The 3 Most Important Decision in Life [Transcript]

Link to podcast episode:  EL  44: The 3 Most Important Decisions in Life

Welcome to the show leaders.  Recently my oldest son, JJ graduated from high school and I was asked to give a short commencement address at his graduation ceremony.  And there were two things that was about that was challenging.  Number one, its graduation and you want to say something that is going to have a lifelong impact.  Of all the things you can tell the graduates and the audience about, what is really the most important thing you will say at that moment of time?

The second thing that was challenging is keeping it short. You got all this important stuff to talk about. You obviously want to keep it short because there is already a ceremony that people are sitting through. So you don’t have a whole lot of their attention, they are not there to see a speech.  They are there to participate in graduation and get on to the graduation party and so forth.  So when I boil everything down to what I thought was the most important thing for my oldest child to know or think about that moment of life I realize it wasn’t just of importance to him, it really was important to me and to anyone who was listening.  So I like to briefly share with you what I shared that day.  You may find it helpful in your life or you may have some young people you want to share some of these ideals with.

JJ has a best friend name Justin. And one of the ways they have fun together is to take Justin‘s jeep off roading and trail riding. They leave Justin’s house and they drive down the real roads to a place where they go off road.  And at that point they have almost unlimited choice of direction for where they want to go.  It reminds me of when I graduated from high school and left my home and family and went Xavier University in Cincinnati. There I had almost unlimited choices in front of me; especially regarding what I wanted to be.

I’m just not talking about whether I wanted to be a doctor, lawyer or a candle stick maker.  I am talking about more important choices and, in particular, three stories come to mind.

The first involves what I chose to do about God or just my faith in general. From my earliest memories, my parents and grandparents told me stories about a God who created Adam and Eve. And let them name the animals and tend the gardens.  They told me stories about a man who walked on water and then involved a young boy in a miracle whom fed five thousand people. They told me stories about a God who cared about what was on our heart and minds and listens to our prayers and answer them.

When I went off to school and was on my own I no longer had someone who was requiring me to believe in these stories, or to go to church or to pray or have  any type of faith or spiritual life at all.  At that moment it was completely my choice to continue to believe in those stories or go listen to different stories; whether to continue to participate in any kind of faith life what so ever.  And so I think it’s important to not just go along with whatever the crowd is doing whether that crowd is meaning your parents and just blinding following what they are say, or the crowds that you are going to experience out in the world.

At college, most students never give any of that religious life another thought.  That kind of spiritual relationship gets to be, for most people, less important and so it just drops off their radar screen. And I think that is an important choice to make intentionally as opposed to accidentally.

The second story that comes to mind has to do with attitude.  One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Charles Trandahl who says “Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% how we choose to respond to it”.  To me, the person in my life who taught me that principle before I ever heard that quote was my grandmother, Jackie Russo Warner.

Jackie was very young in her mid 40’s when her husband, my grandfather, died.  The two of them together were running a picture frame business.  Not long after he died she realized that kind of Mom and Pop Shop really required both of them working at it full-time to make a living and she was just not going to be able to handle it on her own and the income was not going to be enough.  In addition to that business she started up a second business doing real estate; which she did in the evenings and weekend primarily.

So not only did she have this huge sad event in her life; this tragic event where the love of life, long time husband; major part of her identity was gone, she had this major financial issue to deal with.  Now anybody whose knows Jackie will tell you that she is one of the most positive, proactive people you will ever meet; as well as one of the most generous and selfless.  She is always paying attention to who’s around her and what they need. And she demonstrates that from my earliest memories which were really around the time my grandfather died. I think that is a conscious choice to manage your attitude; to choose to respond to life proactively as opposed to just letting it happen to us.  Life is 10% what happen to us and 90% how we respond to it.

And the third most important decision that comes to mind is about who to marry.  I quickly made that decision after graduating from high school.  I have already been dating Erin, who of course did become my wife.  You know in high school as well as in college, there were lots of girls who were pretty and lots who were smart.  There were plenty to choose from.  Erin was both pretty and smart but she had also a spark to her and she had a depth to her that was even more attractive to me.

Furthermore, as I got to know her, I realized her values were a good fit to mine.  Her attitude was a good fit mine and the way she handled relationships and her spiritual life was all a good fit to mine.  And she had talents and passions and a creativity that were basically a source of ongoing spark and ongoing engagement with me.  Here we are almost 20 years later where we still have wonderful time together; great fun.  We always have lots of activity going on and always have lots of things to look forward to.

Was this a rational decision that I sat down and really thought through with pros and cons and evaluating Erin against others?  No, but it was proactive.  It basically went like this:  I would go on a date with Erin before we were going steady. And I would think, “Man she is something else, I really probably should go steady with her”. But I have had steady girlfriends and was really kind tired of being tied to a single person, having all my time consumed with one person, and I just didn’t want to be that serious so fast.  And I just wanted to date around and have little more easy going time of life.

But I would go on a date with another girl and I would think “Yep she’s pretty good, that was fun and I really should date around.  Then I would go back on a date with Erin and I’d say “Why am I wasting my time with anyone else? I would go on a date with another girl and think “Oh no, this is really fun dating around. I like this.”  But I did eventually notice that the difference was not choosing between Erin and another girl, it was always just between Erin obviously being somebody really significant and a great fit for me versus just dating around.

And when I really stopped and thought about it, that had to do with things that were optimally important to me on a deeper level to me than just good looks or brains.  Erin had all of that and a lot more.  And so I did; I do think I made that decision about who to marry proactively.  I didn’t just sort of fall into because, hey, here is someone is just interested in me at this point in life.

So JJ and other students who are graduating this summer are approaching a moment when they can be whoever they want to be.  JJ is driving in the jeep tour of cross road and he can turn right or left on a road. Or he can leave the road entirely and go off roading in every direction.  And I hope that today, graduates; including my own son; will have a lot of fun as they do their own exploring.

But I encourage them to be intentional about it.  I hope y’all think about the “me” you want to be.  I hope you make these three choices intentionally.  Because these are going to affect you probably the rest of your life.  What are you going to do about God and what about whatever faith tradition that you learned from parents and others people in your life?  What attitude are you going to cultivate and who are you going to marry?  And of course, today graduates and all of us, just don’t make these choices one time.  We make these same choices every day of our lives.

Will I make it a priority to nurture my relationship with God?  Will I choose to manage my attitude?  Will I choose to stay married and invest in my spouse even if I go through a period of time where it feels like she doesn’t love me anymore? So that, plus a little bit of mushy stuff at the end, is what I felt was most important to tell my son at this moment of life.  And I realized it probably has a lot of applicable ability to the rest of us throughout our lives.  I’d be interested to know what you leaders think would be the most important thing to you can say if you have five or ten minutes to share for examples at the graduations of some important young person in your life.

Link to podcast episode:  EL  44: The 3 Most Important Decisions in Life



Using People Analytics to Improve Productivity & Happiness with Ben Waber [Transcript]

Link to podcast episode: EL 41: Using People Analytics to Improve Productivity & Happiness   | with Ben Waber

JESSE LAHEY: Welcome Leaders!  Google recently moved into the number three position of the most valuable firms in the world.  Google is said to have the only truly data driven HR function.  They call it People Analytics.  One of the data driven techniques they use is Social Sensing Technology.  This is a technology that is showing conclusive evidence that slight changes in behavior from changing when you take breaks to changing what lunch tables you sit at can make you and your team happier, healthier, and more productive.  To help us learn some of these lessons, our guest is Ben Waber, author of the book People Analytics:  How Social Sensing Technology will transform Business and What it Tells us about the Future of Work.  Ben is a visiting scientist form the MIT Media Lab and he is the President and CEO of Socio-Metric Solutions, a social management firm that uses social sensing technology.  Before I jump into the interview, I want to ask for your patience with a microphone issue we have.  You will hear that the microphone that Ben is wearing is doing some scratching and bumping noises form time to time.  We did our best to adjust that but you can still hear it occasionally.  Ben, before we jump into things we can learn from this specific technology, will you help us understand the broader field of people analytics?

BEN WABER:  So as I talk about it in the book, people analytics is, you know, it is not a new thing.  People analytics is fundamentally about trying to use data to understand the people that you work with and to understand the environment around you.  The data we used to use for people analytics originally was just pure human observation, you know, you would see things or you would see people behaving in certain ways or interacting in certain ways and based on those observations you would change your behavior, change the way your organization ran and those sort of things.  Then we started to get a little more sophisticated.  We started to use surveys.  We started to ask people specific questions about what was going on and based on those answers we would change the way, again, the way the company worked.  It has been very, very recently that this area has undergone a really fundamental change and it starts, really, with the advent of e-mail.  What’s interesting is you think of e-mail and you think of all of the digital tools we have at our disposal as tools and you think of e-mail as a way to communicate.  You use a computer to write reports and do other things, but what they are also doing is generating a lot of data.  They are generating data on who actually communicates with whom, when they do it, how they do it.  You have instant messaging data, phone call data.  All of a sudden you have a digital record, an objective record, of what is going on in the digital world and over the last couple of decades people have started to mine that data to come up with really interesting ways to think about ways to manage and organize people.  If you look at companies like Google and Google’s HR department, which isn’t called HR, it’s called People Analytics, and they do a lot of this.  They do a ton of internal e-mail mining, internal instant messaging mining, to look at how are people collaborating in the workplace?  The important part of this is that it is missing a huge part of the puzzle, which is what is actually happening in the real world.

JESSE:  Right, because if I send you an e-mail and we have a conversation through e-mail , that is missing all the parts of my personality and your personality  that are going on around that and I probably have, maybe, more important relationships that have nothing to do with e-mail.

BEN:  And that is sort of the point.  It is not that, well first of all, you use e-mail for certain things  and you use face to face for certain things.  So if you want to talk about something more personal, maybe you want to talk about your kid’s birthday this past weekend, right?  You are probably not going to send an e-mail having a conversation around that.  Maybe you will do it over IM but odds are you are going to do that face to face.  You also do this very complicated stuff face to face.  If you want to have a conversation around what the company’s R&D budget should be for this next year, you could do that over an e-mail but you would spend hours composing the e-mail, thinking about it and the other person would have to spend similar amount of time thinking about it then writing a reply and the whole discussion would take weeks before it would get resolved.  Whereas most people have those kinds of conversations face to face because we can, again, in real time respond to subtle cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice, you know, and if you look at big decisions and big conversations that companies have, the vast majority of them happen face to face.  You don’t really see many corporate mergers happen over e-mail.  You will get the CEOs come together, they will have meetings, they will go out for beers afterwards and those are the interactions.  Again, if you look at the data that are most important for driving productivity, job satisfaction, creativity, and all the things we really care about.

JESSE:  So what do you do about that?  You are not going to, necessarily, record all those conversations and then try to analyze what people are saying and talking about.  So what can you do?

BEN:  What is interesting is we already have a lot of centers at our disposal that are actually measuring this physical stuff that we are talking about.  So when you think about it, when you go into work there are a few sensors that you have on you all of the time.  The first one is your cell phone which is in your pocket.  It might be your personal cell phone but your cell phone does have a lot of sensors that can tell you who is around you and how you are moving around.  It has the microphone.  Because it is in your pocket, it can only do limited things in terms of determining who you are actually talking to.  Over a three month period I can actually figure out who your friends are but, again, that is not very predictive of how productive you are, how happy you are.  I really need to know who you are talking to for that.  We have this other sensor that we wear all the time and that is actually your company ID card.  Most of the company ID cards today you use them to tap into a door.  They have a little ID chip in it that is a radio and is a senor.  If you put little RFID censors in the ceiling, you could actually figure out where people are.  Besides being creepy, this tells us a lot about how productive people are and how happy people are.  Again, you need to know who is talking to who.

What we have done is essentially created the next generation ID badge, which have a number of sensors in it, which again, they don’t record what you say and they don’t have your name attached to the data, but they are looking at who talks to ho and how people talk to each other, looking at your tone of voice, your volume modulation, how quickly you speak.  It turns out those things are extremely predictive of outcomes we care about in terms of how persuasive you are, how interested you are in a conversation, how happy you are, and how stressed you are.  One of the ways to think about these features is to think about watching a foreign film and turning off the subtitles.  You don’t have any idea what they are talking about but you get the sense that this guy doesn’t like this guy, these people are having a heated discussion, and that is what we are picking up on.  Not to mention the fact that the computers are very bad at picking up the content especially when you don’t know the context.  We have been able to show with this kind of data we can do pretty amazing things.

JESSE:  If a company is measuring this kind of information, what good can that be used for?

BEN:  There are a lot of things you can do with this data.  I think importantly when we work with companies and our, sort of, ethos around this data is companies don’t really have a good business case to look at individual data.  What they should care about is what makes people productive?  What are the things that make people happy?  How can I change the company so that we are collaborating in a way that I think is effective and so that everyone is happier at work?  Nowhere in that equation is there anything about the individual.  We give the individual access to their own data but that is something that is their own property and the company actually has no rights to that data.  So there is an interesting distinction there; but what you can do with this data is really understand what are the actual drivers of success at your company.  It is something that is sort of weird to think about, the way that we traditionally manage collaboration, which fundamentally companies are about collaboration.  You are bringing people together who, when they are working with each other, are doing things that they couldn’t do by themselves.  The way we typically manage collaboration is through charts and formal processes.

In an org chart you will say “If you need to talk to somebody, we are going to draw a line on the org chart.  So this is your boss and these are the people who work for you, and that is how we are going to manage collaboration.”  The issue is that the kind of work that we do today has just gotten so much more complex than it was even a couple of decades ago.  The ability to manage that complexity and the increasing need for very complex collaboration through an org chart is extremely difficult and essentially impossible.  What you can do with the sort of data that we are collecting now and the sort of analysis we are doing, is really see…first of all what is the actual org chart?  How are people actually collaborating?  Then you can actually understand how you can change that.  What are the ways that people collaborate that are most effective?  It might be something, say, hardware engineers … you might have an intuition that hardware engineers are working on these very individual tasks and it only make sense for them to talk to their boss.  They shouldn’t be really talking too much to each other, but that is just an intuition. The fact is that intuition is often right, intuition is also very often wrong and if you look at the problems we have in a lot of business today, it tends to be because we relied too much on intuition.  What you can do with this data is test that.  You can look at the data and say, you know what?  What collaboration patters do make people effective and maybe it is what you thought it could be but it may also be something very different or it could be something you had no intuition about.  So just uncovering this hidden side of work that there was just no way to look at this stuff before.

JESSE:  So one thing I am confused by…so you are saying the individual data isn’t really tied to anybody, or it is not available to the company.  I suppose it is available to you as the third party analyst so you are able to say we are measuring these teams and this team here is interacting more and their performance is better.  Otherwise, how do you say what is the long term value of whether they are interacting or not interacting?

BEN:  Yeah, that is right; we do have access to individual data, although it is important that their name is not directly in our database.  There is a process that we go through that is partly manual to actually connect up productivity data to the behavioral data we collect.  Companies do get to look at team level data.  If it is aggregated then you can’t identify a specific individual and then we do give teams and individuals themselves access to that kind of data.  You have to be very careful whenever you aggregate something.  Whenever you show data about how people are behaving, you have to make sure there is enough data included in those statistics so that you couldn’t say, ok, this is Bob.  No one should be able to know that except for the person themselves.

JESSE:  Now at the companies where you are doing one of these studies, the employees are aware of what is going on.  You are not monitoring people without their knowledge.  Do they find this creepy or intrusive?

BEN:  An important thing to mention you do this on an opt-in basis.  In the last year whenever we have rolled out badges and we have gotten over 90% participation in every project we have done.  I think one reason we get that kind of buy in … there are two good reasons, one is the whole roll out process that we have.  To your point, if I just went into a company and I just pulled out these badges and said “here, wear this.”  I wouldn’t participate but I don’t know anyone who would participate under those circumstances.  So the key is to be really transparent about the data that we collect and what we do is go into companies and send out material basically showing previous results that we have collected, we show the actual database tables of what we collect and the second step here is not just showing people what we do and what we collect, but we give people consent forms so that this is, again, the opt in part.  We sign the consent forms along with the participants that say we will not share your individual data with the company, and, actually, the contracts we have with our clients, they sign away all rights to individual data.

