with, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ I’m trying to see how you view yourself. Wherever you start reflects your sense of self. If you start with your academic credentials, you’re communicating you think your education is impressive. If you start by talking about your current job, you’re saying what you do now has relevance to the job you’re seeking. If you’re in your thirties and you start with, ‘I graduated at the top of my high school class before going on to the University of X,’ you’re telling me you live on former glory. Since I already know where you went to school and what you do now, there’s not much added value in sharing those points. Granted, it gets the conversation started, but it’s not the strongest start.

Instead of sharing what’s already on your resume, tell me what makes you tick. Tell me about your value. I recently passed a college-age woman on the street who was wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘I bring absolutely nothing to the table.’ I laughed at the honesty and humility of the message. She’s young and isn’t going to pretend she knows more that she does. It’s a great line for a t-shirt, but it isn’t true. In fact, she probably has a lot of innate talents and skills, not to mention a sense of perspective and a sense of humor that are valuable to any employer.

To prepare for an interview, reflect on the attributes that have made you successful in your career and life so far. If you’re just out of school, think about what you have added to clubs or sports in which you’ve been involved. If you’ve been working for a while, what skills, talents or attitudes have helped you succeed? If you’re returning to the work force after an extended absence, what talents have you been using and what perspective have you gained that would be of value to me as an employer?

Pick three adjectives that describe you. Then, think of a real, targeted instance in which you have applied those skills. What story can you share that proves to me you have the skills or aptitude you claim to have?

Don’t tell me where you worked. Tell me what element of you helped you succeed and the benefit that brought to your employer. Since you can probably list ten or more adjectives that describe you, how will you know which to share with the prospective employer? Think about the job for which you are interviewing. What do you think the most important tasks will be? Of your many attributes, which are most important to this role? That answer will determine which adjectives and supporting stories you need to share.

Chances are that one of the adjectives that has made you successful is that you are smart. Don’t tell the interviewer you are smart. Demonstrate that you are smart throughout the interview – by how you answer questions, by what questions you ask, by not making grammatical mistakes, and by having a clear message about yourself. Use the interview to share attributes that won’t be evident from your resume.

When the interviewer says, ‘So tell me about yourself,’ you could respond by saying, ‘I’ve worked in many different settings over the years. I’ve been proud of being able to help my (employer, club, volunteer organization). I think I’ve been able to add value because I am (insert your three adjectives here). Those seem like traits that would be needed in this job.’

Then, let the interviewer take it from there. Don’t blurt out all of your anecdotes. Share your story about each adjective as the opportunity arises organically in the conversation.

I was once coaching a senior IT professional at a global financial services company. At one coaching session, he asked me to help him with a presentation he was making the following day. He had been asked to speak on a panel with other senior leaders to about 200 younger colleagues as part of a series of talks on career management. Each panelist had been told, ‘Just tell the audience about your career.’ I asked ‘Jack’ to run through what he planned to say. Jack spoke for about 10 minutes walking me through his career path. ‘First I worked in this division doing X. Then I moved to another division and was promoted to work on Y.’ In short, he reviewed his resume, using a tone of voice as flat as a resume. It was boring. It was boring because it had no application whatsoever to his audience. It was all about him. We’re all more successful communicators when we focus less on ourselves and more on the audience.

I asked Jack what he thought made him successful throughout his career. He reflected for a moment and said, ‘Well, I’m very hard working. I’ve been willing to take on roles and projects no one else wanted. And I always share the credit with whoever else on the team has contributed. I think those attributes have propelled my career.’ He was then able to share with me a brief anecdote about how those quintessential elements of being ‘Jack’ helped him succeed.

When he finished, I said, ‘You’re done. That’s your talk. Instead of telling people about you, tell them what they can do to succeed. The talk isn’t about your path. It’s about what the audience can learn from you path, which is different from the path itself.’

After the event, Jack shared that he got terrific feedback from his peers and boss. While other panelists had taken the approach of reciting their resume, Jack stood out because his talk was driven by stories that helped the audience.

If you’re on a date and your date says, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ he or she wants to get to know you. When you’re on an interview and the interviewer says, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ he or she means, ‘Tell me how you can add value to my organization.’ What are your value adds?

