Thursday

Are Leaders Judged by Their Clothes?

So here's an interesting question to all you CEOs and future CEOs: do clothes make the man or woman?

What prompted this question was Mark Zuckerberg wearing a hoodie when he met with potential investors in NY this week for Facebook's IPO.

Here is what Bloomberg TV  reported:  "Wearing a hoodie to a meeting with potential investors is a sign of Zuckerberg's lack of seriousness, according to Michael Pachter, an analyst for Wedbush Securities. He's actually showing investors he doesn't care that much...I think he's got to show them the respect that they deserve because he's asking them for their money."

DO CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN OR WOMAN?
The real question is: how important are clothes in the year 2012? Some believe that how you look is as important as what you say or do.

Maybe that made sense in the 1950's, but when the late Steve Jobs can wear Johnny Cash black, and the President of the United States can wear a sport shirt with no tie,  well...we're in a different era.

Don't get me wrong, wearing an Armani suit never hurts! But today what you wear is not as critical as it used to be.

IDEAS AND ACTIONS MAKE THE MAN OR WOMAN
How you speak, what you say and how you act trump a hoodie any day. Today, it's the quality of your ideas and actions that help define a leader. Are you passionate? Do you speak with credibility and authority? When you act, are you decisive?  THAT'S what helps define a leader, not the suit or lack thereof.

So, all you hoodie wearing future CEOs can relax.   Stay informal, but, be sure you speak, think, and act like you're wearing Armani!








Sunday

STRONG LEADERS DON'T THINK


Do you communicate like a powerful leader? There are many hallmarks of powerful communication.  We discussed a few in our previous post, “Strong Leaders Use Strong Words.” But one phrase in particular bears a more detailed look: the phrase, “I think.”
Leaders who are comfortable with their opinions and ideas rarely use the phrase, “I think” or “In my opinion….” Both of these phrases tend to diminish the impact of what you are saying.
Imagine a president or prime minister saying, “I think we have a plan to get our economy back on track.” REALLY? You THINK it will get us back on track? Wouldn’t it be more powerful to say, “We have a plan to get our economy back on track.”
Or imagine a company leader saying, “I think we can beat the competition on all counts.” Wouldn’t it sound more decisive and powerful to say, “We’re going to beat the competition on all counts?”
Or if you were in a quarterly employee review, which would you rather hear: “I think you’ve done an excellent job…” or “You’ve done a great job.
So what’s wrong with saying, “I think”?  There are certainly times when it’s important to show that you are voicing your personal opinion. But in other cases, it shows you are tentative, that you don’t strongly believe in what you are saying. “I think” can be perceived as a weak response rather than a definitive statement.
There are times when a leader can and should voice a personal opinion. But when discussing your business, your plans, your strategy, or your employees, think carefully about whether "I think" is the best way to frame your idea. Do you think you want to be a powerful leader, or are you a powerful leader?

Tuesday

STRONG LEADERS USE STRONG WORDS


FIVE TIPS TO CREATE MORE POWERFUL LANGUAGE.



Strong leaders communicate with strong words.  The next time you send out an email or speak to your team or even your entire organization, keep these five points in mind to make your language more powerful.


Avoid wimpy words.  Some words make you sound tentative. Words like might, maybe, possibly, perhaps, and could. These all sound as if you are not sure or definite. Not a very good stance for a leader at any level.

Make statements. When you say “I think…” you are diminishing your strength. “I think we have a great vision in place.”  Really??? Make it a statement: "We have a great vision in place."

Use active voice.  Strong leaders do not use passive voice: "There is a considerable range of expertise demonstrated by our engineers."  A stronger statement would be, "Our engineers have a considerable range of expertise."

Use strong, action verbs. We created…we implemented…we maximized. Using strong action verbs is especially important when speaking. You can emphasize the verb with your voice to add additional gravitas.

Use shorter sentences. The longer the sentence, the less your message stands out and the weaker it becomes. So write and speak an important idea in a short sentence. It will not only be stronger, but more memorable.

So, whether you are a line manager or a CEO, you are judged by the language you use.  Using stronger and more powerful language can only enhance your image as a leader!




Saturday

Do You See a Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

You know the question: there's a glass with water at the half-way mark. Is it half-full or half-empty?

How you answer, is a key to your thinking and your leadership style.

Half-empty? You see a world full of problems. Half-full? You see the world as opportunities and possibilities and solutions.

Barbara Fredrickson, a professor of psychology who has studied this positive/negative perception for twenty years, says that our minds are like "flypaper for negative thoughts." Negative perceptions become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you think negatively, the more you might communicate and act the same way.

A PARADIGM FOR LEADERS

As a CEO or leader at any level, seeing the glass as half-full is critical to developing a world-changing vision.  But the positive mindset also helps you motivate others. Leaders with a glass-full mindset frame suggestions and even criticism differently: "Try developing your public speaking skills; I think it can really have a great impact on your career." 

That is very different from, "You're not a very good public speaker; I'd suggest getting some coaching in this area." Leaders with a half-empty mindset tend not to be great motivators,  and without motivated employees, it's hard to rally your troops around your vision or strategy.

The glass half-full leader frames ideas, strategy and motivation from a positive perspective. And ultimately, the positive perspective, a "can-do" attitude, can propel sales, innovation, as well as customer and employee loyalty. And isn't that what leadership is all about?


Monday

Are You a Catalyst?

