Author and Mentoring Expert Dr. Wendy Axelrod

I often hear from people who want to deepen their mentoring skills, and are surprised when I suggest that cultivating the best possible relationship is a skill in itself. Masterful mentors know how to foster qualities that are most central for a career-expanding mentoring relationship. Acceptance, mutual respect, conversational safety, and transparency are all part of it. As the mentor, you have the lead in observing how the relationship is going and taking steps to ensure its vitality.

Here are three actions to consider

OBSERVE WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE DYNAMICS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Each of your meetings has the potential to be a gem of a conversation, taking the mentee to new places and new insights. 

  • Assess the flow of your conversations and how it contributes to the forward progress of your mentee’s goals. Time spent together should be purposeful, yet flexible enough to include ad hoc discussions. Allow yourselves to delve into some areas more deeply, especially when those discussions have discovery potential.
  • Take note of whether there is enough trust for them to share what concerns (or even embarrasses) them most, whether a lack of confidence or competence, or a troubling interaction. If they are holding back, think through how you can make the conversational environment safer for them.
  • Consider a wonderful barometer of the atmosphere between you as to whether you are each eager for your next meeting. If so, identify the positive underpinnings of the relationship and discuss those. If not, jointly envision what needs to be addressed, which might include: expectations not being met, lack of accountability to the process, or maybe spending too much time on topics that are not goal-oriented.

ESTABLISH REGULAR CHECK-INS TO DISCUSS THE PROCESS

As part of setting expectations for your work together, advocate regular check-ins to ensure the health of the process. This opens the door for the mentee to speak up to someone with much greater experience. And, it avoids suddenly bringing up negative news when your process is not going well. Select from a variety of ways to tuck this into the mentoring conversation:

  • Ask questions that are specific and require a thoughtful response on their part, e.g., “In what ways is our process supporting your mentoring goals?”  “What two things would take this mentoring process to the next level?” If they are cautious about responding, remind them that this is good practice for questions they get at work about improving their functions.
  • Reserve five minutes at the end of the meeting for each to describe your favorite part of the meeting, and what you believe was accomplished. Then identify what you want to be included in your next meeting.
  • Suggest that each of you take accountability, in advance of the next meeting, to propose useful questions to help address a knotty part of your process (e.g., the mentee feels too directed by the mentor, or the mentor is not seeing anticipated follow-through)

WELCOME FEEDBACK FROM YOUR MENTEE

Many people believe the normal flow of feedback in mentoring is what the mentor offers the mentee. Inviting feedback from your mentee is an act of trust and respect. Though they may not provide much substance the first time you ask, they will appreciate your openness and be more likely to speak up when it really counts. Consider these three actions:

  • Prime this conversation by giving a lead-in, stating the purpose of this discussion.  Invite the feedback with a non-threatening question that allows them to suggest future behaviors rather than evaluate your performance. e.g., “What could I do in our conversation next time, that would make us even more productive?”
  • Be mindful that the way you receive the feedback is modeling how they could take in feedback from others. Plus, importantly, it sets the tone for true give-and-take in your ongoing relationship.
  • Take an inquiring stance, using an open, curious tone of voice. Ask for details. I once had a mentee whose feedback to me was, “Wendy, when I come to you with a problem, you ask too many questions. I wish you’d just give me straight-forward answers.”  I asked her for examples and that helped me understand her frustration with my approach. Just as important, the open tone of the conversation led to a discussion about how well-formulated questions can spur deeper and actionable learning.

Ready to take your mentoring even further? Become a master at cultivating a deeper relationship; one that is open to questions, feedback and purposeful modifications in how you work together. This is bound to both increase your capacity as a mentor, and achieve more impactful and lasting results.

ABOUT DR. WENDY AXELROD

Wendy Axelrod is an Executive Coach, former HR executive, mentor, author, and speaker. For three decades, Wendy has helped organizations to achieve extraordinary results with their leader and professional development efforts. She is particularly sought out for helping mentors and leaders become exceptional at growing the talent of others. She is the co-author of Make Talent Your Business and the author of 10 Steps to Successful Mentoring. Learn about Wendy’s IMS program.

Dr. Alan Zimmerman

Some time ago, John McGuirk said, “The ability to form friendships, to make people believe in you and trust you, is one of the few absolutely fundamental qualities of success.”    

I agree. If you’re trying to lead a company, build a team, sell to a client, or improve your home life, you’ll have a lot more success if you know how to build relationships with all those people.

Fortunately, relationships are not a matter of chance. They are a matter of choice. They depend more on you than the other people. Here’s what you can do.

1.  Make Relationships a Priority.

You tend to achieve your top priorities. So even though it may be hard to find the time, you’ve got to make your personal and professional relationships a priority. If you don’t, relationships tend to die—just like businesses tend to die.