There are actually huge privacy issues in the US.  Technically companies could legally own this information if we didn’t have this agreement.  A company could look at individual data and that is something that just has to change in terms of privacy issues in the US.  Until it does, we are providing those guarantees.  I think the other important thing that participants see is really the value of the data in this kind of analysis.  When we worked with Bank of America’s Call Center Operation for example, these call center employees have really been managed one way for the past 50 years, since the inception of call centers.  When you are on a team of about 20 people, and if any one person on your team is on a break, then no one else is on a break.  The reason is in the 60’s you might have only had a hundred people in a call center, so if 20 people took a break at once it would really be difficult to handle all the calls coming in.  Of course, we know today, they have thousands of employees but that is the way they have been doing things so they kept dong it that way.  But the employees realize that occasionally my lunch time overlaps with the people I work with, and that is a really great 15 minutes when I am able to vent a little bit and have conversations around  it and whenever they would bring that up to management they would say whatever…we don’t’ really do it that way.  There is really no way to show that this is actually an important part of their day and that this is something that needs to change.  With the data that we collect, all of a sudden now you can demonstrate the value of those sort of activities.  The idea that you could actually ask the question; “How much money does the company make when two employees actually eat lunch together?”  You can actually start to make those calculations.  There was no way to do that before.  Demonstrating how valuable informal interactions are and how much they contribute to not only your own job satisfaction but to the output of the entire company.  It is something that most people see the value in that.  They want to help the people they work with and they see this as a concrete, very important step towards making that happen.

JESSE:  Can you give us another example of a change that a company has made after going through one of these projects?

BEN:  One of the companies we work with was configuring these multi-million dollar hardware systems for customers.  So these are data systems and they had hundreds of these engineers who would physically configure the systems.  Most of these people have Master’s Degrees but they were paid based on how quickly they could turn around these configurations.  So a sales person would call them up and say “Hey, I got company X and they need a server that does X, Y, and Z.”  So these engineers had to figure out to do these things:  What sort of a system do they need?  How do I put it together?  How do I price it out?  All of these things a simple one could take 5 minutes but a complicated one could take 8 hours.  What was interesting is that they were paid…their bonus was determined on their individual performance.  So it was based on how many of these tasks they could turn around.  What was interesting, though, is they had the resumes of the people so they knew how much education, how much experience they had, and when they looked at that the people who had the most experience weren’t necessarily the most productive.  They couldn’t really figure out what was going on.  So we went with the badges and we looked at how these people are really collaborating.

Importantly we could actually look at who did they talk to when they were working on one of these tasks.  We knew exactly when they started it and when they ended it.  What we saw was very interesting.  There was this network of people who you would go to when you worked on a task.  There were 4 people in the center of this network.  What was amazing is if you talked to one of the 4 people at the center, you completed the task you were working on in about a third of the time that you would expect.  One of the reasons this was so surprising is that form the company’s perspective, if you were spending your time talking to someone else, then you were essentially wasting your time.  Because you should be just working on your task; what the stat is showing is that you are going to people to get advice.  Again, it makes sense and it is very intuitive and if you ask people they would say “oh, yeah, well I didn’t know how to do this one thing and I knew this guy over here, he knew how to do that and he helped me out.”  Ok, makes a lot of sense, but when you look at the individual output of these engineers, what you saw is they were really middle of the road.  These experts were not significantly different from average because they were spending so much of their time helping the people they worked with.  Obviously, this is a really big problem.  What that means is the people who are actually contributing the most to the overall output of the company are being compensated no more than your middle of the road engineer.  Something very surprising is where we actually helped them is to change the way they actually compensated employees based on this data.

JESSE:  Yeah, that is fascinating.  I think back to some experiences in life at work and I think of either myself or some of the other people who were really well known as great problem solvers and a lot of their time could get taken up by co-workers.  As your reputation grows as a great problem solver, they come to you with their problems and get you to solve them, which, of course, you are happy to do because you want to help people, but then in the long run it can hurt your opportunities for advancement and compensation because you are spending so much of your time on other people and their priorities.  Of course, you want to be a good citizen and be helpful to people but you sort of have to balance that out too.

BEN:  Right and I think that is a very important point.  What I would argue is … I think it is interesting, when you think about interruptions, most of us hear interruptions and we think interruptions are bad, and obviously there is a certain time when you are at your desk and someone comes over and says “Hey, I got a bunch of cat videos to watch.  Why don’t we watch them together?”  Maybe that is not the most effective use of your time, although there is some social bonding that occurs there that is potentially important but not incredibly important around cat videos.  The important thing is if you spend a part of your day helping someone you work with 5% more effective that is actually a huge boost for them.  Even if you are getting interrupted all the time and your own individual output suffers, then that really should be your job.  If you can spend your entire day and make 20 people 10% more effective, then you should be doing that.  The issue is, like you brought up, is we aren’t compensated that way.  We are not evaluated on how much we help other people.  One big reason is that you couldn’t’ measure that before.  I couldn’t show how many minor actions with other people really helped them and with this kind of data you can start to do that.

One of the reasons is, especially in the US and the west in general, we have this real basis towards productivity as individual.  You know, you like to point to your inbox and say “Look, I finished all these e-mails today.”  Or you point to a stack of papers and you say “Look I wrote that report.”  That means you are productive.  Whereas, interactions with other people, having conversations with other people, you can’t point to that.  The data clearly shows…what is really important, what is ultimately important, isn’t your own individual output, it’s what the whole group outputs.  When you look at what groups produce and the end result that the people on the outside world see…the people outside the organization see…the stuff that predicts those results is all about communication patterns.  It’s all about collaboration.  What we should start to do is not only value that more, sort of qualitative it different, but quantitatively measure that and start compensating people actually based on that data.

JESSE:  That is fascinating.  Now so far we have been talking about how organizations form a large organizational structural level can use people analytics to improve but let’s talk a little bit about the individual contributor or manager.  What they can learn from the things that you have been discovering.   For example, you have a chapter in your book that says “should I stay home and work in my pajamas?”  How do you answer questions like that?

BEN:  It’s funny when you think about remote working and teleworking.  There is a lot of qualitative …there are a lot of articles out there of respondents talking about why flexibility is good or why people should always be in the office because collaboration is so important.  Whenever I hear stuff like that based upon anecdotes, I really get annoyed and say “Look, we really have data on this.  Let’s look at what the data says is relevant.”  What’s interesting is there is a big difference for people who have been following , again, a couple of months’ ago Yahoo had this whole big thing come up when they decided that they were no longer going to let people only work from home, that they actually had to come into the office.  There is a big debate about that, about flexibility and it being fair to parents and everything like that.  But what did that decision actually mean in terms of job satisfaction?  In terms of retention?  In terms of productivity?  What did that decision actually mean?  We could argue around what the appropriate trade off is but we need to understand quantitatively, what is the trade off?  So, for example, if you are trying to decide whether you should work from home or going into the office; there is a big difference between never seeing the people you work with and working from home a couple of days a month.

The data is quite clear that working from home a couple of days a month is not going to adversely affect your productivity and more importantly if you have something stressful to take care of, say your kid is sick or your sibling is getting married and you have to prep a few things before the wedding, if you don’t take care of that stuff, you are going to be extremely stressed at work, you’re not going to be very effective and you’re going to like your job a lot less.  So, again, the data is very clear that that makes a lot of sense.  It’s when you start staying home 3 days a week, 4 days a week, never coming into the office, that’s when you start to see some really negative effects.  We looked at IBM, at a bunch of programmers, some of which were co-located in the same office, and some of whom were remote and what we did is looked at first of all whose code depended on whose code.  Some people think that programming is a very individual task and the programmer is the guy who sits in the corner drinking Mountain Dew and typing on the computer all day and actually it couldn’t be father from the truth.  Programming is something that is extremely collaborative mostly because your code depends on thousands of other people.  If you actually don’t talk to those people, the people who write the code that you use, that is where the bugs pop up.  It is 12 times more likely that a bug will occur if you don’t talk to a person that your code depends on.

So what we did is say “ok who is talking to who?”  Whether they are co-located or remote, and we aren’t even going to look at face to face, we are just going to look at electronic communication.  How much of the time do you satisfy these dependencies when people are co-located and how much of the time that happened when people were working remotely.  What was amazing is if you look at co-located groups again, using a very low bar, we look at people who communicated once about a dependency.  About 55% of the time when people are co-located they communicate once.  That changes to about 45% when people are remote.  What’s important to note is when you don’t have this communication, it takes you 32% longer to complete code.  So, if you back this out in Yahoo’s case, this means their average productivity and output saved, just on that very basic analysis, $150 million a year by having people come into the office.  That is a huge affect.  There is actually more there if you look at the average percentage of communications about a dependency, people who are remote only communicate an average of 8 times.  People who are co-located communicate an average of 33 times; again, digitally, not even looking at each other face to face.  There are a few things that this says.  For one thing for various projects we have to be remote.  Again, if you start a project in India, you need somebody in India on the ground.  A great study by the University of Michigan showed that when you have people who are remote that at the beginning of a project, flying people together to meet face to face made those teams significantly better than those who never met face to face.  There are diminishing returns for this.

The idea as simple as if you have a team  where certain people are remote, getting them together a couple of times a year and letting people get to know each other even just in a social context, that that’s extremely important.  I think the way to think about it, you don’t miss the meetings, you still have the meetings, despite the fact that for those of us who have been in teleconferences with more than a couple of people, know how ineffective those are, but it’s where people get to know each other, going out for a beer after the meeting or going out to dinner, those interactions are extremely important and it helps you get a sense of the people you are working with.  When you find yourself remote or you find yourself trying to figure out “do I want to make the drive into work today?  Maybe I’ll just work from home.”    If traffic is really bad and it’s going to take you 4 hours to commute in, you know, there are limits to this stuff.  Try to think of this less as individual output and more as group output.  It will probably change your perspective on it.  Because what is missing when people are remote isn’t your individual stuff, it’s the interactions you have with other people which makes everybody happier and more effective.

JESSE:  It’s interesting because that flies in the face of so many trends where teams are more decentralized, they are virtual.  They may interact with each other all day long but they never see each other for months at a time.  For example, let’s say I am the manager of a team and one of my employees comes to me and says “Hey, I’d like to start working from home one day a week or two days a week, and, of course, every situation is different, but on average you would say that is a bad idea It is one thing to say work at home a couple of days a month if you need to but this weekly business I am not going to go along with that.

BEN:  Yeah, I think it is important to note that here are some roles that are certainly easier to do remotely.  If you are a salesperson and you meet people outside the office, then it doesn’t make much sense to pull you into the office every day.  For all the stuff we do every day, whether it is writing reports, producing media or writing code or building cars, or building airplanes, managing buildings, these things have gotten much more complex over time and as a consequence the need for communication has increased that much more.  The tools that we have at our disposal today are just not very good at supporting those kinds of interactions.   And so as a manager, when you are confronted with something like this, obviously there has to be some discussion around it, it’s not like it’s a hard and fast rule, necessarily, but you really have to acknowledge that if you are going to work from home a couple of days a week, everybody is going to be a lot less effective.  Not just you.  It wouldn’t be a question if it was just about you as an individual – sure if we work from home all the time, then probably individually I can produce a lot of stuff but it knee caps the growth of the organization.  It also makes it…I know form some of my friends who worked at Yahoo when they would come in on a Friday and no one would be there, it is demoralizing.  That is something that we, as a society, have to start valuing.  In the foreseeable future, that kind of interaction is going to be extremely important.  Maybe in the future when we have things like holograms, and we can physically reproduce environments, then maybe it doesn’t matter as much, but until then, as humans, we still really need this.

JESSE:  One thing that seems contrary to me is when I think about people who are either introverted or ambivrted, for example, me, I perform very well when I spend half of my time when I am interacting with people and half of my time when I am working alone.  That is just where I get my energy.  If I come in on a Friday, in thinking about Yahoo, and the office is quiet because half the people are gone, inside I think “Oh, great, I am going to get a lot of my quiet work done today less interruptions.”   But on the other hand, if I am getting so many interruptions throughout my day that I don’t get any alone time to have that kind of energy flow, it really de-energizes me and I think it may be even harder for true introverts.  So how does that factor into this performance discussion?

BEN:  I think what is interesting is the things that predict how happy you are at work, the things that predict how happy you and the group are, it’s not the raw amount of communication so it’s not just saying if we sit at the water cooler for 8 hours a day that everyone is going to be more effective.  It is actually the pattern of communication.  So it’s who to you talk to and how do those people talk to each other?  How I that situated in the overall social network of the organization?  That’s the stuff that is really important.  Now what that means is, if you are an introvert, maybe you only spend 30 minutes a day talking to other people.  That’s ok.  The question is who do you spend that time talking to?  Not just saying that more is better, but really saying you have to have the right interactions.  Even if you are an introvert, again, fundamentally, we are in companies and we work in teams because together we can do things that we couldn’t do by ourselves.  You need to have communication.  You need to collaborate with other people.  The extent that you need to do that depends on the type of work you do.  Maybe it means that some introverts find that a little harder, however, I would say if you look at the data overall, it’s not really an introvert/extrovert dichotomy, it’s really are people spending their time effectively?

JESSE:  Well the book is People Analytics:  How Social Sensing Technology will transform  Business and What it Tells us about the Future of Work.  Ben Waber, thank you for joining us on Engaging Leader.

BEN:  Thanks for having me.


Link to podcast episode: EL 41: Using People Analytics to Improve Productivity & Happiness   | with Ben Waber


5 Keys to Leading Innovation with Todd Henry [Transcript]

Link to podcast episode: EL 40: 5 Keys to Leading Innovation  | with Todd Henry

JESSE LAHEY: Welcome to the show leaders!  How do you avoid mediocrity and apathy in the team lead?  At many companies today, innovation is the rallying cry but bunting for singles is the everyday ethic.  How can you lead a team to be truly innovative?  To help us address this question, I am pleased to have back on the show, a previous guest Todd Henry.

Todd is the author of the book The Accidental Creative; How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice.  He regularly speaks at companies and conferences about how to build practices that lead to better ideas.

Todd, welcome back to the Engaging Leader Podcast.

TODD HENRY: Thanks Jesse!  It’s good to be here.

JESSE LAHEY: Why would you say it’s important for a manager or leader to think about and understand the dynamics of creativity?

TODD: As a leader, one of the primary functions of your job is creative; which is to problem find and to define reality for your team.  I think a lot of leaders fall down when they stop thinking about how can I stay ahead of where my team is?  How can I clarify my expectations for the team by defining reality for them; which means you have to go out ahead of them; which means you’re venturing directly in to uncertainty and trying to find problems and solve them ahead of your team; which is the definition of creativity.

For leaders, not only do you have to be tapped in to your ability to think clearly and to think creatively about the problems that aren’t even on your teams radar yet but you also have to be aware of how those dynamics function so you can better structure your team and structure your expectations to set your team up for success

JESSE:  A lot of companies today talk about the importance of being innovative.  In a lot of companies there’s a danger of assuming that innovation happens in the R and D department.  Should a manager or a leader make it a priority to teach their team to view themselves as creatives? In any part of the company. Not just R and D

TODD: Absolutely. No question about it. This is the real danger that a lot of companies have fallen in to over the course of time because it’s convenient to do that.  A lot of the companies are doing strapping. They’re trying to figure out how do we do more with less. They’re realizing oh we haven’t been focused on trying to unleash the full potential of the people we’ve trained, we’ve hired, we’ve put the right place and we’ve not been unleashing their full potential.

We need to be innovating in place basically. We need every single person in the organization to be responsible for finding ways of doing more with less.  A lot of times that means process based innovation not product based innovation. When we think about innovation happens in the R and D department, we’re basically talking about product based innovation which means oh we’re going to go out with some new thing.  We’re going to take the market and that’s going to be the value our company adds and that’s going to filter down through the ranks.

But a lot of the innovation, the pressure to innovate, that I’m seeing in organizations, now especially, is processed innovations. Which means, how can we do more with less?  How can we process the organization to change the way it thinks about how it operates so we can be more effective in going to market?

That’s not the kind of innovation that’s been on the radar of companies when times are good.  Now that times are lean, a lot of leaders are feeling the pressure to unleash more of their big and capacity in the organization.  Again, a lot of that is processed innovation.

JESSE: Let’s say you lead a team in the finance department. I think we agree it would be great if they were more creative.  Can creativity truly be influenced?

