Women's Leadership DevelopmentI have recently come across an interesting challenge. I work with organizations on building and delivering Women’s Leadership Development Programs. While these programs have been around in some organizations for years, there are many springing up organically – often at the request of the women on staff.

There are two things I have found interesting and a bit of a challenge to the success of these programs.

1. Support

Organizations are giving a lot of lip service to wanting to recruit and retain women and say they want to have more women in leadership positions. Some even go as far as to set goals for more women in leadership roles. However very few put real support behind the initiative. I am not just talking about resources, although those certainly help build a robust program, which I’ll discuss in a minute. But I am also talking about creating thoughtful well designed programs with metrics and goals at their core.

Resources are key to building a program that supports not only the goals of the organization, but the goals for the type of leaders you want to develop. Often these programs are run by women already in leadership roles who are juggling many balls and yet are expected to plan, organize and deliver rich and meaningful programming. There is no budget for hiring a skilled in-house professional to build and execute a great program, or to bring in a professional who can do it. There are rarely even resources to pay talented speakers to come and deliver compelling content.

What are these organizations communicating to their female employees? ‘We want you to stay and move up in the organization, but we don’t think it’s important enough to give it the thought and dollars required to do it right.’ Last week I wrote about consistency being at the heart of authenticity. So if these organizations truly want to move the needle and develop more women for their organizations, they need to give it some time, attention and walk the walk.

2. Speaking the language of women

Recently I have been invited to speak for the women’s groups of several large companies. In each case, there were some men in the audience. I love that. I am delighted to have them and know that a great deal of my content will be valuable to them. However, I specifically build my content for the women in the audience because we have unique needs and our own way of communicating. But, I have heard that men in some of these organizations don’t want them to be for women only. To this I say – you have had your men-only groups for long enough, don’t give us grief if we want our own. It’s not that I think these should be girls clubs, bashing our male counterparts or bemoaning the challenges in the workplace. I think it’s great to have men attend and join in – it creates meaningful dialogue. However, the language of women at work is different and the internal challenges we face are often different from men. So we need a place to voice our points of view and develop our leadership skills in a way that is authentic and valuable to us as women.

A recent study by McKinsey stated that “By addressing the mindsets holding women back, corporate leaders can reshape the talent pipeline…increasing the number of women role models at the top.” And. the same research shows that highly diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by as much as 80%.  So, I hope that I continue to see more organizations truly focus on developing and funding strong programs for their women, to help retain, recruit and promote the best within their organizations.





InconsistentI have often written about the importance of executive presence to professional growth and advancement. This presence includes things like body language, vocal tone, word choices and authenticity. But one key element of a strong and influential presence is consistency.

We all know individuals who act one way with peers and another with leadership. Or maybe they speak one way to team members and another way to clients. These folks always have a hard time getting ahead and if they ever do manage to reach the C-Suite, they don’t last long. That is because authenticity is at the core of every great leader and inconsistency derails authenticity.

It is important that you be authentic with everyone. If you are always yourself, you are always consistent. Notice your tone and body language when you are with different groups. Are you equally engaged with everyone, even those you like less? Does your look reflect your presence or do you look uncomfortable and stiff because you’d rather be in jeans? If your job is organizational and requires setting up and refining systems, you won’t want to have an office that looks like a bomb went off.

Think of the signals you are communicating to your peers, your team and your clients. Your credibility will grow and they will trust you more if you are consistent in your presence.

get-more-clientsIt is not new for you to hear that speaking is the best way to get new clients. Speaking at a conference, at an industry or association lunch or even at your church or neighborhood group gives you visibility, credibility and engagement, all in 30 to 45 minutes. What a great way to pitch your company or service to a group of folks all at once.

So why don’t more people put themselves out there? There are several reasons, but the most common is:

“I get nervous.”

Public Speaking is ranked as a fear worse than death. Something I have never understood. And, I have yet to meet anyone who, when asked, would choose death over a speech, even a bad one. So let’s put that myth to bed. The truth is anyone would be anxious to stand in front a bunch of strangers and do something for which they haven’t trained or practiced. I would be mortified if I had to play a trumpet or run a 100 yard dash in front of an audience.

People get nervous because they need to train and practice. (Something they don’t really want to do). So why don’t they? For some reason they think “I speak all day, why should I train?” The answer is simple, because you want to do it well.