2.  Be a Giver.

Be kind without expecting kindness. Be giving without expecting appreciation in return. As the great Roman philosopher Seneca reminds us, “There is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.”

Quite simply, when you give to others, more often than not they give their cooperation, their productivity, their business, and their loyalty in return.

3.  Be Appreciative.

Everyone has qualities that can be appreciated. An old Arabic saying states that a real friend is one who blows the chaff away and nourishes the seed which remains.

How true! Everyone has some chaff or some unlikable qualities. They’re not hard to see. But when you are appreciative, you overlook the unlikable qualities–if possible and if appropriate–and recognize the good things you notice.

Perhaps no one said it better than TV star Donna Reed. As a youngster I used to watch her television show, a good, clean, upbeat family show. As an adult I remember her wisdom. Donna said, “When you handle yourself, use your head. When you handle others, use your heart.”

An Action Step.

Select two people with whom you want to build a stronger, deeper relationship. Then select two helpful things you could do for each of those individuals. Do those things without any expectation of a returned favor. You’ll be glad you did.

About Dr. Alan Zimmerman

At the age of 7, Dr. Alan Zimmerman was selling greeting cards door-to-door. By age 14 he owned a small international import business. By age 21 he was teaching at the University of Minnesota, and during the next 15 years, he was selected as the Outstanding Faculty Member by two different universities.

At age 36, Alan had retired from teaching and opened his own speaking and training company. That position has allowed him to deliver more than 3000 programs, to more than a million people, in 49 states and 22 countries. The National Speakers Association has named him a Certified Speaking Professional and inducted him into the Speaker Hall of Fame, which places him in the top 1% of speakers worldwide.

Dr. Zimmerman will be speaking at IMS Boston on September 23, 2020. You can find more information HERE.

CONSIDER THIS SCENARIO

ACME Corporation is implementing a new technology. 

  • Executive Eric exclaims, “We need this new technology to remain competitive!  Why is it taking so long?  Why aren’t my managers getting their people on board?”
  • Middle Manager Mary laments, “I’ve been directed to implement this new technology when we haven’t even finished our last major roll-out.  My staff just rolled their eyes at me when I announced the change, complaining about how they don’t have time to learn the new process with everything else on their plates.” 
  • Employee Eddie complains, “Here we go again. Another program of the year. We’ll outlive this change, just like the last one corporate tried to shove down our throats!'”

DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR?

Change challenges vary by organizational level. Those at the top, like Executive Eric, usually set the direction of the change and are most convinced of the need for it, but they tend to be isolated from many of the change’s direct impacts. Staff on the front lines, like Employee Eddie, are most removed from the rationale behind the change, but are often most directly impacted by it; an alteration in their behavior is usually a significant part of the change initiative, and they can thus appear most resistant to it. That means that managers like Mary – and perhaps you too – typically find themselves stuck in the middle, squeezed between these two levels, sandwiched between the edicts of their bosses and pushback from their staff.

WHAT CAN A MIDDLE MANAGER DO?

Managers can play a mission-critical role in leading change by helping their organizations overcome these all-too-common disconnects across organizational levels, which result in over 70% of major organizational changes failing to achieve their objectives. Here are ways to exert your influence and emerge as a powerful voice in leading change, which is a pivotal capability for a leader at any level across all industries today:

INFLUENCE UP

What you see depends on where you sit.  It can be easy to vilify senior leaders above you in the hierarchy, but they don’t know what they don’t know – and it’s your job to tell them. Why is the TV show Undercover Boss so popular? Because in every episode a CEO masquerades as a frontline employee and experiences how hard it is for good people to comply with the changes they must wrestle with. How can you step up to help your executives see that sometimes the emperor has no clothes, and that they may benefit from a new way to engage people in and equip people for new directions?

ALSO, INFLUENCE DOWN

At times managers can be as in the dark about the changes they are supposed to drive as their staff! Take control by proactively obtaining the information you need about the ‘they, why, what, who, and how of the change,’ so you are armed to deliver the message to your people. It can be tempting to join the naysayers, especially when you have so many legitimate concerns and such limited information. Remember that behind every complaint is a request, and strive to tease out the wants and needs, communicate what you unearth in a business language that can be acted upon, and challenge your team to step-up and be part of the solution versus the problem.

HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE

The most important change leadership competency is courage – the courage to say what needs to be said in an authentic, transparent, professional and respectful way to help others up and down the organization appreciate the need for change, understand the barriers in the current state, and collaborate to invent a new path forward.

