Forget ‘New Normal,’ Think ‘New Nimble’

We’ve all struggled on many fronts this year. Some have dealt with loss – of health, of a family member, of a job, of a familiar routine. Some have dealt with becoming schoolteacher in addition to parent. Some have struggled with isolation or boredom. One common challenge we have all faced is a heightened lack of certainty. The pace of change and the elements in our lives that change regularly have both increased dramatically. Our new normal requires us to develop a new nimble in our approach to just about everything. Here are some concrete suggestions for dealing with this new shifting landscape of our professional lives, and ways to build resilience in the face of change.

1. Ask more questions.

Some elements of our work lives function by routine. Those routines allow us to make certain assumptions about how things will work, which makes us all more efficient. Our routines have been replaced with new ones, but the new ones keep changing. It took your firm three months to settle on a virtual platform. They picked Zoom. You got on board and learned all the features. Three weeks later, your IT department issued security protocols that disabled the Chat feature just when you learned how to share documents. Now, all meetings require unique passwords to enhance security and protocols around keeping cameras on or off keep shifting. The same types of changes have occurred with rules for when we can go to the office, how much we can spend on updating our home office, which client just switched to Teams and how to use Docu-sign. It seems every time you get used to doing things a certain way, the procedures evolve.

Since we can no longer trust routine, we have to get used to confirming processes and protocols. I spend a lot of my time teaching people how to ask open-ended questions. Now is the time to ask a few closed-ended questions. Try the following:

Can I assume we are still following X?

Just so I can get you what you need, does Y still apply?

Have there been any changes regarding Z?

In our prior lives, these types of questions would have seemed nit-picky and trivial. Now, they just help us all function more efficiently. If you ask these questions with the right tone of voice you’ll come across as thoughtful and strategic, and you won’t be surprised by the seemingly random change that’s occurred since you last blinked.

2. Plan ahead more than usual.

I’m a last-minute type of person. I’m flexible and very comfortable winging it. That serves me well in normal times when the occasional last-minute issue arises. It doesn’t work well when changes are swirling around every issue every minute.

Now, we’re all dealing with modifications that arise last minute, last hour, yesterday and last week. The last-minute snafu will be when your colleague’s internet goes down in the middle of an important client pitch. For that, your natural flexing and steady calm will come in handy. But if you didn’t also prepare for the fact your client switched platforms, the government regulator you are meeting with has implemented new protocols or your school district’s blended schedule means your 10-year old is now home and needs your attention, you’ll be pulled in too many directions to focus well and won’t be your best self on the call. Our job in the new nimble is to minimize the number of things that can arise at the 11th hour. That means planning ahead more than usual.

3. Trust your team.

Our human nature makes us assume that what’s happening to us is unique. Whatever challenges we are each facing, we need to remember that those around us are dealing with their own vortex of variables. Executing on the demands of your day is only possible if those around you are doing the same with theirs.

If you have built a solid team, if you trust both their competency and their integrity, the way you stay nimble with your own issues is to trust them to do the same with theirs. As their leader, your job is to support others. Ask, “What do you need?” instead of, “Did you remember to do X?” Ask, “How are you doing?” and “How can I help?” instead of, “Did X get done?” and “Did you meet the deadline?”

There’s a scene in National Treasure: Book of Secrets where the team of four heroes is on a platform balanced at the center. They need to move in tandem, some toward the center and some away, to keep the platform balanced. It’s a dance, one that involves coordination and trust. Your team is on that platform. As their leader, call the shots, then trust them to make the right moves for everyone.

4. Minimize the number of variables for your team.

While the ground keeps shifting – and it will for a while – good leaders will reinforce those things that haven’t changed, which will create some stability for those we lead. Remind your team that the group’s values and mission haven’t changed in spite of the chaos swirling around us.

Go overboard in talking about the elements of our work lives that remain constant. “My door is always open” wasn’t just a platitude in the old world; your door was always (or usually) open. What does that sense of accessibility mean in the new nimble? Do you welcome unplanned calls from your team to let them know you are still accessible, even from a distance? I’ve been the managing partner of my firm for 11 years. One of the nicest calls I’ve received in the last nine months was from a much younger colleague who, instead of scheduling a call and sending a meeting invitation, just called me to say, “Happy Birthday.” She felt the freedom and the license to just call as if she were popping her head in my office to connect for a brief moment. We have endured so many changes this year, it was great to feel that our open-door culture was intact. (Thank you, Kayla.)

