Forbes Power listThe statistics for women in leadership are well known. Only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. This despite the fact that more women than ever are making buying decisions, women are managing more wealth than ever and women in top jobs often outperform men in corporate growth.

Forbes just put out its 2015 list of 100 most powerful women. In the article, they refer to these statistics and discuss how they came to the decisions that make up the list.

“That these wretched stats continue year after year is a serious and pressing issue. But there’s hardly a void of powerful women – and the numbers are growing. That is, if we enlarge our focus from only those who possess the greatest wealth or the heaviest corporate hammer to include the women whose influence and impact may be greater than the sum of their titles.”

This one element they used particularly caught my attention. The ability to build spheres of influence & impact, relies heavily on strong communication skills.

Influencing multiple groups on multiple subjects can only happen when the woman has a strong, confident presence, a clear, compelling message and a vision that inspires others to follow them.

I also wanted to note that not everyone on the list has a “top job”. This goes to prove what I often say – It not the title that makes the leader, it’s the women.

See Forbes’ 2015 list of powerful women here.

Storytelling 2We often hear about the importance of storytelling. It is used when giving speeches. It can help us build rapport with clients or co-workers. Business stories can help start-ups get funded and services get sold.

So if stories are so important, why are most people so bad at crafting and telling them?  Here are a few reasons.

The retelling of a series of events is not a story! Stories need to be relatable. Rambling on with insignificant details and off tangent commentary distracts and disengages an audience. A story is a carefully crafted and edit series of facts that all lead to a moral. The moral of your story should always reinforce your key message. Otherwise, it was just 3 minutes wasted for the listener.

Plagiarism is not ok   Just as a story needs to be relatable, it needs to be real. You can just take someone else’s story as your own. Believe me I’ve seen it and it only makes the speaker look ridiculous and a bit sad. If you do borrow from anyone because it truly reinforces you point, give credit where it’s due.

A man walks into a bar…  Keeping stories relatable, real and relevant help you engage, build rapport and make it easier for your audience to remember your message and pass it on to someone else.

If a story is a tool to highlight and support your message, then it must be relevant. Telling a story just because it might be funny or because it just happened on the way to auditorium doesn’t mean it will help you engage your audience. As a matter of fact they may just scratch their heads and wonder what you’re talking about.


Every great athlete, actor and leader has at some point had a coach. There are just things we cannot do alone because we lack the perspective. So, it always surprises me when companies don’t have some sort of one-on-one coaching to support their high-potentials and future leaders. It can cost an organization up to 100% of a mid-managers salary to recruit, hire and on-board a replacement. The cost goes up if you include lost institutional memory, client and co-worker relationships and team morale. Just like good clients, good employees are hard and more expensive to recruit than retain. So think of coaching not just as leadership development, but a retention tool which can help keep your high-potential employees engaged and growing.Coach

Here are some reasons to begin coaching for your team now.

The Diamond in the Rough

Not every future leader is evident at first glance. Just because a puppy doesn’t run up and play immediately doesn’t mean it won’t make a great dog for your family. It is easy to overlook some of your talent because they don’t currently come across as leadership material, but they may have all the skills hidden away. Coaching can help you polish a diamond in the rough and you might find you have a deeper bench than you realized.

Been there, done that

No one knows your business better than you or your staff. Institutional memory is incredibly valuable to grow a business and maintain culture. By supporting your team with individualized coaching, you help them grow their unique skills which can most benefit your business. You will not only retain the employee, but the knowledge and history as well.

I want that

Finally, any organization that invests in the growth and development of their talent will attract others who are hungry to grow, learn and succeed. This can also reduce retention as well as recruiting costs. The best talent will want to come to you.

It’s important to remember that all coaching is not created equal. First, internal coaching can be useful, especially for follow up and accountability, but ultimately the team member will edit their thoughts and concerns. Look for someone who can provide some outside perspective. The right coach will bring the right focus for your team. Find coaches and methodologies that work for your company, your culture and your needs. Then sit back and watch them grow along with your business.


May Deck Image

Pants on fireOver the years I have worked with many high level professionals on speeches for conferences and big events. The most successful are always the ones who put the time and effort into crafting, practicing and perfecting their speeches. I say this because I often asked to do ‘Pants on fire’ speech coaching. What’s that? It goes something like this. “I am speaking at a conference in 3 days. Can you coach me? I want to give a great speech.” Who doesn’t? No one thinks, ‘I have this amazing opportunity – I want to make sure it’s really mediocre.’ And yet their actions say just that. They call me in a panic because despite the fact that they got asked to speak 3 months earlier. All they’ve done is put it on their calendar. Now suddenly it’s coming up and they are stuck.

Unfortunately, by the time they reach out, there is very little I can do. Pants on Fire coaching never works. It’s like cramming for an exam, only it’s an oral exam and you can’t go back and review your answers.

The solution is easy. The minute you accept an invitation to speak, start planning your speech. Do your homework. Craft a script, Edit, Practice, Practice, Practice then edit some more. If public speaking isn’t your thing invest in a coach. But do it when your pants aren’t on fire. It is a skill that CAN be learned, improved and perfected. You don’t have to do it alone. We hire professionals to help us improve our exercise at the gym. We hire professionals to improve our negotiation or networking skills. Why not public speaking?

So invest, take the time to prepare and practice and then go out and knock their socks off.

Therapy dog 2I always have my ears open for good and bad elevator speeches. It helps me give my clients examples. Yesterday I heard a great one and it was so unusual that I had to share it.

Here it is:         Would anyone like my dogs business card?

That’s it. You may be thinking I’m nuts but this pitch hits the 3 key elements of a successful elevator speech.

First I will let you know that the individual who said it runs a business of therapy dogs. Now does it make more sense?

1. It’s memorable

First and foremost this pitch will be remembered. This is especially important since he is not in a business people need every day. I can guarantee, however, that the minute someone needs a therapy dog, they will remember him and look him up.

2. It engages the listener

Most people love dogs. (The ones that don’t will never need a therapy dog, so they are not the target market.) By taking the attention off the business and onto the dog, it doesn’t feel like a sales pitch. The listener is disarmed and open to conversation.

3. It inspires a series of questions

There are very people who could hear that statement and not ask more. What? What’s your business? What’s your dog’s name? How long has your dog been doing this? All these questions give the business owner a chance to give richer and deeper information that can inform the listener and make them more likely to hire or refer the company.

At the end of the day, your elevator speech is a way to begin building a relationship that can lead to business. It should engage the listener, pique their curiosity and make them remember you. This pitch does that.

So now think about how you can craft a pitch that captures the listener’s attention and make them want to know you better

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.