It’s Your Career—Resolve to Conquer Your Fear of Speaking

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas and guidance on strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

A frighteningly few number of people genuinely relish the idea of getting up in front of an audience at work and talking.That’s too bad, because there are few skills that will take you further and help you more in your career than developing your speaking skills.

4 Big Benefits in the Workplace of Conquering Your Fear of Speaking:

1. You separate yourself from the herd. Your willingness to stand and engage coupled with the competence developed through practice puts you in a smaller group and helps you stand out to your senior managers, peers and colleagues across your organization. Of course, people are looking for more than hot air! Message quality, authenticity and supporting actions are essential!

2. You develop a platform for your ideas. In a culture where ideas to improve, fix, or do something new are potentially worth their weight in gold, you need influence and a platform to ensure your ideas are heard, explored and acted upon. There are few better ways to support developing influence and cultivating interest in our ideas, than being able to describe and advocate for them comfortably and competently in large group settings.

3. You are increasingly perceived as a leader. While there’s no connection between extroversion and effective leadership that I am aware of, people PERCEIVE that you have leadership qualities if you can confidently articulate your views. It’s OK to leverage this perception. And remember, there’s a reality in the workplace that you have to understand how you are perceived and manage this appropriately, developing comfort and confidence in your speaking skills will aid this cause. Again the health warning that no one loves a pontificating blowhard, so message quality and authenticity count!

4. You develop self-confidence that leads to strengthened self-esteem. And when that unexpected but much coveted invitation to present at the board meeting or executive offsite occurs, this self-confidence will be one of your best assets in surviving and succeeding in this new setting.

It’s time to confront your fear of speaking and make this critical skill a valuable part of who you are as a professional.

6 Tips for Cultivating Competence and Confidence in Your Speaking Skills:

1. Practice! Seek out some easy opportunities to practice. Departmental or team updates can be fairly non-threatening.  Alternatives include community events, classroom visits, or school committees. I teach a number of graduate management courses every year. Nothing forces one to up the game more than being accountable to an intelligent group of professionals for quality content delivery and facilitation.

2. Seek feedback. Ask your boss and peers for specific feedback on your speaking performance and effectiveness.  What should you do more of?  Where do you need to improve.  Don’t settle for, “that was great!”  No one gets better by being told they were great. Ask: What worked? What didn’t? How could that presentation been more effective?

3. Seek help. Search on “Toastmasters” and find a local chapter and join! These remarkable groups of professionals all understand the benefits that accrue from strengthening speaking skills and will become your best feedback and support network. In the rare chance you end up in a chapter that doesn’t work for you, don’t give up…just switch to another one. I’ve pushed more team members than I can count into Toastmasters and almost to a person they have prospered in part because of their growth in self-confidence.

4. Reference a good book or great blogs. My favorites: “The Exceptional Presenter” by Timothy Koegel or the blog (Public Words) and books of Dr. Nick Morgan.

5. Engage a Coach. People use coaches for great reasons. They view us objectively and clinically and can offer the critical input we need to eliminate weaknesses, close gaps, and enhance strengths. Ask your manager if there’s an opportunity for your firm to bear the cost. If not, don’t let that slow you down. The cost is small when factored over the course of a career and evaluated against the potential benefits.

6. Volunteer. Yep, you heard me. After a lifetime of sitting in the back row dodging the teacher’s eyes, it’s time to stand up and assert your great ideas. Once you recover from the out-of-body experience from raising your hand for a speaking opportunity, you’ll find it exhilarating.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Don’t let a common and irrational fear of speaking in large groups stand in the way of your success. Developing the confidence to stand, deliver and engage is liberating and professionally profitable.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Leadership Caffeine—Ideas to Help You Adjust Your Attitude and Improve Performance

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

While Woody Allen offered, “80 percent of success is just showing up,” I might politely suggest the phrase is missing a key ingredient: attitude.

There’s a profound difference between showing up and showing up with the right attitude.

Our attitude is visible on our faces, discernible in our words and palpable in our body language. If you’re having a bad attitude day, month or lifetime, you can be certain that everybody you come in contact with knows it and feels it. When you walk into a room with a lousy attitude, it’s like a storm front approaching. Everyone sees it and wonders how bad it’s going to get.

