Executive Presence in a Virtual World

Executive Presence in a Virtual World: What Matters Now?

Executive Presence: What You Need Now For Influence and Impact

With more of us working remotely, what it means to have an executive presence is changing along with everything else. What matters most right now? Tips for upgrading your executive presence in a virtual world.

What IS Executive Presence?

“Karin and David, my boss just told me that the reason I’m not in box 9 of our talent strategy is that I’m not viewed as having enough ‘executive presence.’ But when I asked her what that means, she told me I should ‘act more executive.’ Seriously! What do I do with that?”

We receive that call, or one just like it, a few times a month.

And, this is not new. It’s been happening for years.

People use the term “executive presence” to mean anything from strategic influence to carrying “the right” purse (sigh).

When we get underneath what this ACTUALLY means, it’s usually one of these competencies that could use some work.

  • Influence and Relationships: Are you seen as a trusted advisor?
  • Confidence and Composure: Do you believe in who you are and what you have to say?
  • Communication: Can you clearly and concisely articulate your point of view?
  • Grace under pressure: Do you freak out when things go wrong or take productive action?
  • Energy: Do you engage others in ways that inspire confidence and hope?
  • Physical Image: Do you look “put together” and ready to make an impact (of course this one’s the most subjective and the most dangerous for unconscious bias).

What Hasn’t Changed?

In this virtual world filled with so much turmoil and unrest, some core components of executive presence remain the same, and if anything, have become more vital.

1. Influence and Relationships

It’s not just who you run into in the cafeteria anymore or the guys you can go have a beer with. In a virtual world, we have to be even more deliberate in nurturing genuine relationships and cultivating influence.

And in many cases, virtual water coolers are democratizing access and the truly influential are getting their day.

If you want to increase your virtual executive presence be deliberate with whom you spend your time. Reach out and schedule some virtual coffees with your peers in other departments. Understand other people’s challenges. Notice and thank the unsung heroes making the work happen every day.

One of the best ways to be influential is to be interested.

2. Grace under Pressure

If there’s anything this last year has given us, it’s plenty of stress and pressure. And for many of us, the work and home stress blend into one big cocktail of opportunity to practice our poise.

Work to become a beacon of calm amid chaos. Stress amplifies as it rolls downhill. If you want more executive presence learn how to slow the roll.

3. Communication

If there was ever a moment that clear, compelling, and concise messaging matters to get past clutter, it’s now.

If you want to up your executive presence work on streamlining your executive communication, checking for understanding, and communicating important messages five times, five different ways.

What’s Different About Executive Presence in a Virtual World?

Things that matter more than ever …

4. Showing Up Real

When it comes to influence and impact, we’re noticing a significant shift towards vulnerability as a credibility builder.

It’s the leaders who say, “I know this is hard. It’s hard for me too, and here’s why. And I care about all of us and the work we are doing. Let’s figure this out together,” (and really mean it) who are changing the game.

5. Confident Humility during Uncertainty

No one has written the definitive book on how to lead well during a pandemic, massive social unrest, and a wacky economy. Most of us have been on a fast pivot to transform not just how we work, but what we’re working on.

Executive presence in this new reality means navigating this uncertainty with confident humility—deciding with incomplete information AND staying nimble if you need to change your mind.

6. Managing Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication with Poise

You gain huge credibility by becoming an artful virtual communicator. Paying close attention to your remote meeting etiquette (e.g. showing up on time, managing your mute button, looking directly at the camera) is a great start. It’s also helpful to master the art of using the right channel for the right message—and knowing the difference between being informal and sloppy.

See Also: Lead Remote Meetings That Get Results and Build Relationships

7. Managing your Surroundings

The good news is, no one can see your shoes. (Don’t even get Karin started about the boss that told her she should go spend several thousand dollars on shoes to up her executive presence—and no she didn’t follow that advice).

But they can see the clutter on your desk, the bad lighting, and the weird virtual green screen that makes your head disappear whenever you move.

Take a look at how your office shows up in the Zoom view. Do you like what your surroundings say about you?

The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to improve your executive presence in a virtual world—which will make a difference for your influence and impact.


How Do I Improve My Executive Presence?

  • Look for opportunities to be a trusted advisor.
  • Believe in who you are, even under pressure to do the contrary.
  • Clearly and concisely articulate your point of view.
  • Take productive action and make good decisions.
  • Engage others in ways that inspire confidence and hope.
  • Put it all together and be ready to make an impact.

See also:

How to Develop Charisma in a Virtual World

Your Executive Presence – an Interview with Hilary Blair

How to Be an Even Better Leader

How to Be an Even Better Leader

If you want to be a better leader, get curious about what you might still be able to learn.

We recently had a very senior leader join a live-online leadership training he had hired us to do with his team. Not in a “watch from the sidelines” kind of way as sometimes happens. He was all in.

He actively participated in the breakout conversations and completed his action learning assignments and reported them in the learning lab.

In addition to providing this training for his team, he was curious about what he could do to be a better leader.

