News Articles

The Science of Influence: The Three Dimensions of Executive Presence

Posted on Thu, Dec 5, 2013

The Science of Influence: The Three Dimensions of Executive Presence

By Suzanne Bates

We’ve all witnessed that moment when a leader walks into a room and instantly attracts intense, positive attention. The air shifts. Heads turn. People gravitate toward them in the conversation circle. In short, they have a “wow” factor.

The wow factor is often called “executive presence.” Executive presence is a blending of temperament, competencies, and skills that, when combined, send all the right signals.

Leaders know they must embody executive presence to get ahead, influence others, and drive results. Leadership development professionals know they must help their executives develop it. But what exactly is executive presence?

One response we often get to that question is “I know it when we see it.” Some characterize it as gravitas. To others, it’s the leader’s ability to command the room. Others explain it with a laundry list of qualities. Without a clear definition and a more scientific approach, executive presence has remained somewhat of a mystery for organizations and for leaders looking to develop it.

What is intuitively understood about executive presence is that it’s all about the capacity to mobilize others to act. At the core, it’s necessary for influencing others.  To become influential and lead large-scale, complex business initiatives, executive presence isn’t a nice-to-have, but a must-have quality.

The Three Dimensions of Executive Presence

Executive Presence

Through our extensive work with successful leaders, we’ve seen how essential executive presence is to effective leadership. To stand out and drive an organization forward, you must own the room, project an authentic and confident style, excite people’s imaginations, and win hearts and minds. Contrary to some of the conventional wisdom you may have heard, executive presence isn’t charm school. Appearance and nonverbal communication are important facets of presence but really just the tip of the iceberg.  When you drill deeper into the science of influence, you’ll find that there is much more going on beneath the surface. 

Through an extensive review of relevant theory and empirical studies in management, communications, psychology, and social action theory, we’ve defined executive presence with three distinct dimensions – Style, Substance, and Character. These three dimensions are made up of 15 facets that collectively create an aura of presence that helps a leader make an impact.

1) Style is the more readily observable pillar. It’s what people see and experience about you quickly if not immediately. It’s the first impression people make of you – based on your image,  mannerisms, and interpersonal behavior. Whether you like it or not, style must be congruent with what people know and believe about you and your role in the organization. If there is dissonance between your style and expectations, people judge you as ineffective. With some leaders, perceived problems with the five facets of style may prevent people from appreciating their underlying substance and character. We may “tune out” or “write off” a leader based purely on relatively superficial observations about style.

2) Substance is made up of your social presence, demeanor, and gravitas in leadership situations. These are cultivated ways of being. They convey an overall sense of maturity, a capacity to integrate and bring one’s character and virtues into play as a leader. When a leader has substance, they are believed to be wise, confident, composed, and strategic as well as attuned to the needs and concerns of their stakeholders. If leaders have style but not substance, they may be perceived as “empty suits.” 

3) Character is an over-used and often misunderstood word, but in the context of leadership, character is your inner core—the  personal traits and values that define you. Character is who we are from the standpoint of values, temperament, and essential beliefs about self, others, and life in general. Character is the most foundational level of the leader as a person… but it’s also the least observable. It’s made up by your courage, optimism, integrity, discretion, and priorities. As a leader, you need to not only identify and clarify your personal values but behave consistently with them as you lead your organization.

The reality is that executive presence isn’t in anyone’s DNA. With the right assessment tool, it can be measured.  And we’ve developed the first-ever scientific assessment of executive presence—the Bates Executive Presence Index (Bates ExPI).  Based on the results of this multi-rater assessment, it’s entirely possible to learn how to leverage your existing strengths and address elements of executive presence that may be relative weaknesses now… but that can be developed with expert coaching over time.

Learn more about the Bates ExPI, the first research-based, scientifically-validated assessment tool to measure executive presence and influence. Call us today at 800-908-8239 or visit our page about our executive presence model for more info.


Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders, Executive Presence

Learning To Lead

Posted on Mon, Jul 11, 2011

Five Steps to Pain-Free Productive Meetings

By Suzanne Bates

Do you think all meetings are painful, time wasting, poorly run and unproductive torture sessions? If you hate meetings, you’re not alone. Practically everyone does, and although businesses have to run meetings, very often meetings run businesses. They’re more than just a drag; bad meetings can have a tremendous negative impact on productivity and the bottom line.

You may think that the only thing worse than sitting through meetings is having to lead them.

After all, you don’t want all that wrath and boredom directed at you, right? But rather than dreading running meetings, you can embrace them as an opportunity to polish up and show off your leadership skills. The style in which you lead a meeting will establish the meeting’s tone and influence the overall culture. People will take their cues from you, adopting your good practices. Different types of meetings require different approaches. You must be flexible and adapt to the purpose and participants in a meeting. While there are different meeting styles, some practices and policies make all meetings better.

The following five steps will help you to lead great meetings:

1. Prepare for Productivity

As the meeting leader, you must determine why the meeting is taking place in order to know who to invite, what to put on the agenda, how long to discuss each item and even what methods to use to come to a decision. Productive meetings begin with good pre-meeting communication.

Several days or even weeks in advance of the meeting, call, e-mail or speak in person with the influential people who will attend. Identify which issues will need to be addressed. This checking-in process will help you to anticipate and deal with objections and build consensus.