ABOUT BARBARA TRAUTLEIN, PHD

Barbara is the principal and founder of Change Catalysts, the author of the best-selling book Change Intelligence: Use the Power of CQ to Lead Change that Sticks, and the originator of the CQ® System for Developing Change Intelligence®. For over 25 years, she has coached executives, trained leaders at all levels, certified change agents, and facilitated mission-critical transformations – achieving bottom-line business and powerful leadership results for clients. She is gifted at sharing strategies and tactics that are accessible, actionable, and immediately applicable.

Dr. Trautein will be delivering 11 IMS programs on Developing Your Change Intelligence to Lead Critical Initiatives in 2020. To learn more about Barbara and her IMS programs CLICK HERE.

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

A significant investment is made each year on studies, training, portals, and programs related to career development. Sadly, the return on this investment continues to disappoint organizations, leaders and employees alike. And it’s unfortunate because what’s needed doesn’t cost even a penny. What’s needed to ensure healthy, sustainable career development is creativity.

“Creativity” and “career development” rarely come up in the same sentence. In fact, many organizations have inadvertently wrung a lot of creativity out of career development through the creation of complicated systems, processes, and forms. What many organizations are discovering is, the more sophisticated the individual development planning process, the less creativity is actually allowed. It turns leaders into box-checking bureaucrats, for whom career development is yet another task on a never-ending To-Do list. It’s like completing a paint-by-number career development plan. That’s not creativity, that’s drudgery.

APPROACHES TO CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT

Although many organizations have completely revamped many aspects of the employee experience—from recruiting to compensation—innovation in career development practices have typically remained largely stagnant. There are, however, a few pacesetting companies that are implementing genuinely creative solutions that ensure relevant and sustainable development. 

In general, these companies focus on two broad approaches that cost nothing but can quickly shift mindsets about how to develop employees:

  • Thinking outside of the box—the checkbox on the standard forms, that is. There’s a balance to be struck between the structure (required for manpower/succession planning) and the ongoing, iterative, informal, in-the-moment way people actually learn, grow and develop. Lightening the administrative load of the former frees up energy and creativity for the latter.
  • Rebranding the outdated career ladder. Although the regular, predictable progression associated with the ladder metaphor went missing from many workplaces some time ago, too many employees and leaders alike still hold that image. Progressive organizations are replacing the ladder with more nimble, lateral, and reality-based models including climbing walls, jungle gyms and Tetris-style ways of thinking about how career development really works.

Here are a few examples of creative ways to embed career development into your work team’s daily life:

ASK

This is the simplest route to helping employees grow: ask their opinion. Yet, managers sometimes forget to ask, “Where do you see the need to develop?” or “What would feel like a stretch assignment to you?” As a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in prescribed “development” activities handed down from upper management and take shortcuts. 

EXTRAPOLATE

What tasks/projects does your employee already do that can be extrapolated into a new project that will energize him/her and provide value to your organization. Perhaps she took a financial project and ran with it; what can you help her do to increase the complexity in the task, so she grows in this area?

DELEGATE

You’re probably already delegating, but here’s the twist: give away a task that you love to do. Perhaps there’s a task that you long ago mastered, but you hold onto because you enjoy it. Who on your team would also enjoy it, if only they had the chance to try it? These are just three possible avenues to injecting creativity into your organization’s career development processes. Everyone from the C-suite to the front lines needs to update their thinking about, expectations of, and efforts to support career development. As these examples show, the shift does not require a significant financial investment. Rather, what’s necessary is the infusion of the priceless quality of creativity.

ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI

Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line. Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/

Women's Leadership Expert and Author Audrey Nelson PhD.

  1. ACCOUNTABILITY
  2. ACCESSIBILITY
  3. ASSERTIVENESS
  4. AGGRESSIVENESS
  5. ANGER
  6. AFFABILITY
  7. AUTHORITY
  8. ACCOMMODATE
  9. AVOID
  10. AFFILIATION
  11. APPROVAL
  12. APOLOGIZING
  13. AMBITION

The 13 A’s to Ax are critical behaviors that impact women’s leadership style. Before a woman can forge a path to leadership, she must conquer these internal roadblocks. The thirteen behaviors are struggles women experience with their attitude and expression of them; that is, their comfort level and familiarity is problematic and does not serve them well as leaders.

For example, one of the A’s is affability. Women not only compulsively smile more than men, but they smile at the wrong time, which can jeopardize their credibility by sending mixed messages—a contradiction between verbal and nonverbal messages. People don’t know which one to believe. Often a woman will smile when she is making a serious point or engaged in conflict as if to mitigate the situation, to soften the blow. So, I am not saying women should stop smiling altogether, but they need to consider the context and the message. We all like to work with happy people, but we are confused by contradictory messages.