The impact of a lousy attitude extends quietly outward, systematically poisoning the working environment.

Think of managers you’ve worked for that projected a pissed-off, mad at being born and madder at having to deal with you and your colleagues, demeanor. What did that feel like?  How did people react to this person? How effective was this leader?   (And while you would like to believe that these characters don’t end up in leadership roles, inexplicably, they do.)

Alternatively, think of managers and leaders you’ve encountered that projected a pragmatically positive perspective, even in the darkest of times and most troubled of situations. Their impact creates a ripple effect that promotes progress, problem solving and innovation. Positive leaders beget a positive environment.

Of course, even genuinely positive people have bad moments as well. I found myself recently in a setting where I couldn’t find a single positive reason why I was there and it took every ounce of energy to attempt to remain engaged and interested. I suspect I failed. For others, the speeding ticket on the way to work, troubles on the home-front, the shadow of a family member’s illness or any one of a number of life’s issues can put pressure on the best of attitudes.

Regardless of circumstances, when you hit the office, it’s best to mentally shift gears and focus on your bigger purpose.

Preparing Your Attitude is a Daily Ritual:

I love the daily ritual for “preparing her attitude,” shared by one manager in a workshop.  “Every morning, after arriving at work, I sit in my car for a few minutes and think about how I will measure success today. I focus on the impact that I want to have on people around me, and I remind myself that I’m in my role as a leader at the discretion of those I serve. This act of focusing helps me push out all of life’s and the morning’s stress points.”

Priceless advice for success! I’ve suggested this to a great number of coaching clients and they’ve applied it to success. So, if you walk past a colleague sitting in her car in the parking lot, lost in thought, know that she’s simply adjusting her attitude for success in the upcoming work day. Perhaps you should give it a try, you and your colleagues might be pleased with the results!

In case you are in need of a little attitude adjustment, consider the following ideas:

5 Ideas to Help Prepare and Sustain a Positive Attitude:

1. Vow to measure success by progress made, not distance left to travel. Instead of focusing on the magnitude of workplace problems, consider how important it is for you and your team members to take positive steps towards resolving them. Turn your attention to identifying obstacles that you can clear away and plan on valuing your daily success by how far you’ve helped team members travel.

2. Shift your view on the workplace as battleground. Nothing poisons an attitude more than viewing the workplace as a battleground filled with adversaries or enemies. Every meeting isn’t a fight…it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas and develop approaches. The person arguing with you likely has an underlying interest that he/she has not disclosed and yet you seem to be fighting over positions. Strive to understand by asking questions and then strive for agreement on positions. If you’ve burned bridges across the workplace, resolve to invest time every day in repairing at least one relationship. If necessary, be the bigger person and apologize. And then move forward.

3. Rethink and reset your daily priorities. What are the most important items you must make progress on today? Chances are they don’t involve clearing your e-mail in-box, rearranging your office or sitting in seven status update meetings. Too many managers navigate their days without making serious headway on the issues that will move the performance indicator for the firm and the team. Mentally reorder your priority list and put the people and problem issues you’ve been avoiding at the top of the list.

4. Plan to quality-check yourself in real-time. Ask yourself after every encounter: “Did I live up to my commitment to help?” If the answer is, “no,” retrace your steps and fix the problem immediately.

5. Remind yourself: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”  Whether it’s the speeding ticket, family challenges, self-esteem issues or career frustration, every person you encounter is waging some internal battle. Respect the person and impact them positively and you will be easing that burden just a bit. Empathy is a virtue in leaders.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You choose your attitude every-day and for every encounter. Spend a few minutes today reminding yourself of the responsibility you have to serve and help others, and prepare your positive attitude before you walk in the door. And when you end your day, remember to measure your successes instead of dwelling on your failures.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

 

It’s Your Career—Is It Time for You to Go?

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas and guidance on strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

Far too many professionals linger in stagnant roles or struggling firms long beyond the optimal expiration date of their involvement. Instead of seeking out new challenges that support learning and skills expansion, otherwise competent, motivated individuals tend to linger in bad situations hoping for circumstances to shift more to their liking. More often than not, they are disappointed.