2. Stick to an Agenda

Without an agenda, participants cannot prepare so time is lost while people read or catch up.

Missions fall by the wayside as people talk about whatever is on their minds instead. As the meeting wanders, some may start whispering side conversations and anyone dominant enough can easily hijack the meeting. Agenda-less meetings often end before decisions are made, or decisions are made after key people have already left. Sound familiar?

Realize that you can’t solve all the problems of the world in one meeting. If you decide to spend 10 minutes on something, and the 10 minutes is up, it’s your responsibility to move on. You may be amazed to find what a difference just starting and ending the meeting on time and keeping it clipping along will make in participants’ morale and willingness to participate now in future meetings.

3. Encourage Participation

Your most valuable resource is the collective knowledge of others in the organization. A good leader encourages participation in order to harness others’ creative power.

Everyone will benefit when you make the atmosphere safe and easy for everyone, even the shy ones, to get involved.

Take note of those who remain silent, and make it a point to ask them what they think. You don’t want those who disagree with you or with the group’s decisions to not say anything, and then leave the meeting and attempt to undermine the decisions later.

Encourage participation by saying: “Stan, you shook your head just now. What else do we need to consider?” “I would like to hear from Karen on this.” “Becky, you and I talked about something before the meeting. Would you share it?” “Do we have all the issues on the table, Barrett?”

4. Listen Actively

Listening well and being able to provide a brief but accurate review of what has been said sets great leaders apart from the rest. To summarize effectively, you must hear everything that is said, and even more importantly, notice what is not said. Take notes or listen in a “note-taking” mind-set to key words and phrases. Put ideas you hear into the context of the whole discussion, and you will find that this creates accountability. Ask questions and then truly listen to the answers.

Questions that will yield valuable insights are ones like these: “What’s your reaction to ____?”

“What’s your view on____?” “What led you to____?” “How could we____?”

5. Manage Conflict

As a meeting leader, if you ask good questions and make it safe to disagree, participants will debate issues on the merits. You can’t allow discussions to get personal or let issues go unresolved. If this occurs, you risk damage to the whole organization, not just the individuals involved. Meeting leaders must promote positive conflict while avoiding personal attacks. While debate is usually healthy for organizations, some people in the group will test the limits.

Because they are angry or feel ignored, they will argue miniscule points, be unable to see others’ views, or fail to recognize the value of compromise. They may be poor listeners or have hidden agendas. Most of the time, difficult people are unaware of how they affect others, or what a serious impact they have on their own careers as well as on the effectiveness of their teams.



To keep difficult people from derailing your meeting, intervene in advance. Speak with them one-on-one so that they can vent or discuss what’s on their minds outside of the meeting context.

During the meeting, allow them to have their say, ask a few questions, and then move on.

Remember, your role as a leader is to enforce time limits.

Learning meeting skills leads to great opportunities. Good meeting leadership is not as common as it should be. Few people have the skills, and even fewer are taught how to lead meetings effectively. Rather, like most of us, they sit through many bad meetings, develop a lot of terrible habits, and when it’s their turn to step up and lead, they just don’t have the skills to do it.

Your ability to run a meeting well is a direct reflection of your leadership skills. Your staff, your peers, and the people you report to will all judge how you lead meetings and, in turn, whether your meetings accomplish results. In other words, your leadership skills will have a direct impact on the organization’s bottom line because the meeting is not an end in itself – it is a vehicle to accomplish the work of the organization. By following these five steps, you can learn how to lead productive meetings and demonstrate that you have the leadership qualities to position yourself for promotions and advancement in your organization.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

Successful Leadership

Posted on Fri, Jul 30, 2010

How To Influence and Inspire Others Through the Art of Storytelling

By Suzanne Bates

Managers go to classes, read books and try to learn from other manager’s success, all in an effort to be a good leader. They try to mold employees into what they perceive to be the perfect successful worker. What they don’t realize is that by persuading and telling people how to behave, they are actually alienating everyone. Instead of telling people how to behave, you can show them how by telling a story.

A senior vice president wanted to instill in her team the sense that they should go out of their way to build relationships with their internal clients – other businesses within the company. Her team was not seen as a group that solved problems or helped their colleagues. Instead of lecturing them about it at the all hands meeting, she chose instead to tell the story of an employee who had gone above and beyond – working overtime on a weekend to solve a problem for another department, which went a long way toward rebuilding a soured relationship.

Storytelling is a subtle but powerful tool. By telling stories, you can reinforce values and behaviors without hitting people over the head. A manager or leader provides employees with subconscious clues as to how to get ahead at work.

People love stories of all kinds. Centuries ago, people passed information from one person to another via storytelling long before they could read or write. As a result, today our brains are hardwired to listen to and respond to stories.

When a manager or leader tries to communicate, whether in a one-on-one meeting or a formal speech to a large auditorium of people, they have two choices. They can either lecture the audience with dry, dull data, or they can ensure their interest with a story whose characters and message come to life right before their eyes. If you’re like most people, option two is probably more appealing.

You can use storytelling regularly as a technique to motivate and inspire people with stories about others who’ve done a good job. This recognition or appreciation will allow your audience to relate to the “characters” in your story, and they will want to be the hero or subject of the next story.