Originally published on Forbes.com

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Answering, ‘So, What Do You Do?’

This is my inaugural column for Forbes.com, where I’ll share thoughts on how you can communicate more effectively. Therefore, by way of introduction, I thought you might find it helpful to learn a different approach to introducing yourself to others. In business, we’re always meeting new people – on sales calls, at conferences, in social settings. After the basic chit-chat at the start of any introduction, comes the key question, “So, what do you do?”

Most people respond to that question with what’s printed on their business card. “I’m the Chief Talent Officer at Acme Industries,” or “I’m a Managing Director at Megabank.” Starting with your job title can be presumptuous. It tells the other person that you assume she knows about Acme, or that he knows what it means to be a Managing Director at a bank. You could be starting the conversation by confusing the other person or making them feel uninformed. More importantly, however, it communicates to the other person that you view yourself in terms of a status you’ve achieved. We should be proud of our professional accomplishments, but introducing ourselves in terms of our status can make us appear self-important or pompous.

Instead, try to introduce yourself not in terms of your status, but in terms of how your role impacts the end beneficiary of your job – your clients, your audience or your company. I never introduce myself by saying, “I’m the Managing Partner of Exec|Comm.” No one knows what Exec|Comm is, and saying I’m the MP makes me sound pretentious. Instead, I say, “I help people communicate better.” It opens the door to a conversation.

When you’re introducing yourself, you want a simple statement of how you impact others, just enough to make them want to hear the next sentence.

Our human nature is to be all wrapped up in ourselves – our needs, our goals and our issues. You’ll distinguish yourself from other professionals if you focus less on yourself and more on the other person.

Talking about yourself in terms of your impact rather than your status makes you intrinsically more attractive to other people. Of course, your simple statement about yourself should be sufficiently clear.

I was once working with a group of partners at a global law firm helping them hone their messages when giving presentations. Most of the partners in the room introduced themselves by sharing their titles. “I’m an insurance attorney.” That line doesn’t start conversations; it ends them. (I speak from experience. I practiced insurance law for seven years.) One partner in the group was a superb marketer. When I asked him what he does, he replied, “I marry money to movies.” What a great line. He found funding for art projects. I needed to know the next line. I wanted to learn more. That’s what you want an introduction to accomplish: the listener wanting to learn more.

One of his colleagues quickly caught on, but missed the mark slightly. He said, “I make my clients’ problems go away.” Without a small dose of context, he sounded like a hit man for the mob. Since he was a tax attorney, we massaged his message into, “I help companies return the most value to their shareholders.” His message became succinct and engaging, and positioned him as focused on the needs of his client. That’s about as good as it gets.

Think about the world around you. How is it better off because of what you do?

You’re not a “financial planner.” You “help people make sure they can retire in comfort.”

You’re not the “Assistant Art Director” at a travel magazine. You “help people figure out their next vacation.”

You’re not the “Operations Manager for Acme Industries.” You “help employees stay safe on the job.”

The more closely you can tie your statement of who you are and how you add value to the person standing in front of you, the easier it is to make them interested in what you do. Let’s say I’m a real estate lawyer and I meet someone at a conference in St. Louis.

Them – “So, what do you do?”

Me – “Did you see that construction going up across the street from the hotel? I make sure that when projects like that get started, the builder has the money to finish.”

Them – “You’re working on the new building?”

Me – “No. Not that one, but lots of others. I help negotiation construction loans for builders. What do you do?”

Don’t forget that people are more interested in talking about themselves than in listening to you. After a few sentences about you, flip the conversation back to the other person. It not only makes you a better conversationalist, it helps you understand how to tailor the rest of the conversation. The more you learn about the other person, the easier it is for you to craft a message about yourself that resonates with that person. If someone asks me what I do for a living, and I know that person is a lawyer, I say, “I help lawyers communicate better.” If I know the person is an accountant, guess what I do for a living. I help accountants communicate better. If you make your message less about yourself and more about the other person, you’ll be a more effective communicator.

For those of you launching your career, or with kids about to do so, I’ll share some insights next week about how to help young people position themselves better during interviews.

Until then, reflect further about yourself. “So, what do you do?”