Leaders at any level, but especially in the C-suite are movers.

They move a vision forward. They move plans and strategies toward a goal. They move the needle upward. But most of all, they move people.

If you can't motivate your teams, your great vision and strategy has no fuel in its engine.

PEOPLE ARE THE KEY TO VISION
Great leaders inspire their teams to action. They are catalysts to activity. So, how can you move teams to act and be a better catalyst?

By communicating with them. Communicate often. Communicate consistently. And communicate honestly and in person when you can. 

Social media and collaborative tools are now making executive communication easier. Regular updates, a monthly podcast or video-chat, a blog posting or quarterly virutal meetings are just some of the ways your vision and your motivation can spur your teams to action.

But don't just use social media. Pick up the phone and talk. Walk through the halls, stop in offices. Approachable leaders make an emotional connection with their teams, and when teams connect with you as a leader, you have a much higher chance of motivating and moving them to action.  Spend more time with employees (and customers!) and watch the ROI kick in.

Your office should be a place where you keep a computer and some files. It's not where you should spend most of your day!

Tuesday

Elevator Pitch: Tell a Story!

A good story captivates listeners.

Stories can be an integral part of your elevator pitch, so craft a relevant and compelling story that adds additional insights to who you are.

But...don't add the story in your opening. Save it as a second layer.

Once you've outlined who you are, the value you bring, and showed how you are a solution-provider, hopefully, you've hooked your listener. Most people will ask a question or comment. That is your cue to add a second layer to your pitch by telling the story of how you demonstrate you value.

Heroes and Villains

All good stories have heroes and villains.  In your executive pitch story, show how you fought against odds to bring success and profitability to your organization. Or demonstrate how you worked in a highly competitive landscape and brought in top accounts. The economy might be the villain or a tough competitive marketplace. But the key is, you were the victor.

Not only should your story outline how you fought the odds and won, let your listener know what you won. What were the productivity gains you realized? What was the value of the top accounts? Make the story real with the details that show your value.

By adding a story as a second layer to your pitch, you're demonstrating that your value goes beyond just an example or two: you've added depth and substance!



Sunday

Elevator Pitch Components: Prove It!

In previous posts we laid the foundation for your executive elevator pitch: differentiation and pitching your value.

The next component is to prove it!

You've already hooked your listener with what you do--hopefully, in a novel and unique phrasing  (see my elevator pitch on my Twitter page). Now, build out that value by demonstrating the specifics of what you do.

A Painful but Novel Approach
Don't just tell your listener how you do what you do.  It's not just your value you need to demonstrate. Anyone can say they are good or valuable. It's in demonstrating  or proving your value that your pitch becomes relevant.

Show them how you take pain away.

Create a problem-solution sentence that shows how you address challenges with your secret sauce and skills. You could also demonstrate what you prevent from happening (loss of revenue, profit erosion).

Your problem-solution could be specific challenges for your area ( the pain of a technology upgrade for example) or it could be a general problem that runs across all business lines (profitability).

The key is to show the specifics of how you address the challenge. A few real-life examples go a long way in demonstrating your executive presence.

Wednesday

Demonstrate Value in Your Elevator Pitch

This is a 2nd in a series on creating a powerful elevator pitch.

In our previous post, we talked about how differentiation is important in your elevator pitch. But so is demonstrating value.

Who are you, what do you do and what is the value you bring to the marketplace? That's the essence of a pitch.

What makes you valuable to the market is a critical part of riding
that elevator.

If your product or service or personal brand is going to make a mark, it has to bring something the market finds useful.

What Makes You Valuable?
Zero in on the value you create or bring:
  • What problem do you solve?
  • How do you increase profits or bring an ROI?
  • How do you create faster time to value?
  • What's the before/after like once you've worked your magic?
  • Do you make things demonstrably better?
Do have details and a brief case example to support your value statement, but save it for the 2nd tier of your pitch.

If your pitch only touches on what you do, you've missed a golden opportunity. People who deliver elevator pitches that demonstrate value, usually get asked follow-up questions.

And isn't that the best proof that your pitch is working?

Friday

First Rule of a Good Personal Brand Elevator Pitch


Differentiate.

If done right, it will get attention, solidify your brand, and leave a memorable impression. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it does take a bit of time and creativity to nail that differentiator. But well worth the effort.

Your executive brand needs to stand out from every other director, manager, VP, or business leader. If you define the opening of your pitch with your job role, you’re a commodity. No way you’re standing out.  

How many times have you heard someone introduce themselves as; “I’m Director of Marketing at Company X.” Big deal. There are probably tens of thousands of directors of marketing all over the planet. Your brand just got diluted.

The opening of your pitch might grab more mind-share if you define a unique trait or package yourself differently. For example:

I like to think of myself as a transformer (no, not Metal Monster kind). My name is Bob Smith, and I help transform company business processes.

OR

I’m a silo buster. As Director of Virtual Services for Company X, I create collaboration strategies so our employees abandon their silo mentality and collaborate cross functionally.

My own elevator pitch positions me very distinctly.  I tell people,  “I’m a butterfly killer.” You can find the rest of my pitch on the left side of my twitter page: http://twitter.com/#!/loraineantrim

Bottom line, the first few seconds of your pitch is prime real estate. Avoid placing  job description first, and position yourself in a different and memorable way.

Wednesday

How NOT to Begin an Elevator Pitch

The classic elevator pitch is a beautiful thing...when executed correctly. It's a critical tool for any executive at any point in a career.

