I’ve completed thousands of talent calibrations and talent reviews in my years as a talent leader for organizations. One common theme that comes up year after year regardless of leveling in the organization is the idea of having a good professional or executive presence.
Leaders are right, having an authentic professional presence can help you stand out, build a stronger network, accelerate projects, and accelerate career growth. Here are some tips to help you dial in your executive presence in the work that you do.
I think that this is the most important thing to remember for yourself as you work to strengthen this skill in your own leadership toolkit or as you are coaching others through this topic. Just because you have room for growth here doesn’t mean that you need to become someone you are not.
If you try to push your professional presence outside of your identity – coming into a room or conversation that doesn’t match your personality, it will fall flat with others. They’ll see your efforts as fake or inauthentic.
Authenticity doesn’t mean that you need to change how you speak and present yourself. It’s adapting to the level of the room, position, or need while being true to who is in the process.
You can find a deeper dive into the importance of being authentic at our previous show Be Yourself (Show 127)
Consistency means being reliable and dependable across all channels of communication. It also means delivering on your promises and following through on your commitments. Related to authenticity; are you one as one way while “on stage” and totally different when you interact with others? Inconsistency can also show up in how you communicate. Are you a great presenter or coach, but your emails are off-putting? Do you come across as confident and an expert in written communication, but unsure of yourself in difficult conversations?
Inconsistency can come from any number of areas and forms of communication and interactions. Check with your leaders, peers, and those on your team to get feedback on how consistent you are.
Hold their engagement
One of the secrets to good executive presence is the ability to grab, and keep someone’s attention and engagement. It means having something valuable and relevant to say or offer. You need to be able to communicate your message clearly and persuasively. It’s very important that you know your audience, your purpose, and your value proposition.
You can also hold someone’s engagement by leveraging data-driven storytelling and using different channels, mediums, and illustrations to reach your audience. Break up how you communicate to keep things fresh for the audience. Also remember where your audience is coming from and their perspective and knowledge, that will help you cater your message in a way that connects with them.
Areas to consider as you adjust to dial in your professional presence
Language: What words are you using as you communicate with others? Are there colloquials that you should avoid or industry speak that you need to stay away from or gravitate towards?
Your physical appearance: Do you look the part? In live settings, do you match what the expected audience is or are you over or under-dressed? For virtual environments is your lighting good and background complimentary?
Reading the temperature of the room: Having a good read on the room is vastly important as you strengthen your professional presence. Is the group lively or serious? How heavy of a topic or message are you trying to convey?
Be open to feedback as you continue to strengthen your professional presence. You’ll be a more effective leader and communicator as you interact with others.
A number of studies show that as an employee feels disconnected and unengaged with their work and their leadership, their likelihood of leaving the organization rises significantly. Check-ins, or formal times to sit down together and look at the larger picture, are key in order to keep people around for longer. Here are some ways check-ins positively impact your team, and the work they do.
Check-ins keep accountabilityin place
You’ve likely heard the term, “inspect what you expect.” It’s a phrase that’s used as a reminder to leaders that they shouldn’t lay out an objective and expect it magically come to a successful reality on its own. If it’s something that is important to you and the business, you need to check in on occasion to see how the progress is going.
Check-ins are great for shared accountability, and that’s a good thing. Some people think of the term accountable as only negative, like someone is being reprimanded. That’s not the case at all. The accountability in check-ins is to see that we’ve made our agreed-upon progress in the finalized timeline. It’s a chance to celebrate or course correct as needed as well.
Associates want that level of accountability and clarity as well. Imagine giving your best effort into a project only to realize that you are off the mark because the requirements changed as you neared the deadline. Check-ins are also a great time to hold their leader accountable for the resources and promises that were made during the last touchpoint.
Check-ins keep things from hitting critical mass
It’s fairly common to look at big HR cases and draw a line back to a much smaller set of circumstances that snowballed into a massive breakdown for the associate and the business.