Approval and Affiliation

Another example is approval and affiliation. We are social animals and have a hard-wired need for approval and inclusion in the group. For women, it is paramount that they are liked; men often gauge their prowess by not necessarily always being liked and approved of by others—sometimes a “macho” factor. This is best represented by a remark I heard a middle manager make: “Somebody has to do the dirty work and call out this bad solution and if it means I am not going to be liked, so be it.” Women face the task of monitoring what they sacrifice: their opinions and ideas for the sake of approval.

Approval and affiliation can bring down a teen girl and a senior executive equally.  Friendships are important to women, and they learn young the prerequisite of liking other children in order to play with them; fast forward to a managerial level: Women feel an immense loyalty to their colleagues. It is common for women to refuse to transfer to another department because of the bond they have with existing peers.

In a recent consolidation of research on women in the workplace for the last three decades, Gallop produced a report, Women: Work and Life Well-Lived. The report identifies the “friendship factor.” For women, work not only provides a steady paycheck but also a sense of purpose and an important social outlet; sixty-six percent of women say the social aspect of a job is a “major reason” why they work. Because a woman has a deep sense of affiliation with her team members, it benefits the organization, as well. In other words, her ability to form strong relationships relates to better business outcomes, including profitability, safety, and most importantly, customers’ emotional connection and loyalty to the business. One of the most important realizations women have to learn is how to maintain the positive qualities and attributes of affiliation without compromising their ability to express a conflicting opinion.

New Rules and Realities

There are new rules and realities for leadership in the workplace. Men and women are not the same and have different approaches to how they lead. In order for women to share their work lives as equals, they must learn to tackle simple behaviors governed by internal thought patterns. A woman cannot always control the external environment, what people think or organizational constraints, but she does have control over her internal attitudes and predispositions; she can change the way she thinks and then the way she behaves.

There are many lessons girls have learned from playing cooperatively rather than forming hierarchical groups. Girls generally prefer a flat organization and the premium is on getting along with others and learning how to smooth things over and negotiate to save and preserve relationships. Girls will typically choose reciprocity and intimacy in playing games. These lessons have served women well in developing interpersonal competence, emotional intelligence, enhanced social skills, and the ability to sustain relationships. However, the paradox of interpersonal skill and acquiescence is a tightrope women must walk. It functions as a part of the micro-political structure that undergirds the larger political structure of the workplace. For the larger political context to exist and carry on, there are many actions and interactions that take place during the workday to support it and maintain it.

The 13 A’s to Ax are interrelated issues women have with behaviors that serve to perpetuate the disparities in men and women’s attitudes toward leadership and the willingness of others to follow women. When a woman pursues leadership, whether it is an entry-level leadership position or if she is already in a mid-level management or director position, she becomes frustrated, bewildered, and confused. She begins to mistrust her judgment. She is experiencing a backlash to her leadership style.

Finally, these 13 A’s serve to maintain and convey signals of compliance, control, and dependence that influence us and those around us. Conquering the challenges a woman has with The 13 A’s to Ax will enable her to not only join the ranks of male leadership, but to also surpass it.

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

When you were a kid, did you ever complete a paint-by-number set? Whether it was recreating a picture of your favorite animal, or bringing to life a colorful race car, it was fun to see the image come to fruition.

But it was also limiting. What if you wanted the cat’s ears to be purple, not gray? And what if, while painting that race car, you decided what you really wanted was to paint a spaceship?

Although paint-by-number sets offer the advantage of structure, consistency, and immediacy, they are inherently limiting. And in that way, they are like the complex and colorful career development systems that many organizations create. In an attempt to systematize and create a structure for time-starved leaders, there is an inevitable reduction in creativity.   

As a result, many managers and employees are “painting by numbers” when it comes to career development. They do what’s expected of them. They complete the forms. They meet deadlines. And they continue to complain about the lack of authentic career development in their organizations.

Responsive organizations, dedicated to the engagement and well-being of employees, are struggling to address these issues and meet the needs and expectations of today’s workforce. But the inconvenient truth is that today’s environment is very different from the environment that established these expectations decades ago

A CHANGING DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT

  • Baby boomers are living longer and occupying key roles longer than expected, stemming the historical tide of upward opportunities.
  • Flatter, leaner structures translate to fewer leadership roles—the roles that individual contributors have typically looked to for growth and development.
  • More fluid structures mean that former career paths are less stable and predictable. The chess game many career strategists successfully won in the past now frequently ends with moves toward roles that are no longer necessary. Or there’s suddenly a new and unexpected space on the chessboard—a new role for which they aren’t prepared.