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to buffer the chaos to our teams. Your team will feel more inspired to be more nimble in the moment, more flexible in their responses, if they know that the core principles of who you are collectively haven’t changed, and that you have their back as they stick to those principles.

Originally published on

Posted in Leadership Skills, Working Remotely

Better Than ‘Best’

I hope this blog post finds you well.

Words that, at best, do nothing to improve professional relationships, and at worst, are looked at with an eye roll. So unimaginative, so impersonal. Feigning caring without actually taking the time. How can you build rapport and strengthen relationships with your email openings and signoffs? This is especially important to consider in a remote environment. The email you’re sending may be your only contact with that colleague, client, or stakeholder. Here are some quick tips to consider:

1. Include what the other person needs to hear, not just what you need to say.

Focus on the communication style of your recipient. Are they someone who benefits from an extra bit of conversation? You may want to include more personal back-and-forth to build and keep the relationship strong. Or, do they want you to get right to the point and skip the ‘fluff’? After you’ve drafted your email, read it again to make sure you’ve hit the right tone for your reader.

2. Make it personal without going too far.

In the first couple of sentences, ask about their hobbies, family, or a recent trip – if you have that kind of relationship. If it’s been a while since you’ve spoken, say that, and let them know you’re sorry. Maybe even suggest a virtual ‘coffee chat.’

If you’re writing to someone you don’t know well, start with a question to show you genuinely care and offer up some information of your own. “How will you be spending the holidays this year? We’re keeping it small here in New Jersey – just getting together with my parents and calling the rest of the family over Zoom.” “Did you take any trips this summer? I was really happy to be able to go out to the beach a few times.”

3. Sign off with your own touch.

At the end of your email, add something that calls back to the question or comments from your opening. “I look forward to your thoughts and the progress of X project, and hearing about how your son’s internship is going.”

Keep that personal touch going with your sign off – you’re better than ‘best.’ Make your last words warm and engaging: “Take care,” “Warm regards,” and “Stay safe” all show a higher level of caring and leave your reader with a pleasant impression.

With that said, I hope you’ve found this post helpful, and wish you a happy, healthy holiday season.

Many thanks, Allison

Posted in Communication Skills, E-Mails, Working Remotely, Writing Skills

Storytelling Builds Relationships

In business, it’s important to build relationships beyond the next deal or project. Professionals with strong executive presence connect on a deeper level and build trust through storytelling. Consultant, Tony Capone shares how easily stories can help you relate to one another on a more personal level.

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Executive Presence, Leadership Skills, Meeting Skills, Presentation Skills, Public Speaking, Uncategorized

Craft Compelling Content

How do you engage a broader audience to make your presentations as impactful as possible?

Whether you’re presenting to your colleagues in another department, the board, or outside clients, make sure everyone leaves knowing your most important takeaways. Your audience will be more engaged if you:

  1. Highlight your main message up front
  2. Reduce your content
  3. Use variety

Watch tips from Exec-Comm Partner, Robert Chen, to see how you can fully engage your audience before your next presentation.

Posted in Meeting Skills, Public Speaking, Tips Videos

How Successful Managers Get Through Turbulent Times: 4 Tips To Follow

Managing a team is difficult in the best of times. When you layer on top of the usual demands of life and business, a pandemic and the rising demand to address long-term systemic racial inequalities in society, you stretch your management skills to the limit. How can you ensure that as a leader you support your team appropriately in this time of crisis? I had a chance to speak with Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri, partner and chief human resource officer at TPG, who shared advice to help managers continue to succeed and thrive in difficult, changing times.

1. Be more vulnerable, more human and more personable.

“In some ways, physical offices gave us a certain anonymity. We could choose whether or not to share parts of our personal lives,” Vazquez-Ubarri says. “Now, we’re exposed. Thanks to Zoom, my whole team has now ‘sat’ for meetings in my living room and at my kitchen table.” “My household includes my husband and kids, and my parents who live with me. That’s a lot of people occasionally walking around in the background. I have no choice but to let down my guard, share a bit more than I normally would and let the human side show through. That’s not a bad thing – and I think it can help us all connect better – but it’s certainly a shift in how we relate to our colleagues.”

Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri,
partner and chief human
resource officer at TPG

As a leader, you have to be willing to share more. While moments of humor, frustration, pressure and other facets of our lives can create new opportunities to connect, navigating this type of candor can be a challenge for many, and isn’t necessarily what we initially signed on for as managers. We’re now forced to literally meet people where they are, and yet we have to set boundaries for ourselves and our teams. Sending someone a late-night email is one thing. Placing a video call well after hours is something else. Each corporate culture is different, as is each work relationship. We’re living in a time of evolving definitions of what is intrusive.

Managers should set clear boundaries with their teams regarding the expected level of connectedness, but also be flexible and solicit from their employees what works for them. Those added boundaries help recognize everyone’s vulnerability in these times and show your team that you care about understanding their personal needs.

Suggested action step: Let people in a bit more than you normally would. This is an opportunity to build trust by letting your team see a broader, deeper, more complete picture of who you are.

2. Spend more time with new hires to build relationships.

If you’ve been working with someone for a while, you have already created a level of trust with that person. You can keep that relationship going through more regular check-ins, knowing that we’re in this for a bit, but likely returning to our previous level of interaction down the road.

But with a new hire it’s different. You have to put in the time to build that rapport, which is difficult remotely. “We’ve recently brought in a number of new senior players at the firm,” Vazquez-Ubarri shared. “They have strong commercial backgrounds, and like many of us, thrive on being around other people. Conducting a productive and engaging onboarding process remotely is certainly a new and significant challenge for organizations, recruits and HR teams. New hires require a deeper level of connection. We are working on ways for our new hires to meet their teams and colleagues in-person in a socially-distant, responsible manner so they know we’re excited about their joining and committed to bringing them into the fold.”

Fostering both new and existing relationships is extremely important to keeping employees engaged in this new reality. Being able to pop into someone’s office to say hi communicated “I care about you.” But sometimes, that quick exchange also opened the door for deeper interaction and built the kinds of relationships that make work fun, rewarding and more meaningful. The “drop-by hello” can’t be replaced, but the emails, quick phone calls and if possible and practical, in-person meetings, can help offset the feeling of isolation so many of your team may be feeling.

To cultivate relationships in this new environment, you can provide training for your people on how to develop relationships remotely. Creating opportunities for safe, in-person interaction can also help both new and current employees. Make sure your people know that in-person get-togethers are optional. Depending on your team members’ comfort levels and personal needs, they may choose to skip these events.

Suggested action step: Not everyone needs the same level of engagement. Spend more time with newbies and those with whom you don’t have as deep a relationship, and look for opportunities to foster relationships.

3. Create trust throughout the organization by setting clear expectations and celebrating successes.

As work environments have changed, so have certain processes and requirements. Roles and responsibilities are evolving, and productivity and engagement can be hard to measure. We’re no longer in the same space, so we have to find new ways to motivate teams, track progress, recognize wins and ultimately adopt a greater level of trust regarding how our reports spend their time.

Additionally, it’s important to consciously nurture that trust throughout the organization. Vazquez-Ubarri indicated, “I have two teams working on radically different initiatives. One team has very clear deliverables and a well-developed timeframe. The other has deliverables that, while equally important, aren’t as tangible or visible. As a result, I need to work harder to both measure and celebrate the successes of that second team. If I don’t, I risk having others question that team’s effectiveness.”

Suggested action step: Articulate for the broader group what everyone is working on, and the additional time pressures and struggles involved. This will help build trust and understanding throughout the organization.

4. Remember that everything is personal.

“When employees reflect on how your organization handled this difficult period, they will likely consider two factors,” says Vazquez-Ubarri. “First, they will look at your systemic and structural response. They’ll consider what policies you put in place, how quickly and effectively you reacted to the crisis, what protections you offered and how well you maintained your organization’s values through this time.”

“Secondly, and likely more importantly, they’ll consider how they personally were treated through this period. Did someone reach out to them individually? Did they feel the presence and effort by their manager to stay in touch? Did the concerns they heard expressed by management reflect the concerns they were experiencing given their role at the organization, their personal situation, their demographic in society? How well did your messages as a leader speak to the needs of your direct reports? As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will always remember how you made them feel.” Did your team feel your support at this time?

Suggested action step: Prioritize reaching out to people directly. Make sure people feel your support and they will reflect positively on your leadership in tough times.

As a final thought, keep in mind that while your team is struggling and in some cases literally suffering, everyone seems to be a bit more forgiving these days. We all know we’re trying to make things work in a situation that’s novel for all of us. Even those who have worked remotely for years realize the rest of their colleagues are dealing with a huge transition not of their own choosing. These action steps are ways of moving us all forward gently, thoughtfully and with the needs of our teams in mind.