Anxiety, at its core, is just your mind telling you you’re unprepared. That should be great news. It’s an easy fix. All you need to do is:

  1. Get out there – Start somewhere you feel comfortable. Choose an audience with a few friendly faces. It doesn’t need to be a big group. You just need to start doing it.
  2. Learn the elements of a great speech – There are hundreds of books, articles, and YouTube videos that can provide a great resource to begin.
  3. Get feedback – While practice makes perfect, practice with feedback is essential. I know some people suggest you videotape yourself. I think it’s a bad idea to watch yourself on video unsupervised. You will notice things no one cares about and miss things you need to improve. Ask a friend or get a coach. They can provide great insight.
  4. Practice some more – There is no substitute for practice. No one wants to watch a football team that hasn’t practiced or a play where the actors haven’t rehearsed. Your potential audience is no different.

So, practice often and out loud, then just do it. You will find your nerves disappear and the clients start to roll in.

HiringOrganizations are constantly on the lookout for great talent. They look for a great cultural fit, strong work ethic and of course the skills and experience to do the job. However, whether they are hiring internally or looking outside the company, they rarely seek to identify some of the key indicators of a successful leader.

Assessing candidates, both internal and external, on these 4 criteria can reap big rewards over time.

Personal Presence

This is not about how someone dresses or their personal hygiene, although those can have an effect. Personal Presence is about how someone is perceived. Organizations often look at candidates in terms of whether or not they get the job done or if they are ‘liked’. But, it is not so much about being liked as it is being respected, seen as credible and trust-worthy. Doing a great job and being liked can work at a more junior level. As they move up however, they need to be seen as leadership material. Personal presence is reflexed in body language, tone of voice, word choices and even their energy. No one will be lead far by someone whose energy gets tense and scattered under stress or who has a meek and quite vocal tone.

Rapport Building

Rapport building is a skill that everyone moving up the ladder must master. For some it truly comes naturally. For many it is hit or miss. They create a connection with people they like and see as being like them. But in business, rapport building with those we don’t like and see as different is what sets a leader apart and grows businesses. Everyone has their own style for building rapport, but it is valuable for companies to assess a candidate’s process for rapport building to ensure a long term fit within the organization

Ability to persuade

Being persuasive is a skill. It can be learned, but most people think it is simply about dumping all the relevant facts on the table and waiting for others to come to the same conclusion they have. This never works. To persuade, one must understand needs, outcomes and the language of the listener. If an organization does not hire or coach the candidate with persuasion in mind, there will be some long unproductive meetings in both the staff room and the board room


This is the most important quality of the four and the only one that can’t be coached. They either are or they are not. Candidates at all levels must be coachable. No one is a perfect fit for every role in every organization. Great leaders grow and adapt over the life of their careers. It is the individuals who think they don’t have anything to learn or who aren’t willing to look at their short-comings and blind spots that bring down teams, departments and even whole organizations.

So before investing leadership development dollars or making a key hire, assess your team and your candidates for these four skills and qualities along with their competence and expertise and watch your organization take off.

Stalled CareerThe more companies I work with the more I realize how many smart capable individuals stall their own career because of their personal presence. Having the skills to do the job is only a part of what it takes to get and stay ahead. You have to have the right presence for each role.

Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What got you here won’t get you there” spells it out in the title. We think, ‘this worked for me in the past, so I don’t need to change a thing’. Wrong! Rarely do the skills and traits needed at a junior level serve you in a senior role.

Personal presence is a constantly evolving process. You adapt your authentic style not just to the role, but to the company and its culture. How do you need to show up every day? How do you need to be seen by leadership, investors, your team or your clients? There is always a shift that needs to be made.

I was thinking about this recently as I see my son getting ready to transition from elementary school to junior high. To succeed he will need to show up differently for the teachers and his class mates as well. It’s not much different as we move up the ladder at work.

So take the time to evaluate where you are and where you need to be. Many companies have great leadership development programs. Take advantage of them. Go to a workshop. Get a coach. Get feedback and support to begin making small shifts in your presence so you can continue to grow your career and reach your goals.

Jerk Boss

I was recently speaking for a group and we were discussing bosses who are jerks. We’ve all had them, and if you have one now, my sympathies. The truth is we often have to work with people we don’t necessarily like, but it gets so much harder when that person is our boss. They can make our work day miserable – micromanaging, overloading us with tasks, making us responsible but not giving us the authority. So what do we do?

First, recognize that you can’t do a thing about them. You can’t change who they are or how they work. The only thing you can change is you. So what is the one thing you can do which can make your job and life easier?

Stay engaged!

Our natural tendency when we are don’t like someone or are uncomfortable, is to disengage. We keep our mouth closed in meetings. We don’t look them in the eye in the break room. We tune them out on a call. The problem is, all of these things only hurt us, not them and it does nothing to make the situation better. It can only make things worse because he knows you don’t give a hoot. Once you disengage it shows in your body language, your tone of voice and even your word choices.