Telling the world who you are, what you do and the value you bring is a key differentiator, and it is a tool that should be in every executive's strategic tool bag.

But how do you start an executive elevator pitch? Well, first, let's get bad habits out of the way. Let's look at how NOT to start.

Where's Your Value?
Many people begin their pitch with their name and then describe their job title:
"I'm John Smith, Director of Sales at Company X."

How boring. Where's the value? It's all about you, not what you bring to your organization, clients or the marketplace.

Why not begin with something of VALUE?
  • What are you doing to impact the market?
  • Why are you relevant?
  • What problem do you solve?
  • How do you change customers' lives?
  • What makes you unique and valuable?
  • Why should you listener be intrigued or care?
If your pitch begins with any of the above, you are miles ahead of most elevator pitches. Stay tuned for our next post on how to begin your pitch.

Thursday

Can You Ride the Elevator?

Can you answer this question: "Who are you and what do you do?"
Here's the hard part: can you answer in thirty seconds or less?

The classic elevator pitch: describing the value of your company or product or your own personal brand in a succinct but memorable way. It's one of the hardest ideas for an executive or manager to communicate.

But, if you can master this pitch, it's an awesome accomplishment.

Elevator Pitch Components

In the next few posts, we'll look at the elements that make up a good executive elevator pitch.  By understanding the essential components, you can help hone your value-sell, but the first step is to understand the rationale for any executive pitch.

As a business leader, your ability to define who you are, what you do and the value you bring to the marketplace is critical.  On some levels, we can look at leaders as a commodity. There are millions of managers and executives all over the planet who are good at what they do.  Thousands of CEOs.  Even within your own organization, how many vice presidents are there or directors or managers? So what makes you any different?

Your ability to hone a solid value pitch helps you differentiate. Plain and simple. And in today's crowded market, that ability is golden.

In our next few posts, we'll analyze the elements of a great executive elevator pitch so you can further help differentiate your product, service, company and even your own personal brand. Stay tuned!

Monday

Do You Have the Guts to Fail?

Most leaders are groomed for success and strive for it. Not necessarily the best move, according to Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington.

Washington spoke to the University of Pennsylvania's graduates today, and his advice on failure is one that CEOs and executives of any level should take to heart.

In his commencement address, Washington told graduates of his failures, but most importantly, he told them what he learned from those failures. He asked the new grads, "Do you have the guts to fail?'  Then hit them between the eyes with, "If you don't fail, you're not even trying."

Great advice for newly minted grads, but even better advice for business leaders.

Push yourself to take risks, try innovative technologies, explore new strategies. If you fail--and you will--take what you've learned and make yourself better and stronger.

Too big to fail? Only if your ego gets in the way.

Tuesday

Would You Rather Be Feared or Loved?

"Is it better to be feared or loved?" That is a classic question that Machiavelli asked leaders in his seminal work, The Prince.

COMMAND & CONTROL
Some business leaders lead with a heavy hand: it's all about command and control. What they say, goes. It's the equivalent of being feared.

Think of the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld or the other famous Donald, Mr. Trump.  They don't seem to be the collaborative types. When they make a decision, it's final. As Mr. Trump might say, "You're fired"! No discussion; decisions made behind closed doors in the boardroom.

There are many times when this type of leadership is wanted, even necessary. During political upheaval or in time of war, or when a company is in crisis,  command and control might be the most effective form of leading.

AN OPEN, COLLABORATIVE MINDSET
But for the most part,  a more collaborative, open style will get more effective results. That does not mean waiting for your team to come into your office. It means getting out and about. Asking questions, listening, actively seeking input. Drawing people in, not driving them away.

Letting a team or whole organization know that you value their opinions can help spur innovation and drive to results. An open, collaborative style earns respect and fosters input.

With all respect to Mr. Machiavelli, it's not a matter of being feared or being loved, it's a matter of being effective, and these days, an open door policy is more effective than a closed door.



.

Monday

Where Do Leaders Spend Their Time?

Look at your typical day:
Are you a Blackberry or iPhone addict? Constantly in meetings?  Hours of emails and PPTs? Spending too much time on Twitter? Or on the golf course talking to clients?
Bottom line: Where do you spend most of your time? 

That question was asked of CEOS in a fascinating study appearing in Harvard’s Working Knowledge. The researchers asked that question of close to 100 CEOs in Italy, and you might be very surprised by some of the results:
  • Most of the CEOs spent 42% of their time with employees (insiders). 
  • CEOs gave 16% of their time talking in one-on-ones with outsiders.
  • Internally, the finance department got the most time, (average 8.6 hours per week). HR got the least CEO face time: 5.5 hours per week.
  • Among outsiders, consultants sucked up a lot of CEO time, on average, 4.7 hours per week. 
  • Suppliers get the least attention, or only 1.3 hours per week.
  • As CEOs worked more hours, those extra hours went to meetings with employees.
YOUR DESK IS YOUR ENEMY
The big take-away is that for these leaders, almost half of their time is spent interacting with internal folks and that resulted in increased productivity: a 1% increase in hours spent with internal people increased productivity by 2.12%.
So, the bottom line for all business leaders might be this: think of your office and desk as distractors. Put down the ipad, read less spreadsheets, stroll the halls and get out there and spend time with your staff. Ask them questions, find out about their challenges and solutions. Talk more and Twitter less!
You and your company will be better off for it!

