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A.C.E. YOUR NEXT SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT

Public Speaking

Speaking in front of large groups of people is something I love to do, and it is a skill that I have honed via countless speaking engagements over many years. For most people, public speaking is a chore, and often something that invokes courage-killing nervousness…and sometimes even physical illness. But guess what – it doesn’t have to.

Before I go on, I’d like to share with you the biggest secret in public speaking (or public performance of any kind) – your audience is always…and I mean always…pulling for you. If you are not awesome, they are the ones who suffer. You represent the difference in them being entertained and engaged vs. completely bored and uncomfortable, so they are not to be feared. You just have to understand that they are pulling for you to be awesome, and then go ahead and give yourself permission to be just that – awesome.

So, what’s the secret to being awesome? It’s simple! Just be authentic, credible, and energetic (A.C.E.). The first two may seem obvious, but the last one’s a doozy!

Authentic Authenticity is every leader’s secret weapon. The same can be said for speakers. Your audience wants to know who you really are, so the best bet is to always just be you. If you fake it, they will know. The keys to authenticity in front of a crowd are to relax, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and reveal as much of yourself to your audience as possible.

Credible – This one seems way too obvious, I know. Naturally, you need to be credible as a speaker, but it’s easy to make mistakes that damage your credibility. The keys to being credible are to know your material, acknowledge what you don’t know when questions arise, and always treat your audience with respect. If you make jokes at audience members’ expense or get too defensive/confrontational, you will lose all credibility immediately. Regardless of your expertise, resist the urge to be a know-it-all. Acknowledging contradicting points of view goes a long way to establishing (and maintaining) credibility.

Energetic – This is the toughest one. I’ve heard countless people say, “I just don’t have that kind of (outgoing) personality.” Guess what – the best speakers don’t behave the same way on and off stage. Translation? They are performing. Make no mistake…when you are speaking to audiences large or small, you must perform if you want to be successful and impactful. I am not suggesting you have to run around and do tricks, but you do have to give some of your energy to your audience. In fact, it is inevitable that you will give your energy to your audience, and it is up to you whether that is positive/uplifting energy, or boring/stale energy. You can guess which one all audiences prefer. Bottom line – the most successful speakers have the courage to be energetic.

While the above may seem obvious, it requires diligent practice, work, and effort. If you are successful at being authentic, credible, and energetic, you are sure to A.C.E. your next speaking engagement…and your audience will love you for it!

Lead (and speak) Courageously,

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COURAGEOUS ACCOUNTABILITY

Holding Others Accountable

Last week, I was confronted by Airrion – someone who knew who I was, but that I’d never met. As soon as the pleasantries and the introduction were behind us, she got right down to business. Yes, she had a bone to pick with me. Her chief complaint (challenge) was that she and her team have grown accustom to reading my blog, to which I normally post new articles every 1-2 weeks. However, it has been over a month since my last post (oops!), and she made it a point to hold me accountable for that. She also inspired me to break my silence and write this piece.

Thank you, Airrion!

As I walked away from our brief encounter, I was immediately thankful for the courage Airrion demonstrated in confronting me and holding me accountable. Especially as leaders, we have a fundamental responsibility to teach and develop others as often as possible, and we must be extremely disciplined about following through on our commitments to others. In this case, I had made an implied commitment to post new articles frequently…one that I am recommitting to at this very moment. One that Airrion, as well as countless others, are evaluating me on every single day.

As I reflect on this issue of holding each other accountable, I am reminded of a time when, as a relatively junior member of our company, I stepped into the middle of a political match between two Presidents. While that may not seem very smart, I earned a great deal of respect and trust for doing it…because I was right.

These two individuals were at war with each other and they were putting their selfish battles on display for the entire company to see. Whereas most people did something between cheering, spectating, and ignoring, I chose the path to hold them accountable as leaders. I pulled them both aside, let them know I was disappointed in their behavior, and encouraged them to keep their petty politics out of the day-to-day business of our organization. Risky? You bet. But it worked. As a general rule, holding each other accountable almost always does.

Holding those around you accountable can be very difficult for many people; however, it doesn’t have to be. Here are my tips for creating a culture of courageous accountability:

#1 – Keep Your Commitments. This seems simple, but it is the most often violated principle of success and leadership. Commitments are easy to make, and they are even easier to break. Be disciplined about the commitments you do make, and ensure that you do everything possible to keep them.