TODD: Absolutely it can be influenced.  We’re talking about leadership primarily in this episode and I think it’s your job as a leader to make sure you’re providing the structure for your team that will enable them to have predictable grounds to play on.  That’s hard to do. It’s really hard to do.  But there are specific things. If’ it’s okay, I’d love to go in to specific principals as leaders that we can utilize.

The first I call Be a Laser not Lighthouse.  What I mean by that is we tend to, as leaders, focus on what we want our team not to do.  Don’t go here.  Don’t go there.  Don’t go here. Don’t go there. That’s what the lighthouse does. A lighthouse shows you where not to go.  If you go over here, you’re going to hit the rocks.

In a create on demand environment, we need leaders to be lasers. We need them to be hyper focused.  We need them to be pointing the direction that we need to be going.  People need something certain to latch on to in the midst of uncertainty.

As a leader, you need to provide that.  You need to define reality for your team.  You need to help them understand what the real risks are; what the real expectations are and make sure they understand with crystal, clear, laser like focus: Here’s what I expect of you.   They’re dealing with enough uncertainty in their job.  You want them to have enough structure to be able to get messy in their work.  You have to define reality for them in that way.

The second thing I would say is there’s a misunderstanding about what a healthy team is; especially in a creative environment.  I think a lot of people tend to confuse passiveness and amiability with health on a team.  Some of the most healthy teams I’ve been around have been teams where people are fighting, teams where people are arguing, they’re constantly grappling with one another and trying to get somebody to move to their point of view. But at the end of the day they line up behind whatever decision is made and they all work as hard as they can to execute it. I always tell leaders to encourage dissent and foster discontent on your teams.  As a leader, you need to be encouraging dissent. You want people arguing ferociously for their point of view.  You want people fighting for what they believe in.   If you’ve done a good job of hiring, you want to get the best out of those people.  Hopefully you’re hiring for those divergent points of view as well.

By foster discontent, don’t let your team fall in to this mode of we’re pretty good at what we do.  Instead, move the bar. Tell them hey, we’re good for this but here’s where we’re going.  To be good at this, we’re going to really have to up our game.  Constantly foster that discontent within your team so they feel there’s something to strive for. Otherwise we tend to fall in to mediocrity and apathy on our teams.

The third principal is you have to defend your team to the death.  The fastest way to permanently hit failure as a creative leader is to sell out your team. Period.  It doesn’t matter what you do after that.  You can defend them all you want after that but if you sell them out once they’re not going to trust you again.  You have to take the most arrows as the leader; which means you have to stand up and defe3nd your team to the death.  If a decision is made and you’re the leader, it’s your decision.   I don’t care who made the decision.  If you put them in place, you hired the people.  It’s your decision. You have to defend your team to the death as a leader.

It’s important to provide that safe ground for them to take risks and try things.

The fourth thing, sometimes I call it think backward forward because people don’t like the way I normally talk about it but I’ll talk about it the way I normally talk about it.  Remember the spilled blood. There are people on your team who have poured blood, sweat and tears in to their work. They have sacrificed a lot to contribute to the team.

A lot of times there’s a what have you done for me lately mindset within organizations. When you do this it’s incredibly demotivating to the people on your team. You have to remember the spilled blood.  Even if someone falls short temporarily, in the short term, you have to remember what that person has contributed over time and not cheapen their sacrifice because they fell short on one project. That’s the quickest way to demotivate someone and have them shrink back and not contribute what they’re fully capable of contributing.

Finally, the last thing I would say is clarity always trumps certainty. You’re never going to be certain as a leader and you’re not going to have all the answers; especially if you’re leading creative teams.  You’re never going to know the right thing but you have to be crystal clear about what you expect from your team.

We talk about project strategy versus creative strategy. The five W’s of project strategy: Who, What, Where, When, Why. You have to define those with extreme clarity.  Here’s who we’re doing it for. Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s why we’re doing it. Here’s when it’s going to happen.  Here’s where it’s going to happen.  You have to define those things with crystal clarity and be ready at a moment’s notice to define those again if somebody has questions.  We 3 may not know how we’re going to do it, the creative strategy, that’s fine. That’s the uncertainty part. But you have to be really clear about your expectations in the face of uncertainty so your team will have that defined structure to play in.

JESSE:  So in that case, you may not have certainty in the how; how are we going to do that? That’s something we need to sort through together; but you need to be crystal clear on the Why’s; why are we doing this? Why y is this important?  So you can ignite people’s passions.

TODD: Exactly.  Again, the defining principal there is you have to be clear even in the face of uncertainty.  When you’re unclear about something, it’s going to create anxiety, tension, frustration, dissonance, fear; all of these things are going to emerge in your teams dynamic because they’ll be afraid to try something because they don’t know exactly what you expect of them. You have to be clear about your expectations if you want them to feel the courage to take risks in their own creative process.

JESSE:  In episode 38, you and I talked about some strategies and structures that help maximize creativity while maintaining healthy work habits.  One structure from your book that you and I haven’t discussed is clustering tasks. What do you mean by that?

TODD: We pay a tasking penalty any time we move from thing to thing.  A lot of times people don’t think about that task switching penalty when they structure their time. They may have 10 minutes they’re going to sit down and think about a problem they’re facing or try to come up with an idea but then they get this ping of an email that comes in so they break their focus and respond to an email. Then they go back to thinking about the problem. Then somebody knocks on their door.  Whenever we switch back and forth like that, we pay a task switching penalty.  Meaning we have to gear back up. We have to get our mind back in that mode. We tend to think if I have the time available then I’m capable of doing something.  But the reality is there are all these other factors that have to align in order for us to really effectively do our work.

One of those factors is focus; as we talked about.  Most experts would say that any time your focus is broken it can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes; some experts say as long as 20 minutes; to regain the focus  you had prior to that interruption. What I recommend for folks is if you have deep thinking work you want to do; you want to try to come up with ideas for projects and you really want to focus in on something, block off time to do those largely conceptual tasks all at once rather than trying to bounce back and forth from highly concrete to highly conceptual.  Because every time you do that, you pay a task switching penalty.

You’ve probably seen this in your life as well, Jesse.  If you’re involved in deep immersive work, you can often bounce from project to project and you’re still in that mode of deep thought. It doesn’t really interrupt the flow of your thought just because you’re switching from subject to subject.  But if you are thinking about a problem and then oh I’m going to respond to an email or answer a phone call, it breaks up your vibe. It breaks up your work in such a way that you begin to pay a task switching penalty and you have to gear back up to get back in to your work.

Clustering is all about making sure you are putting all of your conceptual work together and as much of your concrete work together as you can; at least as much as you’re able to do that so you have time blocked off for those highly conceptual tasks.

JESSE:  Clustering tasks is a structure that requires having boundaries.  Another structure from your book is carving out idea time.  That requires boundaries too.  As leaders, I think we’re often tempted because we are moving so fast and we are shifting priorities and we’re laser focused on what we need to get done at a moment in time.  IT seems like we can run ram shod over the structures that our team would have in place so they can be brilliant at a moment’s notice.  Do you have to have conversations with leaders to help them honor the healthy structures their team has?

TODD: Absolutely.  I’m glad you bring this up. This is the single biggest problem that exists on teams. We don’t talk to one another.    We don’t have conversation. It astounds me.  I come in and I lead workshops for teams all the time and I’ll share with them this principal that I call the five conversations. I can’t tell you how often a hand comes up and they say so you’re saying we should talk to one another?

Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying.  It’s amazing to me. We talk about the work. We talk about the things we expect but we don’t talk about how we’re doing the work. We don’t talk about our needs in that space.  All of the Meta stuff that surrounds that project, we don’t discuss that.  But guess what?  That’s where all the great work comes from.  It comes from that adjacent possible around the work that we’re actually doing.  We talk about everything except for the place where the real value comes from.

We have to be good at having those boundary type conversations with our team. Hey, if somebody on my team says I have nothing left to give, I am completely wiped out; I need to give them the freedom to say that to me without feeling like I’m going to can them tomorrow because they had that conversation with me.  If somebody comes to me every week and says they’re completely fried and need to take a couple of days, that’s a totally different conversation we need to have.

But if I put the right people on my team; and by the way, I’m also equipping them and aligning them around the right objectives; I want them to feel the freedom to talk about the work and how they’re doing the work and not just feel like we have this purely mechanical type relationship because that doesn’t serve anybody.

If we’re not being honest with one another, then we’re not going to feel free to engage our work with everything we have.  If we’re constantly trying to position and buffer ourselves against any of the consequences of those kinds of honest conversation.  So the more we can clear the air of all of that stuff, the better off we’re going to be to be free to actually engage in the work we’re actually being paid to do.

JESSE: Todd, as we wrap up our conversation today, do you have any closing thoughts for us?

TODD: I would like to say, in reference to what we’ve been discussing, be purposeful about your creative process.  Don’t take it for granted.  Be purposeful about how you structure your life.  Be purposeful about focus, relationships, energy, stimuli and hours.  I would submit to you that the most lofty goal that you can have as it relates to your life and work is you want it to be prolific; meaning you’re doing a lot of work brilliant; you’re doing good work and healthy and you’re doing it in a sustainable way.

And if you don’t approach it healthy about how you’re doing your work. You’re eventually going to lose the other two–prolific and brilliant— as well because you’re not a machine. You’re not wired to be a machine. And if you try to function like a machine you will find you will crash. You will burn.  You will be frustrated. You will be burned out. You will spend the rest of your life in misery. (Laughing)

I’m painting a good [picture for you. Be prolific. Be brilliant.  Be healthy.  Be purposeful about your creative process.  Don’t hold back.  We need your contribution. We need you to be how you are.

JESSE:  Todd Henry is the author of The Accidental Creative: How to be brilliant at a moment’s notice, and the host of the podcast Accidental Creative and the founder and CEO of a company called Accidental and Creative where he helps creatives and teams be prolific, brilliant and healthy. Todd thanks for joining us today!

TODD: Thanks Jesse!

Link to podcast episode: EL 40: 5 Keys to Leading Innovation  | with Todd Henry


How to Communicate with Confidence in the C-Suite | with Dianna Booher [Transcript]

Link to podcast episode:  EL34: How to Communicate with Confidence in the C-Suite | with Dianna Booher

JESSE LAHEY:  Welcome to the show leaders!  Well, you’ve made it to the C-Suite because of your expertise but do you have the people skills to be successful with the CEO’s, CFO and other executives?  How can you create presence that influences others to perceive you as a strategic thinker, a heaver hitter and adept leader? In short, how do you communicate with confidence in the C-Suite?  To help us address those questions, our guest is Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications and the author of 45 books published in 26 Countries and 20 languages with nearly 4 million copies sold.  Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Act and Think Like a Leader and the Revised Edition of Communicate with Confidence.  Dianna is founder of Booher Consultants, an executive communication training firm.  Dianna, welcome to the Engaging Leader.

DIANNA BOOHER:  Thank you!  It’s great to be with you.

JESSE:  In your latest book, Creating Personal Presence, the subtitle is Look, Talk, Think and Act Like a Leader.  Are all four of those really necessary for communicating in the C-Suite?

DIANNA:   Yes.  I think so, if you’re going to be a well rounded leader.  Otherwise you present yourself as just an artifact.  There’s not really a sustainable influence or a significant part.  When you’re playing your role in front of your audience, in front of your group, in front of your team, in front of your organization,  they begin to see through the facade if it’s only just look; if it’s only just the talk.  There’s got to be the ability to think and act and there also has to be the character to sustain that leadership role.

JESSE:  Is executive presence just superficial posturing?

DIANNA:  I don’t think so.  It’s not just about image.  When you talk about presence, a lot of times people think it’s just about dress, appearance, etiquette kind of things. Really it involves your total character, your confidence.  It’s really the essence of who you are, how you behave, and the skills that you bring to your role and to your job.  Does that match how you look and how you talk?  When there’s congruence there, then that’s really the essence of executive presence.

JESSE:  That’s interesting the way you phrase that; does it match?  I like in your book you talk about presence simply means being fully in the right role; that you come across as I’m in the right role for me and I’m fully present in this moment.

DIANNA:  Right.  It’s not just putting on an act.  It’s really making sure that you are acting with intention. It’s who you are.  What you say and do matches what you say in the role that you’re presenting to people.  That’s why it’s not just superficial.  You’re not just a poser. You really are who you seem to be out in public.

JESSE:  It’s not just manipulating others to perceive a certain image.  It really is for the good of both you and the others.  Early in your book you tell the true story of Kaitlyn and Rachel and I think it makes that point very clear.  Can you share that story with us?

DIANNA:  Actually it sort of puts me in a bad light of using poor judgment.  It really does say how important executive of our personal presence is in any situation.  I had a job opening and I had a couple of candidates.  My team had narrowed it down to three.  The first candidate that I interviewed for the job, Kaitlyn, came in.   She presented herself really well.  She was dressed in a business suit.  She looked confident and comfortable.  She shook hands, introduced herself, talked about her history, the skills she brought to the job, made great eye contact.  She was very comfortable as I introduced her to several others on the team.  She made a good first impression.  The other person that I interviewed out of the three was Rachel.  She really had the inside job; Rachel did, because she knew someone whose opinion and judgment I really respected.  But when she came in, she did not present herself well. She did not look comfortable. She did not speak comfortable.  She did not frame her past experience in a very confident, competent way.

When I made the decision, I hired the one who made the strongest first impression.  But when Kaitlyn took the job, within 10 days I knew I had made a mistake.   She was just not competent.  I had to let her go after just a few weeks.  I called up the second best and gave her the job.  Soon she was able to learn because we had very competent speakers in and out of our office.  She was able to learn the easier skills; which was to dress a little bit better, learn to speak a little bit better.  The reason I tell that story in creating personal presence is that it tells you how important those first two subsets are; the most observable; how you look and how you speak; because those are the gate keepers. That’s the first impression that people will have and if you don’t do those things right or if you don’t have those things, they can lock you out of many opportunities.  Those are the first steps and if you don’t get past the opportunities, people never get to observe the other things about you.

JESSE:  So Rachel was not doing herself or you any favors by not communicating the proper presence. It was actually you were missing out on all the great things that she truly offered.

DIANNA:  Right.  I missed out on her ability to conceptualize the things, her creativity, her ability to think on her feet, the character issues and all the other things she brought to the job because her first two things, the way she presented herself and her speaking patterns and speaking skills, were the most observable part.  The subtitle Look, Talk, Think and Act, those first two things are what get’s you in the door, so to speak. It gets you past the gate keepers so people can have longer to observe the more important characteristics.

JESSE:  That’s a great story.  If the ability to present yourself well matters so much, it’s surprising that so few people do it well.  In fact, we’ve all heard employees grumble about having to sit through boring meetings. If you think about it, in referring to boring meetings, they’re talking about their colleagues presenting information. Worse, they’re complaining often about their executives who are kicking off management meetings.   Before we get in to some tips, let me ask you this; why are so many CEO’s and other executives lousy speakers?

DIANNA:  I think there are several reasons.  First of all, let me correct the misconception that all executives are lousy speakers because they are not.  Many of them are great.  They’re fabulous speakers. That’s the reason they are on the top.  They rose to the top because they have excellent communication skills.  But there are a fair number of them that are boring.  Face it, they’re boring.  They got to the top because they are exceptional in their technical skills and they were just promoted up because of their technical skills.  But they had someone else who took the out and up front parts for them.  In other words, they had support staff to prop them up; who met the public for them; who did the speaking for them; who met people, had the interactions and the encounters where they had to negotiate and build relationships for them.  So they never really had to develop those skills.  That’s one reason why they remain lousy speakers. When the few opportunities once a year or twice a year when they have to do a all hands on meeting or go to wall street and talk about their earnings, they’re just not that good.

Another reason is they depend on giving out information rather than being persuasive.  If I just hit people with the facts, the facts speak for themselves.  Of course, facts never speak for themselves.  You’ve got to make the facts tell a story.   A  lot of times, for our presentation class, we’ll go in and talk to an executive and they want us to do classes for them, they’ll say something like would you teach these accounts or would you teach these lawyers or would you teach these engineers to tell a story and not do a data dump?  Sometimes CEO’s are still trying to do that. They say look at the results!  They need to learn to be persuasive.