Wednesday

Great Leaders are Short

Really effective leaders "get" the idea of short. No, not the kind of short as in a Napoleon complex.

Rather, effective leaders deeply understand that time is in short supply for everyone. 

In an age of Twitter, few people have the time or mindset to read lengthy emails or listen to a voice-mail that is five minutes long, or hear an update that rambles and just goes on and on.

SHORTER IS BETTER

Effective leaders at any level can "up" their executive presence by delivering almost all forms of communication in a shorter manner.  Of course, there are always exceptions, but in general, you might consider the following guidelines:

1. Voice-mails.  Aim for 30 to 60-seconds. If it takes longer to deliver than one minute, perhaps the message really needs to be delivered in a live call or face-to-face.
2. Emails. One to two brief paragraphs. If you need to go slightly over, then use 3 or 4 bullets. Again, if it takes longer to compose, then perhaps email is not the best vehicle.
3. Presentations. Twenty minutes. Shorter is definitely better when presenting a slide deck. Audience attention and retention drops off after twenty minutes.

A very good brand to cultivate as a leader is someone who is to-the-point, concise and no nonsense.

So, as Napoleon, Toulouse Lautrec, and Danny DeVito all know,  sometimes being short has a definite up side!

Monday

Leadership Strategy: Touch Hearts and Minds

Leaders who can touch  hearts as well as minds have a lasting impact. Better yet, their messages resonate...they're memorable.

Want to see one of the best examples of how you can communicate and make an emotional connection?

Take a look at Apple's new iPad 2 ad. Not only is Apple's mission and DNA addressed, the company executives are communicating a vision and plan that resonates far beyond their product. They're touching our emotional center. Smart!

Whether you are a CEO or a manager of a small team, take a lesson from the leadership at Apple. Extend your leadership brand. How? 

Don't just deliver business messages that only resonate in the mind. Talking about your product or service, your quarterly results, your initiatives or your latest update is important.  No question.

But...

The next time you address your teams, think about rallying them with a message that has emotional impact as well as business impact. Your leadership brand will thank you!

Tuesday

Inspiring: Best Leadership Trait

We all want inspiration.

As individuals we look for it in a number of ways, but in business organizations, we look to our leaders for inspiration.

No matter if you are a CEO or a leader of a small team, inspiring your followers is what great leadership is all about.

So how do you light the fire, get people jazzed and inspired?

Passion. Pure and simple.

Passion comes through in your voice, your mannerisms, and your words. If you can't show your teams that you are excited about a project or your vision, how can you expect them to excel and innovate?

So, what three things can you do to turn your passion on, make it more noticeable and get your teams inspired?

1. Inspire with your voice. Whether you're speaking on the phone, to a small group, or in one-on-one conversations, make your voice sound like you're jazzed.  That means  project a little more, modulate your voice a bit, put some umph behind your words.  Get a sense of energy in your voice and watch how contagious that energy can be!

2. Inspire with gestures. Let your teams see that you want to grab the world by the tail and spin it around! Static leaders are not inspiring. Use your natural gestures and mannerisms, get your hands involved as you talk, smile more, and visually connect with your listeners. No one is inspired by cardboard leaders who don't move. Act as if you live life to the fullest, you DO, don't you?

3. Inspire with stories. Great leaders tell stories. Inspire your teams by telling a story of someone overcoming insurmountable odds, or reaching beyond a goal, or surviving a tragedy.  The story can be from literature or the movies or a customer or friend. The key is to offer an example that gives your teams a model of inspiration.

Good leadership requires business acumen and financial know-how, but it's the personal traits like being inspiring that takes your leadership from good to great!

Saturday

Agility: Best Leadership Traits

"He's a great guy, but not a great leader."
How many times have you heard that in your organization? It might be directed to a team leader or, unfortunately at the executive suite.

So how do you go break away from being a "great gal" to a great leader?

In the next few posts, we'll look at some of the "must have" leadership traits that can get you from good to great.  First on the list: AGILITY.

THE DNA OF AGILITY

Agility: the ability to move or think quickly and easily.  Sounds simple. But in the world of business, obstacles are thrown on your track everyday.  How do you stay agile?

1. Push the envelope. Agility happens when people get exited about a new project, not the same old same old.
2. Create fast & collaborative channels of communication. You need to communicate quickly to teams about progress, mandates, updates. Build a communication framework that allows communication at the speed of light, not a meeting next Tuesday at 10.
3. Focus on execution.  It's all about performance. Remove slow processes and obstacles to innovation. Drink in Nike's "Just DO it!" mantra and make it your default mindset.
4. Think like a start-up.  If your team or organization has processes, departments and mandates like the federal government, you'll never be agile unless you cut the bloat. Start-ups don't have that bloat. Adopt the entrepreneurial mindset and instill it in your staff, and watch how things speed up.
5. Give permission to throw things. Make it clear to your staff that if they have an idea, they have a forum. Throw around ideas in collaborative brainstorming, rather than committee after committee of reviewing results.

To see a real-world example of agile thinking, you just have to look at Dr. David Ferrucci and his team  at IBM who built Watson, the computer who won on Jeopardy.

Think like Dr. Ferrucci...stay focused...gut the processes that bog you down, and take off!

Stay tuned for our next leadership trait!