#2 – It Takes A Village. No matter how hard you try to abide by #1, you will never succeed alone. We live in a world more dynamic and challenging than at any time before, and there is absolutely no shame in accepting (even asking for) help every day. In fact, there is only harm in not doing so. The next time you hold someone accountable (or vice-versa), remember this – it takes a village. He who tries to do it alone, will always be just that…alone.

#3 – It Is Never Personal. If someone challenges you by holding you accountable for something you committed to (or to a behavioral standard/ethic), always remember that it is never personal. In fact, the more personal it feels, the more right that person likely is. Being held accountable is a gift, and you should always treat it as such.

#4 – Own It. There is no better way to handle a courageous accountability challenge than simply owning it. Thank the person for holding you accountable, and spend your energy on getting back on track. Just owning the accountability will undoubtedly set you apart as a leader, and it will make those around you feel comfortable helping you by holding you accountable. Remember #2 and #3, and this one is easy.

As with all things, discussing and living by the courageous accountability tips above is the only way to make it work. Consider openly discussing the above as a key cultural value on your team, and you will undoubtedly reap the benefits.

As I write these final lines, I am reminded of the greatest gift of accountability – I feel so much better for getting back on track. Thank you, Airrion, for your Courageous Leadership.

Lead. Courageously.

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FEAR AND LEADERSHIP

You cannot lead people through fear – you can only scare them. And while scaring people can get them to do the things you want them to do in the short-term, it is an unwise leadership strategy. While this seems obvious to me, I often see leaders choose fear as a tactic to achieve a desired outcome. I also often see those same leaders fail in the long run.

Let me be clear – there is a big difference between fear and accountability. I am 100% behind holding those we lead accountable, as that is the only way to keep the wheels from falling off. A-players want, and actually expect to be held accountable, and they want to see everyone else held accountable for excellence as well. But accountability and intimidation tactics are not one in the same, and A-players do not respond well to the latter.

Consider this – 90% of the battle is won by spirit and motivation of the Army. Strategy matters, too, but a highly motivated Army is what really makes the difference in the end. If you are relying on fear to win the battle, consider surrendering now.

Use the following strategies to eradicate fear from your leadership repertoire:

Forget Rank – In most cases, you do not need to remind people of rank. In fact, doing so immediately shuts down engagement and creativity. It’s safe to assume that everyone knows who the boss is. Unless truly needed to keep order or avoid catastrophic decisions, seek out ways to make rank invisible in your organization.

Lift – Positive, inspirational leadership prevails over oppressive leadership every single time. Seek out ways to inspire and motivate your team through positive, inspirational leadership, rather than threats.

Treat Everyone The Same – We tend to treat our bosses with great care and respect. Use the way you treat your boss as a benchmark for how you treat those who report to you. If you are not treating everyone the same, you likely have a problem… not the least of which is authenticity.

Make Room For Others – Allow others in and allow them to help lead and make decisions alongside you. If you run a “my way or the highway” shop, you are in trouble. We all need help, so you might as well engineer it from the outset.

Publicize Your Leadership Philosophy – Have regular conversations about your leadership philosophy and make it public… then live up to it. Invite any and everyone to challenge you and keep you honest about it. Hint – the leadership philosophy you make public will likely not include fear.

Culture of Candor – Take on the long and hard job of creating a culture of open and honest communication in your organization, as this creates the fundamental basis for a culture absent of fear. If everyone is consistently open and honest (in a professional, non-threatening way), there are no surprises and nothing to be afraid of. Fair warning – getting this right takes a long time and a lot of commitment.

Seek Feedback – Conduct a thorough 360o review of yourself and your leadership style. Ask deliberate questions of your team to discover how you are perceived/received as a leader. Most importantly, take the feedback to heart and make changes as needed. If you’ve never done this, consider that it may be because you simply do not want to know.

Bottom line – if your people are scared of you, you are not leading them… you are only scaring them. Another word for this is oppression, and you do not have to look far to see what oppressed people do at the first opportunity – they turn on their oppressor. In the world of business, turning on your oppressor means one thing… leaving them.

Lead. Courageously.

