Mindfulness And Trust: The Keys To Successful Leadership

“What keeps you fulfilled in your role?”


Whether we are navigating a busy sidewalk, or navigating through our career, when we lose perspective, we lose our bearing and risk faltering. Having perspective on our situation requires self-awareness; we need to be conscious of who we are, how we got wherever we are, who is around us and how our actions impact those around us.

Kevin Wijayawickrama of Deloitte Advisory keeps those concepts top-of-mind every day. Kevin wears two hats, as the leader of Deloitte’s Advisory Practice in the Western U.S., and the head of the healthcare group for Deloitte’s Western Region. In those dual roles, Kevin is responsible for inspiring, protecting and developing more than 5,000 professionals. I recently had the chance to speak with Kevin about what keeps him on track, and what advice he has for other business leaders.

Kevin identified three approaches an effective leader can take to build trust with her or his team, because without trust, nothing else much matters. 1. Know yourself. 2. Do your homework. 3. Let go of the stress of the day.

Jay Sullivan: You’ve spoken and written frequently on mindfulness in the workplace. What does that term mean to you?

Kevin Wijayawickrama: I think of “mindfulness” as purposeful human engagement. You have to take time to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Then you have to reflect on the other person. Our work lives get so busy dealing with tasks and initiatives, we sometimes need to remind ourselves as leaders that the people we are dealing with aren’t just cogs in the wheels of the machinery. They are living, breathing human beings who have goals and dreams and fears and aspirations. We need to be conscious of those attributes of the people we work with so that we treat them with respect. That will help you as a leader build a stronger level of trust.

Sullivan: Nice in concept, but what does that mean in reality?

Wijayawickrama: When I am meeting with someone, I try to make them feel that they are literally the most important person in the world to me at that moment. I don’t wear a watch; I don’t want to be distracted by time. I do my best to give 100% of my attention to whoever is in front of me. I can’t say I always succeed, but the effort is there, and I think the effort is appreciated.

Sullivan: But your team spreads across 10 states. How can you be present to everyone?

Kevin W, Deloitte Advisory

Wijayawickrama: You can’t, and you don’t need to. As a leader, you need to influence and impact those closest to you, and trust that the example you set is being carried through the ranks. That’s why it’s so important to build the right level of trust. Trust works two ways. You create a level of trust by consistent behavior, borne out over time. As your team feels that trust, you can trust them to act in accordance with the behaviors you’ve modeled.

Sullivan: How does this come into play at Deloitte?

Wijayawickrama: We recently instituted a “Next Gen Leadership Initiative,” which involves the top 10% of the partners at the firm. In addition to a formal, structured training program on leadership, we assign each person a coach and a psychologist. These two professionals help these top leaders identify their strengths, their challenges and their potential. Again, it all goes to increased self-awareness leading to increased effectiveness.

Sullivan: You also talk about doing your homework. What does that look like as a leader at Deloitte?

Wijayawickrama: Get to know your people. When you’re trying to build trust, you have to let people know you care about them. Get their kids’ names right. Understand their family situation. Know where they came from before they started to work for you, and ask them very directly where they want to go career-wise. Unless you’re a fantastic actor, you can’t appear to be genuinely interested in your team unless you actually are genuinely interested in your team. You need to be aware of what’s important to them. The easiest way to do that is to simply ask them. You can’t assume anything; you need to ask open-ended questions that force them to give you concrete information instead of a perfunctory answer.

For instance, the younger elements of the workforce are interested in fulfillment. When I entered the workforce, I would never have had the nerve to think I was owed that. I just wanted a job. Now, people want to know their work matters to them and to others. How it matters to each person is what you as a leader need to learn.

Sullivan: Where did you learn these lessons?

Wijayawickrama: When I came to this country from Sri Lanka as a young man, I had nothing. But I had the tremendous good fortune to be mentored by more senior business leaders. They, not only introduced me to a solid path for growth, but showed me how to walk that path and how to guide others to do the same. Much of what I do as a leader I do to say “thank you” to those who nurtured me.

Sullivan: You also talk about “letting go of the stress of the day.” How do you accomplish that?

Wijayawickrama: That’s where perspective and self-awareness come into play again. None of us alone are going to cure cancer, address global warming, or solve the big political issues of the day. But each of us can deal with the small issues in front of us by staying focused on the only important issue to us – the person with whom we’re meeting at any given moment. If I know that my role is to simply deal with the challenge in front of me – to not get distracted – I let go of the distractions. I focus on being present to those in my day. That’s what makes for transformative meetings.

The nature of work life is evolving. The chat around the water-cooler is a thing of the past as more teams function remotely. Instead of interacting with people sporadically throughout the day, we’re all more likely to limit our interactions with our teams to scheduled appointments, often on the phone. That means that those conversations need to be less tactical and more strategic. If I want to get to know someone I rarely see face to face, I have to work harder to build trust, to make those conversations purposeful. We have to talk less about “what’s on your plate today?” and more about “what keeps you fulfilled in your role?” It’s a tall order, but the payoff is tremendous. If I’m talking to you about your long-term goals, the little stuff of the moment doesn’t get in the way.