Sunday

THE VISIBLE LEADER


People want leadership…they’re thirsty for it…

That line is from Aaron Sorkin’s great 1990’s film, “The American President.”  If anyone hasn’t seen it, the film offers some amazing insights into what real leadership is via Michael Douglas’ character of President Andrew Sherherd.

Sorkin’s quote holds true today as well, especially in large business organizations.  We WANT a leader to emerge who offers guidance and who communicates a vision and strategy that we can rally around. 

But that only happens if you ARE visible and have channels of communication set up to reach your employees.

VISIBILITY

Visibility means not hiding behind your desk and collaborating in secret.  It means getting out and asking questions and listening to staff. It means openly soliciting ideas and feedback. Visibility also means having a time and place to communicate: not just for the sake of communicating and taking up valuable time, but when there is a definite reason to speak. Call it Communicating with a Purpose.

It’s more than the annual company meeting or sales event. Real leaders have set channels of communication to make sure they are visible and that their messages get heard.

We’ll continue our next post with a discussion of what those communication channels can be in an age of Twitter and Web 2.0.

In the meantime, rent “The American President” or, if you like, go back and look at episodes of  "The West Wing".  Sorkin turned his award-winning movie into the Emmy winning West Wing series with Martin Sheen. Either way, take a cue from Douglas and Sheen's highly visible leaders. 

Next post: channels of communication

Wednesday

CHARLIE SHEEN'S LEADERSHIP LESSONS?

Speaking badly in public.  It now has a name: “Pulling a Charlie Sheen.” 

Charlie Sheen and leadership lessons in the same sentence? 

No way, you say.

No matter what you think of the Two and a Half Men actor’s rants, and no matter what the cause for this behavior, there are lessons all leaders can take away from Mr. Sheen’s recent behavior. It's more about looking at Sheen's behavior as a template for what NOT to do.

Whether you are speaking internally or externally, talking to the media or to a group of team members or even customers, there are five speaking behaviors to avoid.   

Let’s call them the “Don’t Do What Charlie Did” list: 

1.    Don’t speak off the cuff.  Have a preplanned agenda. It can be as simple as two main points, but stick to your planned ideas.  The worst thing you can do is have no thought of what you will be saying next. And reporters or even customers can ask questions that can pull you away from your agenda. Stick to your plan!
2.    DON’T RAMBLE. There should be a logic to what you will be talking about. Listeners like a sense of structure, an easily followed “first, second, third” flow of ideas. Try to connect the dots for your audience so they can follow your logic.
3.    DON’T ANSWER IMMEDIATELY. When a tough question comes up from a team member or customer, take a few seconds to gather your thoughts. No one is going to time how many seconds you took to respond. Be pensive and think through your response.
4.    DON’T LET YOUR EGO SHOW. No one likes someone who is full of himself. Stop talking about how great you and your plans are.  What would this audience like or need to hear? Make your statements outward facing, not inward.
5. DON'T TALK UNLESS YOU HAVE SOMETHING OF VALUE TO SAY!
 When speaking in public, whether you're a movie star or a manager, you need to have
focus, direction and a message that people can understand!

Tuesday

Are You an Oak or Willow Tree?

Imagine a strong wind; a hurricane force gale.  Now think of the trees around your house. You watch them sway and rock, hoping one does not fall on your roof.

If one does topple, it will probably be an oak.

Oak is a very rigid tree that is famously strong. But, it's that rigidity that will cause it to go down. The wind comes and the tree has only one option: stand there, rigid and unmoving.

That kind of strength can sometime be suicide.

An Alternative to Oak

In that same storm, the willow will find a way to adapt. It will move in such a way that no matter how forceful the gale, it bends. That's how it survives. It has an adaptive strategy.

OK, you get it.  Some leaders are like oak trees. They have a very rigid leadership style. They never adapt...never transform their thinking...never consider alternatives. At times, this might be an effective strategy, but what happens when the winds of change become gale force?

Willow vs. oak?  In the hurricane, my money is on the willow!

Saturday

Five Tips For Speaking About Your Vision

Real leaders talk about their vision. That was the focus of our last post.

Any leader can show vision: leaders of a team or project...leaders of a business unit...or a leader of an organization. It's about letting your team know where you see them in the foreseeable future.

But what makes up a great vision?

Here are five tips for bringing your vision to life. A vision should be:

1. Simple.  If your vision is so complex that only an engineer can understand it, then you've lost an opportunity to rally your troops.
2. Memorable. Vision statements that are too long, can't be remembered. If your team can't easily remember your vision, how can they work toward that vision?
3. Actionable. An effective vision is one that we can act upon...that's doable. For example, J. F. Kennedy's vision was to have America put a man on the moon, not the Andromeda galaxy.
4. Conversational. The best visions are ones that are in plain, everyday language, deliver your vision the way you really speak, not in some formal "vision statement." Be yourself!
5. Motivational. Your vision should rally your troops...give them something to dream about...get them charged up.

One final thought about a leader's vision...dream BIG! You have your own moon to reach!

Wednesday

The Vision Thing

Can you see into the future?  Get a glimpse of what your company, organization or business unit will be like in three years?  How about five?

It's the vision thing.

Some of the world's greatest leaders know the power of vision.  Take Jack Welch.  His thoughts on vision are classic:
"Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion."

No matter where you are in your career, in the boardroom or on the way to it, articulating your vision can help your executive brand and spur productivity to advance your product or service.