The CEO of an airline draws on his background as a mechanic, pilot and business man, telling stories appropriate to each type of audience. He relates to them in their language, and often regales them with funny stories that tell them he’s walked in their shoes.

You may feel you don’t have any good stories to tell, but everyone has hundreds of stories in them, and observing will bring you hundreds more that you can use to communicate more effectively at work and advance your career. Follow these easy steps to use writing and telling stories as a significant leadership skill.

1. What’s Your Point?

When you’re ready to create a great story, figure out the topic, value, or idea you want to promote. What is your reason for telling your story? What purpose do you want the story to serve? Every story should make a point. It may be hysterical when you tell it at a cocktail party, but if it doesn’t drive home a business point, save it for your social life.

2. Who Are You Talking To?

Next, decide who the audience is for your story and how you’ll include them. The topic has to be relevant to that particular group of listeners, or you may entertain but will accomplish very little.

3. Who Are You Talking About?

Coming up with the idea for a story can be the hardest part. Powerful, original stories reveal a lot about you as a leader and a person without being about you, but rather about people you know, events you’ve witnessed, or things you’ve observed.

You probably should not make yourself the hero of your own stories unless you are relating to your audience something you felt, understood or learned. You can also make yourself the central figure if you use self-deprecating humor to make a point. Many leaders use humor effectively to become one of the gang or part of the crowd. Humor breaks the ice and sets up learning.

Begin by considering stories you have told to friends or family in the past. What have been some of your “greatest hits?” Consider looking for stories in the challenges you have faced, conflicts you have witnessed or experienced, and difficult decisions you have made. Any painful experience has many lessons inherent in it. When you have a little distance from those conflicts, you can better understand what they really meant.

4. Where Do You Find a Story?

Storytelling begins with awareness. Start paying attention to what’s going on around you, and every day you will pick up at least one new story to add to your repertoire. Other prompts for great stories include:

• Startling events, historical events and major changes. Has your group or company had new experiences, lost opportunities or had to work hard to achieve something?

• Embarrassments, awkward situations and dumb ideas that worked. Failures, turn-arounds and last-minute saves make great story topics! Especially when you want to provide incentive, consider this type of story.

• Inspiring people, remarkable achievements, memorable events, athletic contests, wins and losses.

• Seemingly insignificant, everyday occurrences, travel stories, interesting people you’ve met, unexpected discoveries.

5. How Do You Use a Story?

When you know what story you want to tell, write it down. You really must put it on paper to tell it right and ensure that you are actually making the point you want to make. Feel free to embellish a little to make the story work most effectively. You can use the same story to make a lot of different points, and you can use the story with a wide variety of audiences.

A CEO who is widely admired for his entertaining speeches keeps a “bible” of personal stories.

It was started and passed down to him by his mentor, who was also a great speaker. Today he continues to add to its rich contents and now has hundreds of stories, poems, funny lines, toasts, and famous quotes to use in his talks. Whenever he’s asked to speak, he simply pulls out his trusted resource, as thick as the New York Yellow Pages.

When writing a story, he’s always sure to include a few colorful descriptive words and phrases.

This brings your stories alive and paints a picture for your listeners. Don’t use so many details that you slow the story down. As you write your story imagine how you might “draw a picture” with your hands, or “show” a feeling with facial expression, instead of saying that you were upset, angry, or thrilled. Make a note in the margin of the text to remind you where to pause and appear perplexed or irritated or happy. Showing is better than telling.

6. Structure your story for maximum effect

All good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. And whether the story is meant to be funny, sad, serious or touching, some conflict or tension must be resolved by the story’s end.

As you work on your story, read it out loud, evaluate what works, and then rewrite and edit it.

Read it again, and work on it until its right. Learn it by heart, but don’t memorize it word for word. Just visualize and internalize, so that when you tell the story, you recall the major events and picture the people. Then you will be able to relate the essence of what happened while remaining conversational.

Story telling leads to career success

Not all of your stories need to relate astonishing, riveting, hang-on-for-your life experiences.

Some will be simple slice of life anecdotes, funny or serious, that are quick and simple to tell.

As you develop a story, don’t be afraid to “dramatize” a bit. A few gestures, facial expression, different tones of voice, or character voices will bring it alive.

Telling stories will become one of your most valuable communication tools. Try a tale or two out and see where they take you and your career!

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

Willingness: The Key To Motivating People

Posted on Tue, Jun 22, 2010

Athletes have run millions of miles inspired by one of the most famous, compelling slogans of modern advertising: “Just Do It.” Too bad it isn’t that easy in business.

While slogans are nice, we know that things only get done when people are truly motivated. Slogans capture sentiment, but they don’t create it.

In order for any enterprise to succeed, there must be consent, or willingness; a collective view that an idea is good. Once this happens, the group moves to a future focus—when they agree, they want to take action.

Leaders don’t need slogans, but sometimes they might wish they had psychology degrees; a way of understanding human nature so they inspire others. Willingness creates momentum and helps people execute. But makes diverse groups of people in an organization want to achieve a common goal?

A simple way to explain willingness is this—willingness is created when people clearly comprehend what to do and why. This means leaders must know how to articulate a vision, and explain why it is true. There is a simple three-step process to articulating what to do and why.