Sullivan: Very helpful advice, and thanks for your time. If you’ll excuse me now, I need to go revise my agenda for my next meeting.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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

2 Ways Kevin Anderson’s Wimbledon Attitude Can Help You Build Confidence

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 11: Kevin Anderson of South Africa shakes hands after beating Roger Federer of Switzerland in the gentlemen’s quarter finals at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 11, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

Kevin Anderson, the No. 8 seed, after beating Roger Federer, the No. 1 seed, in the 2018 quarterfinals at Wimbledon Tennis Championship, July 2018:

“I think the toughest thing players face when going out playing somebody like Roger in this setting is giving yourself a chance. I feel like the times that I’ve played him before, or other guys … with his ranking and history, I haven’t really allowed myself to play.”

Roger Federer after losing to Kevin Anderson:

“As the match went on, I couldn’t surprise him anymore. That’s a bad feeling to have.”

Kevin Anderson is a 30-something successful professional tennis player and even he gets intimidated by a tennis match – of which he has played thousands. Allowing yourself to be the best you can be in any situation is a life-long challenge. Whether playing tennis, giving a presentation, or leading a client meeting – having the skills to succeed is one thing, but having the confidence to excel gets us to the next level. Two pro tips to build confidence:

Focus on your audience.

You might be nervous in a pressure situation, but think about your audience. It’s not all about you and your performance. Your audience’s critical takeaway is how your viewpoint impacted them, and whether they got what they needed. Shift your content to what the audience values, and your nerves will die down.

Don’t think so much.

Practice, prepare, and polish your presentation so that when you are in the act, you are not thinking, you are communicating. This doesn’t mean memorizing. This means knowing what the key points are and adding value to your slides by giving specific examples. Keep it simple – the audience will only remember about a quarter of what you say anyway!

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Leadership Skills, Uncategorized

4 Keys To Creating Commitment At Work

“Leadership requires acknowledging the sacredness of every individual, not from a place of fear, but from a place of love.”

Emergency room doctor Philip Schwarzman, left, examines patient John O’Brien at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif. (Photo by Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

An engaged workforce produces better results. Whether you manage a team of finance professionals, a department of insurance underwriters, or a practice group of lawyers, you’re always looking for ways to keep your people engaged. As the Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Providence St. Joseph Health, Debra Canales stays acutely aware of the level of engagement for 120,000 employees across a $26 billion enterprise. She recently shared how she promotes employee engagement across a health care system providing life-saving care to literally millions of patients across seven states.

Jay Sullivan: Why is engagement so important?

Debra Canales: When people are engaged, they transcend the immediate and focus on the core values. At Providence those core values include respect, integrity and, most importantly, compassion.

Sullivan: How do you get people to focus on those values?

Canales: You talk about them all the time, and you adopt language about each person’s role that emphasizes those value. For instance, all of our employees are “caregivers.” In a very personal way, we tend to the patients we serve. When you think of yourself in terms of the care you provide someone else – whether you are a nurse bathing a patient in pain, or the checkout clerk in the cafeteria making sure someone’s hurried lunch is as pleasant as possible – it changes your attitude toward your role and toward those with whom you interact.

Sullivan: You can’t achieve that level of commitment just by a name change.

Canales: No, you can’t. You have to start the conversation early and reinforce it along the way. Providence has a unique history, founded by two religious orders. The Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of St. Joseph were small and resourceful groups of women dedicated to tending to the sick. Employees hear about our history from the moment they are hired, through the on-boarding process, and throughout their work lives.

Every employee knows the story of our humble beginnings, the challenges the sisters faced, and the creativity they employed to overcome obstacles. Every organization struggles along the way with growing pains and external pressures that require new ideas and approaches to continue to live their mission. The sisters had to adapt and evolve in order serve their communities.

Sullivan: So for the sisters, you could say, “Necessity is the Mother Superior of Invention.”

Canales: You could say that.

Debra Canales

Sullivan: How do you keep that message and spirit alive?

Canales: You prove to your people that you’re dedicated to taking care of them. Last year we modernized our EAP program to include training around compassion. For six months, we closed every clinic for ninety minutes every other week, a total of 18 hours of discussion around compassion, mindfulness and team-building. Honestly, I don’t think it felt like “training” for our teams; it felt like care-giving to our own people. We discussed how to weave our mission of compassion throughout everything we do. Seeing the suffering of the sick, and working hard to ameliorate it, can cause fatigue. Talking about our role in alleviating that suffering helps our own staff heal, and helps prevent burnout.

The discussions and exercises helped our people bring their best selves to work. They feel called to something bigger and more meaningful than themselves.

Sullivan: It sounds like the language you use in these settings sets the tone.