I think the third reason is sometimes they just depend on their position or their title of authority to get people to do things and get their engagement and get people on board on new initiatives or goal rather than winning them through their personal authority. Personal authority is really important when you’re trying to work on a peer to peer level; bring on a new supplier or win a new client or a partnership. You’ve got to appeal to people personally rather than just because I said so.  It didn’t work with a parent and child relationship very well and it doesn’t work peer to peer either.

JESSE:  That’s right.  You say that looking like a leader is the least important of these four components but it is the most observable.  As you mentioned earlier, it creates a first impression that can make a difference and can last.  What are some of the high impact ways that we can increase credibility and influence in our role as an executive by the look or by what others see visibly?

DIANNA:  One of the key things is energy.  You can see energy.  I don’t mean willingness to work long hours.  I mean energy in your voice, energy in your body language, energy in the way you stand, energy in your gestures, energy in your facial expression.  Have you ever looked at some of the ways that CEO’s and executives look when they stand up at the end of a conference table and speak to a group? Half of the time they’re leaning on their elbows, they’re leaning against the lectern, leaning on one foot. Sometimes during a Q & A session they may lean on one elbow to look casual or offline and that’s fine but when they’re delivering a point and they’re trying to drive home something they feel passionate about, a key goal for the year or initiative, they need to look like they feel passionate about it. They need to have some energy; large gestures, moving their arms from the elbow is a whipping gesture.  It looks lackadaisical.  they need to use inclusive gestures which are larger gestures from the shoulders; walking purposefully, not ambling, not this little shuffling foot gesture like they’re nervous; a nervous fidget with their foot.  All of those are not appropriate.  They’re not intentional.  They make an executive look weak.  Those are some ways that are low impact and to do the reverse of those it would be high impact for an executive.

JESSE: I like in the book you state that your overall goal when creating executive presence is to create the best first impression that you are ready, energized, yet comfortable in your role.

DIANNA:  In other words, if you were saying something about we need your input on this, you’d probably, if you were natural and comfortable like you were talking to friends out to dinner on Friday night, you would probably gesture to your friend.  Let’s say you had Sally sitting across the table from you; you would reach out and say Sally I want your input. You would reach out to her and say Sally I need your input.  But if you’re ill at ease, that gesture doesn’t quite fit.  It’s like you’re watching a movie. You’ve seen a movie when the audio is not quite in sync with the picture? It looks a little off.  That’s what happens when you see an executive that’s ill at ease. Their gestures look a little artificial.   They look like they’re not quite in sync with the words.  It’s just stiff.

JESSE:  Another tip you mentioned in the book that really rang true for me and has always served me well is realizing that standing tends to create energy and help you be large and in charge.  I was first taught that way back when I was just coming out of school and interviewing for my first jobs.  The advice was when you’re in the lobby area, don’t sit down.  If there is any good reason to be standing up, then when your interviewer comes to get you, be standing up.  Be looking at the magazines on the rack or the pictures on the wall.

DIANNA:   Right. It’s the ready position.  If you played sports, your coach always told you to stand in the ready position, put your weight on the balls of your feet so you could go either way, you can pivot, you can move forward.  That’s the exact position you want to be in as you deliver a comment or answer questions from your group or deliver a message.

JESSE:  Whether you are and executive; let’s say a new executive; or you are working with executives and you need to have some influence with executives, that posture of standing is very helpful.  A lot of non executives feel uncomfortable to stand in front of a group. I recently was in a meeting and there was a younger member of the team who needed to present to the group.  She kept presenting while seated. She was putting spreadsheets up on the screen from her laptop and was just talking through the spreadsheet as she was seated there.  When I had the opportunity, I pulled her aside and I said standing is the position of influence and power, essentially. If you can stand up, number one you’re actually going to be more clear as you present because you can actually point to the data that you’re talking about but other people will perceive you as having greater authority on any given topic.  That doesn’t take any practice. That’s just thinking about would it actually be more appropriate for me to be standing? And to have a little bit of courage to stand up in those moments.

DIANNA:  Yes. We talk about that when we do presentation training.  We have a sit down time where they do sit down presentations but we make that point often.  A sit down presentation doesn’t mean that you have to sit down as the presenter. There are times where you can sit down and then you stand up at certain times; standing up to do the formal parts; sit down for the Q&A; stand up to show a chart; sit back down.  So you can sit down and stand up periodically throughout the 20 minutes or 30 minutes that you’re talking in front of the group. But you’re always more powerful and influential when you stand up.

JESSE:  What are ways, besides the look, that you can increase your impact with how you think about your message and really grab hold of the message?

DIANNA:  There are several additional ways.  One of course, when we move in to that third area; we talked about the look, how you talk, how you think and help others retain your message; would be to tell stories.  When we tell people about composing your message and how you’re going to shape and structure your message when you talk to a group; whether it’s a two minute update when you step off the elevator or if it’s a 10 minute project report or if it’s an hour long formal presentation.  Most people think about, when they tell stories or tell an anecdote or give a case story to a client that it’s going to take a long time. They say something like well I’ve just got 20 minutes. I can’t tell a story. You can tell a story in 20 seconds.  I often have a case history of a client in my mind when I’m going to go in to talk to a client or to a group or a formal presentation.  I might have a 20 second version of that story, a two minute version of that story, and a four minute version of that story. It just depends on how far back in the history of that case history or case story I want to go.  I know what the punch line is and what my key point might be.  You can give as much or as little to make the point that you need to make.  It might be two lines of dialogue or you might build it up a little bit more.  Stories have impact because they hit people emotionally.  There are all kinds of research that supports the fact that people remember what you tell them if it hits their emotion as opposed to just appealing to their logic.

Another thing, instead of just throwing in fact, fact, fact, information, if you can think how can I make this clearer with a metaphor or analogy or word play so they remember it and they’re saying it over and over next week?  I always tell people if your management team or your project team walks in the next week and they’re still quoting a line from your talk, then you’ve been successful.

JESSE:  So one way to think like a leader is when you want to make a point to use a story or a metaphor to help you make that point.  I think as long as you are very clear in your mind what the point is so you don’t accidentally tell this wandering story and then get off track; which I’ve seen people do that too; but if you have the one big outcome that you want to come out of the story, your main point, and keep a laser focus on that…

DIANNA:  You always want to decide what point do I want to make with this anecdote. When I talk to such and such client in Atlanta last week, what is the key point I want to make with this work we did with that client? Then everything you tell, you choose your details relevant to that key point so that everything is very focused.  You don’t want to just tell a 10 minute story to make a nickel point.  You need to make sure the point is worth telling and the point is worth making and then drive to that point with appropriate details.

JESSE:  You also mentioned one way to talk like a leader is to use metaphor. Do you have an example for practically a leader has done that?

DIANNA:  Sure.  Steve Jobs gave us a good example when he introduced the iPod and he said a thousand songs in your pocket.  He could have given us all the features but he didn’t.  He didn’t give us all the features of the iPod.  He just said a thousand songs in your pocket. We immediately understood what the reason for having that device was.  Why?  Go out and buy it.  When we started talking about the internet, people had no clue. When you think about way back in the 90’s when we started, what’s the internet? We said well, it’s like a highway.  You get on it and you can go anywhere you want. When we first got in to sites and everybody started putting up a website, we said you need a map.   Just like you need a map of the city to go somewhere, you need a map of this website. We understood a map to be an analogy.  When you describe the eye, we say it’s like a lens for a camera.  We’ve used metaphors for an eternity to understand complex, new, concepts.

It’s essential that any time you explain something that’s new to people that you relate it to something they know and understand and is basic to them.

JESSE:  You’re right. And if you can pick a metaphor that you know your audience is familiar with and will understand and that’s truly going to be something meaningful to them and is appropriate; it’s not actually going to take them down the wrong path; that actually does save you a lot of words and is going to help you think and talk a lot more clearly.

DIANNA:  Yes.  People immediately get it and then you can say it’s like this except… and then you start to explain the differences.  Politicians do it. Celebrities do it.  Textbook writers do it. I don’t care how complex the idea; even movie script writers do it when they describe a new movie.   They’ll say this is like The Perfect Storm meets Dumb and Dumber.  Immediately you get oh it’s like a terrible natural crisis but everything is funny rather than dramatic.

JESSE:  That’s right. And when they were pitching the concept for the movie Speed, they told their funding people at the movie company that it was going to be like Die Hard but on a bus.

DIANNA:  Exactly.  And people get it.  You have to figure out a way to take the complex and simplify it. Another key principal for thinking on your feet and making your message easy to retain:  Make your facts tell a story rather than making them unrelated facts.  In other words, let’s say you’re giving your boss a report on what happened at the trade show. Let’s say you go to a big trade show or conference and your boss says was it any good? Should we pay for all of our staff to go next year?  Rather than starting in an unrelated way; well, this many people attended and I went to the trade show and this is what happened. Maybe we should have a booth and I went to these three hospitality suites.  We had some competitors there. You’re sort of all over the place.

You want to start off with an opinion.  Yes we should send all of our staff next year or no we shouldn’t. Then as you relay the information about the conference that you experienced, all of it is going to build the story of yes we should go next year and send everyone or no we shouldn’t go next year. All the facts fit in somehow under that storyline of yes we should go or no we shouldn’t.  Decide what your story line is. In other words, stick a stake in the ground.  Take a stand. Take a point of view and then roll your information out along that story line.  It’s not just a data dump when you speak. And so many people do just send out information and they expect the audience or the listener; even if it’s just one listener; to come to the end and say so…….?  Your point is?

Often they even leave them in the dark with thinking I didn’t even get your point. What is your point?  As a speaker we’re supposed to tell them up front: Here is my point and this is what I want you to think, know, do, believe, buy, consider; and then you take them through the details to get there.

JESSE:  That’s a great point. It’s taking a page out of the playbook of journalists. You think of a newspaper and the inverted pyramid approach they take.  There’s a headline that grabs you very quickly and you know what the general topic will be in this article and then the very first sentence of the newspaper article tells you the whole point and then you don’t have to guess and as you go deeper in to the article, things are less and less important. It’s this inverted pyramid but your audience isn’t sitting there wondering okay where is he going with this? You always know where the article is going and if any point you get interrupted and you don’t finish the article, you aren’t left hanging. You just don’t have all the details but you know the main point.

DIANNA:  Right. You always want to learn to summarize, cut the clip. That is a lost art.  If you’re used to sending out Tweets, you’re probably getting better at that.  Having to do things in 140 characters is helping a lot of people learn to summarize. But even then people sometimes don’t know how to summarize. They just sent out trivial junk.  But that’s an art that you need to know whether you’re writing, whether you’re speaking, whether you’re summarizing meeting notes, whether you’re leaving voicemail. That’s what drives a lot of people crazy at the executive level is to have staff who says oh Mark, just getting back to you. I just got back from a trip blah, blah, blah and they go on two minutes before they get to the point.  The whole thing should say here’s the bottom line message and this is what I need from you.  Now let me reverse that and give you the details to support what I’ve just asked. They don’t have time for the once upon a time version.

JESSE:  It’s worth taking a few seconds before you pick up the phone to make that call to jot down what is your main point and what are the top 1,2 or 3 things you’re going to say to support that point so when you do get the voicemail you’re prepared to sound straightforward and clear.

DIANNA:  Yes. I just got a voicemail this afternoon where the person went on. It was a very big business deal and they went on about three minutes. I listened to it three times trying to get the information.  I finally just deleted it. It’s ridiculous for someone at an executive level to have to listen to a three minute voicemail from someone who cannot summarize. That’s an essential skill at the executive level.  It says you do not think appropriately.

JESSE:  That’s interesting. So you might be tempted to brush that off and say that’s just communicating and that’s just talking but what it says is it tells other people how you think. So if you’re a new executive they’re going to think you don’t really belong in the C-Suite or if you are an advisor to the C-Suite or you’re hoping to make it to the C-Suite someday, they’re going to say that person just doesn’t think strategically. They don’t think like a leader so they really don’t belong in the C-Suite.

DIANNA:  Right.  Your writing and your speaking, when you speak formally, is a reflection of your thought process.  If they do not see that skill to summarize, they’re going to see a gap there.

JESSE:  The fourth component of personal presence is acting like a leader. You said that’s the part that many people forget about; perhaps because it’s the least observable.  But not acting like a leader is what gets many executives and their companies in trouble.  It seems like we only see it after everything has gone horribly wrong. What’s included in acting like a leader?

DIANNA:  I’m talking here in that fourth part of the book about character issues; acting with intention, integrity; particularly honesty; that’s one of the character traits.  Being approachable is another very important trait.  People don’t like arrogance.  They just don’t.  They admire someone who has a touch of humility; not so much so that you feel like you are not competent and you can’t handle things but just a right assessment of yourself.  Self effacing humor is always good.  People appreciate that.  And showing compassion; being concerned about others; showing respect for others no matter their station in life.

I think those four things are some of the top character issues that really count at the executive level.

JESSE:  Today we’ve been talking about how communicating with confidence in the C-Suite requires having executive presence.  Presence is simply being fully in the right role. As an executive we start by creating the best first impression that we are ready and energized yet comfortable in our role.  The four aspects of presence are to look, talk, think and act like a leader.

Dianna thanks for joining us today.

DIANNA:   Thank you Jesse. I enjoyed it.


Link to podcast episode: EL34: How to Communicate with Confidence in the C-Suite | with Dianna Booher


How to Engage Others in Creating the Future | with Terry Pearce [Transcript]

Link to podcast episode: EL 37: How to Engage Others in Creating the Future  | with Terry Pearce

JESSE LAHEY:  Welcome to the show leaders.  How do you inspire people to take action toward a shared goal?  To answer that question, I am pleased to welcome back to our show Terry Pearce; author of Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others and Creating the Future.  This is the best selling guide to authentic leadership communication.  The newest edition of this book hit book stores earlier this year.  Terry had many years of experience at IBM and Charles Schwab.  He’s taught leadership communication courses at Berkeley and the London Business School.  For the last couple of decades he’s been coaching and consulting with CEO’s and elected leaders.  Terry, we enjoyed having you on episode 33. Welcome back to the Engaging Leader Show.

TERRY PEARCE: It’s great to be back.  Thanks for having me Jesse.  I appreciate it.

JESSE: A major theme of your book is that an effective leader has to go beyond telling people what to do and expecting compliance.  You need to engage people to create a mutually desirable future.

TERRY:Yes, that’s correct.  In fact, that’s a good synopsis of exactly what the book is about.  What I try to do are, through example and story and a little bit of science, show people how best they can develop themselves in to that kind of a leader.

JESSE: To create engagement in a change or a vision you recommend that a leader start by writing a personal leadership communication guide.  I think it would surprise many people that you want them to start by writing. Why do you have this emphasis on writing?

TERRY: It actually applies a discipline to authenticity.  So often if we actually do sit down and write, any of us that have gone to school and done any kind of writing assignments were always surprised by what comes out when you sit down and put pen to paper or sit down to a keyboard.  It’s actually a fine way, scientists tell us, of actually learning what we think.  It allows us to use all parts of our brain and spirit rather than constantly being pressured by the presence of others in the room as we’re communicating.  So it’s a discipline.  I’ve journaled all of my life and certainly I encourage all of my clients to journal.  I also encourage them to blog.  I know when they’re writing they’re actually gaining understanding. That’s one reason; to gain clarity.  The other reason is because in the course of normal communication the parts that I think are the most important; that is the ways in which we can garner trust from other people; those aren’t natural to us in the heat of battle; whether it’s a battle in a business environment or in a political campaign.  By preparing ahead of time, by thinking of an issue and including elements that would build trust, we build habit.  We build our own muscles in that arena so when we’re live in real time we won’t forget that.  We’ll include that and we’ll be able to build our own empathetic muscle to a greater degree.  So all of those reasons are why I suggest writing.  If I get push back on it, and I frequently do, I do have my clients start by journaling and then I’ll use their journals to point out why they should be writing more frequently and that seems to do the trick.

JESSE: I like the story you tell about Matt Hyde from REI and how he puts so much time in to crafting the messages that he gives at a live presentation but then how that serves him well.  It seems like a big investment of time but it not only serves him at those moments when he’s speaking with prepared thoughts but when he needs to speak off the cuff.  As you said, he’s already worked those muscles and he has the words he needs and the authentic messages at those moments when he’s standing up in front of people.