Despite these fundamental shifts in the workplace, some organizations are trying to make career development—as it’s been understood in the past—somehow work. But many engage in unproductive and organizationally unnatural acts like:

PAPER PROMOTIONS

This “creative” approach to meeting employee expectations for growth involves gaming the org chart. A sizable service organization in Asia recently promoted several individuals by changing the title of “senior manager” to “assistant director.” Same customers. Same work. Same pay.

SILLY SUPERVISORY SCHEMES

Given the very few supervisory roles for the many individuals with an appetite for them, a technology firm in India has begun promoting tenured staff to supervisors. Most of them have one direct report (or an open headcount), creating a 1:1 individual contributor to supervisor ratio.

DEVELOPMENT DECOYS

Other organizations are getting on the “promotions aren’t the only way to grow” bandwagon. They recognize that additional projects, stretch assignments and similar development opportunities in the role are the ideal alternative to promotions and moves that aren’t available anyway. The problem is that too frequently this takes the form of dumping great volumes of work on already overburdened employees. As a result, savvy employees — the ones you want to engage, grow and retain — have developed a well-honed “nose” for extra work masquerading as “development opportunities.”

While well-intentioned, these efforts are not going to move the needle when it comes to career development. And here’s why. Most organizations responded years ago to wildly new workplace conditions with significant structural and organizational changes. The new employer/employee contract (or some may argue the lack of a contract altogether) has changed every dimension of human resource management from recruiting through compensation—except career development.

Somehow, employees and leaders alike have held onto the expectation—and hope—that career development could continue unscathed. But it’s simply not possible. As challenging as it was to establish the new workplace reality that included the loss of the lifetime employment guarantee, it’s time to establish a new reality around career development.

Does that mean that organizations must abandon career development? Absolutely not! But they must redefine what it means and how it really works today. And that requires a dose of creative career development planning. It’s not enough to provide paint-by-number templates; organizations must also give their leaders the latitude to formulate personalized plans unique to their teams’ needs. It’s time to allow access to the entire color palette for career development. 

ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI

Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line.  Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Through my university research on strategic leadership, and my advisory work with senior leaders over the past two decades, I have observed a strong correlation between a leaders’ ability to frame and pose profound strategic questions and their ability to think strategically. In other words, strategic leaders think in the form of questions—the ability to frame strategic questions and engage in strategic dialogue is a key dimension of strategic leadership.

Big-Picture Thinking

In my work with executives, I can generally gauge a leader’s ability to think strategically by the quality of the questions they pose. The strategic questions a leader poses are the outward manifestation of his or her internal thinking process and their general orientation to the business. Strategic leaders tend to be broad-gauge thinkers and wide categorizers. They ask big-picture questions that serve as an early warning system, so the organization doesn’t get blindsided by the future. Well-framed strategic questions help leaders make sense of complex market dynamics and patterns. The questions a strategic leader poses, whether they are spoken or simply reflected upon by the leader, are not designed to be answered on a point-by-point basis per se but are meant to marinate and produce a deeper set of questions that produce deeper understanding into market dynamics.

Types of Strategic Questions

Accomplished strategic leaders tend to have a broad repertoire of strategic questions for recognizing market patterns and assessing the strategic and financial health of the enterprise. 

Here are a handful of examples to illustrate:

  • What are the key trends and patterns in the broad market landscape and what threats and opportunities do they present?
  • How are industry and competitive dynamics evolving?  How is the basis of competition shifting and what are the implications for our business model?
  • How are customer lifestyles, attitudes, needs, and purchase and consumption patterns evolving? How will customer and economic value be created in the future?
  • What are the key trends and dynamics in our distribution channels?  What are the implications for our business?
  • What is the strategic and financial health of our organization?  What is the longer-term growth and profitability picture? What are our next-generation growth engines?
  • What new capabilities must our organization build to sustain its market leadership and capture emerging growth opportunities? How must our culture evolve?

Big-picture, enterprise-level questions such as these are central to the long-term competitiveness and economic viability of the firm and help a leader rise above the operational fray and maintain a strategic perspective.

Industry Disruption and Reinvention

Today, nearly every industry, from financial services to farming, is undergoing some form of disruption, transformation, or reinvention. Low-cost digital technologies have lowered barriers to entry precipitously, giving rise to new types of competitors and business models, creating an accelerating world that has quickened commoditization cycles and shortened corporate lifespans to where they can be measured in dog years. Paradoxically, the digital revolution has brought dramatic growth in strategic complexity—socioeconomic, geopolitical, technological, customer, channel, competitive, and organizational—placing immense cognitive demands on leaders. When scanning the external landscape for disruptive threats and emerging opportunities, leaders are unsure of what they should be looking at in the external landscape, let alone how.

Questions Are the Answer

As Gabriol, the 11th century philosopher noted, “A wise man’s question contains half the answer.” In simple terms, the better you are at framing strategic questions, the better you will be at recognizing the intersecting trends and patterns that create and shape markets.