Originally published on

Posted in Communication Skills, Executive Presence, Leadership Skills, Women in Business, Working Remotely

Build Your Brand for Long-Lasting Success

This Is My Story Image

When 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 long-term consequence is that others will be confused 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, results-oriented, 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 a natural 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 aware or have time to correct any faulty assumptions.

Think of your senior executives or the President of your company 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, uses 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?
  • Does your social media presence represent you well?

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 Google employees are smart and quirky despite never working at Google or meeting a Googler.

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. They achieve this 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.

Originally posted on Top of Mind. 

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Executive Presence, Leadership Skills Tagged , ,

Answering, ‘So, What Do You Do?’

When we meet new people, we’re often faced with the question, “So, what do you do?”

Most people respond 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

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Life Skills, Meeting Skills

Read it Write

Stack of Books

Fall is a great time to cozy up with a book. As you head from the beach to the fireside, grab a newspaper, magazine, book, or e-reader and settle in.

Good readers make good writers. Here are 3 lessons about good writing to note as you read:

1. Research thoroughly and outline completely before you write.

Biographies and books about historical events highlight the value of thoroughly researching, exploring and mastering the topic. These tomes are often the culmination of years of voracious reading and copious note taking.

Most non-fiction writers use extensive outlines to help them track timelines and events, before they create the final manuscript. An extensive and detailed outline makes it easier for the writer to stay on-track. That makes the finished piece easier to read.

2. Present information logically, as you write.

Newspapers and magazines are great examples of how to organize information. Articles and editorials lead with the key point and then add details to support it. This structure makes a story easy to follow and even easier to skim. The fairly short sentence and paragraph structure of most periodicals also provides for a more reader-friendly experience.

3. Vary the verbs and involve your reader.

Romance novels and thrillers use active and dynamic verbs. They keep the characters, the plot and the action moving along heatedly. Weak verbs, especially the overused “to be” verb, bore the readers. That’s why writers avoid it. Also, thrillers focus on action, with few superfluous words or details. Imagine if more business writing focused just on the action and omitted the fluff.

To keep these lessons fresh, keep a folder of articles, editorials, feature stories or excerpts from books that you enjoyed reading. These can inspire you when writing an email, status report or proposal. They may even help with that upcoming holiday family newsletter

Lastly, if you’re a book reader, remember that you don’t receive gold stars for finishing books you don’t enjoy. Try reading the first 50 pages. If it bores you, move on. There’s no shortage of other books to start.

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing Skills

How Do You Inspire And Engage Your Team?

Why do people listen to you? Is it out of obligation? Admiration? Fear? A little bit of everything? As a leader your job is to inspire, mentor, encourage, and continuously develop your team. You want to foster an environment of true ownership and accountability, rather than one of obligation. When it comes down to it, your goal is to keep your top performers who add value to you and your company.

Here’s how.

1. Lead by example.

Surely, you’ve heard that leaders “walk the walk” and “talk the talk.” But what does that really mean? Never ask someone on your team to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.

Your team looks to you to gauge how they should act. As a manager, you set the tone for those around you.

2. Develop trust.

Honor your word. Trust in management is crucial. It takes a long time to build trust, but only one wrong move to destroy it. Creating an environment of trust builds feelings of safety among your employees. And this safety breeds a more innovative, creative working team. When it’s okay for them to make mistakes, your employees will feel comfortable to develop new, inventive ideas and solutions.

3. Know the people you manage.

What are their personal and professional goals and challenges? Understanding this can help you align your team’s talents to your business goals. Knowledge is power. Get to the heart of what motivates each individual on your team and speak to them in a way that resonates. Think beyond the standard motivators like salary, benefits, or job security. Don’t get me wrong, those factors play a huge role in an employee’s happiness. But they’re not everything. They represent a baseline of satisfaction. You want to tap into true motivators – achievement, recognition, job satisfaction, progress, and personal growth.

4. Encourage problem solving.

Know that you don’t have all the answers. You have a team for a reason. Encourage a safe environment where those around you can creatively develop solutions and come up with new ideas. Your job as a manager is to foster an environment for others to shine. Their success is your success!