TERRY: Matt’s a rare guy.  He’s a really interesting, introspective and yet extroverted human being who now, by the way, is no longer with REI.  He is actually CEO at West Marine.  He’s doing very well.  Matt told me when we were speaking about this that it takes him about an hour to write and prepare for every minute of a presentation.  The good news is though that he will use a lot of material that he’s already written and plug it in so that while the topic may be different, some of the supporting stories and some of the supporting techniques that he would use to connect with a group emotionally are constant.

JESSE: That sounds a lot like the way you describe a personal leadership guide; how you put certain thought in to preparing for that but then it gives you a lot of the tools that you’re going to put in to place throughout your leadership activities.  What specifically is a personal leadership communication guide?

TERRY: It is a tool.  You put your finger right on it.  What I’ve done is develop a framework that has certain elements to it.  Then I’ve laid those elements out. The guide contains a narrative about all of the elements in the guide so that I’m sure that when the guide is complete, whoever the leader is will have all the tools that he or she would need; all of the information; the stories; the narrative; the reflections; the metaphor; the symbols; the data they would need to communicate in any venue using any media.  Once a personal leadership communication guide is done, it becomes the basis for the content for anything else, for off the cuff remarks, for conversations by the water cooler or even for speeches to thousands of people.  It’s a discipline for them. The other thing it does, once you’ve done it, it changes your thought pattern so that in communication situations you tend to see the elements of the framework as they come up in natural conversation.  It’s easier for you to note what is missing and then you can go right to that section of those thoughts that you had and wrote down and basically you’ll be saying something like oh I see the problem; this person just doesn’t have enough context.  I need to really go back and tell the story of where we’ve been and we are as the basis for where we’re going.  It becomes that kind of a tool.  The other thing that it has; and I don’t want to minimize it because it’s the primary reason it has the word personal in it; I said on the previous show that it’s imperative for leaders to inspire that they know themselves and have had some self reflection.  The subtitle to the sub name of the personal leadership communication guide is a biography with a purpose.  I want to make sure there are enough of the leaders personal values embedded in the guide so he or she can bring those out when it’s appropriate and in ways that will really inspire others.

JESSE: Does a leader need a single guide or one for every major change effort?

TERRY: Of course the content will change with every major change effort but the surrounding material will, in some cases, be very consistent.  For example, we were talking about Matt Hyde.  Many of my other clients do journal now. What they’ll do is record things that impress them during the day. This is not a formal process.  It might be just a few notes on a notepad; stories they ran across; people they met; things they were impressed with; thoughts they had; so that becomes grist for the guide. Then they’ll have the guides themselves.  If I were trying to create a new organization that looked a certain way, I would certainly create a guide for that particular change that would have all the elements in it.  But it would be salted with stories that represented my values.  It would be salted with elements that I normally wouldn’t use if I were trying to be spontaneous so in that sense every guide has a large piece that translates to the next one.  It’s also true that once you’ve done one, as I said, you kind of change your way of thinking.  You have a model in your mind and you can go to various places when you need to.

JESSE: How does this personal guide fit with an organizational communication strategy?  For example, when helping a large employer communicate a change to its employees, we create a communication strategy that outlines the organizations communication objectives, stakeholders, key messages and so forth.  If a leader decides yes I need a personal communication guide, how does that fit in with the organizational strategy?

TERRY: Usually a strategy is aimed at; I understand this is what you do for a living and I understand you do it quite well; within that framework you’ll have certain messages that you want to pin down.  Those messages, in general, the objective and what the guide does is help to refine or to granulate the strategy.  Once the strategy is in place, now we need to put content in it and we need to personalize it because we realize each is going to have their own way of conveying what they need to convey to get the result of the strategy accomplished.  That’ show the personal communication guide fits in.  Once that framework and strategy is in place, the guide becomes a natural next step; particularly for key executives to create.

JESSE: That makes sense.  You’re making it personal for the key executives and other leaders who need to be spokes people as part of the change effort or the progress effort.

TERRY: Yes.  Because everybody won’t have the same stories. Everybody will have a different content in the way they put forth the effort.  I couldn’t tell your stories any more than you could tell mine but we would both have individual stories that would have the same effect.

JESSE: You recommend four sections in a personal communication guide.  The first section is building trustworthiness.  What are some examples of the content that we would include in that section?

TERRY: There’s a reason why this is first in the guide. It’s the one that’s most often left out and in my view one of the most essential.  Competence and trustworthiness includes a clarity of purpose. Are we really clear what the problem is and what the specific change that we’re advocating is going to be? Frequently people talk around that and never really get to the real nut of what it is.  We have to have at the outset at least some note that at some point we recognized there was a problem so there’s a little bit of evidence here of this compelling need. Then there’s also the very broad implication of the change we’re advocating; a broad gauge of if we do this here is what’s going to happen and if we don’t do it this is what’s going to happen and here’s the value that we’re representing in moving ahead with this initiative.  That’s some of the competence side.  In addition to that, your credentials and vulnerability. One looks at okay this particular kind of effort I’ve had experience with in the past.  What would it be? What kind of credentials would followers know to know about me in order to at least suggest that I might be competent to lead this kind of an effort? Trustworthiness is the other one.

This is the more important one to me and you got right to it.  This is the one that’s most often left out. When we objectify it and actually start to write things down, we have a much better opportunity of seeing the opportunity for building trust as we communicate. For example, we know we want to display empathy when we’re having communication but what does that mean? What are the ways in which people can actually display empathy and know that they’re trustworthy?  One way is to express gratitude. Another is to acknowledge resistance before it’s voiced. By giving people the knowledge that you understand their different points of view in the room and different feelings about this particular initiative, you’ll go a long way toward establishing yourself as someone who’s empathetic and therefore worthy of trust; finding commonality in purpose. Also your own willingness to be known and to put elements in the communication that would allow people to know who you really are. What is your personal motivation here?  What’s the personal value that it seems to be important to you in the individual effort?  These are all things that when you write them down you have to think about them. That’s the first section of the guide and probably the most difficult one for most executives to deal with.

JESSE: One of the stories that you tell in the book that I think illustrates this well is Mario Cuomo when he was Governor of New York speaking at Notre Dame on the topic of abortion.   He was speaking to a group that probably at the beginning of the conversation was not very willing to listen to him based on his stance.  He did that in a way that had a lot of empathy and I think by the time he was done with his introduction they were willing to listen to what he had to say.

TERRY: The combined faculty and administration at Notre Dame had asked Cuomo to speak about abortion right and this was at a time right after the Bishops had actually written a letter that was considered political and published it in the New York Times urging governmental action; which was highly unusual for the church to do that.  If you don’t mind, I’ll just read that segment. I think the audience will get the idea that, by showing this vulnerability, Cuomo opens up the possibility for greater dialogue.

Let me begin this part of the effort by underscoring the obvious.  I don’t speak here as a theologian.  I don’t have that competence.  I don’t speak as a philosopher either because to suggest that I could would set a new record for false pride.  I don’t presume to speak as a good person except in the ontological sense of the word.  I do speak here as a politician and also as a Catholic; a lay person baptized and raised in the pre Vatican to church, educated in Catholic schools, attached to the church first by birth then by choice and now by love; an old fashioned Catholic who sends regrets, struggles, worries, gets confused and most of the time feels better after confession. The Catholic Church is my spiritual home. My heart is there and my hope.

I don’t care who you are.  You couldn’t hear this even as a practicing Catholic that was pro life and not grasp the empathy in the man and give him the right to be heard.  It put him directly in the center of this group he was speaking to. I think it was a brilliant piece of writing and, of course, had the effect he wanted it to.

JESSE: It definitely went a long way towards building trustworthiness there.  That’s the first section.  The second section is creating shared context.  What does that mean?

TERRY: It suggests that the leader sees things differently.  If you want to make a substantial change with the way things are, you’ve studied the problem, you have all the facts, you know the history but the people you are asking to come along with you and to implement are not that privileged. They don’t have that same point of view.  It’s like the leader is standing on the bow of the ship looking out and can see the waves and the weather and the sharks and the pirates and everything else.  He has the entire story and can look forward, can look aft.  Most people are more like they’re down in the third deck below and their view is out of a little bitty porthole. All they see are the things that affect them; sometimes just immediately.  The idea of creating shared context is to be able to share a story of where we’d been and where we are as the basis for where we’re going.  That includes the history of an issue. I usually like to cut the history up in to two or three sections; how is this issue been over x amount of time? What changes have we made to get us to where we are? Then make sure we are clear about the priority and what we’re suggesting and that we believe the action that we’re suggesting is going to affect other things in a positive way.  Be sure that everyone understands the current reality and then reinforce your own competence and trustworthiness by revealing: where did you come in to this movie?  When did you arrive? At what point? What was the state of this particular problem?  Then you can reticulate the broader perspective of how you believe it’s going to be impactful as you go forward.  Context is history, priority, current reality, and the reinforcement of competence and trust.  All of this is necessary because if people don’t understand it then they may go through the motions.  If they do understand it, they’ll have the entire surrounding story to reinforce their own belief and action in supporting it.

JESSE: That makes good sense.  I really identified with Mike McMullen, who you talk about in the book, when he was general manager of the Chemical Analysis Group of Agilent Technologies.  He stepped in to that role there with a challenging situation and you shared the excerpts from his personal guide.  I was really able to feel like I understood that shared context at the end of that and thought yeah this is a leader I could get behind and support this direction that he wants to take us.

TERRY: This became even more important to Mike as he got down the road.  In that particular situation he walked in to an organization that was basically in a turnaround mode.  They were thought of as kind of a hold our own and ride the curves downward. Later on, as he was instituting growth and actually generating what, at that time, was the largest acquisition in Agilent’s history when they bought Berrien to help revitalize this organization, people that weren’t there in the beginning didn’t have an appreciation of how far it had come and why it was necessary.  Mike used this particular part of the guide to a real advantage to build understanding; not just in the organization itself but on the board of directors.

JESSE: That’s creating shared context.  The third section is describing the future.   You say leaders essentially do the same work as a prophet.  What do you mean by that?

TERRY: You actually left one word out. It’s not just describing it. It’s declaring it.  It’s in the declaration phase that leaders share, in my view, the elements of the prophet.  When I went to school I took a lot of religious philosophy and actually got enough credits to get a minor in it.  I was always curious about the argument of whether prophets; Biblical or religious prophets; predicted the future or created it.  I always came down on the side of creation because as we look at these great changes in human history that have come about like the freeing of the slaves or the reformation or even something as local as sending a man to the moon, these were all started by declaration.  Declaration actually created a situation that then had to be manifested.  It started with a declaration, just as with the Declaration of Independence.  We hold these truths to be self evident. They’re not self evident.

In fact, at the time the Declaration of Independence was written and said something audacious like all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights, the truth was that all men didn’t have rights. Basically it was white men with property had rights.   That declaration was pretty audacious and it took us 200 years to get to a point where we’re actually making it true. That’s what I meant by that.  Leaders perform that same act when they declare and describe a future.  Obviously few of us get to play on that big of a stage but actually declaring a company or organization is going to look like this is five years or in eight years or when we finish with this initiative is a very strong statement of possibility.  Then we need to be able to, in our imagination, create it in the minds of others; to share it in a way that they see themselves in it.  These are pretty tough skills. The declaration is not but the describing is something that is difficult for many people to do who see themselves as sort of bored zions.  I really emphasize this business of imagining a future and painting that picture in a way that others can see themselves in it.

JESSE: That’s pretty powerful.  The fourth section is committing to action. That sounds simple. It’s time to act; to tell people what to do. But you point out that many leaders fail to engage people on action because they don’t offer their own personal action.

TERRY: We often hear action is eloquence and of course I believe that to be true after all of this guide is complete.  It really comes down to this.  In fact, often my own clients will use this guide as a way of inspiring themselves. When they get to the end of it, as many of us do when we write, we’ll look back at it and say gee that’s pretty good.  What am I going to do about this?  How can I put myself in this so my commitment comes through? What am I willing to bet? What action am I going to take?  I tell a story in the book.  Jesse, you and I share a love of physical activity and I’m quite a bit older than you are so I’m on the downward slope of that.  In 1989 I ran across the United States with a group of people and set the record for that distance.  It was a relay.  We ran from San Francisco to Washington DC.  We were on the verge of setting a record. It was a night and day thing. We were in to the run about 15 days and we were sitting outside of Washington DC waiting for our runner to come down the road and take the baton.  The problem was we were on the loop and there were actually ruts in the side of the road where we were sitting from 18 wheelers that had run off the road.  It was a very dangerous situation. It was about 4:00 in the morning and it was raining very hard and it was obviously pitch black.

We were debating what we should do.  Our advisor in DC. by radio was telling us that we should stop and wait for daylight.  We knew that we could stop and still break the record but we had been nonstop since San Francisco so in a way it was morally debilitating for us to do that.  As we were sitting there discussing it the leader of the group, a fellow named Andy Mecca who later went on to be the drug czar of California, stood up.  We saw the runner coming down this black road in the rain with wind blowing and approaching our RV and it was our turn to take the baton. In the middle of the discussion Andy just opened the door and stepped out.  As I tell that story, I’m also reliving it.  It was so emotional and so inspiring.  He didn’t want to talk about it.  He just stepped out, took the baton, and kept it until daylight.  Then the rest of us picked it up and ran it on to DC.  It’s that commitment that speaks so loudly.  That’s what I mean by the importance of action.  Anywhere we look, great leaders, Sadat didn’t want to hear more discussion.  He said I’m going to finesse it and he did.

JESSE: Your story of Andy, that didn’t even require words.  He just acted.  That spoke volumes. But as you’re creating your personal communication guide you’re actually at this point saying I’ve just declared and described the future.  Here is what I intend to do.  This is my personal commitment.  And you describe your immediate next step or several steps down that.  Then you suggest the other part a lot of other leaders often leave out is a call for specific actions that everyday individuals can take.  What’s an example of that?

TERRY: It can be something really simple.  My criteria for that are: it should be something you can do immediately and something that will be at least symbolic of their commitment to move beyond that.  For example, one of my teachers is a Benedictine Monk and David Stile asked; Brother David is a real advocacy for the environment. He’s a zealot in that regard.  He spoke about this at a conference I was at in Switzerland at a resort community.  He spoke about the need to be mindful in every little way about what we do that affects the environment.  He got a standing ovation when he finished talking.  The real story was at the end he said we all have to decide what we’re going to do about this.  The next morning, as we were making our way to breakfast, Brother David was seen in the quad of this resort with a bag in his hand picking up litter; picking up little paper bags and pieces of cigarettes and other things and putting them in the bag.  He took that bag with him to breakfast and put it in the garbage can.   By the end of that conference, literally hundreds of people were getting up every morning, getting little bags and going out and demonstrating their commitment by picking up the litter that was left in the resort.

That’s one example of something that people could do immediately that was demonstrative that would show their commitment.  In a corporate environment, obviously, it comes off a little different.  As we’re developing the guide we’re deciding what it is that we want to do. What kind of action could we take? You might say for the next year I’ve asked to be relieved from everything else that I am doing so I can focus on this and I’m going to put 100% of my compensation on the success of this operation; beginning today.  You can count on me to be there for you in any way that I can.  Here’s what I would ask of all of you: Have a look at your own work load.  See what it is that you can shift so we can give the highest priority possible to this project.  Maybe by Friday send me an email and let me know what you’ve discovered about it and how you can clear a little bit more of your own schedule to focus on this.  That the inspire.  But once people get in to the action step, then you’ve started the momentum to actually creating what it is that you want to create.

JESSE: I love that.  And taking that level of specificity; even though it may seem minor; you’re basically moving this change effort beyond just a big organizational reform that’s really beyond the ability of any single person to make happen; which a lot of times when a leader describes the future it sort of sounds like that so you just get the idea of well they’re going to make this happen so I’ll just go along with it.  But you’re asking for a simple definitive action on their part and it basically seals the bargain.

TERRY: Yes.  In fact, there’s a lot of precedent for it.  Perhaps the most eloquent one in my lifetime has been when Kennedy made the declaration to go to the moon.  My favorite part of that whole declaration was when he said because if we make this decision, it’s a commitment not only of mine and of the government but of every citizen, every person in the armed service, everyone who goes to work in the morning because we as a Nation will be going; not just one man.

I think that kind of woke people up and grasped our imaginations.  We were all looking around the next and saying how am I going to get engaged in this?  It was a very exciting and of course a great example of how something like that takes place and occurs.