As an organization matures from a fledgling start-up to industry stalwart, the field of vision often narrows, and the organization finds itself peering at the outside world through a peephole. Individuals undergo similar life-cycle changes as they grow and mature from starry-eyed children with boundless curiosity and imagination to buttoned-up executives who interpret the future through the prism of past experiences. Left unchecked, these perceptual filters become self-limiting and self-sustaining, suppressing the

long-term imaginative thinking that is essential to sustained value creation. This explains why, in incumbent firms, most growth opportunities are hidden in plain sight.

You will be amazed at what you can see when you wipe the residue of past experiences from your lens and scan the market landscape with the curiosity and imagination of a five-year-old. Subtle cues that are invisible to the naked eye will become crystal clear when you sharpen your ability to frame strategic questions and develop your strategic eye.

About Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn is a distinguished thinker, author, strategy advisor, and educator with expertise positioned at the intersection of strategy, innovation, growth, and organizational renewal and vitality—the work of strategic leadership. His work centers on helping senior business leaders develop the capacity to think and lead strategically in dynamic market environments undergoing profound change. He holds a doctorate from Columbia University and has served on the faculty of Columbia Business School and Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a founding member of the Strategic Management Forum and is a Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts. In 2017, Dr. Kuhn was inducted into Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches.

Dr. Kuhn is doing three more IMS programs this month. Learn more about them HERE.

leadership body language with Carol Kinsey Goman

You may have a leadership title – or tremendous leadership potential — but do you look like a leader? Influencing people’s perception of you is called impression management, and body language plays a key role.

Here are five body language hacks that make you look like a leader:

1. Start With Your Posture

Try this: Raise your shoulders toward your ears. Now roll them back. Now drop them down. Keeping this erect posture with your shoulders back and your head straight makes you look very sure of yourself.

Power and authority are nonverbally expressed by expanding into height and space. When you want to project leadership presence at a meeting, sit tall and claim your territory. Uncross your legs and place your feet firmly on the floor. Bring your elbows away from your body and widen your arm position. Your expanded body language will not only change the way people perceive you – it will influence the way you feel about yourself.

When you stand, be aware that if your feet are close together, you can look hesitant or unsure. But when you widen your stance, relax your knees, and center your weight in your lower body, you look more “solid” and credible.  

2. Make Sure You’re Present

An up-and-coming manager was being groomed for a leadership position, but after attending a staff meeting, her boss took her aside. “Never do that again,” he said. “You didn’t look like you were fully present. You didn’t make eye contact with the speaker, you didn’t join the discussion, and you certainly didn’t look like a leader.”

Her boss made a valid point. You can’t project leadership presence if you aren’t perceived as being present.

At every meeting you attend, make sure you stay engaged by actively participating, making eye contact with, and orienting your body toward, whomever is speaking,

3. Use Gestures That Signal Leadership

Leadership presence is enhanced by using smooth, controlled gestures between your waist and your shoulders. Warmth and openness are demonstrated by rotating hands with palms up at about a 45-degree angle, a way of indicating that you have nothing to hide.  Moving your hands and arms away from the front of your torso is another way of indicating sincerity and security. The more you cover your body with folded arms or tightly-held hands, the more it appears you need to protect or defend yourself.

Authority is shown by rotating your hands palms-down, a nonverbal way of saying, “Hold that thought.” The steeple gesture (where the tips of your fingers touch, but your palms are separated) is a sign that you’re sure of what you’re saying. As such, it can be very effective when you want to emphasize a certain point.

Gestures to avoid include the “fig leaf.” Most people unconsciously clasp their hands in front of their lower body, creating a protective fig leaf effect. Whenever you use this gesture, especially during a formal presentation, it indicates that you’re insecure or uncomfortable. A better choice would be to clasp your hands at waist level.

Gestures are a key part of how people perceive you. Using a variety of gestures helps you connect with your audience. You’re more compelling and convincing when you talk with your hands – as long as you know what they are saying.

4. Sound Like a Leader

As a leader you can be sure that people will not only be listening to your words, they’ll be evaluating how you say what you say.

Speaking loudly and quickly makes you sound confident – unless, of course, you are shouting, which makes you seem rude and insensitive. Speaking softly can be effective for signaling a confidential or very important message. But always make sure you are speaking with enough volume to be heard. And remember to enunciate and speak clearly.

Put enough emotion in your voice to avoid a monotone delivery that sounds as if you’re bored or detached. I’ve heard leaders praise people in such a flat tone of voice that none of the recipients felt genuinely appreciated.

By the way, when you’re speaking, don’t be concerned with filling every moment with words. Instead, try pausing. It’s unexpected, it’s attention-getting, and it’s effective . . . very effective.