This is the career equivalent of the classic cognitive trap, escalation of commitment. Instead of cutting our losses, we value the time invested and recall better days. We falsely believe that with just a bit more time and effort, things will change. In reality, the time you’ve put in is gone. It’s a sunk cost, and the only thing that matters is what happens today and in the months and years ahead for you in your career.

Most of us are conditioned to place a premium on loyalty and dedication in our co-workers, and we wear our own commitment as a statement of who we are as professionals. Sadly, in this era, there’s little reward for standing firmly planted on the deck of a sinking corporate ship or facing the daily tirades of a miserable manager. There are no gold watches and there is no one to look out for you in your career but yourself.

Please give yourself permission to do what’s best for you in your career, including changing roles, departments or even firms.

Beware The Gravitational Pull of Running in Place:

With apologies to physicists everywhere for the very inaccurate science suggested in the header of this section, the fact is that there’s a strong force that keeps is locked in position, repeating our daily routines week in and week out, in spite of our internal understanding that this is going nowhere…or at least nowhere good.

When I talk with employees or clients about why they’ve lingered for so long in a situation that has moved from bad to lousy, they typically offer some form of the following three responses:

  1. I believe I can make a difference and improve things.
  2. At least I know what’s wrong here. I could easily jump into something worse.
  3. I have financial commitments. It’s not a good time for me to make a job change.

My response in order: (1) that’s noble, but after a good effort with no change, you are simply naïve, (2) that’s a lame excuse to stay in employment jail, and (3) the best chance you may have for easing those financial burdens is to make a change.

Fear and Loyalty:

My own translation is that most of us struggle with the elements of fear tinged with low self-esteem. For many, throw in a smattering of that nagging feeling that if we leave we are being disloyal to the firm that sends us a check every few weeks or to the manager who has helped us along.

First, the fear issue. The thought of change is disconcerting. And yes, changing positions, firms or industries comes with a set of all new challenges. Your routine will change. The political dynamics in your new department or firm are different than what you’ve grown accustomed to in your prior role. You might not be the expert…and in fact, you might be momentarily dependent upon other experts. Or, it might not work out. Those are all tangible concerns and some of them breed fear. Nothing should be as frightening however, as wasting the time of your life or the time of your career. If you’re not learning and being challenged, you’re dying professionally, and the thought of that should scare the heck out of you. Fear breeds resistance and you have to find a way to cut through that resistance.

Now, the loyalty issue. I’ll offer it from my own perspective as an executive. I value the intelligence and hard work of the people on my team and I appreciate every single day they make the decision to walk in the door and help the cause. I know very well that it is my job to foster an environment and provide the support, coaching and feedback that keeps the good ones coming back every day. Any manager worth his/her salt gets this.

However, I also understand that I am dealing with individuals who have aspirations and sometimes those aspirations cannot be met in my world. It’s a sad and proud day when a long-time valued contributor moves on to a new role. And it’s an honor when I’ve helped them along the way and served as a reference for the next opportunity and have welcomed them into my extended professional network.

No one owes me or any other manager anything more than their best efforts during their time of employment. That’s code for saying that I don’t expect nor will I reward any excess loyalty. I respect your need to take care of yourself in your career.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you are stuck in a position that no longer is challenging, or where you are no longer learning, it’s up to you to seize control and improve this situation. Don’t let the fears or false beliefs or even laziness keep you from resolving your career problem. I admire individuals who strive to solve the challenges within their present firms and I respect those who after giving this a valiant effort, decide to take their talents elsewhere. Give yourself permission to make a change.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Just One Thing—How to Ace Your Next Executive Presentation

Just One ThingThe “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around topics relevant to our success and professional growth. Use them in good health and great performance!

While some people view an invitation to present to executives as a prison sentence (or worse), this truly can be a career enhancing opportunity. However, like any challenging situation, preparation and attitude are keys to success.

I’ve worked with dozens of professionals faced with this opportunity for the first time, and every encounter reminds me of my own early emotions as I prepared for and dreaded my first senior management presentation.