JESSE: It really is. It’s amazing. Toward the end of the book, after you’ve shared all the details about what goes in to the guide, you boil the whole thing down to a single concept; an overriding responsibility of okay we’ve talked about a lot of specifics but there’s one thing to keep in mind….

TERRY: The one thing that is true and is a constant throughout all of my work was in the subtitle of the first edition of this book. It was the Incredible Speaker, The Authentic Leader.  The word authenticity has been core in everything that I’ve done.  In fact, when I wrote the first edition, the word authentic and leadership only appeared in one book and it was actually out at the University of Minnesota by a man who’s inspired me all of my live.  His name is Robert Terry.  Since then, unfortunately, the word has become a cliché.  I went on to Google just before I started this edition and Googled the term authentic leadership and there were a million 800 thousand hits.  Shortly before I started the manuscript I was at a conference where my own table, when asked by the moderator to take one word out of the leadership lexicon and throw it away, they choose authentic.  It’s become a cliché. But it’s so important that we reach inside of ourselves and know who we are and bring that forward in the world. That sounds like a spiritual concept and it is.  I really believe we’re here with a purpose; that we discover that and that we play it out and in that we fulfill our life and find our greatest happiness.  I think that’s true of leaders. Once they can discover who they are, discover what matters to them and then begin to express that and stay on that track of being authentic and being themselves, that’s the greatest gift. The rest of it is just the tools and skills to make it happen.  Authenticity continues, for me, to be the core of the realm.

JESSE: I love the way you put it in the book. You say your overriding responsibility as a leader is to be present in the communication rather than beside it.  Back at my earlier question to you about how does a personal communication guide fit with an organizational communication strategy for a given change effort, I think that describes it pretty well.  You may go through the steps of defining the steps of the change we’re going to do and what are the key messages we need to send about that but all that is rather hollow and impersonal.  Creating this guide makes sure that you, as a leader when you are communicating and leading the actual change, you are truly present in all of this instead of being beside the communication tactics that are taking place.

TERRY: Jesse, you’ve put it better than anyone I’ve ever heard.   That’s exactly right.  Of course it’s that presence that’s so attractive to other people that inspires them.  When they meet someone who knows who they are and actually can articulate it in the context of the work they do in the world, that’s inspiring.  I might say you’re one of those people.  I’ve really enjoyed this interview.

JESSE: Thanks Terry.  I have too.  Again, a written Personal Communication Leadership Guide can help eliminate fuzzy thinking so you can lead a change effort with greater clarity and greater passion.  The basic components of a Personal Communication Leadership Guide are:

  • Establishing confidence and building trustworthiness
  • Creating shared context
  • Declaring and describing the future
  • Committing to action

Terry Pearce, author of the new edition of the best-selling book Leading Out Loud, thanks for joining us today.

TERRY: My pleasure Jesse.  I hope we get a chance to connect on the road sometime.  It’d be fun to work with you.

Link to podcast episode: EL 37: How to Engage Others in Creating the Future  | with Terry Pearce




Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within | with Achim Nowak [Transcript]

Link to podcast episode:  EL35 Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within  | with Achim Nowak

JESSE LAHEY:  Welcome to the show, leaders!  Do you connect deeply with others? Do you inspire people?  Do you make a lasting impression? Beyond strategy, beyond business expertise, what people ultimately respond to is you; your energy; your vision; your ability to move hearts and souls.

To help us expand our leadership influence, our guest today is Achim  Nowak. He is the author of the book Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within.  Achim leads a firm called Influens, an international training and coaching company founded in 2004.  Prior to that he served for over a decade on the faculty of New York University where he also studied Organizational Psychology and International Relations.  Achim, welcome to the Engaging Leader.


JESSE: Why did you write a leadership book about infectious energy?

ACHIM:  About eight years ago I wrote a book called Power Speaking.  People consider me an expert on speaking and leadership presence.  Very often folks call my firm and I and say can you help so and so with their leadership presence.  I love that we’re leadership presence but it’s also a code word for a lot of things that it’s hard to put words on to.  When I really drill down, very often what folks want me to look at is why folks don’t connect so well with colleagues, with their teammates; why they don’t know how to motivate and engage people.

When I wrote Infectious, what I think is what is it that good connectors do really well and what can we learn from people that connect really well?  The starting point was really the kind of questions that come up in my practice as an executive coach.

JESSE: You kick off your book with this great story about five executives at a cocktail party and it features Alex Sandy-Pentland who, just by coincidence, only a couple of weeks ago I heard an interview with him so I was immediately sucked in to your book.  Could you share that story about the five executives?

ACHIM:  This is research that was conducted by Alex Sandy-Pentland and Danielle Oldwin at MIT.  They have a wonderful place called the Human Dynamics Lab.  This research really substantiated something that I see in my practice as an executive coach all the time.  They took these five executives that you mentioned and these five had to do competitive pitches in front of a committee.   The winning businessman was going to get a good chunk of money for a business project.

Three days before at a cocktail party they measured what they call their vital signals; arnal signals.  Those are how much we sweat, how much we gesture, how close we move to people, how much energy we have; all of the unspoken things that we send out.  They call them vital signals and they say this is very unique to human beings because we organize ourselves socially in a relationship through these signals that we receive.  These signals go deeper than traditional body language; which we’ve talked about for years.

Upon measuring the vital signals of these five individuals, they said we know who’s going to win this pitch on Friday.  And they correctly predicted the winner.

JESSE: What sorts of things were they looking for when they were evaluating the behavior of these five executives?  How in the world could they predict that outcome so accurately?

ACHIM:  When Sandy Pentland was in the Harvard Business Review, they said what’s the one thing that you discovered that distinguishes the most successful person?  Pentland said his personal energy.  The devices they used measured all of these unspoken things that are hard to quantify.  On a gut level, as a coach, that completely made sense to me.  The challenge then is how do we work with all of the unspoken elements that are significant success determinators?

So when I wrote Infectious I said I know what we say matters but the unspoken things; because I really second the research that was done at MIT; matter more.  The folks who are successful leaders and communicators know how to work well with the unspoken elements of a connection. That’s what I really dive in to in my book Infectious.

JESSE: This research by the MIT Human Dynamics Lab basically said it may be hard to describe but we can certainly measure it quantitatively. In your book, you’re actually putting some words and somehow to’s and some tips behind creating that infectious energy.

ACHIM:  I talk about five basic principles that apply to connecting really well with people in the spoken realm but the deeper levels, the unspoken levels we have to do and the second one is how I understand my personal power and use it well and how I play with the power of other people.  The third level is my relationship to intent and how I use intent consciously.  And also how I accept the intent of other people.  But the deepest level at which connections happen or don’t happen is the energy level.  I talk about how we can access energy consciously and how we play better with the energy of other people.

These last three levels: Power, Intent and Energy— those are the unspoken levels at which we get to the deeper connections with folks.  My premise is, based on the work that I do, the moment I connect more deeply with folks, folks are more motivated by me, more engaged with me and they’re going to work harder.  It’s going to create more success for all of us.

JESSE: When you say the ability to connect, you’re not talking about networking or communicating, are you?

ACHIM:  I’m talking about the ability to stir people, to get people excited about something.  So yes, I’m not talking about the kind of quick connections that are important in a networking event but they just lead to the next phone calls. I’m not talking about sales situations. I’m talking about deeply engaging clients, deeply engaging your team, deeply motivating your colleagues so they’ll want to work with you; they’ll want to follow you.

JESSE: In your book, as you mentioned, you talk about four levels of connection.  The first one being language. Can you give us an example of a technique that works at that top level?  I think you’re talking about that language level of connection.

ACHIM:  The most sophisticated technique I talk about is the ability to elegantly reframe conversations.  We talk about six different reframing questions.  These are questions we can ask when a conversation is stuck and not flowing. Instead of doing battle with a person, a reframing question elegantly shifts the conversation to a new direction.  It’s a wonderfully sophisticated technique.  It’s invisible.  You, Jesse, wouldn’t know that I’m reframing the conversation.  But it’s a way of really powerfully influencing where we go with something.

On one hand we start with something very simple such as adjectives to something much more sophisticated like the ability to frame and reframe conversations.

JESSE: Reframing a conversation sounds similar to changing the subject but, as you say, it’s definitely more sophisticated and elegant.  Can you give an example of how that might work?

ACHIM:  We talk about six different techniques.  Let me give you a very simple one. I call it widening the lens.  I’m going to give you a Miami example because I live in the Miami area.  Let’s say we’re talking about real estate in Miami.  You keep hammering away about how real estate prices are rising so rapidly in Miami and that’s all you’re focusing on and I feel like we’re having this very narrow conversation.  One option I have is to disagree with you and we could start a little fight. Or widening the lens would mean just asking a question such as how do you think real estate prices in Miami compare to real estate prices in the rest of the country?  See what I’m doing? I’m steering you away from Miami.  I’m not saying that you’re wrong, but I’m widening the conversation to a more broader focus.  It’s very elegant.  You probably don’t even notice that I’m broadening the conversation but it’s a masterful way of changing the flow of things instead of getting stuck somewhere.  People who do this well really have a way of strategically moving conversations forward; which is an incredibly important skill for leaders.

JESSE: Then you also described that there are times that it’s appropriate to do the opposite; to narrow the lens.

ACHIM:  Yes. For example if somebody is throwing sweeping generalities at us about a topic, my mind just goes.  I work with a lot of global corporations and people love to complain about HR, human resources, and they don’t like this and they don’t like that.  Let’s say somebody is generalizing about that.  One way of getting away from sweeping generalizations is you say what is one specific thing that your HR professional does that frustrates you the most? You’re focusing on one thing and you’re getting rid of all the other stuff.  You have a more focused conversation.  Those are ways, again, of framing things that are very elegant without doing battle with a person; instead of saying you’re full of crap for not liking HR, right? (Laughing)  You could say that and we’re going to have a nice little fight.

In the early 90’s my first career was in show business.  I was an acting coach in New York.  My first job after I switched out of that was as a mediation skills trainer in New York City.  We were training students throughout the New York City school system.  I was trained by lawyers to be a mediator.  It was three day training and those are all skills about shaping conversations.  I don’t go in to any of these skills in my book but what I learned with my teenagers was when I said I was trained as a mediator and learned these skills, they suddenly felt incredibly empowered because they had tools for shaping the conversations they had. They knew how to strategically move a conversation forward; because I learned some basic mediation tools.  The ability to reframe conversations is not a mediation skill but it’s a strategic way of feeling empowered to move conversations along.  People who do this well are much more successful in conversations.  It’s a simple tool and it can be learned.

JESSE: That tool and several others in this part of the book talking about language, I think, are very helpful in moving us beyond simple conversations to a richer, deeper, more energetic connection.  This past weekend I was at a family wedding where both sides of the family getting married were Catholic.  I had a cousin who was visiting from out of town, California.  I had not seen her in the last several months but in the meantime I had heard that she and her husband were separating and were probably going to get a divorce; which can be a painful topic; especially given the family background on both sides of the family it could be a dicey subject.  I forget how you say it in the book but just because something is typically considered taboo, it can actually connect people if you’re willing to discuss those in a helpful, learning type of manner.

I thought about what you had said and I went ahead and started the conversation with her. I said hey, I hadn’t really talked to you since hearing about this. How do you feel about that?  She immediately said pretty crappy actually.  It was the start of a very rich conversation that really connected the two of us together.  I found this part of the book, even though it’s just the first level and you might say it’s superficial stuff, it’s actually very helpful.

ACHIM:  I really appreciate you sharing that example.  One of the things my clients are challenged with is how to show up at business dinners.  All last week I was at two business dinners and you spend an hour and a half or two hours with people; in this case it was a table of four; and we can kill two hours by superficial banter.  Sometimes that’s really nice.  Or we can take some risks. One of the big lies I see perpetuated in business dinners all the time, and that’s the social pressure; I call it the happy family conversation; in most business companies, I would say nine out of ten people tell a happy family story over a business dinner when we know that 50% of marriages are unhappy and end in divorce. That’s reality that’s borne out by statistics.  But you listen to business dinners— everybody is happily married.

So it’s very interesting when somebody breaks that code.  For example, over the dinner that we had last Monday in Chicago, one of my colleagues talked about the fact that his son, number one is gay and belongs to a pretty radical gay group and that troubled him.  So that was a big social risk.  He was there with our sponsor who hires him and me and another HR director.  The other HR director also revealed that her daughter is a lesbian and she talked about that.  Because Dan opened this door, the other colleague, our sponsor, felt comfortable mentioning that her ex husband was gay.  You see, there was a theme and people share things appropriately.  I’m sure there’s things that were not shared but somebody opened that door by saying everything is not that perfect in my family and I am worried about my son.  It was a completely enjoyable dinner and what happened was when we left the dinner, I did not feel tired. When I’m at a dinner where we just do the fake conversation for an hour and a half, I’m exhausted because it actually takes more effort to have the fake conversation rather than take a few appropriate risks.

What’s an appropriate risk? Obviously we each decide what that is but I know in my own life the more I take appropriate risks, the more rewarding my connections are with people.

JESSE: Isn’t that something? You have that deeper connection and it actually creates more energy for everybody involved.  The second level of connection is power.  This also struck me as fascinating.  Some of the topics that you cover I’d heard elsewhere but I really found it helpful that you broke down five different types of power that people may have. Can you explain what you mean by that?

ACHIM:  Sure.  I want to start with a little story first and then I’ll talk about how I break power down.  My personal aha moment around power was a long time ago. I was still working as a theater director in show business. I had a rather successful career in New York.  I was hot stuff.  For the first time in my life, in the late 80’s, I took a break and I spent six weeks in Sedona Arizona to do a personal exploration retreat; just sit up and look at myself. I’d never done that. I’d never seen a therapist.  I’d never really looked at who I was.  I was very much identified with being a successful theater director.

There’s a woman named Ramona who ran this retreat center and she looked at me at some point and said you know what? You need to stop being a door mat.  When she said that, she really pissed me off with that comment because I thought I had a good sense of myself. I was successful. The critics said I was good at what I did.  Once I stepped back I realized there were ways in which I played small; in which I didn’t really understand my personal power.  What I got for the first time is because I wasn’t comfortable with my power; I also didn’t play well with the power of others.  A bunch of years later I discovered that there are power models; our ways of taking this very abstract concept of power and breaking it down in to different power sources.  In Infectious; this is work I do with a lot of my clients; I look at the different sources of power that we have. I call them power plugs. We look at how we can plug well in to them and use them well.  I firmly believe that if I plug in to my sources power well, I bring more to the table and I engage better with somebody else.  The five sources we look at are:

  • Position Power
  • Relationship Power
  • Knowledge Power
  • Body Power
  • Charisma Power

We probably don’t have time to get in to all of them so you can pick any one of these and I’ll be happy to elaborate some more about how we actually play with these sources of power.

JESSE: Position power would be someone who has a certain level of authority; either they’re a boss or they maybe have a political level. I think that one we’re a little more familiar with.  Expertise or knowledge power is someone who is well respected and gets a sense of authority from their level that they’ve achieved in life; maybe they’re a medical doctor.

ACHIM:  I have a colleague named Joan Denvier who is a training director at the United Nations and she has a saying that really stuck with me. She said people want us to be the expert and they resent us for being the expert; which means if I’m an expert on something, if I own it too much people will say I’m cocky and arrogant and I’m full of myself.  At the same time I see people all the time who are experts at something and they don’t fully own it; which means they don’t share it enough and they’re not of service enough to others because they play small around it.  Because I wrote a book about public speaking I’m considered an expert around the world on this stuff.  But there’s still questions when I talk about it. How much do I talk about it? How much do I let other people talk about it; because we all know about this? I’m not the only one who knows about this topic.  So it’s not easy.  When it comes to talking to somebody else who has a lot of expertise power, the first thing I would say is to overtly and shamelessly acknowledge that.  Ask them for guidance.  Acknowledge their expertise.  Allow them to help you.   I’ve seen people who shrink around others with expert power.  Instead of acknowledging it, we pretend they don’t have it.  We don’t draw on it.  This may sound very simple but these dynamics get played out all the time.

JESSE:  You also go in to tips on relationship power; which would be someone who just does a great job of connecting with other people and they have lots of influential relationships.  Body power is somebody who has their health in good position or maybe has a glamorous body.  Am I describing that correctly?

