New exec tip: take it slow

November 29, 2010

Q: I am the first woman in my organization to be promoted to the executive team. I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform. How can I create a powerful presence so that my perspectives and leadership style will be accepted?

A: First there’s no need to prove yourself. A 19-year study showed that 25 of the top Fortune 500 firms that promoted women into the executive suite were 20-80 per cent more profitable than the medium firms in their industries.

New members provide the team with a valuable point of view that can provide more sound decision-making for a homogeneous team. As part of this team, you are responsible to bring your unique perspective to the table so that it’s heard and considered even though it may not be accepted and adopted.

One of the biggest challenges for any new executive is to step into your new identity so it matches your new role-including viewing corporate issues strategically now instead of tactically. Believing you belong on the team is key since your attitude impacts how you are perceived. If you feel you are fighting to represent an unpopular viewpoint you may come across as defensive. How can you lead so others will follow?

Before rushing to establish your executive presence on the team, assess and manage the relationships. What are the member’s unique drivers, strengths and styles and how are they leveraged on the team? How do members come to agreement on issues? How do they raise and resolve difficult issues?

Collaborate in areas you are already aligned demonstrating your strengths and forging alliances. Credibility and trust take time to develop. Like you, the team needs time to adapt. Enjoy the challenge — you’ve earned it.

Originally published in The Province, November 28, 2010.

Emails that get attention

August 22, 2010

Q: I don’t get the responses I’m looking for when I send e-mails at work. People either avoid replying or miss the point. How do I get straight answers to my questions?

A: Corporate e-mail users receive up to 200 e-mails a day. If the recipient only spends a minute on each one, that’s over three hours a day reading e-mail. In an overflowing inbox, you have seconds to grab the reader’s attention and make your e-mail a priority to open and answer.

One topic per e-mail is the surest way to get a clear direct response. E-mails with several items require extra thought and time to address. Points often get missed and replies are slower, if not forgotten. Numbering the items and identifying each topic in the subject line helps.

A subject line that gives enough detail about the message in a few words or includes a call to action such as “Please respond by . . .” attracts the reader, while a friendly opening line and an appreciative closing personalizes the message and builds rapport.

People appreciate brevity. State the purpose of the message up front, then get to your point quickly in a conversational style. Straightforward, short messages that are easy to follow and specify the desired response get dealt with promptly. Incomplete messages, where recipients have to write back for more information, frequently get dropped.

Proofread every message from the reader’s vantage point. E-mails convey emotional tone. Is it neutral, courteous and respectful?

Following these simple steps to be a more effective electronic communicator can create a positive impression, enhance credibility and elicit the responses you want.

Originally printed in The Province, August 22, 2010.

Stay in touch with your boss

November 16, 2008

Q: With the dramatic economic downturn, I am noticing my colleagues are increasingly territorial and protective of their jobs. They are even claiming my results as their own. In spite of my best efforts to resist, I am being drawn into the fray. How do I insulate myself?

A: Understand that the threat on their job security is likely motivating their actions. Fear and stress reveal a person’s true character. While such tactics may be designed to protect their turf, they can actually cause their demise.

So why not play a different game with considerably better odds? Differentiate yourself by taking a completely different tack — the best defence is a good offence.

First, be crystal clear about how success is being measured in this new economic reality. Clarify with your supervisor what outcomes you are expected to achieve, their deadlines and what specific criteria you’re being measured against.

Don’t stop there. Stay in regular communication with the key leaders in your company. In a fluctuating economy, strategies and measures can shift quickly. Understanding where the brass is heading enables you to correct your course at a moment’s notice.

Focus on doing the best you can in your role by being productive and generating positive results.

Your boss will have firsthand knowledge of your efforts — and no rumour mill can snatch that away from you. By making it your mission to meet the organization’s goals, you’ll be demonstrating beyond words that you are a proactive, dedicated and dependable leader — a valuable asset who’s worth hanging on to! 

Distance yourself from the unhealthy head games. The economic climate won’t last forever. Find unmet needs or gaps in your organization that you can easily fill. While others worry about hanging on to their jobs, you could find yourself up for promotion.

Originally printed in The Province on November 16, 2008.

Your strengths will sustain you

October 5, 2008

Q: I’ve just been promoted to senior manager, but I’m intimidated about meeting customers more senior than I. I doubt I have enough to offer someone so experienced. How can I overcome this immediately?

A: A new role can definitely push you out of your comfort zone, but if you didn’t have the potential to grow into the responsibilities, you wouldn’t be in this position.

Build your confidence by leveraging your current strengths. If spontaneity is a challenge, pre-plan your presentation.

Steer the meeting to showcase your unique strengths and knowledge. Promote whatever it is — your technical expertise, business systems integration or financial forecasting. Clearly outline how your solution benefits the client, demonstrating you really understand and care about their needs. Resist the temptation to over-compensate by exaggerating your expertise. They’ll see right through that.

Be honest about what you know and don’t be afraid to say you’ll get back to them when you don’t. Creating space between your interactions can buy you time to formulate intelligent responses.

Before each meeting, take several minutes alone to collect your thoughts and decide what kind of executive presence you want to project: trustworthiness, confidence, flexibility, determination or ingenuity? Think about how you need to show up to demonstrate those characteristics to create that impact.

Finally, enjoy this honeymoon period by giving yourself time to get acquainted with your clients. It is more advantageous to uncover what’s important to them than it is to show off how much you know.

Spend the bulk of your time being genuinely curious about them, what they want, need and how they define success. Forging solid relationships is a wise long-term investment for any promising up-and-comer no matter where their future sights are set.

Originally printed in The Province on October 5, 2008.

Be yourself, not a work impostor

June 17, 2007

Q:  My supervisor insists that to get promoted to the senior executive level I have to increase my visibility by blowing my own horn. I find that self-serving and offensive. How else can I advance?

A:  Don’t fake it to make it. Moulding yourself in order to gain a promotion is short-sighted and may have long-term consequences. Any behaviours you adopt solely to achieve a promotion will surely be expected of you once you win the position. It can also infect you with a chronic case of Impostor Syndrome. The key symptom is incessant questioning of whether you rightfully deserve your new title.

Catching the attention of key decision-makers by maintaining your personal integrity is far more compelling.

Pioneers and risk-takers get noticed. Take a leadership role in projects with significant impact, that are leading-edge or resolve some long-standing pain in the organization. Leverage your strengths and abilities by taking on roles that highlight them.

Results speak volumes. It is impossible to overlook someone who continually brings measurable benefits to the table.

Know your own terms and present your viewpoint with confidence. Demonstrate executive presence by standing for what you believe in. At the same time, welcome others’ contributions by incorporating their input. Be an inspiring leader. Support and empower others’ success. They will be your greatest allies.

Focus on bringing relevant and meaningful added value to everything you do. Visibility and recognition will be a natural byproduct.

Originally printed in The Province,  June 17, 2007.

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