These three steps are: state the facts, explain the logic, and make the emotional connection.

Let’s say you have to make a persuasive presentation. You start with the facts. Facts must be relevant to the audience, and they must be self-evident or provable. You must have trusted sources, testimonials, credible information. And, the facts must actually matter to your audience.

Think about the way you make the decision to buy a new car. The salesman may give you 40 reasons why a mini-van is practical, but if you want to speed down Route 66 in a red, 2004 sports car with leather seats, you will not be convinced.

You may think this kind of information is presentations 101 – but one of the biggest mistakes we see leaders make is telling audiences what they want them to hear, not what the audience considers relevant. A presenter who hasn’t taken the time to analyze the audience, whether it’s employees, clients, customers, or the media, has little chance to persuade them to do anything.

One multi-national company was facing tough questions about a change in direction that forced out some top-quality people in the organization. Leaders were feeling defensive, and they sounded that way when they were on the phone with their customers. What they didn’t realize was their defensive posture about the business decision was irrelevant to most customers, who simply wanted to know how it affected them. By refocusing on what customers cared about, the company rewrote a talking points memo, sent out letters to customers that satisfied concerns and made the whole mess go away in a few short weeks.

The second element in creating willingness is explaining the logic – A causes B, and that results in C. There are countless types of logic, but most people intrinsically get it. They use logic to connect provable facts with recommended actions. Logic allows a group to collectively debate a situation, review possible courses of action and make a decision about whether to go along with an idea. This process takes place whether or not leaders want it to happen; people discuss it anyway over email or coffee, and decide amongst themselves whether they are willing.

The third element of willingness is emotional connection. People may listen to the facts and logic of an idea and still not be willing to move forward. Emotional attachment to the leader and the idea is critical, especially to sustain action. They must not only see the facts and truth of a situation, they must trust the leader. The emotional connection to the leader and idea become a sustaining force in willingness, especially when they meet obstacles.

In order to succeed, you have to “take people with you” on the journey. Most people in professional life are longing for a reason bigger than a paycheck to do what they do. But, they must see what you see, feel what you feel. You must move them at the emotional level; if you know how to get people excited about your ideas and give them a reason to believe in you, you have an unstoppable force called willingness.

The value of willingness in an organization cannot be overestimated. Willingness primes the pump of the organization. Just as a runner cannot win a race without warming up his muscles and ensuring his body is prepared for a grueling race, people cannot grind through the steps necessary to achieve long term goals until they are mentally primed.

How do you know when you have willingness in the organization? You can’t gauge it by the applause. How many times a day to employees go to meetings, clap in approval and then head to the water cooler to dissect all of its flaws? This process is unavoidable – people need to evaluate the facts, discuss the logic and make up their own minds after they leave the meeting. 

They simply won’t devote themselves to a project or cause until they have the opportunity to decide for themselves.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders, CEO Perspectives

Business Humor

Posted on Tue, May 4, 2010

How To Use It In Your Next Presentation

by Meredith O’Connor

When you think of the terms “humor” and “business” – do they seem incompatible?

Do you ever wonder if humor really has a place in your presentations?

Humor not only belongs in business presentations, it’s the secret weapon of many successful leaders. Using appropriate humor in meetings creates a more positive atmosphere. No one has ever been arrested in a business meeting for making people laugh.

"Think about the business presentations and meetings you've attended that you remember as 'fantastic'. Chances are those events included some kind of humor,” says “Corporate Comedian” David Glickman, author of Punchline Your Bottom Line: 76 Ways to Get Any Business Audience Laughing ( “It's what people remember. When people are laughing, they are listening," Glickman adds.

You may not think of yourself as a funny person. You may not be able to remember or tell a joke. You don’t have to remember jokes. In fact, jokes don’t usually work. What does work is a sense of humor. Find a funny “take” on a painful or difficult business situation. Or, choose an appropriate, self-deprecating remark. If you are really tuned in to what’s going on every day in your office, and in your industry, you will find good material.

Humor is a great way to defuse difficult issues or deflect criticism. Writer Mark Katz wrote a line for Al Gore that was priceless. “I know what they say about me – that I’m so stiff, racks buy their suits off of me.” By acknowledging a perceived character flaw, Katz took the edge off and made Gore seem far more like a mortal human.

“Humor actually increases your stature as a leader,” says Suzanne Bates. “Think about it – if you can warm up the room and make people smile, you stand out,” says Suzanne. “You gain the respect of your colleagues, you appear confident and in control.” Who looks like a leader – the person who is stiff and formal, or the one who can help the whole group loosen up?

How do you begin to add humor to your presentations? Here’s a great tip from Judy Carter, the author of The Comedy Bible, ( study comedians. "Stand-up is the most condensed form of comedy, and if you understand the basic principles of the simplest of jokes, you will be able to translate that skill to many different domains," says Carter.

By watching the pros like Letterman and Leno who have mastered standup, you’ll notice that they “see” the world a little differently. They find the absurd, ridiculous, weird or uncanny in stuff that happens every day. Remember Jerry Seinfeld? He became a comedy icon by making us laugh about “nothing.”