5. Ace Your Business Handshake

In the workplace, warmth and welcome are transmitted by shaking hands, and this seemingly simple greeting may be what someone remembers most about meeting you. That’s because touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue.

Be aware that people are personality judgments based on the kind of handshake you have. A weak handshake may mark you as “too timid for leadership.” And the “bone crusher” — where s person squeezes too tightly – almost always gives the impression of being overbearing or insensitive. The perfect handshake is firm, with palm-to-palm contact, so that the web of you hand (the skin between your thumb and first finger) touches the web of the other person’s hand. The more skin you can contact, the more you come across as trustworthy and reliable.

Remember to offer your hand with your palm facing sideways. If you extend your hand with the palm up, it makes you look submissive. When you hold out your hand with the palm down, or if you twist your hand downward during the handshake, it sends the message that you feel superior. But when you offer your hand sideways, it sends a message of equality and self-confidence.

Try these five body language hacks. You may be surprised to find that these simple nonverbal cues can give a powerful boost your leadership presence by positively influencing the way others perceive you.

About Carol Kinsey Goman Ph.D.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an international keynote speaker on Leadership Presence and Body Language for Leaders for corporations, conventions, universities, and government agencies. She will be doing two IMS programs this November in Kansas City and Los Angeles. You can learn more about the program HERE. Carol can be reached through her website: https://CarolKinseyGoman.com.

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Aspiring young leaders often ask me, “How can I learn to think and lead strategically?”  Normally, I smile and reply, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  The answer is, of course, practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  That’s how you get to Carnegie Hall, and that’s how you learn to think and lead strategically.

Strategic leadership is a form of leadership that is future-oriented and broad in scope. It emphasizes building the organizational capabilities and culture that strengthen a firm’s competitiveness and its ability to create customer and economic value on a sustainable basis. Strategic leaders speak a language of growth and value creation, rather than cost-cutting and downsizing.

Role of Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is the engine room of strategic leadership. It’s impossible to lead strategically without the ability to think strategically. They are two sides of the same coin. Strategic leaders have an innate ability to recognize patterns and seize emerging growth opportunities in dynamic market environments and tend to have strong conceptual skills and immense creative capacity that is fueled by an insatiable curiosity, openness to new experiences, a vivid imagination, and eclectic interests.

Many leaders struggle with strategic thinking and regard it as an inborn trait possessed by members of the lucky gene club rather than a cognitive capability—a mind-set and muscle—that can be developed.  It’s is my belief, however, that with the right development experiences, working under the watchful eye of a master teacher/coach with expertise in enterprise-level strategic thinking and transformation, operationally oriented managers can develop the capacity to think and lead strategically in dynamic market environments that are undergoing profound change. I have watched scores of operationally oriented managers develop the capacity to think and lead strategically in my executive development programs.

Building Your Strategic Muscle

Here are some tips and development activities for developing your capacity to think and lead strategically. 

Read Business Journals to Develop a Repertoire of Patterns

Strategic thinkers are expert pattern recognizers. A leader learns how to think strategically one pattern at a time. Commonly recurring patterns in business include a disruptive threat from a new entrant, organizational decline and renewal, growth spurts and growth stalls, industry maturation and commoditization, and price wars that create a death spiral.

A great way to develop a repertoire of patterns is through reading business journals and case examples in business books. Most of the strategic leaders that I have worked with are voracious readers and lifelong learners. Reading periodicals like Businessweek or the Wall Street Journal is a great way to develop broad, cross-industry business acumen and a repertoire of patterns.

Develop Eclectic Interests

It’s also important to develop eclectic interests outside of your work environment to develop your creative capacity. It doesn’t matter what you pursue, whether it be music, art, or birdwatching. The key is to pursue an interesting activity outside of work that brings your innate creativity out of hibernation and allows you to look at the world from different perspectives.

Develop Networks Outside Your Industry

It’s also vital to cultivate professional relationships outside your industry in order to develop a broad, cross-industry perspective. Thinking outside the box requires spending time with people in different boxes. Industries become inbred over time, so it’s important to connect with “switched on” leaders outside your industry to gain fresh perspectives that you can apply to your organization.

Participate in Strategic Projects

Experience is by far our best teacher. One of the best ways to develop your strategic thinking skills is by participating in enterprise-level strategy projects at your organization. You can also ask a senior-level mentor to shadow and/or support he or she on a shorter-term strategic project. During my doctoral studies, I worked with a retired CEO on strategy projects in an apprenticeship-type arrangement to hone my strategic thinking skills. The experience accelerated my development immeasurably and continues to bear fruit.