Check-ins are a wonderful opportunity to discover those issues and course-correct them before they turn into monsters that you have to deal with later. During your check-in be sure to ask some things about the larger team and how relationships and dynamics are working (or not working). Understanding these situations early and having the willingness and managerial courage to step up to potentially difficult conversations will help prevent future escalations and flare-ups. You can literally save someone’s career by leveraging your relationship management skills during your check-ins.
Check-ins are a compass for career growth
One of the most common themes that employees give about their leader and organizations is that no one has a career aspirations conversation with them. No one has asked them what they want to be or do at the company! Now, some of that could be that the leader is afraid to ask because they don’t want to know the answer. It could also be generational. Noone asked ever asked the leader, so the leader doesn’t put much thought into it for their own team. Regardless of the reason for the disconnect, regular check-ins provide an easy avenue to have some career-focused discussions. Discover their aspirations and help them make connections and acquired needed skills between check-ins.
Check-ins show you care
Above all, check-ins show that you care about the other person. Your team knows that you have a busy schedule, so they appreciate and recognize the time that you take to sit down and have regular check-in conversations with them. It’s another great opportunity to build and strengthen a relational bond with the other person as well.
If you don’t currently have a regular cadence for check-ins, I’d encourage you to do so with your team. Block the time for the next year on both calendars to prevent the time and tasks from getting the best of your positive intent. Your people deserve a regular time when they can get clarity on the role, share personal and professional progress, and feel like they have a clear line of sight for the next step in their career.
If you want to know a simple move to come across to others as more likable, engaging, and enjoyable to be around, you need to understand one fact; most people love to talk about themselves. That’s not a negative about the other person, most people find personal value in sharing with others.
I’ve leveraged this knowledge several times in the past by going all in on asking a lot of great questions during my first few interactions with the person. It helps build rapport, fast-tracks relationships, and helps accelerate your career. Today we’ll look at how great questions can serve your relationship-building skills and help you discover problems before they escalate to become larger issues.
Ask great questions by listening
You’ll always want to start off with questions that get the person to open up and begin sharing information with you. Some good starting points include:
Open-ended questions around a shared purpose. This could be around the reason for the meeting or gathering. (What has been your favorite session at the conference so far? What are your thoughts on the CEO’s announcement last week? How do you think the recruiting season is going?)
Inquisitive in thier personal endevors. Questions that center on a person’s interests, hobbies, or passions are great starts to open a number of doors to further the conversation. (What gives you energy, What are you working on outside of the job that gets you excited?)
Listen to their reply for opportunities to dig further in or highlight a topic. (You said _______, tell me more about that.) This will continue a line of discussion until you have exhausted your questions or the topic naturally wraps itself up.
The secret to a great facilitator is their ability to navigate a conversation by listening to what is said and then asking follow-up questions. It may almost seem effortless as they guide the group through self-discovery or the right path forward. That should be your goal as well. Listen for the right points to send the conversation deeper while doing it in a way that seems natural. It shouldn’t feel forced, inauthentic, or clumsy.
Simplify your questions
There are going to be times when you have all sorts of thought-provoking questions in your head or you may really excited to hear more or receive additional details. As a result, you may bundle your questions without even realizing this.
I was recently at a conference where a local well-known entrepreneur gave the morning keynote address and had a Q&A at the end. There was no shortage of questions from the audience! One attendee asked something along the lines of, ” What made you want to do this, what continues to inspire you and what are your goals for the future?” Those are all great questions, but the speaker had to pause and took a moment to process the bundled questions, ultimately missing one of the questions altogether.
When you find your mind trying to bundle a bunch of questions, sort through them and pick up the most important 1 or 2. Ask one, and then the other as a follow-up if it’s still appropriate. You’ll keep your person engaged and get higher-quality answers as a result.
Shoot for the deep but be satisfied with the surface
Mining the depths of a person’s thoughts, motivations and insights can be invaluable to getting a better understanding of the person and the topic at hand. Remember that not all conversations will go into the inner crevices of your mind and soul. Think of those deep conversations as cave diving. The surface-level conversations that you have are the safety gear and support systems so that you can safely travel down below.