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LIFTING MAKES YOU STRONGER

Many years ago, a great mentor taught me a valuable lesson that I draw on every day. His name was Bob Gosdeck. At the time, I was a new sales leader, and Bob was Vice President of Sales. The lesson came during a tense time when Bob and I were in his office hashing out some very tough details during a very tough day. In the middle of what appeared to me to be the most important meeting in the world, Bob’s phone rang… and he answered it.

“Bob Gosdeck speaking.”

“Hey, Rick!!! How are you doing? I’m great! Really?!! Sure – I have time. Tell me all about it!”

I sat and listened, somewhat perplexed. The Bob that just answered the phone certainly didn’t seem like the Bob that was in the middle of a very tough meeting, in the middle of a very tough day. After he hung up the phone, Bob noticed the look on my face and passed on a little piece of wisdom to me.

Always avail yourself for your people and lift (aka, inspire) at every opportunity.

Sure, Bob was having a not-so-great day, but Rick didn’t need to know that. What Rick needed was for the Vice President of Sales to answer the phone and celebrate the business he’d just closed. That’s exactly what Rick needed, so Bob wisely and enthusiastically afforded him that.

Whether you’re leading salespeople, accountants, doctors, or lawyers, the same principle applies. When you interact with people on your team, it’s a big deal to them; and it’s an even bigger deal for you to interact with them in the right way. If you do not, they will eventually leave you.

Consider for a moment the times when you’ve interacted with your boss, your boss’s boss, or even your boss’s boss’s boss. How does your mood, confidence, and outlook change based on the way they make you feel? Do they tear you down or lift you up?

The difference in good management versus great leadership often comes down to how well you lift. Keep the following things in mind during every interaction with those you lead.

Begin with the end in mind. When starting a conversation with someone, consider how you want him or her to feel when you’re done. Do you want them to feel great about their interaction with you, or do you want them to feel beat up and defeated? Hint – you never want the latter.

Crucial conversations don’t have to be negative. In fact, your goal should be for even the toughest crucial conversation to be positive, because you are helping the person get better. If you find that your crucial conversations end badly, take an honest look at yourself and your delivery.

Morale is your accountability. Leaders sometimes tell me how bad morale is on their team, as if they expect me to fix it. My reply is always the same – the morale of your team is your accountability. Period. Then I turn my attention to helping them lift.

Your problems are your problems… not theirs. Just as Bob Gosdeck taught me many years ago, there is nothing to gain by letting your bad mood/bad day rub off on anyone else. In fact, there is only downside in this. Make the decision – are you going to be someone who charges people’s batteries or drains them? It’s your call.

Lifting is free, but the returns are immeasurable. It’s hard to stop a team flying high with confidence, optimism, and a belief that they can win. Lifting is free, so the only reasons not to make it common practice are selfishness, laziness, or simply not caring.

I am reminded of a poignant quote from Maya Angelou: “People will forget almost everything you say to them, but they will not forget how you make them feel.”

Answer this question honestly – how do you make people feel?

Lead (and lift). Courageously.

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IMPROV[E] YOURSELF AND YOUR TEAM

I recently hired The Second City (www.secondcity.com) to conduct an improvisation (improv) workshop for a team of about thirty leaders in my organization.  So what can the #1 comedy club in the nation teach us about leadership? As it turns out, a whole lot!

Business, like virtually every human interaction, is improv.

  • Your boss asks you a surprise question – Quick! Improv!
  • A client asks you to solve a problem – Sweet! Improv!
  • You interact with your team – Hopefully it’s improv.
  • Big sales presentation – If it’s any good, it’s improv.
  • Being authentic and real – Improv.  All day long.

Let’s face it, business is a constant cycle of high stakes improvisations.  If we’re not improvising, we’re in serious trouble.

Nowhere in business is improv more important than when developing new ideas.  In most cases, new ideas get shut down faster than you can blink an eye, which all but guarantees that people are afraid to bring up new ideas in the future.  The good news is that you can fix this with the most fundamentally important rule in all of improv.

“Yes, AND…”

Let me explain.  When responding to a new idea, you have three basic choices.

No, because…

Yes, but…

Yes, and…

90% of the time (at least) teams use the first two when encountering new ideas, which is precisely why so many great ideas never fully develop.

