Archive for the ‘Personal Presence’ Category

Mindful Mondays: Hug the One You’re With May 4 2015 one response

goldbergAs I was skimming through the headlines from the New York Times on Saturday morning, I was stunned to read the news of the death of Dave Goldberg. You may not have heard of him until this past weekend. He was the 47 year old CEO of the online questionnaire company, Survey Monkey. He was also the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO and author of the mega best-seller, Lean In. Goldberg died while he was on vacation with his wife.

By all accounts, most especially Sandberg’s in her book, Dave Goldberg was a great guy. It appears he was one of those people who spent his life encouraging others while doing interesting things himself.

It’s a tragedy when anyone dies unexpectedly in the prime of life. What literally took my breath away when I read the news of his death was the stark reminder that tragedy can happen to anyone at any time. Power couples don’t get much more powerful than Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg. Wealth, fame, friends, access, interesting work, a beautiful family, a vibrant marriage – they seemed to have it all.

None of that, of course, could protect them from the tragedy of sudden loss. When it comes to that, we’re all in the same boat.

I’ve written a lot about being present in these Mindful Monday columns over the past month. What Are You More Likely to Remember? and What Do You Have to Share? are the two most recent examples. The subject of today’s post is one more reminder to be present with the people you care most about.

Take some time today to hug the one you’re with. There’s not going to be a better opportunity than the one you have today. Don’t wait.

What’s the Difference Between Executive Presence and Leadership Presence? April 23 2015 7 responses

exec-draperThe title of this post is a question I was asked yesterday during an interview for the book summary service Get Abstract. (Audio excerpts from the interview will be available in a few months.) While I guess I’ve thought about the difference between executive and leadership presence over the years (I wrote a book on the latter after all), I have never had the question put to me that directly.

My answer was that, depending on the situation, executive presence can be a subset of leadership presence. As I unpacked my answer, the interviewer referred a couple of times to Don Draper of Mad Men as someone who embodies executive presence. As a fan of the show, I could see what she meant. No one wears a business suit better than Jon Hamm as Don Draper. When Don Draper is sober and in full pitch mode he embodies what the very traditional picture of executive presence looks like.

And that, in essence, is the difference between executive presence and leadership presence. The simplest distinction between the two is that executive presence is about how you look and leadership presence is about what you do. If you want to take it further, executive presence is about how you talk and leadership presence is about what you say when you do.

First impressions count so advice on executive presence often focuses on how one dresses, enters a room, makes eye contact in conversation and other behavioral nuances. The challenge with advising or coaching on executive presence is that one size doesn’t fit all. Every person is different; organizational norms are different and cultures are different. What works in one setting doesn’t necessarily work in another. As I wrote here earlier this month, it’s possible to have too much executive presence. If you’re too polished and too slick, you create distance. And the judgment on too polished and slick is in the eyes of the beholders. Because almost every leader is operating in a global context today (social media and web conferencing makes that the case even if you never leave your hometown), executive presence doesn’t travel like it used to.

Leadership presence, on the other hand, is much more portable. That’s because it’s about the people and not the leader. Taking the perspective of the leader, it’s about you, not me. As Harvard professor Dean Williams and I discussed in a recent audio interview on this blog, the most effective leaders use their presence to help the group identify the work to be done or the adaptive challenge to be overcome. They help set the agenda. They help organize the team. They coach. They ask questions that help people come up with their own answers. They encourage accountability. They celebrate success. They applaud effort. They help the team learn from failure, self-correct and move on. In all instances, the leader’s focus is on them – the people.

So, those are some of the distinctions I’m making between executive presence and leadership presence. What do you think? What’s the difference between the two? What’s the impact of one vs. the other? What have I missed?

Three Signs That You Have Too Much Executive Presence April 9 2015 2 responses

vincev-exec2It’s common for leaders who want to make a bigger impact to work on building their executive presence. It’s so common, in fact, that my company offers a seven month group coaching program for high potential leaders slated for executive roles. Our goal in that program is to make the often discussed but rarely clearly defined topic of executive presence a tangible and actionable thing to develop.

We try to move away from the “I know it when I see it,” definition of executive presence by focusing on specific behaviors and tactics related to factors like showing up with an appropriate amount of confidence, tailored communications, building great teams and working with colleagues to get bigger things done.  Along with all of that, we focus on the idea that it’s possible to have too much executive presence.

Too much executive presence? How, you may ask, could that possibly be a problem?  It’s a problem when the leader’s executive presence creates distance between them and the people they’re leading or working with. In my experience, this usually happens when the leader puts too much emphasis on “executive” and not enough emphasis on “presence.”

Is it possible that you have too much executive presence? Here are three signs that could tell you the answer may be yes.

Too Many Perks:  If you find yourself grooving on the perks that come with an executive level title or perhaps viewing them as an entitlement or even taking them for granted, then you probably have too much executive presence. If you can’t come up with a list of the perks that come with your job, that’s a sure sign that you need to step back and look at things from a different perspective. Try looking at it from the perspective of the lowest paid people in your organization.