In conversations with some of my closest friends, we’ve discussed some very deep and personal topics. We’ll also talk about video games or running beforehand or afterward. Don’t be disappointed if a conversation doesn’t go as deep as you had hoped. Surface-level conversations carry value as well and provide a sense of trust and safety to go deeper into another conversation.
Don’t be afraid to ask a question
Be brave and ask those questions that may make you look naive. It is better to approach it on the front end and learn valuable information as opposed to playing along and being left in the dark in directions or walking away with the wrong information.
If the idea of putting yourself out there makes you nervous, address that as well to help you get through the conversation. I’ll often say something along the lines of, “Forgive my ignorance here, but can you tell me what _______ means?” or “This may be a naive question, but can you help me understand _____?”
Typically the other party is going to affirm that your question is in fact not dumb, and will be happy to help give more clarity. There is also a chance that someone else has the same question, but is too afraid to ask themselves.
Keep those questions coming! Great, thought-provoking questions, help you and those around you grow in knowledge and trust.
We all want to be heard, valued, and appreciated. Part of being heard and valued is actually letting other people fulfill that want and need. In order to effectively work with customers, co-workers, and even friends and family, you’ll need to leverage active listening skills in order to receive the whole message accurately and build trust with others.
Here are some tips to help you grow in your active listening efforts.
Clear the distractions
Think about all the distractions that you have going on around you on a daily basis. Your computer is pinging you with emails and instant messages, your phone is constantly nudging you and smart watches are pulling at you for a quick look. On top of all the technology barriers, are the real-life issues that you go through; maybe it’s a tough conversation that you need to have at work, relationship challenges in your personal life, or health issues that you going through. Distractions everywhere!
All of those distractions are barriers when it comes to actively listening to clients, co-workers and friends, and family. Here are some tips to eliminate the distractions around you:
Lose the electronics: Put away all of your electronics so they won’t be a distraction for you. That means taking the phone off the table, closing the laptop or tablet, or setting your CPU to sleep mode. When I traveled a lot in operations, I would enter my visit on the laptop while having my wrap-up conversations with the leader. I thought it was a great use of my time in being to log the visit while still giving the person the time to share what they wanted to. What I learned is that I wasn’t getting the true vulnerable information that I needed to hear, because they felt like I was distracted. I still entered in my visits before I left, but I made sure I listened to the important stuff before opening up my laptop to do work.
Use your eyes to help your ears. If you are easily distracted or prone to be a very detailed focus person, your eyes can work against you while trying to actively listen to someone else and most random things that catch your attention will draw it away from the person sharing information with you. Try to focus your eyes on the person while they share. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it will get easier with time. If locking eye contact is far out of your comfort zone, try it in small segments and then focus on something else close by.
Utilize your skills for active listening
Active listening is all about listening with the intent to learn. Here are five areas to consider in order to be a better listener to others.
Be attentive and lose the distractions!
Ask Questions: Ask open-ended questions to show your level of engagement and probing questions to dig further into the topic being discussed.
Reflect back: Paraphrase what you are hearing to confirm your understanding and reflect back on the feeling and tenor of emotion being communicated to you.
Get clarity: Don’t be afraid to ask for further clarification as needed.
Summarize: Summarize the conversation so the person feels good about their message being received and you have confidence in taking away the right message.
The benefits of active listening
Although all of your effort is going towards the other person, there are benefits that you will both receive as you strengthen your active listening skills.
It opens the road to building trust. Actively listening to someone shows that you genuinely care about them, their thoughts, and their opinions.
Increases your approachability with others. When people see and know that you are truly listening, it makes you more approachable as a person and as a leader.
Saves you time (and money). Having great listening skills helps ensure that you get the information right the first time. It also cuts down on needed follow-up and clarification later.
Helps cut off problems early. Taking the time to really listen to someone helps you pick on the small but important aspects of the conversation. You’ll have a better opportunity to dig into what is being said, and what is not being said and pick up on subtle clues from the person’s non-verbal communication.
Active listening doesn’t have to be hard once you’ve rid yourself of the distraction and are making an intent to be involved in the conversation. Show others you care by taking the time to listen.