Studying comedians also teaches you about timing and delivery. Business humor is similar to standup comedy, in that to work, it needs to be short and punchy. If your story drags out, people will forget where you started and won’t care where you’re going by the time you get there.

Comedians will also show you how to be timely and relevant. What’s funny to your audience is what is happening right now. What made them laugh last month – like an encounter with a painful person or group, may not be funny at the next quarterly meeting.

Carter advises to learn to “see” comedy all around you, and says that there are “four basic attitudes that are useful (in seeing the humor in situations): weird, scary, hard, or stupid.” The Comedy Bible has writing exercises that will help anyone who wants to develop their funny bone begin to look at every day situations in a funnier way.

Here are some more tips, from David Glickman:

Tip #1: “Avoid using traditional 'jokes'. Too many speakers think they're supposed to open with a 'joke' and then they make an awkward segue into their material.”

Tip #2: “Instead, search for 'relevant humor'. If the humor is relevant to the subjects being discussed, it won't seem phony. I always like to say, ”The more specific the humor, the more terrific the humor'.

Tip #3: “If you can find ways to parody or poke fun of the 'hot buttons' or stressors at work, you'll acknowledge what everyone is already thinking anyway, and you'll gain the respect of your team by showing that it's 'ok to laugh at some of these things that drive us all crazy'."

Don’t go overboard. Have you ever watched “The Office”? If so, you’ll know what I mean – the perfect example of what not to do as a leader. Nobody wants to hear politically incorrect or potentially offensive jokes in a business setting – it just makes people uncomfortable.

And, know your audience. “What makes one group laugh,” says Suzanne Bates, “may leave another puzzled.” That doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try humor. “As long as the humor is appropriate,” says Suzanne, “people will remember you for giving it a go.”

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

Tuning The Voice of Leadership

Posted on Wed, Apr 21, 2010

The true test of success for leaders is not the amount of money they make, the price of their stock or the size of their businesses. Success is determined by how effectively they are able to communicate their vision and apply their experience to their enterprise. To meet the demands of business—and have a lasting impact on their organizations—leaders must speak with clarity and win the trust of others. When they know how to do this, they have what we call the voice of leadership.

The 2004 presidential campaign is an opportunity to see how important the voice of leadership is. Clarity and trust are the critical elements of any political campaign. Interestingly enough, when voters are interviewed about a candidate, they give you an impression—which may seem like it’s based on little that is tangible. How do they arrive at their conclusions? The fact is we base these impressions on very real elements—what we see and hear. Successful candidates have to project ideas with clarity, and have to be seen as trustworthy, or they cannot win. The long, grueling nature of a presidential contest gives us voters a chance to weigh information and decide.

You may not be out to win votes, but if you want to lead, you must project an authentic voice of leadership, too. This year, we are devoting the pages of the Credibility Report to voice of leadership stories, insights and practical advice—everything you need to develop an authentic, powerful “voice”. Our goal is to provide information about how to assess your voice, develop new skills and enhance your leadership through better communication.

First, let’s define the voice of leadership. It is an authentic, powerful way of communicating—unique to each of us. There is no formula for the voice of leadership—no two leaders are the same—but all good leaders have certain assets and competencies that determine the effectiveness of their voices.

Effective leaders have two powerful assets that provide the foundation for their overall success:

They have vision—the ability to imagine, conceptualize and articulate future hope and opportunity.

And they have experience—the skill and talent acquired by doing.

But vision and experience are not enough. There are two factors that determine how effectively leaders will be able to communicate their vision and apply their experience:

Trust—the most critical element in producing positive human behavior is willingness. If people are unwilling, they will not give their unwavering support to leadership initiatives. Trust is a basic building block of willingness. If people trust their leaders and believe the information provided by their leaders, they will be willingly to follow.

Clarity—if the message of leadership is not clear the team will not know how to do the things leadership asks of them. Confusion will dilute effort and desired results will be diminished.

Trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth or strength of a person or thing. When people trust you, they have a confident expectation about you. A person in a position of trust has a responsibility arising from that trust. In fact, when we trust people, we give over power to them; that’s why we call a property legally entrusted to a person a “trust.” We refer to a person who holds and administers property in trust for another is a “trustee.” People who are trustworthy can act, administer, and move forward with the full cooperation of others. Trust allows a leader to do what needs to be done, with the support of those who need to do the work.

Clarity is the act of making something clear, or easier to understand. In a lab, when you want to give clarity to a liquid, you remove the impurities such as fats through a process of heating. The process of achieving clarity in communication is comparable. To express an idea with clarity, we begin with an intellectual exercise, where we “cook” an idea until the impurities are removed.

What is left is transparent thought. Ideas that are transparent are easier to express, and more readily understood. Clarity is usually achieved when we begin with an intellectual process—observing, considering, reasoning, comparing and contrasting, reflecting, then articulating and communicating a pure message. A transparent idea is easily understood; the truth behind it is easily perceived. It is clear and unmistakable.

When Eliot Spitzer first went after mutual fund companies for trading practices that cost consumers billions, people didn’t really understand—most of us didn’t know how fees were set or care about how trades happened. Spitzer succeeded in building credibility because he was so good at explaining what happened and why it was wrong. He proved you don’t need an MBA to understand corruption in financial services. Once he laid out the case in simple language and stark terms, the press and the public got it. His investigation caught and it became too big to ignore.