Too Many Meetings in Your Office:  Do they come to you or do you go to them? If you’re taking most of your meetings in your own office, that’s a sign that you have too much executive presence. Again, look at it from their perspective. Is it possible that they feel like they’re being summoned for an audience on a regular basis? And, by the way, what are you missing or overlooking by not getting out of your office?

Too Much Structure:  So, yeah, you definitely need to have processes and systems in place that enable you to be accountable for results without having to be personally responsible for all of the results. Definitely put those in place, but don’t over do it and don’t put yourself as the focal point of the structure. It’s not all about you. Too much structure that is focused on channeling information to you is a sign that you have too much executive presence.

What do you think? Is it possible to have too much executive presence? What are some other signs that a leader has too much executive presence?

What is the Creator’s Code? March 26 2015 no responses


What do Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Spanx founder Sara Blakely and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank all have in common? Amy Wilkinson has done the research and knows the answer. She shares it in her new book, The Creator’s Code.

Wilkinson’s book is based on what she learned in 200 interviews with entrepreneurs who founded and built companies that have generated at least $100 million in revenue for at least five years. Drawing on her training as a sociologist, she sifted through the transcripts of those conversations to identify the six skills that these entrepreneurs have in common. She shares those in The Creator’s Code and she shared them with me in a recent conversation.

Even if you’re not an entrepreneur with aspirations of starting your own multi-million dollar business, I think you’ll want to listen to the recording. The skills that Amy has identified in her research are the skills that distinguish people who get big things done from those that don’t in this new world of work.


Ten Ways to Lead Bigger March 19 2015 4 responses

goldfishAs I wrote here a few months ago, the biggest development opportunity for many of the rising leaders I work with as an executive coach is to play a bigger game. Once a leader achieves a level of mastery in leading his or her functional team, the next step is to play a bigger leadership role (informal, formal or both) in the broader organization.

This dynamic has come up in a couple of coaching conversations I’ve had lately which prompts me to share these ten tips for how you or the rising leaders you work with can step up and lead bigger. The list that follows are based on ten of the 72 specific leadership behaviors in the 360 degree assessment that’s based on my book, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Which ones present the biggest opportunity for you? Which ones would you like to read more about on this blog? Leave a comment and let me know.

1. Take time to get to know your peers and their interests.
2. Work to understand what is important to other functions and how those priorities fit into the bigger picture for the organization.
3. Seek out the input of peers, subordinates and superiors in the organization.
4. Make offers in support of the agendas of peers and follow through on those commitments.
5. Work with peers to develop win-win solutions to cross-functional problems.
6. Choose effectiveness as a more outcome than “being right”.
7. Put the agenda of the broader organization ahead of your functional agenda.
8. Contribute or even sacrifice key resources for the good of the entire organization.
9. Scan the external environment for trends and ideas that could have an impact on the organization.
10. Collaborate with colleagues to push through ambiguity or tough times to move the organization forward.

Mindful Mondays: One Less, One More March 16 2015 no responses


We’ve all heard the phrase less is more. Perhaps it’s also true that more is less. I think that’s where Robbie Vorhaus is coming from with his recent book, One Less. One More. Follow Your Heart. Be Happy. Change Slowly.

Vorhaus is a well respected crisis expert and communications strategist with years of experience advising corporate leaders, government officials and celebrities about how to get things back on track when they’ve run off the rails. After years of building his business and reputation, Vorhaus found himself about to run off his own rails and decided to make a change.

More accurately, he began to make a series of changes. That process is what led to his book, One Less, One More. Profound in its simplicity, the big idea of the book is to commit each day to doing one less thing that keeps you from following your heart and one more thing that will enable you to do that. From there, it’s rinse and repeat. It’s one less thing and one more thing each day.

In the accompanying conversation (which is a little longer than most of my interviews), Vorhaus and I talk about what he’s learned along the way, what it means to follow your heart and why it’s best to change slowly. I think you’ll find it thought provoking and perhaps life changing.


Three Ways to Coach the Person, Not the Problem February 27 2015 5 responses

waterbottle2Back when we were co-teaching The Flow of Coaching module at the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program, my good friend, hero and fellow Davidson College alum Frank Ball used to do a funny bit with a bottle of water. To make the point that coaches and leaders should coach people and not problems, Frank would put a bottle of water on the table in the front of the room and say, “This bottle of water represents the problem.” Then he would start coaching the bottle of water. Needless to say, he never got very far. The bottle just didn’t have that many insights on what to change or how to change it.

That’s the thing. People have insights, problems don’t. If you’re a leader who cares about growing and developing your people, you have to coach them, not their problems.

That’s counterintuitive for a lot of leaders and even a lot of professional coaches. The solution to the problem is so obvious (to you) that you just want to jump in there and solve it for them.  That’s not coaching; that’s providing the answer. There’s not much growth in that approach. In fact, you might set growth back by creating a dependency that locks both of you into doing what you’ve always done. And of course when you do that, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten.

So, the next time you feel the urge to coach the problem, try one or more of these three ways to coach the person and not the problem.