Canales: That’s right. Throughout our facilities, and throughout the way we help develop our people, you’ll see the phrase, “Know me. Care for me. Ease my way.” It’s simple language focused on how we impact and treat all of those around us, and it’s written from the perspective of the individual in front of us at any one moment.

Sullivan: What’s your role in this as the leader of leaders?

Canales: Formal leadership formation here takes three years. We ground our leaders in a sense of purpose and vocation, and they live in their values. People are always watching their leaders to see how they are living the values of the organization. We call it “the Shadow of Leadership.”

We also take risks on our people. We celebrate and learn from our mistakes. You encourage greater creativity if you acknowledge mistakes publicly.

Leadership is a full-body experience, not just from the neck up. It involves the mind, the body and the soul. All of our senior leaders are all-in on our commitment to creating an environment where we help people recognize their full potential that they otherwise wouldn’t see. That also results in building a more diverse workforce. Men and women are represented equally in our senior leadership ranks.

Sullivan: You seem to view leadership as a mission in and of itself.

Canales: Our commitment to something bigger than ourselves is a huge factor in the attraction to working here. We recently recruited a top finance professional from the tech industry who was attracted to the added dimension of our mission. You feel the mission at Providence. I believe that leadership requires acknowledging the sacredness of every individual, not from a place of fear, but from a place of love.

Sullivan: Powerful stuff. In sum, for leaders to create an engaged workforce, you have to constantly emphasize your mission, give people the space and avenues to explore their own growth in that mission, put serious attention toward developing your leaders in that vein and then use language that brings all of that together. Those are lessons for all business leaders. Thanks for your time.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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

Melania’s Unspoken Message

US First Lady Melania Trump departs Andrews Air Rorce Base in Maryland June 21, 2018 wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” on her way to a surprise visit with child migrants on the US-Mexico border. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

You’ve probably heard about Melania Trump’s recent controversial outfit choice. She wore a green trench coat with the message, “I really don’t care, do u?” while boarding the plane to visit the detention centers that are holding immigrant children in Texas. Without spoken words, Melania’s clothing sent a message to the world – whether she intended to or not. This reinforced the idea that what you wear will influence people’s impression of you.

People will judge you in the first few seconds of meeting you, solely based on the way that you look. And, even if they already have a solid impression of you, your wardrobe choices can easily change that perspective. Showing up to an important event without putting effort into your appearance will send the message that you don’t care. Overdressing for a casual meeting could send the message that you’re stuffy or less relatable.

There is no right or wrong way to dress. However, you should make intentional clothing choices.

Imagine you’re in an elevator. A woman walks in wearing a pinstripe, mid-length, navy blue pencil skirt with a matching tailored blazer and a silk cream blouse. Her hair is pulled back into a low, sleek bun and her makeup is neutral and simple. What is she communicating to the world? Based on her image, we can assume that she is professional, mature, assertive, and powerful. Your style is an outward representation of who you are, how you view yourself, and what you want from the world.

Not only does the way you dress influence the way others perceive you, but it will also impact how you feel. Northwestern conducted a study to determine how what we wear impacts the way that we feel. In the experiments, they had one group of students wear a white lab coat to perform non-medical tasks, then they had another group of students perform the same tasks without the lab coat. Surprisingly, the students who wore the lab coat made half as many errors as the students who wore regular clothes. They called it “enclothed cognition.”

Be mindful of the message you’re sending with your wardrobe, so you don’t detract from the true value you add. As always, we’re here if you need help.

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Leadership Skills, Learning Exchange, Life Skills, Uncategorized, Women in Business

3 Ways To Start Your Career On The Right Foot


This week, thousands of new teachers are being trained as part of their initiation into Teach for America. Thousands more are still recovering from graduation festivities with an eye on their first job looming in the coming weeks. Whether you are entering the classroom for the first time as a teacher, starting your internship in Washington, or beginning your long slog toward partner at a major consulting firm, here are a few thoughts to help you get started.

1. Know Your Role

You’ve been hired to fill a role. Understand the parameters and the expectations. My first job out of college was as a high school English teacher in Kingston, Jamaica. My job was to give my students clear boundaries for behavior, create a sense of stability and safety in the classroom, and, primarily, to educate them. But I had zero teacher training. As I stood in front of a class of 40 boys the same age as my younger brother, I thought my job was, in part, to be their friend. They thought their job was to eat me alive. Guess who won? By not understanding my role better, I made my first year as a teacher a daily battle with the class. But I learned my lesson. My second year teaching, I became the Dean of Discipline for the Junior class. We all would have been better off if I had understood and owned my role better from day one.

Whatever role you are walking into, you’ll be more successful and feel more confident every day if you have a clear understanding of what your manager, your constituents, and your team expect of your performance. If those roles aren’t made clear, feel free to ask. You’ll appear more strategic and more focused on doing a good job for someone if you look and sound like you want to be held accountable for your performance.