5. Provide constructive feedback.

Try to avoid feedback that is nit picky. Micromanaging can demotivate a top performer. Instead, focus on a person’s strengths and big picture areas of improvement. When you’re thinking about areas of improvement, separate those that are crucial to company growth from those that are a stylistic preference.

6. Acknowledge top performers.

This shouldn’t be done just once a year. Offering recognition and praise on a regular basis keeps your top performers motivated. Even something as minor as a brief shout out or accolade at a meeting, or a quick company-wide email acknowledging someone’s hard work, can go a long way.

Want to learn more? Find more information about Exec|Comm’s Motivating & Mentoring program here.

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Leadership Skills, Uncategorized

3 Habits That Detract From Your Credibility And How To Avoid Them

Most communication skills are not about “right” and “wrong.” The overall impression you make on others is a combination of many factors, and the frequency of certain behaviors. Here are three language habits that undermine your authority.

Qualifying Language

Sometimes, we can’t state things in the absolute, and need to qualify what we are saying. Lawyers are taught never to say, “You will win the case.” Financial advisors are quick to point out, “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.” Because we must qualify much of what we say, it’s important to state with certainty that which you can. Yet too often, we pepper our speech with “kind of,” “sort of,” “basically,” and “essentially,” among other words and phrases. All these phrases qualify the integrity of our statements.

If I say, “I kind of like sushi,” I’m suggesting I don’t dislike sushi, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.  But if I say at a business meeting, “I sort of think we need to go with plan A,” I come across as hesitant, reticent to take a stand, and weak. What does it mean to “sort of think” something anyway? And if I say, “I sort of think we basically need to do X” I’m now three steps removed from taking a stand.

I’m not suggesting you should never use these words or phrases.  I only suggest you use them when you mean them.

Moreover, although many people use these phrases frequently while speaking, some people use “basically” and “essentially” in their writing as well.

The Fix: To minimize the use of qualifying phrases in your writing, search for “basically” and “essentially” in your document and make sure you are using them appropriately.  To minimize your use of these phrases in your speech, slow down.  If you pause between sentences, you will not only seem more poised and in control of yourself, you will be more conscious of your word choice and be able to cull out the unnecessary language.

Filler Words and Sounds

Muttering “um” and “ah” and other hesitancy sounds undermines our ability to sound confident and convey our ideas fluidly. We tend to fill in the pauses, particularly between sentences, because we are uncomfortable with the silence. The pauses between sentences are rarely as long as we feel they are in the moment. In fact, the silence between sentences gives our listeners the time they need to process the ideas we are conveying. We tend to use filler sounds most frequently when looking down at our notes or away from our audience to gather our thoughts.

The Fix:
 To avoid using filler sounds, only speak when looking directly in someone’s eyes.  If you talk only when you are looking right at someone, almost all the filler words will disappear.


Up-speak is the inflection in our voice that, traditionally, indicates we are asking a question; our voice goes “up” at the end of the sentence.  “Would you like fries with that?” In the last two decades, many people have started using up-speak to end every sentence, undermining the sense of certainty in their speech.

If I ask someone, “Where do you live?” and they respond, “I live in Hoboken,” with their voice inflecting up at the end of the sentence, I know they aren’t asking a question or uncertain where they live. They are saying “Are you familiar with Hoboken?” or “Have you ever been there?” But if that becomes their speech pattern and they then say in a business meeting, “I think we need to close the deal sooner,” with their voice inflecting up at the end, it sounds like they are looking for confirmation, or hedging their bets. Neither result come across as confident.

The Fix: To avoid using up-speak, use clear, sharp, definitive gestures when speaking. If your hand gestures are strong and emphatic, it’s more likely your voice will match the power of your gestures, and you will land each sentence as a statement instead of a question. You will sound more confident. The size of the gesture doesn’t matter as much as the crispness of the motion, such as a flick of the wrist in a karate chop motion, rather than a gentle pat-on-the-head motion.

In conclusion, your overall impact as a communicator is not based on an isolated instance of what you say or the way you say it. It’s based on the cumulative effect of many behaviors – these and others. If you say “sort of” or “basically” two or three times in a long conversation, who cares? There will be little or no impact on your credibility. But if in every sentence there are “um’s” and “kind of’s” and instances of up-speak, you’ll undermine your sense of confidence in yourself and your ideas. So, slow down, only speak when you are looking at people, and use sharp, definitive gestures when speaking.

Originally published on

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Leadership Skills, Life Skills, Public Speaking, Writing Skills