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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Do As I Mean Not As I Say

stk77242corMarriage is all about communication. Sometimes that can go awry. The other day my husband and I had a miscommunication about something as silly as an email. Yes…an email.

The Set-up

My husband is a comedian and needed help with a promotion for an upcoming show. As his partner in crime, he recruited me and I willingly accepted the job.

The Mix-up

I asked him to send me the message as soon as he was finished with it. While he assumed I was offering to help edit, I thought I explicitly offered to send it around as soon as possible. I have a lot on my plate and not a lot of time to waste.

The Delivery

Once I received his email, I went ahead and sent it to my mass list. What followed was an irate call from my husband saying “Did you just send that email? It wasn’t ready!” We had a clear miscommunication.

Who’s to blame? Who cares? It truly doesn’t matter. What DOES matter is what we can do differently going forward.

The best way to avoid misunderstandings and assumptions in marriage and in business is to: Confirm and Clarify.

Think of confirming as a playback for the other person. The playback lets them know you get it, that you’ve heard them. It also gives the listener an opportunity to clarify the message if you got it wrong. Make sure when you do confirm, you use a neutral tone to avoid sounding judgmental, whether in email, face to face or over the phone. Try using language like “Let me see if I understand you…” or “Let’s make sure we are on the same page…”

Validating what you heard is helpful in both business and when trying to keep the peace at home.  Just don’t get me started on how he loads the dishwasher.

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Managing Your First Team

83253182The step from a junior employee to supervisor can be a daunting one. It’s one thing to manage your own schedule, workload, and projects. Once you add others to the equation, whether it be a summer intern or a new team of direct reports, it can be difficult to manage your work while also managing other employees.

Here are some tips to help you manage your first team.

Plan Ahead

The last thing you want is your team twiddling their thumbs until you come up with something for them to do. Know exactly what projects you need them to work on. It could help to give your direct reports a list of projects or tasks that you want them to help with and point out which ones need attention first. Of course, things do not always go as planned so you will need to be flexible and understanding.

Give Background

When introducing your team to a new project, give background information. They’ll be more engaged and motivated if you explain the importance of a task rather than simply asking them to do it. Sometimes the project could be just as mundane as it seems. Don’t try to sugarcoat it, simply explain why it is needed. Be honest, be direct, and be compassionate.

Be Mindful

If you’re team sees you stressed out, they will follow in your footsteps. Practicing mindfulness takes time and effort. It does not happen overnight. However, there are things you can start doing immediately to help you stay present, focused, and calm.

Spend a few minutes each day doing nothing.

Your mind needs time to rest. Take a moment to ground yourself and calm your thoughts.

Get in touch with your senses.

Notice the subtle sounds, smells, and feelings around you. Listen to the air conditioning creeping out of the vent. Smell the coffee your co-worker just brought back to their desk. Feel the cool touch of your desk. This will slow your mind and help you to focus.

Pay attention to your walking.

Slow your pace and feel your feet against the ground. Rather than rushing across the office to grab something from the printer, take your time and notice the world around you.

Ask for Feedback

Perhaps the most important aspect of managing a team for the first time is getting their feedback.

How is their workload? Are they bored or overwhelmed? Do they have any ideas on how workflow could be improved?

Be sure to confirm and clarify what your team is trying to say to avoid misunderstanding. Try to rephrase what they’ve said and ask if you heard them correctly.

Start with: “So if I am hearing you correctly, you think…” Or “let me see if I understand what you’re saying.”

End with: “Is that right?”

The best part about working with a team is that you have a new group to bounce ideas off of, learn from, and grow with. Take the time to hear their thoughts. If you’ve done a good job in guiding them, they will probably have some great ideas. Be honest with your expectations and allow your employee to feel comfortable being honest with you.

Your team is an extension of your work and ideas. Help them grow and encourage their success. The rewards will be infinite.

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Vote for the Best Message

It’s about five weeks before the presidential election and you’re probably getting bombarded with phone calls, flyers and commercials about various candidates.  Each of these communications carries a message.

The most successful of those messages are short, highly-focused and deliver a clear, relevant punch. Long after the election, you can use these same message techniques in meetings, presentations and interviews to hone what bosses, clients and colleagues should know about you.