Part of knowing that role is getting comfortable with it. If you’ve always been “Sydney,” and now, as a teacher, you need to be “Ms. Segal,” it can be a bit daunting and you can feel somewhat like a fraud. You’re not alone in feeling that way, and you’re not a fraud. You’ve been given a job because someone has decided you have the goods to deliver on that role. Everyone knows you’re still in a learning phase, but they have confidence in your ability. That’s true in all roles. The first time you turn in a report to your boss and you realize she isn’t planning to check the numbers before she presents your analysis to the committee, you’ll realize you’re being treated like the professional you are, and you’ll panic. Relax. If you did your job with the appropriate amount of care and discipline, it’ll show. If you haven’t, the fault is shared with your manager for not checking your numbers.

2. Demonstrate Reliability

Early on in the job, people know you are learning the role. Most employers know they must invest in helping you acclimate to the organization and help you understand the technical aspects of the job– the “what” of the role. However, most employers don’t expect to have to teach you how to behave in the role, and how to have the right level of self-discipline. While they know you aren’t yet a fully-formed teacher, bookkeeper, auditor, or sales person, they do expect you are a fully-formed adult.

Showing up on time for meetings, meeting deadlines, dealing with coworkers with respect, not gossiping, and dressing appropriately for your role or organization, are all just as important as the technical aspects of your role. Your manager knows his job is to fix your lack of knowledge and experience. He also knows he can’t fix lazy. You’re in a great position professionally, in that you don’t have a professional reputation yet. Make sure you start out by building a reputation as someone reliable and professional.

3. Stay Alert About Others

Pick up on cues from those around you. Work is a social environment as much as a professional environment. Any work environment is organic, constantly changing based on the individuals involved. Many of the subtleties of the work environment aren’t written on the “mission statement” placard in the lobby or the poster in the conference room with the company’s “Top 72 Key Values.”

We learn how to behave and how to help others based on paying attention to the unspoken cues they send. Just because one manager is comfortable with your regular interruptions to get answers to questions, doesn’t mean the next person will like that kind of interaction. Pay attention to how people interact with you. They’re sending you cues as to how they are comfortable with you interacting with them. That doesn’t mean that if your boss’s boss likes to drop by unannounced with questions, he welcomes the same from you. Understanding that difference goes back to Point 1 about knowing your role in the organization. Nevertheless, you should feel comfortable asking your managers, “What would be most helpful to you in terms of how I communicate with you?” Again, asking more questions only makes you seem more strategic.

The same is true of paying attention to clients of the organization, be they customers calling in to your help desk, or students in your middle school bio class. Pay attention to what the individual seems to need. It’ll help you address their concerns better, and make for a smoother, more successful work day.

All of this is a lot to consider when you thought all you had to do was crank out your billable hours or help students understand the history of the Roman Empire. There’s a lot on your plate. That’s why they call it “work.” That said, work will be a huge part of your life. Follow these tips to make it a positive, enjoyable part.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Life Skills

3 Ways To Get What You Want


Some days, every conversation feels like a negotiation. Some people thrive on that type of exchange. For others, it’s exhausting. Regardless of whether you enjoy negotiating, you have to participate in the discussion if you want to get something done. I thought it might be helpful to share a few pointers that will help you in the next conversation, whether you’re buying a car, asking for a raise, or trying to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. When you’re negotiating, you should keep in mind three key ideas. First, know what you want; second, ask questions to understand the other person’s needs; and third, use conditional statements.

1. Know What You Want

This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people enter a negotiation with only a vague idea of what they’re seeking. You have to strategize beforehand. What price points are important to you? What secondary elements are you trying to achieve through the discussion? Put limits in place: an opening offer, an anticipated outcome, your walkaway position. Without putting these parameters in place, the conversation is likely to become far too freewheeling. And you’re unlikely to get the outcomes that meet your needs.

This strategizing is especially important if your personal tendency is to “shoot from the hip.” Being flexible and creative are important in business and thinking on your feet is a valuable talent when participating in a brainstorming meeting or responding to a tough question during a presentation. However, in a negotiation, there will be a defined outcome at the end of the discussion that you and your organization will need to live with, possibly for a long time. This isn’t the time to “wing it.” Your ability to respond to unexpected information or surprise approaches from the other negotiator is enhanced if you’ve clarified your strategy.

2. Ask Questions

When you’re negotiating, you’re trying to get what you need from someone else. The only way to get what you want from someone else is to give them what they need. The only way to understand what they need is to ask them, and then truly, deeply listen. If you assume what the other negotiator needs, and you miss the mark, the conversation will become frustrating and futile. Asking the right questions and digging deeper to understand the other negotiator’s needs are crucial tools to help you become a more effective negotiator.

This requires thinking of the other party in the discussion as simply the “other negotiator.” Most of the time, the other negotiator isn’t “the enemy,” they’re just another party that needs to get something constructive out of the exchange. Figuring out what the other person needs rather than assuming what they want may allow you to accomplish your goal at a lower cost to you.