A VISION GUIDES YOUR TEAM
Painting a picture of where your organization is going is critical to directing your troops.  Everyone needs to have a clear view of an end goal. By framing your vision into a clear statement, you help guide your teams to action...give them a focus for their quarterly or yearly activities.

But it's more than just a statement. A vision has certain requirements if it is to be an actionable vision.

In our next few posts, we'll examine what constitutes an effective vision and how you can articulate this vision to your teams. Stay tuned!

Thursday

Executive Communication Tip

Executive Building Blocks
Many executives have great ideas, but when they speak, those ideas sometimes get buried in too many words.

Whether you're addressing  colleagues, speaking in a company meeting,  or talking to customers,  if you communicate and few listeners "get" what you are talking about, you've wasted an opportunity.  

One way to help your listeners is to structure your ideas in logical patterns. Think of ordering your ideas as logical building blocks.

The Power of Three
We tend to remember ideas that have a logical structure. 
When speaking (and writing) organize ideas as First, Second, Third. 
You don't want every idea to come out in threes, but for critical communication, structure is an easy way to help your listeners.  
You can vary your structure a bit by using "time" words instead of numbers: next, after thisfollowing this, work just as well.
The key is to make it easier for your listeners/readers to follow your ideas...now that's executive communication at its best!

Tuesday

Twitter as Your Executive Coach?


Executives might consider Twitter as their new executive communication coach. Don't scoff. It can be a highly effective teacher of powerful communication strategies. And cost-effective!

Best of all, you don't have to actually post on Twitter to become a better communicator. Just reading good tweets can teach business leaders impressive ways to package their communication.
Hmmm. Am I putting myself out of a job?

A Time and Place for Twitter-Speak
Twitter's character limit is obviously not the best choice for all types of executive communication. For example, creating your vision or mission statement or designing a new sales strategy dictates more than 140 characters. But in terms of communicating those ideas, well, you can't beat lessons from the world of Twitter.

Here are five best practices Twitter can teach CXOs about communicating verbally as well as when writing.


Communication Lessons from Twitter
1. Net it out.
The 140 character-limit forces us to think in terms of a main point. Make it, edit non-essential details, and move on.

2. Offer value-rich content.
Have something worthwhile to say. If you're not informing, inspiring or motivating your troops, hold off on communicating.

3. Be conversational.
No one likes to read or hear a business leader droning on in corporate speak. Talk like a real human being and have a compelling conversation.

4.
Use precise words. Twitter forces us to rethink the power of words and phrases and chose a precise vocabulary. "Align our company strategy to customer priorities." UGH! How about, "Think like the customer."

5. Listen to your audience. It's not always about what you want to say. Think about what your audience needs to hear.

6. Don't tweet people to death! That might mean cutting back on the amount of your corporate communications. Keep the channels of communication open, but don't overload.

Practice Makes Perfect
Learning to communicate in a succinct and powerful way takes practice. Start with your emails, move on to voice mail, then your blog, and once you feel comfortable, roll-out Twitter-speak into your meetings and presentations. Concise CXO-speak makes for happier employees!

P.S. All the sentences in this post are under 140 characters!

Sunday

Amelia Earhart: Lessons for Leaders

How much courage do you have? Enough to lead a global team or complete a difficult IT initiative on time or come in under budget? Child's play.

Don't brag too much. If you can accomplish these, you're simply par for the course.

Want to demonstrate real courage…true accomplishment? Test your mettle and show uncommon leadership? Pull an Amelia.

"PULLING AN AMELIA"

Take fifteen hours out of your life, all alone, no sleeping, sitting in a compartment no bigger than a box, and fly across the Atlantic as you watch ice form on your plane's wings and fire shoot out of your engine's exhaust pipe. That was Earhart's day on May 20, 1932. Raw courage.

Makes meeting your budget seem paltry, doesn't it?

Amelia Earhart lived life with courage and grace and a bit of humility. You could do no better than to look to this uncommon leader for inspiration.

The upcoming movie on Amelia Earhart's life, starring Hillary Swank, got me thinking about this iconic pioneer-hero and what business leaders can learn from her unflinching tenacity and courage.

In rereading her books, 20 Hours, 40 Minutes [the time it took for her first Atlantic crossing] and The Fun of It, I came across a number of quotes that could inspire any business leader:

AMELIA EARHART'S QUOTES FOR LEADERS
  • Decide whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying.
  • Worry retards reaction and makes clear-cut decisions impossible.
  • The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is merely tenacity.
  • Fears are paper tigers.
  • You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure. The process is its own reward.
  • Preparation, I have often said, is rightly two-thirds of any venture.
  • Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn't be done.
The next time you're wavering, faltering or not focusing, take inspiration from my all-time favorite Amelia quote: "The most effective way to do it, is to DO it."

Post-script to Nike: shouldn't you at least footnote Lady Lindy when you use your/her tag line?

Saturday

The Language of Leadership

Have you ever taken your car in for service and heard the mechanic talk to you about a cracked manifold? (VERY nasty, BTW). Or maybe you've gone to a doctor who told you your symptoms indicated preliminary Pharyngitis and you needed a broad spectrum, BID?

All you're thinking is, "This is so much blah, blah, blah...speak plain English!" Great advice. But why don't business leaders take it?

No matter what industry you're in, you have your own jargon. Whether you speak in IT ( God help us all on this one), health care, engineering, or construction, you have a specialized language, insider buzzwords and idioms. Many of them are vague and at times unintelligible, even to the insiders!