The word “no” shuts down improv faster than anything else, so improv actors know to stay away from it.  Regardless of the idea or concept that comes out, professional improv actors use “yes, and” to support ideas and develop them enough to have the absolute best chance at being successful.  In business, we’d be wise to follow this same principle, as it would ensure that all ideas get fully developed, thereby increasing their odds of being the next big idea.  It’s not about whether the idea is perfect upon introduction; rather, it’s about what happens to ideas when creatively supported and developed as far as possible.  Only then do you make the call on whether or not to execute on the idea.

Try this exercise with your team – it will change your life.

  1. Break up into groups of three or four.  If your team is already small, do it as one group.
  2. Pick a topic…any topic…as long as it’s casual.  Try this – the group is deciding where to get together for an offsite meeting next year.  It can be anywhere in the world.
  3. Each person thinks of a place to go, and they will get several turns to introduce it.

Round 1 – Each person introduces their idea (Bangkok, Thailand, for example), and the other members of the team respond one-by-one with a “No, because…” statement.

  • Example – “No, because Bangkok is way too far to travel.”

Round 2 – Each person introduces their idea, and the other members respond one-by-one with a “Yes, but…” statement.

  • Example – “Yes, but I heard that the weather is very hit-or-miss in Bangkok.”

Round 3 – Each person introduces their idea one-by-one, and the other members respond with a “Yes, and…” statement, supporting and building on the idea.

  • Example – “Yes, and we’ll save on food expenses, as it’s very affordable to eat in Bangkok.”

When you get to Round 3, you will be amazed at how well (and creatively) the ideas get developed.

Every business starts with ideas, and every business needs new ideas to stay relevant and healthy.  Especially as businesses grow, the environment for supporting and developing ideas often seems to disappear, and “wisdom and experience” shut the ideas down before they ever get a fair chance.  Making “yes, and…” a fundamental cultural value in your organization or team takes courage and work, as it is not natural until you practice it.  Consider starting your next team meeting with the exercise above, and lay the ground rule that before deciding not to pursue an idea, you’ll use “yes, and…” to fully develop and explore it.  Your team, your culture, and your customers will thank you for it.

Lead. Courageously.

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SURE! WHY NOT?

A great friend, mentor, and one of the best leaders I know is a role model in inspiring action. His name is Brian Kibby. He approves investments faster than anyone I know (often on the spot), he leaps into action as soon as he sees opportunity, and he keeps his team moving much faster than most in the world of business.

What’s Brian’s secret? He comes from a place of “Sure! Why not?” In other words – he is looking for reasons to act, rather than reasons not to act. Is this risky? It’s not nearly as risky as not acting this way, lest your competitors and your customers will literally pass you by.

Too often, when we do not have 100.00000000% of the information that we could theoretically get our hands on, we put off decisions that present even the most microscopic amounts of risk. We “thoughtfully” delay decisions in the spirit of doing even more research and analysis, when all that we really need to make the call is readily available – guts and instincts. To no surprise, we often end up making the same decisions days, weeks, or even months later…only to have slowed our teams down and wasted the most precious of resources – time.

If you think this does not apply to you, it does. We all hesitate…all the time.

The most common of hesitations occurs when new ideas and suggestions of trying something completely different arise. We are naturally wired to resist and ask countless questions before trying something new. But the best (and most motivational) approach is to ask just a couple of questions…and then surprise the person with a simple response – “Sure! Why not?”

Try my “Sure! Why not?” recipe the next time you are presented with a new idea:

  1. Ask a series of questions to develop your understanding of the idea, but ask them in the spirit of looking for reasons to approve action.  Try this – “Wow!  This sounds really interesting.  Let me make sure I fully understand.”
  2. Add at least one idea of your own to make the original idea even better.  Try this – “Yes, and we could even do…!”
  3. Say, “Sure! Why not?”
  4. Reward their courage by challenging them to quickly (within one week) formalize a plan for your review, to including funding, timeline, anticipated revenue/savings, etc.
  5. Provided the proposal makes sense, approve it and challenge the person or team to take full ownership of driving the idea forward with your full support.

Embrace “Sure! Why Not?” and you’ll be surprised at not only what you see in the form of innovation, but by the overall sense of excitement and entrepreneurial spirit you quickly build in your organization.

Repeat after me…

Sure! Why not?

Sure! Why not?

Sure! Why not?

Now – go looking for ideas and use these three simple words as often as possible.  Your team, your customers, and, ultimately, your shareholders will thank you for it.

Lead. Courageously.

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