3. Use Conditional Language

If I say, “I’ll come up 5%,” or, “I’ll add ‘X’ to the mix,” I’ve given up something without getting anything in return. Instead, say, “If I were to come up 5%, what would you be able to add to your offer?” or, “If we add ‘X’ to the mix, how could that impact your position?” Using conditional language allows you to float an offer, rather than commit to a position. Ultimately, you only give something if you get something in return.

Negotiations are often subtle dances around delicate issues. Egos and emotions are frequently in play. For many people, feeling like they are getting a good deal is as important as actually getting a good deal. If I say to you, “I’ll throw in ‘X’ for no additional cost,” how does that make you feel about the value of X? You may not feel like you’ve gained anything because it clearly didn’t have any value to me. If you “throw in” anything, you risk throwing away its value.

Try these 3 tips in your next negotiation and see how you fare.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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

The Wisdom Of The Aged – Conveyed Clearly And Succinctly

DeWitt and Louise Calamari (and Dukie)

We all have someone whose words of wisdom stand out for us, and whose ideas we leverage at work and in our personal life. For me, it was my maternal grandfather, DeWitt Calamari, who passed away many years ago after 93 years of gathering life experiences. Grandpa was a man of very few words. He had a grumpy demeanor, and three dents in his bald skull from where he had endured brain surgery in the 1950’s. I was usually petrified when in his presence. It probably worked well for both of us that he only said three things to me my entire life. In retrospect, each provides a great life lesson conveyed in clear language.

1. “Whiney, whiney, whiney! You’re such a whiney kid!”

He was right; I was a very whiney kid. I complained about everything. (I’m only a moderately whiney adult.) Grandpa was the youngest of eight children, and the only one of his siblings to live past the age of 12. He never met his father, who became ill before Grandpa was born and went back to Italy for treatment, but never returned. Grandpa’s mother became a dietitian at a New York City hospital to support the family. Once it was just her and Grandpa, she took a job as a housekeeper to a cruel and abusive farmer in upstate New York. In the early years of the 20th Century, life was tough for many people, and the typical approach was to deal with your problems quietly and privately. You didn’t whine, in part, because of a sense of self-reliance, and in part because no one wanted to hear it; they were dealing with their own problems.

Grandpa had no patience for whiners. You could ask him a thousand questions about his garden, his photography, and the various contraptions he built around his house in the Bronx. He was always eager to explain things to you if you showed interest. He was always open to suggestions. But he didn’t want to hear complaints. I’ve learned over the years that neither does anyone else.

2. “What do you mean you won’t eat it? That’s the best part!”

Whether it was the burnt part of the toast, the crusty part of the pasta, or, God forbid, the moldy part of the cheese, Grandpa elevated the dregs to the icing on the cake. A life of modest means had taught him how to be grateful. Gratitude isn’t about accepting less-than with reluctance or resignation. True gratitude is about finding joy in what’s in front of you. I’m not talking about injustice, against which we should all rebel at work and in life. I’m talking about the little disappointments that happen each day, the small inconveniences that occur and have the potential to mount as the day progresses and throw us off our game. If instead of allowing those moments to irritate us, we found a way to shrug them off or appreciate them for what they are, we’d make each day that much easier for ourselves and for those around us.

Grandpa had a tough and lonely start to life. But he and my grandmother managed through The Great Depression, putting food on the table and providing a healthy start to life for their growing family. When he was diagnosed with cancer in his early fifties, he underwent experimental surgery to remove a brain tumor. He had to quit his job with the City of New York, but managed to live another forty years, puttering around the house working on various projects. He treated every day as a gift. He reveled in the smallest signs of beauty, like new shoots on the dogwood tree in his yard, or the slightest of accomplishments, like teaching his Toy Fox Terrier, Dukie, a new trick. Simple gratitude for the small things in life, and turning the little disappointments into opportunities, might go a long way to take the edge off the day. I can’t advocate that you should eat the moldy part of the cheese, because I know I won’t. But, the next time your coffee order gets screwed up, instead of thinking of it as a failure, think of it as an adventure. I’ve never tried my Tall Flat White with caramel before. Let’s give it a whirl.

3. “Smile!”

Grandpa had a gruff demeanor, but I have no doubt he genuinely wanted his six children and twenty-two grandchildren to be happy. He didn’t always know how to achieve that, so sometimes he just demanded it. From his early twenties he was an avid photographer. He took thousands of posed and spontaneous pictures of all of us. As I say, I was afraid of him, so when he said, “Smile,” I smiled. Smiling, like being grateful, can sometimes accomplish what complaining cannot. Smiling projects positivity into the world, and usually elicits a smile in return. It softens each interaction. When I coach professionals on their communication skills, I sometimes need to help them understand when and how to soften their tone. Part of that process often involves getting them to smile more. Who knew Grandpa was on to something?