ACHIM:   That was the hardest one to write about.  The powerplex model I developed with a psychologist in Miami, Dr. Margarita Guri, and we really kicked this one around because talk about body power tends to make people very uncomfortable because it’s about attractiveness or the perception of attractiveness but also health and the perception of health.  Let’s talk about somebody who’s very physically attractive by mainstream standards.  I see people do two things.  Either we tend to gravitate towards them because we want to be around them because we’re attracted to them or we can get very competitive with them and totally shun them.  The perception is that folks that are very physically attractive have it easier but they have to make decisions about how they own their attractiveness and their power and if we don’t feel similarly about our body power, people can easily shrink and become smaller about how they show up.  For example, if I have the flu for 3 weeks and don’t feel well, I feel less powerful.  I don’t engage as well with people.  I don’t have a magic answer around it but the impact this has on us is profound.  We need to figure this one out.  I have some tips about how to play well with our body power. It’s not about attaining some standard of beauty.  But also, if we talk to people who exude a lot of body power, there are probably some values behind it and we can play with them and engage with those values they place on it; which will deepen our connection with them.

JESSE: I think that rings true. I’ve already had one conversation with a friend on that topic of body power.  They agreed.  It is a difficult thing to talk about and it feels sort of superficial. But I think it’s a reality that you may have some body power and you may be able to use your own body power better but certainly we’ve all been in situations where we’re intimidated or maybe jealous or, for whatever reason, having a difficult time in connecting with somebody because of their physical attractiveness.

ACHIM:  Those of us who have looked at our source of power and relate to them well, always connect better with folks than those of us who haven’t looked at it. So we’re getting to the unspoken blocks of barriers and that’s one reason to look at it.  Folks who are comfortable with their own power just connect better with other people and the connections tend to go deeper.

JESSE: The third level of connection is intent.  You talk about how we can sometimes play a role, either professionally or socially, and when we do that without clean intent there is a risk there. Can you explain that?

ACHIM:  I’m glad you asked about intent.  The last 20 years or so a lot has been written about the power of intention in public life.  Gwen Dyer is an author who has done some amazing writing on this whose work I highly recommend.  But I’m really interested as somebody who coaches successful people on how we show up intent moment by moment. The hardest thing to talk about when it comes to intent is how we inhabit the role of the professional. An example I will give you is a woman named Maria whom I mentioned in the book.  I use this example all the time.  I’m talking to somebody, let’s say in the hallway or cafeteria and we’re having a silly little chat about absolutely nothing and 15 minutes later I may be with Maria in a business meeting and Maria has to make an announcement about something.  I would say eight out of ten times Maria acts differently.  The fact that we act different in different social settings is a good thing.  But Maria, likely, acts in what she believes to be how she should act as a professional.  I call it about stepping in to the professional blueprint but most folks have not really consciously examined what it means to step in to the professional role so we step in to it without conscious intent. This is the part that’s most frustrating for me; for most of us, stepping in to the role of professional without conscious intent means we show up diminished. We step in to what I call a professional box.  We show less of who we are. Because we have this unspoken blueprint of what it means to be a professional.  So what I would invite all of us to do; and this is a big part of the work I do with folks I coach; is have fun and play with how you show up in different social situations.  Make conscious decisions rather than stepping in to the box of the perfect professional; which is always a limiting box.

JESSE: If you’re going to step in to a professional role in a given situation, what is a less limiting way to do that?

ACHIM:   The starting point is to be aware of what we do when we are on, when we’re the center of attention.  If there is a very big switch or gap between how we show up in a professional role versus when we are off stage, then we’re probably overcompensating. I would say the first thing is be aware.  Do you change yourself a lot when you’re in a meeting or when you give a speech? Then you’re probably overcompensating.  You’re stepping in to a professional role that is too divorced from who you really are.  Notice the gap. The other stuff that a lot of us tend to take away when we don’t examine the professional role is we tend to take away having a clear opinion, a clear point of view.  We tend to water down what we really think or feel because we think it’s too risky to say that.  I think leaders who are more successful are not afraid of owning their point of view. They do it responsibly and appropriately and they make conscious decisions around it.  I cannot tell you how to play the professional role but make some decisions about it that are authentic for you and that are not limiting to who you really are and what you really think and believe.

JESSE: I like that.  And I like in the book you provide some definite tips for how to have the intent that you’re creating the impact that you want and that you have the tone that you want and of course, as we’ve just been talking about, that you have the role that you want to play.

ACHIM:  If I may just tease the listeners for a moment, I’m not going to go in to details because I was an acting coach for many years at some big acting studios in New York.  Actors work a lot with intent and there are some very specific techniques that actors use to shape the intent when they engage with another actor.  In Infectious I take some of these techniques and relate them with how you can play with the same intent in a business situation. They really translate beautifully and really sharpen the impact we have in situations.  It’s very simple.  It’s very powerful.

JESSE: When you get to that last topic of energy, it’s almost overlapping with what some might call New Age Principals.  I wonder, do you have clients that when you are getting to that point of energy, what kind of feedback do you get? Is it a struggle to sometimes get them to pay attention or believe what you have to say?

ACHIM:  The traditional conversation we have about personal energy is still based on the Junging notion that some of us are introverts and some of us are extroverts and the notion is that introverts tend to get most of their energy from the thoughts and ideas, from being private and quiet time and extroverts tend to draw energy from other people.  I find this notion completely limiting and not helpful at all. All I offer in the book is all over the world other countries and cultures have a very different notion of energy.  Most countries play with the notion that there is something called a life force; a big innate energy that we all have. There are almost 100 terms for the idea of a life force all over the world.  In India the people call it prauna. The Chinese call it Chi.  The Japanese call it Ki.  There are very specific techniques for accessing this bigger energy. All I do in the book is mention some of the different approaches and I invite people to look at which ones work for you. The main message is this, what I call the big energy, which all other non Western cultures talk about is available to everybody and it’s available to introverts and extroverts.  Instead of being stuck in this very limiting introvert/extrovert dichotomy; which just keeps us limited in our thinking about energy; I invite all of us to look at what the bigger energy is and then I talk about specific ways of accessing those.  They’re very specific techniques.  Which ones to pursue? Well, that’s up to you.

JESSE: I think in the book you’ve mentioned that at least in your younger days you would have been considered an introvert and yet through many of the stories in the book I can tell you connect with people on an energetic level and probably recognizing that you can connect energetically with other people regardless of introverted or extroverted.  I think that would be empowering to a lot of people.

ACHIM:  Yes.  In the last few years lots have been written about the fact that we are in a business culture that celebrates team work and collaboration; which requires social engagement with others; and that we don’t spend enough time on honoring and valuing the quiet and private time that people need to get work done; which tends to be the strong area of so called introverts.  I say that because I don’t like those labels. I don’t think they’re helpful.  Here’s the deal, because I’m a writer, when I write I am completely in introvert mode. It’s me, my thoughts, my ideas and my computer.  I love that.  But the moment I engage with a client outside, it does not help for me to stay in introvert mode.  I need to find ways of meaningfully engaging with another person.  The reality of the business world; and I agree with the accesses that we have too much emphasis on teamwork and constant engagement; but at some point if you’re going to have a one on one conversation with me, please find a way of engaging with me.

JESSE: We’ve been talking to Achim  Nowak.  He is the author of the book Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within.  We’ve been looking at four levels of connection: Language, Power, Intent, and Energy.  Achim leads a firm called Influens; An international training and coaching company he founded in 2004.  Achim, you mentioned a weekly message you send out called The Energy Boost. Can you share with us how our listeners could sign up for that?

ACHIM:  You can just go to my website.  You can sign up and get a weekly message called Energy Boost.  It gives you some very specific tools for working more deeply with a concept of my book Infectious.

JESSE: Wonderful.  Achim, thanks for joining us today.

ACHIM:  My pleasure. It was great to talk to you Jesse.

Link to podcast episode:  EL35 Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within  | with Achim Nowak



How to Improve Face to Face Impact | with Stacey Hanke [Transcript]

Link to podcast episode: EL36: How to Improve Face to Face Impact    | with Stacey Hanke

JESSE LAHEY: Welcome to the show, leaders! Are you consistently able to influence people to take action? Do people trust what you say and follow your recommendations? When you speak, do people pay attention or do they start to check their iPhones? If you don’t have the impact you’d like, you probably need to improve your face-to-face communication skills, whether you are speaking to one person or a roomful of people. To help us be more effective in all types of face-to-face communication situations, our guest is Stacey Hanke. She is author of the book Yes You Can! Everything You Need From A to Z to Influence Others to Take Action. Stacey is a communication expert who helps individuals improve their delivery to persuade, sell, influence, and effectively communicate with a clear message. Stacey, welcome to The Engaging Leader!

STACEY HANKE: Thank you so much! Thanks for the opportunity.

JESSE: Glad to have you! What is your personal story? Stacey, why did you write a book that focuses on face-to-face communication?

STACEY: My personal story has always been around communication. The thing that made me really decide to write the book, I am shocked.  I’m surprised with how many individuals, when they move up through the ranks and they get up to these executive high potential positions, are not aware of truly how they come across through their eyes of their listeners.  They’re not truly aware of how they’re being perceived. An example will be a lot of times when individuals feel they know the topic, they’re confident they’re comfortable.  They make the assumption that because they feel good they must come across as good.

Through the years of working with the individuals the shock is when I would videotape someone so that they could see through the eyes and ears of a listener, how surprised they were of how the playback looked when they would review their playback versus how they felt when they communicated.  It made me realize it is an opportunity here of people don’t really know that they know that there is so much more than just message to have influence.  It’s not only the message but making sure there’s consistency behind how you deliver that message; I’m referring to body language; and also how that message is heard. And as a result of all of that feedback I’ve gotten over the years of how people are just shocked;  they don’t realize truly not only how they don’t come across or how they do come across,  they’re also unaware of the many levels and how much focus it takes to be influential consistently Monday to Monday.

JESSE:  You’re right about the importance of consistency there and what a gift that is for that videotaping experienced to bring that home. I was just reminded of this recently.  My son was in a school play production of Robin Hood and he was the Sheriff of Nottingham.  In this production was Sheriff was the main bad guy and was very regal and he had his lines down great but he kept rushing through his lines and I kept saying over and over again to him, when I had a moment, you need to slow down Danny.  Slow down.  The audience can’t hear you and you’re not coming across like this regal character and he didn’t believe me because, as you said, he felt fine.  It sounded fine to him. So I finally videotaped him and then I left the video for him. I wasn’t there when he saw it but when I returned home later, I didn’t have to argue with him anymore.  He immediately came to me and said I had no idea that’s how I came across.  It was totally inconsistent with his character.

STACEY: That is so interesting. That feeling is such a misperception. I hear people say all the time I know my topic or I feel confident with the situation and I’m good.  I always tell individuals they want to be very careful with that concept because it doesn’t guarantee how you feel is how someone sees you.  You made a comment that you didn’t need to argue with your son anymore. I always tease my participant saying to them if I wouldn’t videotape you, you and I we would argue all day long.  How you feel is going to be so different than what I asked you to try on for size. Sometimes it’s just fine-tuning but it’s the fine-tuning of being conscious of why you behave the way you behave.  Why do you say what you say and are the two consistent? Many times we don’t pay attention to something that seems very basic yet it is set to make or break when it comes to the type of impact you have on someone is how you move when you’re standing up in front of a group.  Or say you’re at meeting or you’re one-on-one with someone face-to-face, what your hands communicate.  As much as gestures get a bad rap on the street, gestures will either distract your message or they’ll enhance because if the gesture that actually creating the visual around your words that determine what people remember and how long your listener remembers the message.

Sometimes it’s just understanding am I fidgeting?  Playing with my fingers; playing with my ring. I’ve had women that are constantly natural groomers and playing with their hair or their clothing. Is that really purposeful?  When I start telling people that true how to; and this is in the book; the how to’s of how do you gesture so there is purpose behind that movement and you’re not distracting? People are shocked:  I have to think about that?  I have to think about that when I’m communicating?

I tell them they’ve got two choices.  You can continue to distract and believe what you want to believe or if you’re really serious about being consistent Monday to Monday as far as the influential, yes, then you need to start thinking about every movement; every body language that you make. Because if there is not purpose behind your hands, if there is not purpose behind what you do with your eyes when you’re in a conversation, there is a good chance you’re creating a distraction.

JESSE:  Now that sounds like you have to fake everything; like you’re almost forcing things to happen in a way that’s not really yourself.

STACEY: This is where it gets hard. This is where the work begins.   I’m going to compare it to any athlete.  That’s a great analogy to use. Think of a golfer, a tennis player, a professional skier. Any time that they have a coach that comes in and says; which is probably daily for them; we need to adjust your serve on your tennis racket.  We need to adjust your golf swing. It’s going to throw them off and they’re going to slip in to the time where they’re not natural because someone just messed; their coach; with the way they’re used to doing it.  Correct?

JESSE:  Right.

STACEY: And the key with enhancing, it’s not about changing your personality style.  We’re talking about enhancing your communication skills.  When you start to watch yourself in a playback, whether it’s audio or video or you hire someone like myself as a coach that starts to really start adjusting how you stand, what your gesture communicate, what your eyes communicate, how you use those skills– there is going to be that moment where you lose a little bit of your natural style.  The key though is you keep practicing these new skill sets and techniques.

Suddenly they escalate. They will elevate your game.  They’re going to elevate your personality style even more.  Most importantly, you’re going to have more influence and impact. The challenges; and this is what sets apart an influential communicator and a good communicator; a good communicator is not consistent enough; meaning they’re not constantly consistent with being influential and they are not willing to do the work that it takes.  An influential communicator has held their self accountable.  They have discipline themselves to do the work it takes to polish their skill sets with out becoming someone that they’re not.

JESSE:  Interesting.

STACEY: It’s just like an athlete.   However that athlete trains and practices prior to the big competition, the game, that’s how they’re going to play.  But an athlete doesn’t just go out there and suddenly play because it would be mechanical.  It wouldn’t be their style. They probably would not win the competition or do well. That’s where individuals don’t realize if we’re talking about being influential, we’re talking about having impact through messaging and our body language—- that’s something you just can’t turn on when the stakes get high.

This is about practicing every day and thinking about how we gesture; Thinking about getting rid of the ahs’, the um’s, the non words and filler words.  You need to do it every day though because if you just save it for the big gig; like a presentation or a high-stakes meeting or sales call; then you’re going to come across mechanical.  I don’t think you’d come across as authentic. It’s tough for our listeners to able to connect with someone like that if they can’t connect with us; it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to have influence on them.

JESSE:  Let’s say you point out several things that the person could do better to be a more influential communicator.  Do you tend to find it more effective for that person to practice on one improvement at a time or on several things at a time?

STACEY:  One improvement at a time. When individuals attend our session, we throw at them a lot of skills and techniques.  What we don’t do is we never have them practice every single technique together because it’s going to get messy. They will not be able to have a conversation when they’re trying to deal with the skill sets.  Instead,  I recommend, for example, during a conversation today if for that five minutes or that 10 minutes of that conversation if he could really start paying attention to are you pausing instead of using ah’s and um’s? Are you pausing at the end of your sentences? Or your thoughts or key points? OR- when are you rambling? When you’re rambling, you’re aware of that but you can stop it on the fly and get back on track without skipping a beat and letting your listener know you’re struggling with finding what is the next point.

JESSE: That makes sense.

STACEY:  When you’re talking to someone today, maybe you’re standing up in the office hallway and you’re talking to them, are you fidgeting?  Are you fidgeting with your fingers, your ring, a pen that you might have in your hand?  Are you leaning? Are you leaning to one side that diminishes your height, which diminishes your credibility?  Taking those skills and  practicing them and focusing them throughout the day, but focusing on them one at a time,  you’ll increase your learning curve to making those skill sets your new habit.

JESSE:  your book provides an A to Z guide on effective face-to-face communicating. I found it to be a quick fun read that covers all the basics but also has several secrets that frankly I was not previously aware of.  I’d like to focus the next few minutes on some of the ones that struck me as the most important and most surprising tips.  The first you just mentioned; which was pausing.  My first instinct was to react negatively to the way it said that pausing was so important but then you caught my attention when you demonstrated the power of pause using the Gettysburg address.  Can you tell us about that?