Here are the five key components of an effective message:

Short and focused.

Messages are brief, usually fewer than ten words. Think “no new taxes.” They’re also most effective when they focus on the listener.  For example, a financial planner’s might say, “I help you plan a secure retirement.” Or a lawyer may describe herself as offering “the expert legal advice you need on intellectual property issues.”

Easy to understand.

Challenge yourself to create a message that contains short, simple words. If you say in interviews that your ideal next job “would allow you to transfigure your theoretical foundation,” you’ll confuse someone for sure. Make your message easy for the listener to repeat to someone else.

Supported with relevant information.

Ensure you can back up your message with a story, statistic or analogy. If a client wants to know more about your accurate reporting capabilities, you’ll want a few examples of work you’ve done. Practice and hone these ahead of time, so they’re immediately accessible for you.

Repeated three times.

Say your message three times during the meeting or interview. The listener may not take it in the first or second time they hear it.  By the third time, they get it.

Updated often.

Not only will you deliver different messages in different situations, you’ll want to refresh those messages. The message at the final presentation of a project is different from the one when you’re pitching that project. You’re now looking for additional assignments. A new message about your proven ability to deliver quality on-time work is now appropriate.

While you’ll hear lots of negative messages before Election Day, we encourage you to keep your message positive.  You’ll win more supporters kissing babies than slinging mud. Lastly, don’t forget to vote on November 8—for the candidate whose message you believe.

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Developing Confident, Credible Leaders

86535865Last month, as part of Exec-Comm’s Learning Exchange series, I led a seminar with talent management and business leaders from top Silicon Valley companies to discuss developing leaders at their companies. We addressed how certain supervisors are able to command respect from their employees while others struggle to do so. One of the greatest challenges Learning & Development managers face is building a reliable leadership pipeline in their team. The group spoke about how company leaders can help develop the next group of rising top-performers.

Why do we trust and respect certain leaders, and not others?

Confidence and credibility are the two most important traits for a leader to possess in order to command respect. Without the confidence to speak his or her mind and show vulnerability, leaders struggle to cultivate a following. Additionally, a leader needs to be able to support his or her decisions with research, knowledge, and experience.

After speaking about what makes a great leader, we delved into how to communicate confidence and credibility.

What helps a leader project confidence and credibility?

Many leaders have the confidence and credibility that they need, but struggle to portray that to their colleagues and teams. The most important traits we identified were.

  • Strong communication skills.
  • Being an expert in their field.
  • Building trust with colleagues and clients.
  • Self-awareness – being open to receiving feedback and continuing to improve.

Leaders that understand how important relationships are stand out to their colleagues because each member of their team feels valued. One participant spoke directly about the new CEO at his company and why he already had so much respect for him. “He talked with us, not at us.”

And what detracts from a leader’s presence?

Once we were able to identify key positive leadership traits, we explored what can detract from a leader’s presence.

  • Poor listening skills.
  • Indirect or transparent.
  • Not relatable.
  • Unable to communicate the big picture.
  • Not good at coaching or developing people.

The inability to connect with colleagues stood out as a big obstacle for managers. Whether a leader Talent managers cited these as barriers that hold leaders back from bigger, broader responsibilities.

What can you do to help develop your leaders?

As a senior business executive who is responsible for developing others, or as a talent management leader, what can you do to help your leaders get ready for the next level?

We talked about the importance of training during two key inflection points in a leader’s career:

  1. When an individual contributor gets promoted to their first management position
  2. When a first-line or mid-level manager gets promoted into a senior leadership role, and now has influence over a larger organization.

Each of these new roles requires new skills, and a shift in mindset. As renowned leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith says in his book, “What Gets You Here, Won’t Get You There.”

New managers benefit immensely from structured training on coaching, how to give and receive effective feedback, and how to motivate and mentor their teams.

Senior executives, on the other hand, sometimes need coaching to hone their executive presence: staying grounded during a crisis, refining their physical presence and communication skills, and using stories to inspire and motivate.

What else are you doing to develop confident, credible leaders in your organization?

Learn more about Exec|Comm’s Leading with Executive Presence program here or request a consultation.