I didn’t know it at the time, but the man who intimidated me the most as a child, taught me to avoid complaining, appreciate whatever good you can find in a moment, and present a positive face to the world. Who in your life gave you words of wisdom? 

Originally published on Forbes.com.

Posted in Life Skills, Uncategorized

4 Things We Can Learn From Nikki Haley’s “With All Due Respect, I Don’t Get Confused”

Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

How To Go From Under The Bus To The Driver’s Seat

We’ve all had situations in which we feel we’ve been wronged and want to respond appropriately, but struggled to do so while maintaining the relationship. Just about every married man in history has apologized to his wife for something he didn’t do, just to avoid a showdown. Almost every woman at work has swallowed her pride in front of colleagues at some point in her career just to get through the day. What if there was a way to maintain that sense of self-respect and still keep the peace?

Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley showed us how. Larry Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council, advised the press that Haley may have been “confused” and spoken out of turn about the President’s plan to impose additional sanctions on Russia. The Ambassador responded quickly and succinctly with, “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.” Haley, the smart and savvy former Governor of South Carolina, is a political veteran, and has surely had to deal with more than her share of public challenges to her positions. She’s also been in the public spotlight enough to know not to make rookie mistakes, like speaking before she knows her facts. So, compared to most of us, she’s had more practice at this type of response. Nevertheless, her response to Kudlow’s comment demonstrated resilience and grit, and was delivered so quickly and tersely that Kudlow then had to apologize to her.

There are four things we can learn from her simple response.

1. You can fight back with class. By starting with acknowledging respect – in a way, acknowledging perspective – Haley took the edge off what came next.

I once took a walking tour of Charleston, South Carolina led by a lovely, middle-aged, Southern belle, born and raised in the city. As we walked the cobblestone streets, she shared one gossipy, scandalous tidbit after another about this family and that, but somehow always seemed poised and respectable. After one slanderous-sounding story she said, “By the way, as a Southern woman, you can say the meanest thing you want about anyone as long as you start or end with, ‘Well bless their heart….’” “Well bless his heart, he drank like a fish.” Or, “She was like her own USO tour, she was so popular with the sailors, God bless her heart.”

I don’t advocate gossip. I’m suggesting if your comment is delivered with some etiquette, with a few words that take the edge off, it comes across as somehow balanced and nuanced, regardless of how direct it is.

At work or home, when you need to correct someone’s statement you can give your comment some needed depth by adding,

“With all due respect….”

“I understand your position….”

“For perspective, I suggest….”

“From my vantage point….”

“I appreciate your perspective. My point of view on that is different.”

The list is endless.

2. Don’t start with an apology. If you feel you were in the right, don’t undermine the validity of your perspective by setting up the discussion with an apology that isn’t sincere. You’ll feel undermined in terms of your own value, and the other person, if he or she threw you under the bus to begin with, will then take advantage of the apology to emphasize that you were in the wrong.

Of course, if you were in the wrong, you should apologize. A heartfelt, “I’m sorry about that.” Or even a quick, “My bad,” for a minor infraction goes a long way to maintain a relationship and allows you to move forward.

3. Know your own position. If you know you were right to begin with, you’re more likely to stay strong in your self-defense. Haley was able to respond with a terse, “I don’t get confused,” because she knew she had done her homework, knew she wasn’t speaking out of turn, and knew her intellect and clout were on par with those criticizing her.

In the new film Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill during the few weeks after he is named Prime Minister. Churchill must decide whether to negotiate a humiliating peace with Hitler, or mobilize the British people to fight in spite of overwhelming odds. Throughout the movie you see his tremendous insecurity regarding his country’s ability to withstand a German invasion. But, you always feel his sense of self-confidence about his position that appeasement won’t work, and fighting is the only option. That sense of self-confidence in his opinion allowed him to rally the country to his position. Before you go into battle at work, you need to know what you stand for.

4. Comment on what you know, not what you assume. Haley’s response didn’t comment on Kudlow or the White House position. She commented on what she knows – herself, and she did so with diplomacy. She didn’t say, “With all due respect, you’re wrong.” She didn’t attack. In fact, she reiterated her earlier comments without using any of the same words. Instead of saying, “The White House position is…,” she said, “I don’t get confused,” which not only defended her integrity, but said, “I know what the President and I discussed.” In the case of operating on a very public stage, where tact is important, she knew she shouldn’t reconfirm, “The President said he was going to impose additional sanctions.” That would create a confrontation. Instead, she directed her comment to herself, which allowed the discussion to veer ever so slightly away from the sanctions, where there was a no-win situation.

In short, if you need to defend your position at work, you can stand your ground while still being diplomatic. You’ll be well served to stay polite, hold firm without apology, know your position, and stick to the facts you can confirm. Now you’re ready for your ambassadorship.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Executive Presence, Women in Business

6 Ways To Communicate Confidence As You Enter The Workforce

You’ve graduated and are about to become part of the working world. Congratulations, and welcome. As a parent of three college graduates and one college senior, I assure you, one of the most fulfilling questions a parent asks his or her newly sprung twenty-something is, “So, how was work today?” It makes us feel proud to have created a productive, tax-paying member of society. Obviously, you should be just as proud. You’ve earned your moment;

bask in it…


Basking time is over…

Let’s get to work.