Clarity and trust are the keys to tuning the voice of leadership. Over the coming months, we hope you’ll read and find useful information that will help you tune your voice—develop a total package of skills that help you articulate your vision and bring unity and focus to your organization.

We welcome your questions and comments and hope you will let us know about communication topics that will help you become the best you can be.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders, Executive Communication

How Leaders Develop and Communicate a Vision

Posted on Mon, Apr 19, 2010

How do leaders develop and communicate a vision?

vision eyeglasses iStock-519711436-2.jpg

The first step is to understand what vision is, and the second step is to create a process for identifying and articulating a vision.

Understanding this process will help you articulate your own vision and values, and will help you assist the leaders of your organization to do the same.

Developing and Communicating a Vision

There is actually nothing mystical about vision. A vision is a picture of what an organization could and should be.

A hallmark of great leaders is that their vision includes big ideas. Big ideas get people excited.

Nobody wants to do something small. Leaders want to feel motivated about coming to work, because what they do matters.

Some examples of big ideas that most of us are familiar with are Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and President John F. Kennedy’s vision for the space program, “We choose to go to the moon . . . not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

Great business leaders also know how to paint a vivid picture of the future. They make it look easy. However, most of them have worked hard to develop and articulate their powerful thoughts.

The creative process of developing a visionary statement consists of four steps: Observe, Reflect, Write, and Speak. Here’s what I tell my executive clients about these processes:

Step One: Observe

In order to determine a vision, you must become an astute observer of your world. You have to immerse yourself in watching, listening, and wondering. Pay attention, ask questions, probe, discuss, and gather information.

Step Two: Reflect

Now you turn inward. For example, you look at important events in the company, or important events in your life and career, and ask yourself: What did I learn? What is this telling me?

During reflection, you come up with stories and examples that form your vision and clarify your values. These stories enable you to speak authentically from your own wisdom and experience.

In this reflecting stage of the process, it’s better to have someone listening and asking questions. A coach or trusted advisor can help you talk through a story or idea and find the significance of it.

Personal stories are a rich source of material that can crystallize a vision. When searching for personal stories with a client, we look at broad categories, both positive and negative, that usually yield some interesting images and help to communicate the vision and values that are important to the client. These include, among others: personal challenges, major changes, new experiences, lost opportunities, awkward situations, failed attempts, turnarounds, last-minute saves, inspiring people, remarkable achievements, and memorable events that may have occurred in a client’s life.

Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of talking about themselves in business speeches.

However, by weaving personal stories into their speeches, leaders connect with people. Their experiences are interesting to an audience, because they say so much about the leader.

Step Three: Write

Because we live in a fast-paced world, with little time for reflecting and writing, many people want to skip this step. That is a mistake. When you write, you discover how to say precisely what you mean. Many executives ask why they can’t just speak off the cuff. That is an important skill. But when you are articulating a vision, writing it down is a critical step in the process.

One of my clients, the president of a college, was preparing to give his inaugural address. It had been “word-smithed” by an outstanding, talented speechwriter. But as he read the speech, we realized something was missing—himself! He had graduated from this school, worked on Wall Street, retired, and served on the college’s board of directors, who then drafted him for the job.

But nowhere in the speech was there any information about why he accepted the position, what made him want to do this at this stage in his career, what his education at the college meant to him, and what his vision was for the college.

As I interviewed him, we were able to identify two or three great stories that would tell people who he was and what he stood for. As he practiced the new speech, what came through was a leader and a person committed to the college’s success.

Step Four: Speak

If you have followed the process, speaking and communicating your vision is a natural outcome.

A leader is far more powerful and effective when he or she gets up to speak because of this process. Then, the speaking must be scheduled. It does no good to create a vision without a plan to speak about it in many venues over a period of time. It takes several repetitions for most people to truly hear and remember the message.

Speaking well requires practice. All the preparation in the world will not wow an audience if the leader cannot speak fluently and confidently. There is no magic wand that will make a speech great if the speaker has not rehearsed so that he or she looks and sounds like a leader on the platform.

The activities of observing, reflecting, writing, and practicing a speech are not usually on an executive’s calendar, but they should be. A powerful vision, well-articulated, attracts people to an organization, motivates them to take action toward progress, and drives business results.

For more on vision check out our blog: Bringing Vision into Focus: Five Tips to Tackle Leader' Weakest Link

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders, Executive Communication

Strategic Planning: What Is It, Anyway?

Posted on Tue, Mar 2, 2010

Create a Roadmap for Your Organization that Actually Means Something!

A strategic plan is a picture of where you're going and how it will look when you get there. The plan should include the important steps needed to achieve your goal, and a way to measure how you know when you've arrived there. The words should be clear, compelling and easy to understand. The plan should explain how the organization will meet its mission and serve its members.

What’s the process?

The process to create this plan is different for every organization. The important thing is to do it.

Set aside time. Brainstorm. Discuss. Build consensus. Write and edit. Check with stakeholders.

Finalize and then create a communication plan to drive the message forward and make things happen.

How do you start?

The best way to start is with a big, exciting goal. Then, brainstorm some actions that could get you there. One of my mentors taught me that when setting goals and an action plan, it's easier to frame it up not as something you hope for in the future, but as something you've already accomplished.