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Communicate Clearly and Confidently as a New Hire

27_2506449You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

As a new hire, you will meet numerous individuals. You’ll be judged quickly during those interactions and something as simple as the way you dress can alter someone’s perspective of you.

So, how do you effectively show your coworkers that you are a committed and valuable member of the team? Here are some tips on how to ensure that your actions, appearances, and interactions positively represent both your work and work ethic.

Clarify Your Writing

Before you meet someone in person, you will most likely communicate with them through e-mail. That’s why writing clearly and editing carefully is essential. Always keep in mind that your writing is usually the initial impression you make to others.

Steer away from big words such as “heretofore.” Instead, stay focused on specific thoughts to clearly convey what you want to be heard. Simple and short sentences prevent confusion. They show colleagues that you are organized and efficient.

Confidence Conveys Credibility

Upholding a professional presence will help you gain credibility and respect in the workplace. Recognize the difference between carrying yourself with confidence and coming across as arrogant. A confident individual will openly express his or her opinions and will respect the opinions of others.

Every Interaction Counts

Maintain eye contact and speak naturally when talking with others. While presenting or speaking in a meeting, view it as a simple conversation. Speak to one person for one thought and then move on to the next person. It will help you feel more comfortable and confident.

Be kind. When you treat individuals with respect, you establish a good reputation. Take note that acknowledging administrative professionals goes a long way.

Ask questions and listen carefully. It shows you are a good communicator and you are a consciousness person.

Dress to Impress

Although we tend to think that looks don’t matter, if we show up to work appearing as if we just woke up, it doesn’t reflect us well. Come to work dressed appropriately. It will make you feel more comfortable and show your colleagues that you take your work seriously.

We are not all fashionistas. However, looking professional is one of the first steps towards being professional. Make the effort and see the difference.

Closing Points

If you express sincerity to learning and maintain a professional presence in the workplace, you will be more successful as a new hire. By following these techniques, you can convey to your employer that you are a beneficial member of the company.

Effective communication is the key to representing your best self.

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Knowing Where You Shouldn’t Be and Other Tips for Long-Lasting Success

87549472When you started your career, you probably took on as many opportunities as possible to build your skills and discover your strengths and preferences. As a high-performer, you soon found your sweet spot and started to excel.

When you are great at something, you’ll find yourself with more opportunities than you have time. Now the previously successful, say-yes-to-everything approach begins to hurt you. Not only will you be overwhelmed, but the more serious consequence is that you’ll end up confusing others about your brand.

To continue your success, you need to build and more importantly, maintain a strong brand.

Brands are the shortcuts people use to make decisions. When you buy Coca-Cola or a BMW, you know exactly what you’re getting. When people “buy” you, how sure are they about the quality they’ll get from you? The more uncertain they are, the more likely they’ll invest their time, money and energy with someone else.

To build your brand, take control of how others experience you:

  • How you look and make others feel
  • What you say and do (and how you say and do it)
  • Where you are and are not

Before we look at how you can manage other people’s perceptions in these three areas, you must first be clear on your brand. If you’re not sure, a quick and easy way to get started is to ask yourself:

What adjectives do I want

[my target audience or ideal client] 

to think about when they think about me and my work? 

Take a few minutes and write down 3-4 adjectives you want your target audience to use to describe you. If you don’t have a target audience yet, think about the individuals you enjoy working and interacting with most often. For me, I want high-performing leaders to describe me as practical, focused on excellence, caring and thoughtful.

To build a strong recognizable brand, consistency is key. It’s not enough that you see yourself as the adjectives you’ve chosen, you need others to see you that way as well.

So how do you ensure others will use the same adjectives you chose to describe you?

Below are practical tips based on my work with leaders at Fortune 500 companies and top academic universities:

How you look and make others feel

Think back to an event where you took notice of someone you didn’t know.

The first thing you probably did was to size them up based on what you saw – their dress, their body language and the response they received from others. Processing this visual information, you guessed at their seniority, level of success, job function, etc. This judgement helps you decide whether you want to engage and learn more about them.

If you decide not to engage, then your impression is solely based on what you’ve seen. If you do approach them, you begin to fine tune or correct your assumptions based on what you hear and see during your interaction.

