Level-Up™#4—Six Lessons to Help Grow Your Power at Work

levelupThe Level-Up series at Management Excellence is dedicated to supporting your professional development on the road to senior management.

Ask and answer a simple question: “How did the three most powerful people in your firm (without a “C” in their titles) arrive at their current positions?”

In most cases, the answer is the same: they “got stuff done” and they did it by drawing upon the skills and energy of others.

That’s it. No backs stabbed…no fingers stepped on during the race up the ladder. They grew their power by identifying the vexing problems that needed solving and they figured out how to get the best and brightest around them to help develop and implement the solutions.

While the formula is easy to decode, the art and act of growing your power in an organization requires you to focus your efforts on a few key activities.

Consider the Case of Bob:

Bob joined a major software firm as a front-line manager in the support organization. The firm was just entering what would become a period of remarkable growth and there were more challenges and stress points than there were people to deal with them. Bob recognized this situation as an opportunity and very quickly established an understanding of the top priorities of his direct manager and worked to help her succeed with those challenges.

Bob’s manager quickly developed confidence in his ability to solve larger issues and she assigned him to lead a number of visible strategic initiatives (projects). Bob recognizing the size of the challenges and the need for help from across the organization worked tirelessly to extend his network of contacts and to draw upon this network for resources. And Bob did everything in his power to ensure that these were career enhancing opportunities for his colleagues. In particular, he worked hard to give visibility to team members and to dispense credit and accolades widely. He made certain to shine the spotlight on others at all times.

As the successes piled up and Bob was given the opportunity to lead ever-larger boundary spanning initiatives, his powerful network continued to supply the know-how necessary to successfully complete the initiatives. Bob’s reputation with his senior executives as someone who knew how to lead teams and execute on the key issues put him on a fast promotion path. His reputation with his colleagues as a leader worth following helped his cause. Bob maneuvered from the role of manager to the role of a VP within 4 years…a meteoric rise by this firm’s standards. Importantly, Bob could still look at himself in the mirror and be comfortable that no backs were stabbed and no fingers stepped on as he raced up the ladder. To the contrary, he carried people with him.

I love this story for all of the lessons it offers to us as we strive to help our firms and to grow in our careers.

6. Lessons from Bob to Help You Grow Your Power:

1. Rethink your view on power. It’s not about the bigger office, better parking spot and invitation to meetings in mahogany furnished conference rooms. It’s all about you developing the freedom to work on the issues that matter while helping others in the process. It’s the freedom to act.

2. Calibrate your priorities with the priorities of your boss. In coaching situations, I ask participants to describe their boss’s priorities. In too many situations, the boss doesn’t tell and the employee doesn’t ask. That’s a problem you should fix today.

3. Learn to connect networks! Power resides in your access to talent. The most powerful people in your firm are those who can tap knowledge, insights and support from a variety of sources depending upon the situation. The work of growing power and contributing more to your firm cannot be achieved by remaining in your silo. Not only do you need to expand your network across your firm (and industry), but you need to learn to connect disparate networks to solve the big issues.

4. Mind the gap! The real meaty issues are the ones that exist in the gray areas between the silos. Every firm has a variety of big challenges that exist somewhere between functions. Learn to pick those up and draw upon your extended network(s) to tackle them.

5. Power is there for the taking. Again, I’m not emphasizing a dark view to power. What’s there for the taking are problems that require solutions. I’ve observed cultures where I’m certain if there was a garbage can on fire in the corner, people would notice it and talk about it and wonder whether it would get any worse…but since it wasn’t their responsibility, do nothing to put it out. Those are your opportunities! Seize them.

6. Shine the spotlight liberally on others. Remember…your goal is to gain the freedom to work on issues that matter while helping others at the same time. It’s never about you. You must give liberally to get power.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The formula for growing your power is simple. The work is noble and good. Get it right and you’ll learn to enjoy being the one who determines what gets done in your organization. After all, those who have the power decide what’s important. After a fair amount of time of people telling you what to do, it’s infinitely more enjoyable to decide what to do.

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—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.

 

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.

 

5 Common Sense Ideas for Growing Your Power at Work

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsWhile we often associate the concept of “power” in the workplace as something bestowed by title or gained and maintained through political gamesmanship, you neither require a promotion, nor do you need to plot and claw your way to the next level to grow your power.

In most workplaces there’s an over-abundance of the stuff just lying around waiting for someone to pick it up and apply it. There’s no reason why that someone can’t be you.

First, Some Context on Power at Work:

Power and it’s close cousin, Influence, are not dirty words. Both are components of every organization’s environment and both must be carefully cultivated for you to succeed whether you lead teams or functions or serve as an individual contributor.

Those who leverage power drive the organization forward by making decisions, by developing, or leading key initiatives and by bringing the right resources and expertise to bear for a given challenge.

Nothing significant happens in an organization without the application of power and influence wielded by those who have carefully cultivated these qualities.

5 Ideas to Help You Grow Your Power and Keep Your Integrity Intact:

1. Start simple. Pick a visibly vexing problem and lead the charge to solve it. It’s amazing how many visible workplace problems go unattended. It’s the fire in the garbage can syndrome. Groups look at it, talk about it, wonder about it, but no one seems to do anything about it. That’s your cue!

2. Serve as a Network Connector. Cultivate relationships with peers and higher-ups in functions other than your own. Look for opportunities to bring members of disparate groups together on projects or one of those problem-solving activities you grabbed control of in #1 above. Your knowledge of and access to other resources, particularly people or teams with unique skills is a valuable source of power.

3. Tune in to Your Boss’s Goals and Help Her Achieve Them. Nothing cultivates upward influence like actively supporting and advocating for your boss. Leverage those cross-functional relationships you’re busy developing to push her agenda along. As she succeeds, you succeed.

4. Attach Yourself to High Visibility Projects. There’s nothing particularly shameful or evil about striving to participate in the big projects with senior executive visibility. Do a good job with the first three on this list, and your odds of successfully attaching yourself to the firm’s “Failure is Not an Option” initiatives go up considerably.

5. Make Heroes Out of Your Colleagues and Team Members. Seriously. A grateful network is a powerful network. Help those around you gain visibility and achieve their goals and you’ll gain long-standing support from a growing group of thankful co-workers. Contrary to the many misguided attempts I’ve seen from people who lived to grab the spotlight, I prefer to shine it on those around me making things happen. It never hurts to have a large number of people who are grateful to you for your support.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Jeffrey Pfeffer in his excellent book, Power—Why Some People Have it and Other’s Don’t, offers ample evidence for the importance of cultivating power to lead a happy (and even healthy) work life. Healthy and happy are what it’s all about. Instead of associating growing power as something requiring you to step all over others on your way to the top, try the noble frontal assault on this important workplace asset. You might just be surprised how easy it is to become that person calling the shots, guiding the resources and making things happen across your organization.

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 Art’s book: 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.