Early on in your career, if you’re smart, you’re also insecure. You don’t quite know what you are doing just yet. That’s OK. No one wants you to walk in the door all full of yourself – not now, and not later either. But you can carry yourself with the air of someone who is confident about what they do know. You know you’re smart. You know how to work hard. You know what you don’t know and what you need to learn. That’s a great start. Below are some pointers that will help you carry yourself through the first year of work while you find your way.

For those of you who don’t have a job yet and are still getting bombarded with the question, “What are you going to do now?” I encourage you to hear that question differently, and respond to it differently. Hear that question as, “So, what are you going to do first?” That way, you can respond, “Well, first, I’m going to…. Then, I’ll see where that leads.” It takes all the pressure off, and it makes you seem strategic and wiser. You’re acknowledging that the first job we get out of college is rarely the last job we ever have. In fact, it’s unlikely you will have four jobs during your career. It’s more likely you’ll have four careers. And the path will meander, and that’s OK.

For those of you walking in the door at an employer soon, here are some ways to communicate your confidence. Effective communication requires both a particular mindset andspecific techniques. The mind-set is simple: You are more effective as a communicator if you are focused less on yourself, and more on other people. Below are six techniques to implement as you start out.

1. Follow The Golden Rule

Treat everyone with respect. I have always been surprised by people who spend a great deal of time trying to figure out who they have to be nice to and who “doesn’t matter.” It takes a lot less energy to be nice to everyone than to figure out who is worthy of basic courtesies. (Easy answer, everyone is worthy of basic courtesies.)

2. Frame Your “Problems”

Never approach a senior person with “a problem.” Your job isn’t to pass difficult problems off to someone else. Instead, present possible solutions and seek advice. Substitute “I don’t know what to do,” with, “I’ve thought through this matter. We could take position A or position B. I’m leaning toward A but thought I would get some guidance first.”

No one will fault you for not knowing an answer. But everyone will be annoyed if you do not put the effort in first to consider alternatives. In addition, people will be impressed that you have the confidence to offer your opinion.

3. Come In Prepared

Always carry a pad and pencil when you walk into a more senior person’s office. You will always look ready to work. If you are there to present info, don’t be afraid to use notes. People appreciate that you respect their time and want to stay on track. No one ever said, “Please, come into my office and ramble.”

4. Allow Yourself A Moment

When answering questions, give yourself some thinking time to articulate a better answer. We speak at about 135 words per minute. Our brains can provide information at 10 times that rate. Use your mind’s power to your advantage. By repeating or rephrasing the questions, or using a lead in such as “Good question,” or “Key point,” you can buy your brain a few precious moments to figure out not just what you want to say, but how you want to say it. You will give a better answer to the question, and the listener will leave with a better understanding of the issues. The alternative is greeting a question with that “deer in the headlights” look that not only says, “I’m not sure,” but “…and I just forgot my own name.”

When will you come up with the best answer to a question your manager asks? Right after you walk out of her office, or on the subway ride home, or in the shower the next morning. In all cases, that’s too late. At least by buying yourself a few seconds, you improve the chances of coming up with a better answer than if you just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.

5. Listen, And Ask Questions

Listen. Listen carefully. Listen with everything you’ve got. You will do a much better job on an assignment if you understand the task correctly to begin with. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification of an assignment. It means you are conscientious about everyone’s time and about doing a good job for your organization. No one expects you to have all the answers, but if you ask the right questions you will demonstrate your competence. The people you work with will appreciate that.

6. Put Stock In How You Dress

Every company has its own culture and what is acceptable in one, may not work in another.

When I practiced law in the 90s, there was a clear dress code – a certain kind of suit and tie. For men, any color shirt was acceptable, as long as it was white or blue. Women had it tougher, trying to dress to code and look fashionable at the same time.

Now, dress codes are, at many companies, a thing of the past. Anything goes, right? Wrong. I was recently asked by one of my colleagues to accompany her to a client meeting at a tech startup. She wanted me to join her because I had the most experience teaching a certain type of course at our firm. But she informed me rather directly, “But don’t dress like you, OK?” She explained, “When I went the last time, I wore jeans and a blazer. They suggested I not wear the blazer the next time or I would look like I didn’t understand their culture.” In other words: Nothing has changed! People still form a first impression of you based on outward appearance. Their first impression can’t be based on substance; you haven’t said anything yet. It must be based on something, so it will be based on how you look. Because dress codes are more fluid now, here’s my advice: Whatever look you are going for, own it. If you want to present a more casual, laid-back demeanor and that works in your organization, go for it. If you like to get decked out and wear Prada ties and Hugo Boss cuff links, and that’s you, go for it. Here’s how to think about it: You should assume that everyone else will assume that whatever look you have is intentional. So make your look intentional.