Say it So Your Grand Mother Can Understand It!

The best advice for leaders is to use plain-speak. Cut the jargon, stop using acronyms, and approach every speech, every email, every presentation as an opportunity to show how brilliant you are using your own words and language!

Imagine that your grandmother is in the audience. Naturally, she is a very intelligent woman since she has a grandson/daughter as a business leader!

Do you think she understands ROI, TCO, ERP, bandwidth, ALAP, scalability, flexibility or cross platform? How many "regular folks" do you have in your audience who might be the same as your grand mom? Intelligent listeners, who might miss out on an idea because you used too many in-terms and jargon of your industry.

The key to communicating like a true leader is to know your audience. Use a language everyone can understand.

That means think like and write for the audience! So, if you are a medical researcher speaking at a conference of neurosurgeons, you know that your audience can handle the scientific buzzwords. OK, they can get into radioactive isotopes and acoustic neurinomas.

But unless you are sure that everyone of your listeners is tuned-into jargon, better to go broad and just be yourself without the acronyms and in-lingo. Think of Oprah or Ronald Reagan. No one scratched their heads and looked confused after they spoke. But most of all, think of your grandmother and make her proud!

Sunday

Top Ten Executive Mistakes


Want to feel old? Sixteen years ago today, 30 August 1993, The Late Show with David Letterman premiered on CBS. Where has the time gone?

Letterman, for most people, is synonymous with his 'Top Ten List.' It's such a part of our culture that The Top Ten List even has its own Wikipedia entry. Fun trivia, you're thinking, but how does this relate to executives?

Executives and lists have a long history together. Business leaders love to make lists, they hand out lists, they read lists. Lists are popular with everybody. You can't pick up a leading newspaper without finding a list of something. Everybody does lists: Business Week, Newsweek and dozens of other business journals, and Forbes has lists that go far beyond the top ten. They trump everybody with their list of the Top 100.

So, in honor of Letterman's anniversary, here is The CXO Mindset's List of the Top Ten Ways to Get Kicked Out of the C-Suite:

The Top Ten Executive Mistakes

Mistake Number 1: Talk too much and don't actively listen to your team's concerns.

Mistake Number 2: Don't take responsibility when you've messed up.

Mistake Number 3: Have lots of ideas, but don't execute on any of them.

Mistake Number 4: Think you can do it all, and don't delegate power and responsibility.

Mistake Number 5: Give presentations that have no inspiration or vision.

Mistake Number 6: Think that what got you into the C-suite will keep you in the C-suite.

Mistake Number 7: Rely on people you like vs. people with skills.

Mistake Number 8: Don't communicate to your staff on a regular basis.

Mistake Number 9: Stay isolated from the "shop floor."

Mistake Number 10: Do not "give back" to all the people who helped you get into that C-suite office.

Thursday

Powerpoint: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Some leaders have minds that are as logical and clear as a bell. We listen to these executives speak and immediately connect with their ideas. They are genuine human beings. And of course, all readers of The CXO Mindset are such genuine human beings and communicators!

But...a strange thing happens to some execs when they get near a Power Point deck. A pod person takes over. Invasion of the Body Snatchers redux.

Invasion of the PPPs

Why do otherwise bright and brilliant minds end up going South when they create a PowerPoint deck? It's as if all good sense and brain juices just get drained and flushed away. And a clicker-obsessed PPP takes over (Power Point Pod Presenter). These presenters speak differently, in a stilted non-conversational way. They're like robots reading a prescribed script, and they are certainly NOT genuine.

But most importantly, they think differently when under the influence of PPT. You're probably thinking, "Why should I care?" Well, think of your Power Point deck as a mirror of how you think and process information, and it is a big clue to what kind of leader you are.


A Scary Mind

The absolute scariest example of PPP thinking is from the halls of the US government (no real surprise here...). Congressman Kevin Brady distributed the following chart to show how he envisioned the current health care plan playing out.

Warning: the faint-of-heart should just look away...

OK, I know the engineers reading this blog are saying, "Wow! Nice chart!' But this is NOT an engineering schema; it's an organizational chart of the U.S. proposed health care plan. This was designed for business users and US citizens, not engineers. It would probably frighten most voters.

What's really scary about this chart is what is says about the author's mind: how he thinks and sees the world. Can you imagine the chuckles, moans and side comments when this slide came up in the Senate?

Lessons for PPPs

What's the take-away from Congressman Brady's ridiculous chart? Don't imitate it!

Your slides should help simplify your teams' world!

Let your organization see you as a leader who cuts through complexity. When they see your slides, they should sit up and be interested, not groan and take out their Blackberrys. Your slides are a reflection of how your mind works...how you see the world...the connections you make and the way you process information. More importantly, your slides are a snapshot of how you lead.

The next time you or your staff put a deck together, bring out the Health Care slide as a reminder. Your manta should be, "I will not be a PPP! And I won't pull a "Congressman Brady!"

The BEST Executive Decision


Tweet alert. Almost 100 years ago on August 20th, The Times "telegrammed" the first message for global distribution. The simple sentence: This message sent around the world, comes in at six words, 35 characters. (Was this the original tweet?)

OK, cool trivia, but as a busy executive, why should you care?

The Times' historic "tweet" got me thinking. Can we communicate like the NY Times telegram ? From a communication standpoint, think of this anniversary telegram as a gauntlet of sorts. Take up the tweet-headline communication challenge.