When you apply this tactic, ask questions like:

• It's the end of 2007. What have we accomplished?

• How did we get there?

• What were the keys to our success?

• What were the one or two decisions we made that made a difference?

• What have we learned that will help us move forward?

Why it Works

It's amazing what people come up with when they imagine they have already accomplished something. It takes challenges out of the realm of the impossible, and into something people can actually picture and feel.

You can do this for any time frame: one year, two years, three years, even ten years.

Your plan will, at first, include just big picture goals and strategies. But, at some point, you want to write a more detailed plan so that everyone involved understands what has to be done.

This is similar to project management. You won't achieve a project if you don't break it down into action steps and time frames.

So We Have a Plan, Now What?

Once a strategic plan has been constructed, your organization must decide how the plan should best be communicated – in a meeting, via a written report, or a combination of several procedures?

You need a complete strategy for communicating the plan. The key leaders can and should make formal and informal presentations to all of the stakeholders including:

• Employees

• Board of Directors

• Clients

• Customers

• Association members

• Other interested parties

• The media

These presentations should be exciting, interesting, and paint a picture of the future. Around that “vision statement” you have to make it real with stories and examples that bring it alive and show people how they can contribute to making it happen.

Creating a great presentation requires a commitment of time and energy and resources. You need to think it through, script it and have your talking points down cold.

Why This Matters

It is important to effectively communicate your strategic plan because if people don't know about the plan and understand the plan, they can't make it happen. Every single person in the organization and every single stakeholder should be able to state the plan and their role in executing it.

It should be clear, succinct, and repeatable.

If you create a plan and don't take time to communicate it, you may as well not make a plan.

Your communication strategy is a key to your success.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

For Women Executives: Business Is A Lot Like Politics

Posted on Sun, Feb 28, 2010

How do you communicate leadership?

You can be smart, hard-working, competent, strategic and blessed with superior vision for your company’s, your state’s or your country’s future, but if you cannot communicate all that effectively, chances are you’ll fail to capture the leadership position. That’s true in politics, and true in business.

In fact, a recent study conducted by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation demonstrates how this holds true. The Foundation, a progressive organization whose mission is to promote women in politics and the arts, analyzed voter perceptions of ten women who ran for governor in 2002.

The results indicated that personal qualities and performance often outweigh substantive issues with voters.

The study, entitled “In Cracking the Code: Political Intelligence for Women Running for Governor,” also found that women candidates are often judged more harshly than men seeking the same job. According to the study, “the candidate’s personal style—clothes, hair and communications skills—is more closely scrutinized than a man’s.”

Barbara Lee, founder of the Foundation, sums up what many women are thinking: “Of course, we would like to think that experience and qualifications always triumph, but that isn’t necessarily the case.” However, the evidence, according to Lee, demonstrates how “the initial impression that a female candidate makes stays with voters longer and is less likely to change than voters’ impressions of male candidates.”

And women in politics are not the only ones who can benefit from this vital research. Women who are business leaders—or want to be—can learn. “The feedback we’ve received has told us that it is applicable to women in all fields who want to be successful,” says Lee.

So what’s a candidate or business leader to do? Lee shares a few of her tips.

Prepare, prepare, prepare.

“A candidate who is prepared, practiced and relaxed will come across as confident and capable,” says Lee. Not only that, but you’ll feel prepared, confident and relaxed—which is equally as important.

Hire the professionals you need to strengthen your image and message.

Whether it’s a wardrobe consultant, make-up artist, media trainer or public speaking coach, the goal is to create a strong first impression. Leaders must know how to command a room or a debate stage from the beginning. They need to get ready for critical presentations or debates by practicing on videotape. When they review their performance, they have to pay particular attention to posture, facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. And of course, their messages must be conveyed powerfully and succinctly.

Add a little humor.

Lee found that candidates, like all leaders, need to show decisiveness—but also not be afraid of a little self-deprecating humor. It helps diffuse tension and makes the candidate or anyone appear more human. “One of my favorite examples of this comes from Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan,” says Lee. “As a candidate, she was asked about the time she appeared on the television program, The Dating Game. She responded, ‘Well you don’t want a boring governor do you?’ Her retort ended that line of questioning once and for all!”

See which of these additional findings can apply to the work that you do.

• A candidate who is less “tailored”, both in the way she carries herself and in her manner of dress, is perceived by both male and female voters to be less of a leader and less professional.

• Misspeaking plagued several of the candidates. However, successfully recovering from public mishaps also demonstrates a particular confidence.

• A confident attitude conveys many positive qualities: intelligence, competence and authority.

• The importance of a well-planned, but controlled schedule cannot be over-stated.

• Successful candidates paced themselves and were fresh for their most important public events.

• Successful candidates also left the job of managing the campaign up to the campaign manager, rather than involving themselves in the micro-management of staff.

• Voters used debates to learn a candidate’s stand on the issues, but more importantly, voters wanted to gauge a candidate’s quickness, toughness and decisiveness.

• Voters lose confidence in candidates who display insecurity during critical moments of engagement. For this reason, preparation for debates, forums and press events is particularly important.

• When a female candidate is prepared and practiced, voters notice. When she isn’t, it’s hard for them to forget. 