STACEY: Thank you for reading the book. I’m glad you found those gems within that book; pausing being a big one.  I’m going to share with you first what people believe to be true.  people believe that if I pause,  people will think, my listeners,  will think I don’t know what I’m saying and I will lose my flow and forget what to say. Now what’s really going on is if you do not pause, you do not have time to think on your feet.  As a result we run on sentences and we ramble. I think our listeners  can all relate to getting off track, saying too much, walking away from a conversation wishing we wouldn’t have said something or we would’ve said something.  The idea of pausing is not only for you as the speaker to be able to think on your feet, to be able to change your method on-the-fly, to meet your listeners expectations without them realizing it’s happening. Your listeners need time to catch up.  They need time to hear and understand. we used the example of the Gettysburg address as just one example in the book of imagine if the Gettysburg address was communicated with ah’s and um’s. The whole impact of that message would not have had the impact that it has had a history.

JESSE: That’s right.

STACEY:  I want to give you another example. Have you ever been to a good comedy club where the comedienne is really good?

JESSE: Actually, just a couple weeks ago I was.

STACEY: Okay.  You’re going to be able to relate to this.  You know that when the comedian, when they hit the punch line, what do they do?

JESSE:  The timing is just perfect.

STACEY:  And the timing is perfect because they stopped talking. And they give us a pause as their audience members for us to laugh.  You can imagine how different that experience would be for you if you never had a chance to laugh during a comedians act.   Imagine the different experience that you’re creating for your listeners when you pause versus when you don’t.  A great tip I use for participants that really struggle with this concept; I don’t want to pause. It sounds like an eternity; again, that’s a concept of don’t go off of how you feel.  Just because you feel like it’s an eternity, doesn’t mean the listener does. Because when you pause you’re putting your listener to work.  You’re giving your listener a chance to hear, understand and to create their own experience around what are you communicating with them; which is such a critical component to be able to influence him to take action.

Think and speak in bullet point sentences.  Speak like you read a book. Imagine that you don’t read with ah’s and um’s, you know like, so actually.  But we pause at punctuation. And when you start pausing, you’ll probably also recognize filler phrases that we use.  Some of those are I am here today to talk to you about….we state the obvious. The question, I’m so glad you asked that. What I meant to say was hopefully you’ll find it beneficial. We have so much filler in our life that if we could use that time pause, think on our feet, so that we come back to that conversation with information that is pertinent; that is relevant to what is important to our listeners. That’s where you take the ability to have impact and influence to a whole new level.  You’re putting so much more thought into why should your listener listen to your message versus what you believe to be true and what you believe they should know versus what they need to know.

JESSE: it seems to me that another resistance that I might have to the notion that I should pause more; I’m picturing myself in a one-on-one conversation or perhaps around a boardroom table in a meeting and I pause and someone else jumps in to the conversation and I don’t get to finish my sentence or I don’t get to go on to the next sentence.

STACEY: I hear that often.  I hear it a lot.  I’m going to give you two responses. First and foremost, let’s get clarification on how long you pause.  You’re not pausing for 5, 10 seconds.  Pause long enough to think about what you want to say and you to breathe. As elementary as that sounds, when we do not pause, you’ll hear people literally gasped for air.  They don’t have time physically breathe. I’m talking breathing from the diaphragm.  That’s answer number one.

Answer two. I observe a lot of individuals facilitating or even participating in meetings.   One of the most challenging and biggest risks that we run as communicators is we frustrate our listeners.  If we frustrate our listeners, they start interrupting us.  How we frustrate our listeners: We say too much and we don’t get to a point quick enough; which is one of the reasons why a pause is so critical.  I’m going to do a quick demonstration of what it sounds like when I don’t pause.  I’m talking about pausing and how important pausing is.  what happens is if you’re not pausing, you’re not giving your listener a chance to hear and think about what you want to say and um and if you’re not allowing that um then the listener cannot have a time to um really understand and catch up with what you’re saying so that’s why we recommend that you should really pause to make sure that um you speak in short and bullet point sentences which will um make it easier for you to think on your feet and um for your listeners to um hear what you’re um saying.

I exaggerated it to make the point here versus over recording.  What happens when you stop pausing, and I know this from experience because I am practicing what I’m preaching, my sentences are short.  I add pauses; some are longer and some are shorter on purpose. I do not get interrupted.  I think what’s happening is the pause grabs listeners’ attention. Because not only are they thinking about what you just said, it’s as if you pull them to the front of their chair. They’re trying to grasp what’s next.  Now I’m going to put a little curveball in there. If you truly are speaking in short sentences and you’re using pauses and you still get interrupted because there’s someone in that meeting or the individual that you’re having the face to face conversation with— that’s just a bad habit of theirs.  They interrupt everyone.  Consider it a two way conversation. Every time they interrupt, don’t interrupt back.  Pause, let them finish.   That’s giving you a chance to constantly be analyzing that listener on the fly; to be adapting the message to what they need hear.

JESSE: That makes sense.

STACEY:  I think until everyone goes out there and they are truly trying this idea of pausing, they’ll start to realize how they get more information communicated in the less time.  So they’re saving time.  Who doesn’t want time saved?  They start to reduce that constant interruption that they may be experiencing.

JESSE:  When you give a little demonstration I was floored by the thought that number one- that is what I listen to most of the time in meetings and phone conversations with people that it sounded so normal, if you will, and yet how much better the rest of her conversation was when I heard you speaking in short sentences and with pauses.  You’re right, so much more effective to speak less and we’d get a lot more done I think that way.

STACEY:  You bring up a good point around another piece of being influential that we forget; is knowing when to listen; to speak less and listen more. If you’ve ever observed any leader in a conversation, particularly in a group or meeting conversation, they’re not talking all the time.  Any time that they are ready to contributor conversation, they are consistently bringing powerful information to the conversation and everyone sometimes wonders wow how did they do that?

They’re doing something that most of us don’t do. They are actually listening to the conversation. They’re listening to the why behind the words that they can bring back to the conversation what everyone can value from. Without pausing, that is nearly impossible to do because we get caught up in our own self. Pausing is going to allow you to be in the moment; to suddenly be aware of what’s going on not only inside your head and what you want to accomplish. It allows you be more aware of what’s happening around you and what’s happening in between you and your listener.  That’s going to give you that extra foot in front of someone that doesn’t have that ability be influential.

JESSE:  You mention something that seemed rather small and I want to just make sure that our listeners noticed that when you talked about listening there, you mentioned listening for the why.  that’s not only helpful in making a conversation more productive; even in our everyday personal friendly conversations; listening for the why asking about the why just makes for richer connections in general.

STACEY:  It does.  And I use a why Model. Where the why is on the top. Underneath why is what. Then comes how.  Then comes the listener point of view. And when I show that model I explain how we spend most of our time in a conversation with the what and the how. What’s our content? It’s what we want to accomplish. The how is where we do the facts, the data; sometimes we get really fancy we throw the heavy data on a fly. Not that we cannot focus on the what and how.  I think we should yet where we should always start and always go back to throughout a conversation is why should my listener be interested in my topic .why would be what to listen to me? Why is this conversation happening now? When you’re constantly thinking about that concept, you start listening for the why behind your listeners’ words.  You start listening to why would they say that? Why would they keep bringing up this certain concept or idea?  Then you start taking their important words and start in peppering it into your language. Your listeners start to realize wow you really are caring about what I want to accomplish.  It’s hard to get by and it’s hard to have influence on someone when the message is all about you and the direction you want to take. But can you take your A to Z plan that you came to the conversation with and constantly be flexible to weave the whole experience together for not only the listeners’ expectations but ultimately the call to action you want them to take.

JESSE:  Effective eye connection is another powerful principle from your book that I think will surprise many people.  The important you put on it was surprising to me.  You mention the most people have actually been given bad advice about what to do with their eyes.  What are some examples of that bad advice?

STACEY: A majority of us are taught eye contact.  imagine that we’re sitting around  a table right now; maybe the boardroom table; and what most people do is make contact with their eyes.  Most individuals do not look at someone long enough to connect.  There for I refer to it in the book as eye connection.  Here’s another example of eye contact.  We love being on our iPhone; or whatever phone our listeners have.  How many times do you see an interaction at the office where I’m on my iPhone, you’re trying to have a conversation with me, I’m talking to you while I’m texting, tweeting.  Or how many times have you seen in a meeting if there are meeting notes or agendas or handouts, the facilitator talks frequently as they’re looking down at the table or the handouts?

We see presenters all the time talk to PowerPoint slides or flipcharts or boards.  So much of our day is disconnected because we’re contacting people with our eyes. Eye contact; think of it as more of a scanning; you’re more scanning the audience than staying connected. Here’s the difference; the how to’s. Eye connection, when I am speaking to two or more individuals, I will stay with an individual for a full sentence or a thought.  As I transition my eyes from one person the next, I pause. I wait til I see the next person and then I start my next sentence.  So think of it as only speak when you see eyes.  If you do not see eyes, here is no reason to talk to objects.  As common sense as it sounds, this is the  skill that most people struggle with, in addition to pausing,  because they come to me saying I have good eye contact.  I just had an executive last week they had good eye contact. I said to him, you do have good eye contact.  You’re contacting everything in front of you. Now it’s time to connect because eye connection is the only skill that conveys trust.  And without trust, influence cannot occur.

JESSE:  Is it okay in that pause to look away, collect your  thoughts and then look back into someone’s eyes to start speaking?

STACEY:  Definitely. During a face-to-face conversation particular, that person,  maybe  whether it’s you or you can tell your listener doesn’t like that direct eye contact there are two things I will do. I won’t stand or sit close.  I definitely respect that space.   I will look away, perhaps more often, with this individual. The challenge, the difference is I’m not talking when I look away. If I’m constantly talking when I look away, I will lose my focus.  If we lose our focus we’re more tempted to do more ah’s and we’re more tempted to ramble.  Not only that,  if you and I were in a face-to-face conversation, any time I look away I’m talking your shoes, I’m talking to the top of your head or behind your shoulder,  I give you permission to disconnect with me.   You kind of see the levels where this starts to happen.

Not only am I disconnecting and losing my train of thought, you hear me starting to use more non words or ramble so I’ll frustrate you.   If I frustrate you you’re more likely to not listen.  Much less, if I don’t look you dead in the eye, you’ve got more opportunity check your email. To drift.  Even if I’m looking at someone dead in the eyes and I just forget; it’s going to happen, you’re human; you forget what to say— it’s okay to look away.  Just don’t talk to the floor when you do it.  Our listeners only know what we tell them or what we show them.  If you and I are in a conversation face to face and every time I look away I ummmmm, do that, I communicate to you that I don’t have the knowledge that I should around my content.  If I don’t have the knowledge that I should around my content, are you going to be influenced by me.



JESSE:  It reminds me of a story you tell in the book about the gentleman who came to one of your workshops and was suffering from jet lag and thought well this will be a good chance to have a two day nap.

STACY: I’ve got another story off of that.  I’ll let the reader or the listeners read that from the book. Right before the holidays last year I spoke at a conference.  There were several hundred people in front of me.  Even if I’m in a large group, I’m still using eye connection.  I may not see the 50th or the 150th person sitting way back in the corner but what I’ll do is I’ll look at an area for a full sentence or thought. Anyone who sits in the area that I’m looking at will feel that I’m looking at them. It’s called a ripple effect.

I’m at the session. I’ve finished my presentation.  One of the participants comes up to me at the end. I never saw him in the group but apparently he was sitting way in the back. He says to me I have a bone to pick with you. I thought oh great, one of those. He went on to say I came to my session thinking I could catch up on my email.  I said what happened?  He said you have such direct connection with me that I thought you would see every time I went on my email.  The power of no matter how large or small your audience your audience happens to be that day; no excuses. You can always connect and engage and as a result, the level of trust; my meeting planners, when I speak at conferences, they’ll come up to me either at a break or after my session and they’ll say we’re not sure how you do it. We’re not sure what you’re doing but we can feel how you’re slowly corralling everyone together. That’s the power of these skills. People are not going to come up to you and say oh I love your pauses. I love your direct eye connection.   They’re not going to give you that feedback.  What will happen is I trust you or you really come across confident in your topic.  I really felt connected to you in the message. That’s when you know you are starting to polish these skills to the level they can become your new habit and you’re starting to have more impact and influence than you may have ever realized you had the capability of.

JESSE: That’s pretty impressive that you can lead the energy in the room so well that you’re engaging a person that really intended to just be catching up on email.

STACEY:  We hear that a lot. We were just at a group last week. It was seats week, executive level.  The CEO came up to me mid day and said this is the first time I have ever seen my executive team off of their phones. He said what are you doing? What is it?  When I started to explain to him what it was, he said it makes sense because we’re less tempted because you’re not giving us an opportunity to disconnect with you. And if they’re not disconnecting with you, think about the amount of information they’re taking with them from your messaging to determine the level of influence they’re going to allow you to have on them.

JESSE: The final concept we have time for today is an open posture.  What do you mean by that?

STACEY: When you’re standing you want to have your feet pointing forward, your legs hip width apart and your arms are comfortably relaxed at your sides.  Now anyone trying that right now, the subconscious is going to say to you “This is wrong”.

JESSE: Right.  Exactly.

STACEY: That’s not how you’re used to standing.  Or even if you’re sitting, you’re sitting with your feet flat on the floor and your hands are open.  Your body is open.  Why this works: It conveys confidence without you saying a word.  I refer to it as a home base.  You don’t stand or sit like that through an entire conversation. It’s just where you start and always come back to when you’re not moving or you’re not gesturing because now you can use gestures that have impact, that have purpose, that are not fidgeting or that are repetitive.  If you’ve got your hands clasped, your hand in front of your body, suddenly all your gestures look the same because your elbows get Velcro’d to your body and every gesture that you do stays in the mid section of your body.  You can see how it would start to look like you are talking with your hands and there’s no purpose behind your gesture.  Think of it as; if anyone if familiar with golf or maybe even tennis; that when you line up at the tee playing golf, if your line up and your grip on that golf club is off, and your swing is off, that’s what causes your golf to go in the sand pit.  Or maybe you miss the golf club.  The same concept applies to the open stance.  If the open stance is not there, all the other skill sets will not work for you.

JESSE:  When I was in theater in high school our director used to get on the case of all of us who in the in a given scene were extras because we tended to stand in what she called either jock position number one; which was with our hands clasped in front of us or jock position number two; which was our hands behind our backs.  She would say I just want you to stand still with your hands at your side and we would say that this doesn’t feel natural.  She’d point to the others and say look they’re standing like that right now.  Does that look okay to you?  Well, yeah.  That looks fine.  Well that’s all I’m asking you to do.

STACEY: And that’s why it comes back to, all this information I’m sharing on this interview, none of it’s going to be worthwhile if you don’t video and audio tape yourself.  Any time you try a new behavior like bringing your arms to your sides, it’s going to feel uncomfortable.  If that’s not how you’re used to standing or sitting with your arms open, you’ll feel uncomfortable.  And if we feel uncomfortable, our subconscious says to us “This is wrong” and we go back to where we’re comfortable.

The main point of this whole interview is I’m a big believer that the only way individuals can continuously improve their level of impact and influence through their communication is they have to be uncomfortable first to be effective.  And without being able to see and hear through the ears and eyes of your listener, you will continuously be in denial and you will go off your feelings.  And you’ll never reach that level of impact and influence that you really have the capacity to reach.  It goes back to your story earlier during this interview about your son when he finally got a chance to see what you were saying via the videotaping that you did.

JESSE: It can be painful to watch ourselves on video and of course it takes some extra time and effort but it is well worth it to make that happen every now and then so you can see how you’re coming across to other people.

STACEY:  You bet!  I think the most challenging things in life will always have the greatest investment in our development.  I don’t know about you, but I do not enjoy watching myself on a video play back. I would rather know what my listeners are hearing and seeing versus pushing it under the rug and making the assumption of if I feel good I must be good.

JESSE: Absolutely.  We’ve been talking about ways to improve our   face-to-face communication to better influence people to take action.  We’ve talked about pausing, listening eye connection and open posture.  Our guest has been author and communication expert Stacey Hanke.  Stacey thank you for sharing your wisdom with us today.

STACEY: Thank you so much for the opportunity. I greatly appreciate and I wish everyone the best both personally and professionally.

Link to podcast episode: EL36: How to Improve Face to Face Impact    | with Stacey Hanke