It’s not worth the churn, dread and sleeplessness folks, especially if you prepare properly and thoroughly.

7 Ideas to Help You Prepare for and Nail Your Executive Presentation:

1. Start early and prepare your mind. Unless you are presiding over a disaster of monumental proportions and have been summoned to explain yourself in front of the firing squad, this is a positive invitation. It’s an honor to be invited and it is an opportunity to establish an impression with the people who can choose you to be successful. Prepare like it’s the next most important job interview of your career.

2. Know who invited you and why. Since someone had to champion getting your name placed on the agenda, it’s important for you to tune into why you were invited and precisely what they are expecting from your time on the agenda. Your inviting sponsor in this case has a stake in your success and typically will do whatever it takes to help you prepare for your presentation. Leverage this resource liberally.

3. Know your audience. This one can be difficult for individuals who have had very little or no prior contact with members of the senior management team. Your sponsor or your boss may have some insights, and of course, it’s reasonable to err on the side of assuming that the group is comprised of successful, smart people interested in facts, well-developed ideas, clear plans and how all of this will help the firm achieve its strategic and financial goals.

4. Plan your message. Whatever your topic is, you’re in front of the executive team for just a few brief moments. Use this time with the skill of an entrepreneur asking for an investment in an idea. Your message must be crisp, your key points or recommendations defensible and your defense supportable.

While most of us tend to launch powerpoint and think in serial fashion when preparing for a presentation, start by planning and tuning a message map before you build your first slide. (Note: it’s OK to skip the slides…see point #6.)  The message mapping process forces you to lock in a clear central theme and then defend this theme with key points and supporting evidence. A properly developed message map offers you the ultimate support for answering the expected difficult questions from your executives. Also, everyone will appreciate a crisp, well-developed message delivered with clarity and confidence. (For more on the technique, check out my post: The Career Enhancing Benefits of Message Mapping.)

5. Bring your confidence and back it with transparency. Executives smell “lack of confidence” immediately, and they know when someone is attempting to obfuscate the issues. Confidence and transparency are two critical components that must be present when you present to this group. A perceived lack of confidence will destroy your credibility in the moment and any attempt to mask risks with sunshine or offer visions of results that cannot be supported will result in you effectively inviting an air strike of questions that you will not recover from in this setting. Alternatively, clearly describing risks and highlighting assumptions while offering a way forward will earn you serious credibility stripes. It goes without saying that having your message down cold (thanks to your message map) and ample practice, will help you build confidence.

6. Focus on the message and keep the materials clean and simple. If you suck at building clear, crisp, bullet-light and text limited slides or handouts, get some help. Call in a favor from a colleague or go into favor debt, but ask for help. Leave the eye-charts, clip-art and complex animation builds for some other setting. The visuals and supporting materials must never fight the messaging and thanks to our mostly sloppy use of the presentation tools such as Powerpoint, they often do just that.

7. Admit it if you don’t know it. Said another way, never, ever make stuff up. While this piece of advice might seem preposterous, the pressure of the event has overwhelmed many an accomplished professional’s common sense, especially in the face of tough questioning.  You are much better off admitting you don’t know something than attempting to bluff your way through the answer. The best response in this situation: “That’s a great question and instead of hazarding a guess, I will get back to you today.” And then do it!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Last and not least, remember that the prevailing attitude of the executives before you open your mouth is one of interest and hope. You wouldn’t have made the agenda if they weren’t interested in hearing and learning from you, and you can bet that good executive members are always excited to have intelligent and confident new voices join the discussion in planning the way forward for the firm. Make a great impression and you will be back. Perhaps in a new and improved capacity!

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Congratulations on the MBA! Now What? Some Key Do’s and Don’ts

what is next?Note from Art: It’s graduation season again in the U.S. and for most newly minted MBA graduates, it’s time for a reality check. Here’s my annual (updated) note offering some hard-won words of wisdom on how to navigate the steps immediately following your graduation.

All over the U.S., there’s a fresh new crop of MBA candidates preparing to say goodbye to their classmates as they wrap up what will be for many, the final phase of their academic careers. A key question on their minds is, “What’s next?”