If you would like to download a copy of “Cracking the Code: Political Intelligence for Women Running for Governor” visit

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders, Executive Communication

Are You Ready To Save Your Company?

Posted on Mon, Feb 22, 2010

How To Have A Smart Approach In The Event of Crisis

Even the best-run companies in America know that they have to be prepared for a crisis. The time and effort your organization puts into this preparation can mean the difference between recovering and closing your doors. Savvy executives know that if you fail to plan crisis communication procedures, it will quickly spiral out of control, and your chances of recovering greatly diminish.

A textbook case of how it can go all wrong is the way the Boston Archdiocese’s handled the revelations about pedophilia among priests. While the Church made many mistakes, it was their shocking evidence of the archdiocese’s cover-up that ultimately destroyed credibility. While the crimes were horrific, the church’s complicity with the criminal acts and hiding the evidence were what really outraged the public. When thousands of documents detailing Cardinal Bernard Law’s knowledge of the priest pedophilia plaguing parishes were finally uncovered, the crisis that had began almost a year earlier erupted with new force, resulting in the long-awaited resignation of Cardinal Law.

Because the situation was so disturbing, the focus of the Catholic Church story has largely been on the horror of the events, but the importance of examining this case in terms of crisis management is undeniable. What we witnessed was a devastating lack of the fundamental rules of crisis management. By evaluating a situation of this magnitude from a crisis management perspective, we can learn how to prevent any business crisis from spinning out of control.

A helpful way to view the crisis is to think of it like an illness. “Like a cold, if we take correct preventative action, we can avoid a crisis,” says renowned crisis communications author Stephen Fink. And just like a cold, when the germs are too strong to fight, you may still get sick.

But if the situation is handled correctly, the crisis can be nursed with care until the situation is remedied, so it is shorter and less debilitating.

Here are some crisis management tips every corporation should practice:

1.Take immediate action if a problem arises, either internally or externally.

This is why companies have and fully utilize crisis management plans and experienced PR teams: press releases and conferences communicate what to avoid the appearance of a coverup.

What should have been managed properly and promptly by the archdiocesan personnel was swept into file cabinets and ignored. No matter how much power it yields, an organization cannot subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. Remember, the longer something is covered up, the deeper the grave the company has dug for itself in the end.

2. Keep employees in the loop.

GEICO Auto Insurance learned this lesson the hard way in its early years, when the management communicated only with the media during a bankruptcy crisis, and left their employees reading about the company’s status in the morning papers. Soon, their own employees doubted them more than the media did. While communicating with the press is definitely key to coming out of a crisis on top, management must also remember to keep their employees informed to maintain a culture of trust, understanding and support. Utilize internal memos, meetings, and the company intranet to keep employees updated.

3. Admit your mistake.

If your company has made a mistake, admit it. If you’ve been wrongly accused, state your innocence and be able to back it up. Always tell the truth, because if you weave a web of lies, it will come back to you tenfold. Complexity of the situation cannot be an excuse; Enron’s complex web of deceit was still ultimately uncovered and understood. Even if your company has done something to seriously injure its credibility, companies that offer a public, heartfelt apology are more likely to earn back respect and credibility than companies who continue to shift the blame elsewhere. Consider the Exxon Valdez oil spill: the CEO and other members of the top management refused to take the blame that was obviously theirs and ended up with a disgruntled and angry public.

4. Resignations are an option.

The importance of Cardinal Law’s resignation from the Boston Archdiocese should be a model for other organizations undergoing a similar destruction of reputation. A resignation—forced or voluntary—should not be seen as a cop-out, but rather as a necessary step in a recovery back to credibility. Think of it as damage control. How could a company move on with the same management that caused the loss of credibility in the first place?

Let’s say for a moment you have a dead tree in your yard. Even if the tree is well-rooted in the soil, and has had a history of flourish and plentitude, when it becomes dead wood, it becomes a hazard to your property. To reduce that hazard, you have the tree uprooted. The weakened soil is cultivated until it becomes fertile enough to plant again. Resignations are very much like a removal of a dead tree—you directly uproot the problem from the company, tend to its damaged culture, and start fresh with a new leader.

5. Write a communications plan.

Be sure that every key person in your organization knows who to call, who to bring into the situation and what the plans are in the event of a crisis. Give those who will be dealing with the media, employees, investors and other key constituents full access to decisions as they are happening and be sure everyone is in the loop on your goal for appropriate full disclosure.

Lawyers, outside consultants, key decision makers and others have to be on the same team before any crisis so there is no question about who is in charge or what your highest values are if it ever happens.

6. Train your spokespersons.

Whether your executives or your public relations director are handling the brunt of communications, nothing is more important to rebuilding credibility than handling the media and the public in a crisis. You can make all the right decisions, but if you don’t communicate effectively you may still lose the battle for hearts and minds. Make sure the people who are handling the calls, dealing the public and talking to the press are well-trained.

A crisis can be an opportunity to build credibility if you handle it correctly.

Remember, like a cold, you can prevent a crisis: if you keep a watchful eye out for its signs, you can have control of its destructive forces. And if you find yourself tumbling in the depths of an unavoidable crisis, recall the tips above. With care, you could just save your company from those scathing newspaper headlines.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders, Executive Communication


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