If You Can’t Be Confident in Your Knowledge, Be Confident In Your Ignorance February 6 2015 3 responses

confidence1The title of this post comes from a comment made at a global leadership team meeting I was facilitating earlier this year. The purpose of the meeting was to review 360 degree feedback on the team and its members. In the format we were using, each team member had around 15 minutes in the spotlight to share what they learned from their feedback, what they are working on to take their game to the next level and to get advice from their colleagues on simple things they could do that would make a difference.

It was interesting that in a very accomplished group of people, more than a few were working on issues that, in one way or another, related to showing up with confidence as a leader. Given how hard it is to lead and all of the twists, turns, ups and downs that leaders face, it’s not really surprising that confidence can come up as an issue. When you add in all of the information, projects and decisions that leaders (and just about any professional for that matter) need to keep up with, it’s easy to see why feeling confident and projecting confidence is such a common opportunity.

It’s harder than hell to keep up with everything. When you know in your gut that you’re not keeping up, your confidence can suffer.

We were talking about that dynamic in the meeting when one of the executives shared a maxim she started practicing years ago that has served her well ever since: “If you can’t be confident in your knowledge, be confident in your ignorance.”

When she dropped that line on us, the conversation stopped for a moment while everyone let it sink in. We asked her to tell us more about what she had just said. She told us that she realized years ago that she couldn’t know everything and instead of trying to fake her way through situations where she didn’t know things that other people maybe expected her to know, she just started to confidently acknowledging her ignorance on a topic.

Don’t get me wrong, she didn’t play stupid and she’s clearly not. Rather, I’d say she’s one of the more intelligent people I’ve met lately. She’s smart enough and confident enough to acknowledge when she doesn’t have the facts at her fingertips, doesn’t understand the point that’s being made or needs more information to make a decision or offer an informed opinion. That strikes me as a pretty great strategy for staying sane, effective and respected in a world where it’s impossible for anyone to stay on top of everything that’s going on.

It’s worked for her. She shared that in the years since she’s started being confident in her ignorance, she’s only had one boss jump down her throat. It turned out that he didn’t last long in his role anyway. Everyone else has thanked her for being straight up. Many have told her they admired her honesty.

So, food for thought. Where and when do you need to be confident in your ignorance?

Seven Ways to Play a Bigger Game This Year January 15 2015 no responses

bigger-gameIn fifteen years of coaching high potential and senior leaders, I’ve conducted thousands of hours of colleague feedback interviews. One of the themes that I hear a lot from senior executives talking about high potential leaders is that the client needs to play a bigger game. What the executives mean by that is that the high potential needs to start making an impact beyond their immediate function and start acting as a leader of the entire organization and not just their function.

With the performance reviews and goal setting sessions that come at the beginning of the year, now is a great time to think about how you can play a bigger game this year – the kind of game that really changes things and makes a big difference.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve asked around three dozen high potential leaders to answer the question, “What’s the one thing you need to do to play a bigger game this year?”  I’ve boiled their answers down to seven ways to play a bigger game. If you’re ready to play a bigger game, you’ll want to take a look.

Leaders Behaving Badly December 12 2014 no responses

Leaders Behaving BadlyYou don’t have to look very hard in any given week to find examples of leaders behaving badly. This week had a couple of doozies.

First, we had the story of Heather Cho, the vice president of inflight customer service for Korean Air. She was travelling on her own airline and as her plane from taxiing away from its gate at JFK, a flight attendant gave her macadamia nuts without asking if she wanted any and, (worse!) left them in the package. Cho flipped out and called the lead flight attendant to her seat to dress him down. She ordered him to look up the correct macadamia nut procedure in the KAL customer service manual. When he couldn’t produce the manual, she fired him on the spot and ordered the pilot to take the plane back to the gate so the lead attendant could get off the plane. The story went viral and created a PR problem for the airline. They apparently didn’t see it as that big a deal, however. Cho lost her job as head of in-flight service but is still a vice president with KAL. The fact that her dad is chairman of the conglomerate that owns the airline likely has something to do with that.

Then, there’s the case of Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman. As first reported on and later on Slate and in the Washington Post and elsewhere, Edelman was overcharged four dollars on a $53 order of Chinese takeout from a local restaurant who had some out of date information on their website.  Over the course of several days and what had to be many hours of e-mail writing, Edelman escalated a simple and honest oversight into the threat of legal action and gave boatloads of grief to a guy who’s running a family restaurant and was trying to make things right. When the story went viral, Edelman backed off and posted a short statement on his own web site saying he had gone too far. Some great role modeling there for his students at the B School.

Maybe one of the good things about the 24/7, go-viral-in-a heartbeat age that we live in is that’s somewhat more difficult to be a jerk as a leader and get away with it.  It used to be that the question leaders needed to ask themselves before doing something untoward was “Do I want to read about this on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times? The likelihood of that actually happening back in the day was pretty small. Now, it’s exponentially larger and, as I wrote here last year, the impact of your freak-out can have such a big ripple effect.

If someone can Tweet about what you’re doing, post your emails or shoot a video of you freaking out on their cell phones (and they can and will do all of those things), you really have to stop and ask yourself,  “Do I want to present myself this way to a large part of the world?”

Not a bad question to ask before you head down the path of behaving badly.