For the graduates, there’s an expectation that the degree will reasonably and quickly translate into new opportunities, fresh promotions and improved earning power. While those who graduate from the top-tier schools may find themselves on a fast or at least faster track towards opportunities and increased earnings, many (read: most) MBA graduates face a reality that looks an awful lot like more of the same, albeit, with a bit more free time.

There will be ceremonies and speeches and parties, and rounds of drinks offered up by coworkers at local watering holes.  Bosses will congratulate the new graduates, and then June will melt into July, and in many cases, not much will change for the now former students.

For those who find themselves facing a post-school return to corporate or professional normalcy, without the hoped-for “pop” from the degree, here are some thoughts on coping and capitalizing:

10 Key Do’s and Don’ts for Newly Minted MBAs:

1. Do accept that your boss views you the same on the Monday after graduation as she did last Friday. Nothing has fundamentally changed about you in her mind. Sorry, but there’s no immediate mantle of legitimacy or wisdom bestowed upon you as you shake hands and grab the diploma. You’re a work-in-process, just like the rest of us.

2. Do congratulate yourself for having the intestinal fortitude it takes to complete your degree while working, balancing family responsibilities and all of the other challenges of life. Believe it or not, your current and many future bosses will view your accomplishment not so much as remarkable or rare, but rather as a sign of your tenacity and ability to stay-the-course.

3. Do make the effort to connect with as many of your fellow students as possible on LinkedIn. You share a lifetime bond with your MBA classmates and if properly cultivated, this portion of your network will be there to refer, hire, recruit or support your efforts for your entire career. Of course, you are there to support your classmates as well.

4. Don’t expect a promotion just because of the degree. It happens, but it’s not as common as you might have anticipated. The almost immediate post-MBA promotions are most often an outcome of a development program already in-place coupled with the recognition that the timing is right to task you with more. Every boss knows that tGraphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordshe new MBA will toy with the idea of moving to greener ($) pastures, however, if you weren’t on the high-potential or fast-tack list prior to the degree, the sheepskin won’t make much of a difference in the current environment. Translation, you’ll have to navigate your own way up or out.

5. Do use the milestone as an opportunity to work with your boss and refresh your professional development plan.  It’s a great time to sit down with your boss and update or create a professional development plan. There’s every reason for you to assert that you can and want to do more for the firm, and every civilized boss will recognize the need to start feeding this fresh appetite or risk losing you.

6. Don’t even remotely hint that unless you are promoted you are gone. It’s time to show what you can do, not show that after 3 years and $150,000, you’ve grown arrogant.

7. Do accept that the completion of your MBA is the beginning of your next apprenticeship as a leader and a professional. Grad school doesn’t teach you how to lead, nor does it turn you into a great strategist, a future CEO or a management innovator.  You’ve apprenticed on the tools…mostly the science of management and you’ve got a license to begin applying them.  The real work of learning to lead and learning how to create value for your stakeholders has just begun.

8. Do recognize that your primary task is how to make yourself more valuable to everyone around you. Now that you are no longer distracted by school, it’s time to answer, “What have you done for us lately?” Accomplishments are the currency of the realm, not degrees!

9. Do take responsibility for developing your own professional brand. In a world where we all own our own brand, take responsibility to cultivate and manage your brand by using the tools readily available to all of us. Start a professional blog. Contribute to articles. Seek out leadership opportunities at work and in your private life and use tools like LinkedIn, your own personal website and others that emerge over time to showcase your professional value.

10. Don’t shirk your responsibility to continue learning. Too many professionals complete the degree and then go decades without investing in their on-going development. Keep reading. Start writing. Pursue training and development around leadership, strategy or in your chosen discipline. Sign-on to teach as a means of giving back. Just don’t let the gray matter rest for too long. It needs to be stimulated and fed.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Congratulations! I’ll buy the first round and then tomorrow, we’ve got to figure out how to thump competitors and survive and thrive in this incredibly complex and fast-moving world. Sure hope you paid attention. Now show me what you’ve learned!

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.