Make the effort to stay engaged. Listen in meetings and repeat their messages back to them. Make regular eye contact not just in meetings, but around the office. Get to know them. Find some common ground, even if it is something as simple as that you both like dogs or you have a client that drives you both crazy. Staying engaged will allow you diffuse your frustration, retain and increase your influence and eventually may lead to a better working environment.

CrankyI woke up today in no mood to communicate. Nothing’s wrong. I’m not sick, work is great, and I didn’t have a bad day yesterday. But for some reason, I woke up cranky and not in the mood to communicate. Now this would be a challenge for anyone, but when your job is to not only communicate, but to spend your day talking and coaching others to be more effective communicators – it’s a nightmare.

We all have those days when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed.   But we can’t afford to show up for work unable to communicate. We risk irritating clients, alienating co-workers and pissing off our bosses. So what do we do? You may be very talented and able to change your mood at will. If so, please write to me and let me know how you do it. For everyone else, the answer is be intentional and focus.

Once you’re aware that you’re not going to in the best frame of mind here’s what to do:

  1. When you get into the office, give others the heads up that this is not a good day for a big conversation. You don’t want anyone coming in and asking for a raise today.
  2. Sit down and make a list of the important conversations, both face to face and virtual, that you know you will have that day.
  3. Decide if you can put off any of the conversations. Rescheduling always increases the likelihood that you will get what you want when you to have the conversation.
  4. Now, next to every conversation that’s left on your list, write down two things
    1. The one thing you want make sure you communicate
    2. The tone or intention you want to use.
  5. Before each call or the meeting, look at the list. Focus on your message and your intention.

This will help keep other thoughts and cranky voices from slipping into the conversation so you can get what you need without disrupting the rapport you have worked hard to build.

Body Language

According to Albert Mehrabian’s study, Visual, or Body Language, accounts for a full 55% of how we are perceived. Verbal, the words we use and Vocal, our tone of voice only account for 7% and 38% respectively. So if you don’t learn to speak fluent body language you could be undermining your message.

The truth is you already speak body language, not just in how you perceive others but in the secret signals you send as well. The question is, do you speak it will enough to get the right message across. We have all experienced miscommunication when travelling and relying on our high school language classes.

So how can you learn to speak fluently in a way that ensures you are getting your message across clearly? Here are three tips to get started.

Start paying attention:

Choose someone you work with or know that rubs you the wrong way or leaves you feeling uncomfortable. Observe them and take notes. How do they sit in the meeting? Leaning back like they can’t be bothered or leaning so far over the table you feel they are about to attack. Do they make eye contact? If so, is it with everyone? How do they react when their boss is around?   These things will help you begin to understand how their signals are being read by your brain.

Do a self-assessment:

Now that you are becoming more aware of how other’s visual signals affect you, you can turn the mirror on yourself. Notice I said self-assessment not self-criticism. There is no wrong way. There may just be a better way. Try and notice how your body reacts when you’re under stress. How do you engage with your team when the meeting goes off track? Do you pace when you are making a presentation? Notice in particular when you are having a challenging conversation. This is usually when we get into garbled body language sending mixed signals.

Pick one thing:

You have an idea of what works and doesn’t for others and how your body is reacting to stress or excitement – now choose one thing to work on. If you find meetings often get out of hand, it may be best for you to lead a meeting standing up. Taking up more visual space helps you command a room. If you constantly fiddle with a pen or coins when challenged, make sure you don’t have anything in your hand before you walk into the room.

Try this and you will be on your way to speaking fluent body language.

For more ideas and insights, email us with your questions.

A B Testing

If you have a sales pitch or investor pitch or another presentation that you need to give over and over, think of using A/B Testing.

I know that once you have done your homework, put together the pitch and practiced it, that the last thing you want to do it keep working on it. But a pitch is as living thing. It grows and matures the more you give it. So think of each presentation as a test of what works and what doesn’t.

If you always get the same question in Q & A, add it to you presentation.

If your audience’s eyes always glaze over 3 slides into the pitch – change it up.

If people are confused by your slides or images, change or delete them.

As soon as you finish a presentation, do a mental audit. What worked – what didn’t? Create a list of metrics you can measure – audience attention, number of questions, requests for proposals. Even if it went well, tweak it and see if you can make it better, then measure it again. This will help you maximize not just your effort but your ROI.

GM CEO Mary Barra gives a great example of leadership through communication. What can you do today to improve your business through communication?

Mary Barra