(BTW, If you want to feel REALLY old, try to explain to your teenager what a "telegram" is and how it got transmitted..)

Get Memorable: Think in Headlines

Do you want your teams to remember your messages? Think like a headline!

It's tough for teams to retain information when they're bombarded with emails, voice-mails, tweets, presentations, VODS, face-to-face meetings, etc.

Take a lesson from the Times (and Twitter): scale down the length of your initial sentences. Think in terms of a concise and focused headline. It's one of the best executive decisions you'll ever make.

Strategic Editing

Now, I'm not suggesting that every sentence be limited. But how you begin an idea is a critical place for a headline or tweet. The shorter, the more memorable. That means in:

  • Emails: the subject line should be a compelling "headline."
  • Voicemails: after you say, "hi", the next ten seconds should announce or "tweet" the main point of the call.
  • Presentations: the title should be on one line, and it should be a value-rich message, not a factoid.
  • Face-to-face meetings: Announce the initial idea or main point as a headline.
  • VODs: Absolutely critical that you frame your ideas succinctly. Remember, most people are multi-tasking. Grab them with a verbal headline that is a 3-5 second soundbite.
No matter what the communication venue, frame your initial idea concisely. Make it a communication best practice. You'll set the tone for targeted, focused communication and gain an uptick in memorability!

Saturday

Leadership Lessons from Woodstock

How can you not escape the Woodstock hype on this, the 40th anniversary weekend of THE event of the sixties? Peace, love and music are everywhere in the news.

No matter what your feelings for this sixties meta-marvel, you have to admit, it DID shape a generation. So what you say! Fair enough.

But before you dismiss the media obsession with Woodstock, get creative...amid the hype and the hyperbole, there actually might be s
ome leadership lessons for managers, directors, vice presidents and yes, even CEOs. Groovy!

What can we take away from the the folks who peaced-out at Yasgur's farm in 1969 and apply to how we manage and lead?

Lessons in Collaboration

The big take-away from Woodstock is a lesson in collaboration.

Think of a half-million strong crowd and the potential for harm and mayhem. But cooler heads prevailed because people were respectful and listened, and took stock of the needs of others.

How can you apply that collective
model of sharing to how you lead your teams?

1. Communicate Freely. OK, you're not going to share a blanket in your
team's meeting (or other substances that we only read about...), but the open channel of communications that was Woodstock's hallmark is a very effective model. There was heated debate over Vietnam war philosophies, but everyone had a voice. As you think about how you interact with your team, are you a "command and control" project manager or a collaborative leader who actively seeks input and drives to consensus? The latter is the model that many progressive companies and leaders are making a defacto standard.

2. Control Expectations. Half a million free-loving and substance-loving radicals
all together in one place had the potential for disaster. How to control the crowds? Control their expectations. Every banner, every poster spoke to two things: peace and music.

As you motivate and lead your teams, how can you control their expectations for outcomes? Clearly define your goals at every meeting so your troops know exactly what is expected of them. Verbalize it often and put it in writing if you must, but let people know exactly what they should do or not do.

3. Turn Their Passion On. Whether it was Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or The Who, music is what everyone came for, and that common bond untied and inspired the crowds.

What can you offer your teams and your organization that is inspirational? Whether you're an IT project manager trying to motivate 20 engineers to rally around a virtualization initiative or a CEO trying to get your sales force back on track, find a common cause that all team members can relate to, and then inspire and motivate them.

40-years ago, in a place as far removed from corporate America as you possibly could get, Joni Mitchell sang about how "we are stardust...we are golden...." Wouldn't it be great if you could inspire your teams to feel that THEY were golden? Take out that old Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young CD and get inspired again!

Friday

Leadership Stripped Bare

Can leadership be boiled down to just three basic lessons?

Whether you're a retail team supervisor with a staff of three, an IT project manager overseeing 20 engineers, or a CXO leading thousands of disparate employees, it's a provocative question.

Really, it's a great question to get the executive juices going and a wonderful conversation to have over a glass of wine (but it's GOT to be a hearty
zinfandel...no lack luster Chadonnays or Pinots for such a heady discussion).

Think of all the leadership advice you've gleaned from blogs, books, seminars, videos, self-help manuals and mentors. Can all that wit and wisdom be concentrated in three "must have" lessons for business leaders at any level?

Leadership Lessons Stripped Down to Basics

A recent
Harvard Business blog post by Anthony TJAN did boil down the core of leadership in a conversation with Dick Hampton, former CEO of Reuters. Hampton said that what he learned in his twenty years at the helm was three things:

1. You have to have an "approximately correct" strategy -- you have to know where you are going, but directionally correct is the key.

2. You have to be highly focused and intensely execute that strategy by motivating and aligning the troops you have. And

3. It always comes back to the customers and the fact that you have to manically know your customers and drive everything from that.


Bravo to Mr. Harrington! It might very well be that the core of great leadership is just that simple. Sometimes we so over-think things. We need a process; we need flow charts; we need consensus-building; we need a methodology; we need technologies. Maybe what we need is simplicity.

How about the power of three simple lessons: have a clear vision and know where you want to go, be able to articulate that vision to your team(s) and get them to execute on it, and at the core of everything is the customer or end-user: think like the customer in everything you do. If that's not the best three lessons for leaders, at least it's one heck of a start!

Go ahead...whether you're having this leadership discussion or not, have that glass of zin. You deserve it!