This automatic tendency to judge based on what we see is natural and a survival instinct. You do it to others and people do it to you all the time. The challenge is that as you become more successful, the amount of time people have to get to know you at a deeper level drops dramatically. They will judge you based on what they see and the little they know and unfortunately, you won’t be able to correct any faulty assumptions.

Think of your senior executives or the President of your country (if you’re already a senior executive). How much do you really know about them? Probably not too much yet you might already have a strong judgment about the type of person they are.

This is why you need to manage how people see you and look the part you want to play. When people see you, will they automatically assume you work with people like them and exude the adjectives you’ve chosen? How close do you match up to what they are expecting? If you show up to Facebook with a dark suit and tie and talk about the work you do with Silicon Valley tech companies, don’t be surprised if people suspect your credibility.

Disney does a great job tightly controlling your experience with them. Everyone I’ve spoken to about Disney, use very similar adjectives: over-the-top service, awesome experience and not cheap. For those who haven’t experienced Disney firsthand, there is a high probability that you’ll have a great time when you do go.

When others interact with you, what do you want them to walk away remembering and feeling? How do you want to emotionally connect with them? What would you like them to say to their network about you? Is it consistent with the adjectives you’ve chosen?

To practically influence how others experience you, be thoughtful about:

What you say and do (and how you say and do it)

Your physical appearance, words and actions make up the experience others will have of you.

We’ve covered what people see, now let’s focus on your words and actions. Do they align with how you want others to see you? Are you using words that resonate with your target audience and does your vocabulary match what they are expecting from you?

How do you say what you say? What does your tone, speaking rhythm, accent and energy say to others? Powerful people tend to speak more deliberately. British accents tend to sound more sophisticated. Passionate people tend to speak with more energy. These are all ways people can interpret how you talk.

Now for your actions. What activities are you engaged in and do they help others see you the way you want to be seen?

For example, if you take copious notes during a meeting, people will likely see you as being a junior employee (unless you’re Richard Branson).

Other questions to consider:

  • When speaking at conferences, what topics are you speaking on?
  • What books are you reading?
  • Do you take on projects that are consistent with your brand?

Which leads me to the last area of focus.

Where you are and are not

When you’re successful, people want to enlist you to help them. This means countless partnership or speaking requests, special project proposals and event or board invitations. As a high performer, you’ll be tempted to help especially with requests from those close to you in your network.

Before you say “yes” to any opportunity, ask yourself:

How consistent is this activity with the reputation I want?

When managing your brand, knowing where you shouldn’t be is just as important as knowing where you should be. If you’re building a reputation as an expert on disruptive technologies in manufacturing, it’ll be confusing if others see you frequently speak on investing and personal finance, even if you can give quality advice on those topics.

Again, to build a brand that people recognize, you must be consistent. People have to have a similar experience every time for an extended period before they begin to automatically associate you with your brand.

This means better allocating your limited time by saying “no” to opportunities that won’t allow you to exude the adjectives you’ve chosen. When you attend an event that is either neutral or negative in building your brand, you’re essentially saying “no” to an event or activity that can positively enhance your reputation.

The same idea extends to the people you associate with and your environment. You will be judged by the company you keep and where you spend your time. If you spend a lot of time with innovative people, others will assume you’re innovative. Some people assume Googlers, Google employees, are smart and quirky despite never working at Google or meeting a Googler. Others assume those in labor-intensive roles are less-educated.

Look closely at where you’re spending your time and who you’re spending it with. Would your surroundings make a strong case for your desired image or is it something you need to hide?

Take time to architect your brand.

One tip is to study characters on TV or film. Great actors believably take on different character roles. The way they do it is by understanding what people expect from a certain character and matching their look, feel, actions and environment to the mainstream expectation. Professors wear tweed, sport beards and drive Toyotas. High-powered businessmen wear custom suits, gel back their hair and have chauffeurs. Bankers wear ties. Consultants don’t. The list goes on.

Decide on the brand you want and find an actor or actress that believably exudes those qualities. How does he or she look, act and make others feel? How is their environment portrayed? Get specific on the behaviors and mimic them.

It’s not easy to build a brand. That’s why the good ones are worth so much.

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