Friday, May 27, 2011

Do you have leadership presence?

Jim Collins challenged the notion of leadership presence when he defined a level 5 leader as "one who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will."

He rattled our traditional belief that effective leaders must have a charismatic, extroverted and take-charge confident presence. In fact, Collins went on to discover that a common thread of these high-achieving level 5 leaders was that they contained a "compelling modesty."

This modesty is described with words like quiet, humble, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing and understated.

These are not attributes we normally associate with leadership presence; in fact, we often think of attributes that are antonyms to these words. And yet, according to Collins, these attributes are the makings of great leaders.

Yet most of us continue to mistakenly believe that having leadership presence is like playing a role in a play, requiring an elaborate costume and a personality change. As if we need to be on center stage, in the spotlight, with all eyes and attention upon us, in order to have the presence of a leader.

Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to developing your leadership presence.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was addressing the professional women at my former employer, The Coca-Cola Company. Another speaker, a current executive at the company, was talking about the issue of work/life balance and she said an important thing related to leadership presence. She said "it isn't about balance, it is more about presence. When you are at home, you must be present with your children and family, not feeling guilty about work obligations. When you are at work, you must be present and be at work fully; not feeling like you should be tending to family concerns."

You see, when you are going through the motions and are somewhere else mentally and emotionally, you can unwillingly communicate arrogance which does not allow you to connect with others as a leader, nor will you be perceived by others as a leader.

The "presence" she talked about was about being in the moment and available to the people with whom you are leading, at home or at work. When you achieve this level of presence, you exude humility. It is also from this place of presence that you develop trust with others and the ability to connect.

With presence, you are also in a grounded state allowing you to meet the challenges as they arise, rather than being out of step with those around you. You meet people where they are.

While many types of people struggle to develop this "presence", ironically, I have found that people who exhibit traditional leadership presence attributes like charisma, extroversion and take-charge confidence, are usually the ones who are most challenged with being in the moment. Present company clearly included in this observation.

So, if you are like me, your tendency might be to always be three steps ahead of yourself and especially ahead of others. This poses a challenge for you to be in the moment to effectively develop leadership presence, as it did for me. As a result, you might be inclined to go at it alone, rather than bringing others along with you, simply because you aren't in the moment and you are in a different place than they are.

If you find yourself in this camp, remind yourself that getting to the end of a problem in record speed doesn't always provide the best solution. Plus, if you get there alone, it often will take more time and effort to go back to get others on board, than if you had gotten them with you from the start. Been there, done that, and certainly have the t-shirt on this one.

All kidding aside, as I have personally worked these past several years at gaining more "presence" for being in the moment and in essence growing my humility, it is the one thing that I attribute to my continued and growing success.

It can be for you too.

Using the play as an analogy for the business stage where leadership presence unfolds and you are either in that role of the leader, or aspiring to be, here are a few tips to keep in mind about developing your "presence" for leadership.

1. Lose the costume and personality change. Above all else, bring the best of you.
2. Resist the temptation to move towards the center of the stage where the spotlight is the brightest.
3. Be in the moment to bring calmness and a grounded, quiet confidence.
4. Refrain from taking too much attention; shine the light on others whenever possible.
5. Get comfortable with silence and looking to others for answers, especially when all eyes are upon you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Are you pursuing your definition of success?

Since leaving Corporate America and becoming a speaker and a leadership coach I have addressed and worked with thousands of business professionals from all walks of life; from corporate executives, entrepreneurs, working moms, small business leaders, mompreneurs, MBA students and even recent grads.


But many of them often have the same question for me: "How did you do it?"

My answer usually is "Do what?"

And the response to that question is usually met with a dear-in-the-headlights look.

All kidding aside, I am often baffled by the use of the proverbial "it" they are referring to. "It" defines everything and yet nothing. While "It "usually refers to some measure of success or accomplishment, it's important that "it" be clearly defined, and most importantly defined by you.

But this rarely happens.

Most of the time, we are in pursuit of an "it" defined by a collective, societal view of success, not our own.

Also, part of this collective view of success is that we are at the mercy of others deeming whether or not we can have "it". As a result, I often hear people use the proverbial "they"... especially when "it" isn't happening. Generally, "they" are the ones accused of blocking their way, the ones keeping them from accomplishing "it". "They" could be a spouse, a boss, a company, a customer or even a parent.

There was a point in my career when I stalled out. I didn't get an important promotion and as a result I felt like I had taken a huge step backwards. I felt this way because, in the definition of success I was pursuing, the only way to move forward and to be of any value is to get that next promotion. So, at that point, there were many "they" that I was blaming.

When I hit that roadblock along my climb, I didn't recede; I just continued to push harder and harder still.

Sometimes the persistent push works and you make it up the next rung and then the next. But sometimes it doesn't. And you try again and again and yet again, growing more resentful with each push that results with no movement.

In fact, you can become so blinded at this moment that you can only see that next rung on the ladder in front of you. You can't even see that this ladder is no longer taking you to where you want to be. And so you hold onto each step as if it is the only one left; as if there are no other steps possible.

Many of my coaching clients that have come to work with me often have "get promoted" as their top objective. Over time, some learn that this objective is not really what they seek; it is just the only result they know because they are so gripped with fear for stepping outside of that common definition of success.

You see, our fear keeps us pursuing this common definition of success and makes us believe that someone can actually knock you down from that ladder and take those steps away from you forever.

But they can't.

No one can knock you off that ladder. No one can take away those steps you have laid so carefully before you to get you to where you are today.

Those steps you have accomplished are yours to keep. They are yours to take with you and to build new steps upon them, to create a new ladder.

A ladder that takes you to your newly defined "it", your definition of success.

And guess what? In your newly created definition for success, there is no one else to blame, no one else standing in your way, except yourself.

When you create your own definition of success you relinquish the blame you place on others because you have taken the first step of accountability towards creating your success by defining it.

We rarely take the opportunity to ask these questions:

Is the definition of success you are pursuing worth changing?
Does your definition of success need to be redefined?
Should you be climbing a different ladder to get there?
Can you make a bigger ripple, a bigger impact with an entirely different ladder?
For me the answer was a resounding "Yes."

So, what about you, what's your definition of success and is the ladder you are on taking you there?