Getting alignment with others can be something that you either look forward to or dread depending our your personality and the personality of the person that you need to interact with. Honestly, depending on the day and tasks ahead you can fall into both categories in a matter of hours. I know that I sometimes feel the same excitement and dread at the same time as well on occasion.
No matter whether you love to work with a person or a group or you just don’t get along with someone else, it’s essential to arrive at some shared alignment in order to be effective in meeting your goals and the shared goals of the team.
Understand your audience
One of the first steps to gaining alignment on a project, task, or strategy is to understand your audience. Solidifying your understanding of your audience will smooth out the process if done well and will throw in all kinds of roadblocks and frustration if not accounted for properly. Here are some tips to better connect with them as you gain alignment with others:
What is their communication preference? Get a good understanding of how the person performs to receive their communication and how they best process information. In one of my regular team meetings, I have a great associate that needs to see a visual to understand the details of where we are going. Others prefer to talk it out together.
Who really needs to be there? Sometimes a leader will say that they want to be involved only to later learn that someone else on their team is the right person. Other times the opposite is true. They delegate the meeting out, only to ask you for updates and add last-minute additions and preferences. Let the leader know your observations and ask for further clarification if you see a misalignment in this area. It’s not your job to fix the dynamics of another team, but you should work with them to get the right person in the proverbial seat to help get the alignment that you need.
What level of involvement do they want? This is where you may have some tension, especially if you are one to be agile and quick to act while another party wants to have oversight or be heavily involved in the decision-making process. Be willing to compromise here to the best of your ability and ask your leader for guidance if you are struggling in this area. Honor the person’s role and avoid turning the tension into something personal. At the end of the day, you likely want what’s best for the team and organization.
Be aware of your own work preferences and tendencies
We all have personal twerks about us and many of those will help or hurt you as you try to gain alignment with others. For me, when leading meetings, I have a tendency not to say much. I want to hear from others and I want them to feel like they are heard and have a voice on the item that we are all aligning on. This certainly helps us get to an agreed-upon solution faster.
I also have a tendency to pour in my focus and effort to knock out a project very quickly by myself. As a result of that speed and efficiency, I will sometimes neglect to include others or just give them a high-level status of what I am working on. Sometimes it’s not a problem, and other times I have to go back and spend time getting a party up to speed or even make changes based on feedback.
Having a good understanding of your preferences in work style and how you function and communicate to others will help you see how you need to adapt your style or capitalize on your strength.
Make the success about others and not yourself
It’s a great feeling to know that you accomplished something that will greatly impact others in a good way. Remember that alignment has everything to do with others and nothing to do with yourself. As a young leader, I would see these accomplishments as personal wins, I got what I wanted. As I matured, I saw the joy of shared success and seeing others celebrate the win just as much, if not more than me.
Take the personal drive for a win out of the equation and be sure to recognize and celebrate the shared success as you gain alignment with others.
The bigger the team and company, the bigger the need
If you are an entrepreneur leading a small team, or maybe you are a team of one…. there’s not much alignment needed, right? Look at yourself in the mirror, make your decision and move towards the goal! As the team grows, and the physical footprint of the company grows, so does the need for alignment.
For example, the need for alignment is critical to have any kind of success at a $100 Billion company. The complexity to gain that alignment can be very challenging. You may find yourself in an organization so big that you don’t even know who the stakeholders are perhaps until it’s too late. In large organizations, take the time to understand the playing field and who the players and key stakeholders are. The strength of your networking will pay off here as you connect with others to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table. Some tips as you work to gain alignment in large organizations include:
Be willing to slow down. Get everyone up to speed and include them on the journey. the larger the organization the more people will likely need to be involved.
Compromise when possible. Your priorities may not be the same as others, and in large organizations, it’s likely someone that you need to align with will not share the same priority or perspective as you. Remember the larger goal and be willing to adapt your plan and strategy for others.
As you personally gain more authority and influence, your need to gain alignment instead of going at it alone will increase as well. Remember to include others, adapt to others’ needs, and share the success together. You’ll be an effective leader that successfully impacts more people than ever before.