These techniques will help you implement that mindset of focusing less on yourself and more on the other person. Congrats on your first career, now hit the ground running.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Life Skills

Why Managers Matter

Managing Director, Chief Diversity Officer & Global Head of Talent at Goldman Sachs, Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri

One of the key questions successful professionals ask themselves is, “How can I grow my business?” Perhaps the more important question is, “What’s the best investment for growing my business?” The answer to growing your business lies in growing your people, and ROI is important not only in your financial investments, but in your people investments.

I had the privilege recently to meet with Ana Vazquez-Ubarri, the Chief Diversity Officer and Global Head of Talent for Goldman Sachs. For the past several years, “Anilu” has led the key people assessment and development initiatives that have helped Goldman achieve its status as the gold standard of Wall Street firms. She joined Goldman after a successful career as a corporate attorney. Anilu earned an AB from Princeton, and a JD from Fordham Law School. She shared the key insights she has gained in her varied roles helping Goldman’s 35,000 employees hone their skills and build successful teams.

Jay Sullivan: Where should business leaders focus their efforts for developing their people?

Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri: Focus on your managers. They are the key. Developing your managers gives you a “multiplier effect.” They are closest to the line professionals, so if you train them well, you reach the broadest possible audience. They become your ambassadors of new ideas, innovative approaches, appropriate practices and positive culture. Furthermore, managers play an integral role in creating a diverse and inclusive environment for those that they manage.

Sullivan: Where have you focused at Goldman in developing your managers?

Vazquez-Ubarri: We believe our managers need to do three things. They need to listen well, adopt a servant-leader approach (where a leader’s primary focus is to serve their people) and bind their people to the firm, not to themselves as managers.

Sullivan: Talk to me about each of those.

Vazquez-Ubarri: Sure. Let’s start with the listening aspect. Managers have to know their people. You don’t get to know people by talking at them. You get to know them by listening to them. We train our managers to ask questions about their employees’ professional and personal experiences as it is critical for our professionals of all backgrounds to feel included and have their unique experiences recognized. That’s become more complicated as people manage remote teams and dispersed teams. If you’re managing people around the country or around the globe, the burden is on you as the manager to put in the effort to spend time with those team members you don’t see every day or have the chance to bump into in the hallway.

Sullivan: How can managers achieve this?

Vazquez-Ubarri: Technology certainly makes this easier. You can now meet “face-to-face” regularly with people or teams around the world. The impact of actually seeing someone rather than just talking to them is dramatic; so much more happens in the conversation. But the technology is only the tool. The manager herself must develop strong time-management skills, and we give her the tools and training to do so. At Goldman, we’re not into excuses. “I can’t develop my team as well because they are all remote.” That doesn’t fly here. We hold managers accountable to how well, how consistently, how uniformly, they are managing their teams, regardless of whether they are all in the same physical space or scattered across regions.

Sullivan: So being a good listener is paramount. What comes next?

Vazquez-Ubarri: We encourage managers to focus on the feedback they will be getting, instead of the feedback they will be giving. Obviously, we train our managers on how to delegate and give feedback to people. But we also help them understand how they will be evaluated, to make sure that they receive meaningful feedback from those around them. Sometimes, people think “servant leadership” is about being a nicer manager. It’s not about nice; it’s about effective. As a manager, if you are effective at developing your people, you are serving them well. That’s what it means to be in service of others.

Sullivan: What does it mean to “bind people to the firm,” and why is that important?

Vazquez-Ubarri: Every organization has a culture. For any professional, his or her direct supervisor is the purveyor of that culture. The senior leaders in an organization may believe deeply in, espouse and actually live the values they talk about. But if I’m a line professional, and my immediate manager doesn’t live those values in the way he interacts with me, I don’t experience the organization as holding those values. At Goldman we work hard to help our managers become self-aware. If I am conscious of my behavior, and understand my behavior, I can adapt my behavior to help grow other people. If I’m more self-aware, I’ll be more likely to help people adopt the values of the organization, rather than my own narrowed self-interests.

There’s no upside to having managers tie their teams to themselves. If you follow the first two steps, you’ll naturally bind people to the values espoused by the firm, because those are the same values you will hold dear.

Sullivan: If I hear you correctly, if I truly, deeply listen to the people I manage, I will be acting as a servant leader, which will, in turn, encourage my team to dedicate themselves to the organization, rather than to me. So, this all works seamlessly together.

Vazquez-Ubarri: It’s what we have been doing at Goldman for more than a decade. I can’t claim we have perfected it, but we work at it every day and our employees have confirmed that a better manager makes for a better firm.

Sullivan: Great advice. Thanks for sharing it with the broader business community.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

Posted in Coaching, Executive Presence, Leadership Skills, Women in Business