Maintain a Strategic Thinking Journal

Finally, it’s a good idea to maintain a strategic thinking journey to capture your insights, observations, and reflections.  Nearly all the executives I have worked with over the years maintain a journal to capture key insights.

Enhancing your capacity to think and lead strategically is clearly within your grasp provided you have the passion and drive and are willing to invest the time to hone your craft.  There are no shortcuts in life.

You have to practice, practice, practice!  That’s how you get to Carnegie Hall!

About Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn is a distinguished thinker, author, strategy advisor, and educator with expertise positioned at the intersection of strategy, innovation, growth, and organizational renewal and vitality—the work of strategic leadership. His work centers on helping senior business leaders develop the capacity to think and lead strategically in dynamic market environments undergoing profound change. He holds a doctorate from Columbia University and has served on the faculty of Columbia Business School and Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a founding member of the Strategic Management Forum and is a Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts. In 2017, Dr. Kuhn was inducted into Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches.

Dr. Kuhn is doing four IMS programs in October. Learn more about them HERE.

Author Hendrie Weisinger

These days, I often think of one of one of my graduate school professors. His name was CR Snyder and I doubt you know the name unless you are schooled in positive psychology.  Through long discussions and being under his supervision, I got to know him well and when I graduated, my impression was he was an arrogant guy.  Forty years later, I think of him as a brilliant guy.

Hope Theory

Rick, as his students called him, was the creator of “Hope Theory” and if you asked him to explain he’d answer, “the perceived capability to create pathways to desired goals and to motivate oneself while thinking about those pathways.”   His three main concepts were goals, agency, and pathways. The goals represented approaching life in a goal-oriented way. The pathways were finding different ways to achieve the goals that someone creates. The agency was the actual act of believing that a person can prompt change and achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. “I know I can do this!” is a high will power belief.  Dr. Snyder basically characterizes the hopeful thinkers as people who can form goals and work towards them. 

Rick, who is recognized as one of the three founders of the Positive Psychology field, went on to do over two hundred studies that show hope has served man well.  “Hopeful” individuals show higher self-esteem, more meaning in life and happiness, cope better with injuries, disease, and physical pain, excel in academics from elementary to graduate school perform better in sports and are more productive in work.

I can list dozens of management and leadership skills but I believe the importance of all of them pale in comparison to the skill of creating hope.  If you can’t make yourself hopeful, you lack resiliency and if you can’t make your team hopeful, you can count on the fact they will come in last.

Building Resilience

So, the next time you feel down and out or your team suffers a setback and things look glum, apply these two tips and you ‘ll find yourself bouncing back, or as some say, resilient.

  1. Create  “will power” by establishing goals that provide purpose and meaning.  These type of goals are physically arousing and translate into directed energy. After a setback or in times of adversity, reiterate your meaningful goals, purpose and meaning and you will begin to feel resilient. 
  2. Create Pathways.  Brainstorm and problem solve obstacles away by creating and innovating new routes that can help you achieve your goal.  Break each down into a simple step and each one taken, will increase the individual’s will power to continue.  The individual becomes resilient because he or she is hopeful they will make it.

Remember, as Andy Dufrense told Red, “Hope is the best of all possible things.”

The Snyder Hope Framework

This is something new that I found when I was researching rainbows. Something called the “hope theory” exists, where the word rainbow is used as a symbol for representing a theory. The hope theory is defined as the perceived capability to create pathways to desired goals and to motivate oneself while thinking about those pathways (1 Snyder).

Snyder was fascinated by the concepts of hope and forgiveness. Throughout his career, he published six books about Hope Theory, and 262 articles about the impact that hope can have on aspects of life such as health, work, education, and personal meaning. His theory had three main points to it. The three main concepts he discussed through it was goals, agency, and pathways. The goals represented approaching life in a goal-oriented way. The pathways were finding different ways to achieve the goals that someone creates. The agency was the actual act of believing that a person can prompt change and achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. Snyder basically characterizes the hopeful thinkers as people who can form goals and work towards them.

About Dr. Hendrie Weisinger

Dr. Hendrie Weisinger is a celebrated, influential, world renowned psychologist. A New York Times bestselling author, he is a leading authority in the application of Emotional Intelligence, an expert in Anger management, and the originator of the highly regarded techniques of Criticism Training, and the originator of the emerging new field, pressure management. Dr. Weisinger is the author of many successful books, including: Nobody’s Perfect, Anger Workout, Anger at Work, Emotional Intelligence at Work,The Power of Positive Criticism and the New York Times best-selling book Performing Under Pressure. Dr. Weisinger’s latest book, The Genius of Instinct introduces the principles of evolutionary psychology to everyday life.

References:
Snyder, C. R. “Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind.” Psychological Inquiry 13.4 (2002): 249-75.