In debriefing his experience after the final session, he shared.

This was interesting for me to slow down and really think about HOW I’m leading. I spend so much time on strategic issues, it was helpful to try some new approaches and tools. Ha, I can’t help but think that it might be helpful for my boss to take this class too  😉

4 Approaches to Help You Become an (Even Better) Leader

Once you get to “expert” level, it’s easy to put all your leadership development energy into your team. After all, it’s your job to grow leaders. You want to invest in your team as others have invested in you.

Perfect. There’s no better way to get your team focused on being better leaders than to show that you too are working to be a better leader. Experts are continual students.

Here are a few approaches that can help.

1. Slow down and revisit the fundamentals.

I (Karin) am a decent skier. Most of the time, I can get down the expert slopes without doing too much harm to myself or others.

But the trouble is, my form isn’t always the most efficient, or graceful. AND, I’ve been skiing pretty much the same way for the last decade.

This past week, over Christmas break, I did something I haven’t done in a really long time. In the mornings I watched some really basic Youtube videos which included some skiing drills. And then, I spent part of each day skiing the easy stuff and really paying attention to my form—before I headed back to the blacks.

Shocker—I got better.

What if you took a moment to really think about how you’re approaching the foundational leadership activities that come naturally for you and consider your technique? Look around. Read a new book. Notice what your peers are doing that might be worth a try.

2. Become a Leader Teacher.

One of the best ways to continue to refine your leadership skills is to teach leadership. In many of our long-term leadership programs, we incorporate a “leader as teacher” approach. In addition to more senior leaders participating in the program along with their teams, we prepare them to be “leader teachers” to reinforce the concepts and discuss application in-between sessions in small challenger groups.

There’s no better way to master a new skill than to teach it. And when leaders know they will be facilitating conversations about a new approach, they’re much more likely to try it themselves first so they can speak from first-hand experience.

You can do this on your own too.

Talk with your team about some strategic areas they’re focused on to become better leaders this year. Perhaps it’s getting better at leading virtual meetings. Or building a more robust virtual communication strategy. Stretch yourself to learn some new approaches, teach them to your direct reports, and then schedule some time to debrief how it went and what everyone learned.

3. Avoid S.A.S.R.N.T. syndrome.

When you’re a strong leader, and you stumble across a new leadership approach or tool, it’s easy to fall into S.A.S.R.N.T. syndrome. (So and So Really Needs This).

You think you know who needs this … my boss, or my peer, or my spouse, and you run off and immediately share it with them.

Of course, when you do that, you miss the opportunity to become a better leader yourself.

There’s no better way to get your team to notice a new approach than to first model it yourself. As you take the journey, then you can invite others to join you.

4. Involve your team in your development.

The start of the year is the perfect time to work on leadership development plans … not just for your team, but for yourself as well.

Start with a courageous question. “This year, one focus I have is working to become a better leader for you and the rest of the team. What’s one specific area you think I can work on that would have the biggest impact?”

Of course, when your team sees you investing time and energy to become a better leader, they’re more likely to make it a priority for themselves as well.

Your turn.

What would you add? What has worked for you to take your leadership to the next level?

Courageous CulturesAnd if you’re looking for an advanced leadership book to read with your team this year, check out Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovator’s Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates (and download the FREE Executive Strategy Guide) to facilitate a “leaders as teachers” conversation with your team.

Strategic Planning Tool

Strategic Planning Tool: How to Engage Your Team in Better Conversation

If you’re like many leaders we talk with, you’ve been on such a fast pivot this year, that you may not have had all the strategic planning time you’d hoped for. Or, your business has changed so much, it’s the perfect time to take a breath and prioritize what’s next.

And yet, it can all feel like a lot. Where do you start?

Use This Strategic Planning Conversation Starter To Get Your Team Talking

Focus on the 5 Cs

Today we’re sharing a tool we use in our leadership programs to help leaders think strategically about their business and prioritize the next steps. You can download it for free here to assist with your strategic planning conversations.

  1. To start, give each member of your team a copy of the 5Cs assessment in advance of your strategic planning session.
  2. Then take each of the five categories and calibrate your individual assessments around the five strategic areas.
    • Clarity: We know where we’re going and how we will get there.
    • Capacity: We invest in building our people, systems, and tools.
    • Commitment: We keep our promises.
    • Curiosity: We ask great questions and take appropriate risks.
    • Connection: We trust one another and invest in our mutual success.
  3. You’ll likely come up with more strategic areas to focus on than time to address them. Here’s where the prioritization comes in. Consider what will have the biggest strategic impact and focus your planning there.

Let’s Grow Leaders 5 Cs Strategic Planning Tool

Let's Grow Leaders Strategic Planning Tool

This strategic planning tool is just the beginning of the conversation. We’d love to talk with you more about your planning efforts and how we might help. Just give us a call at 443-750-1249 or drop us a note at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com.

See Also:

End of Year Meetings: How to Make Yours Remarkable

Own the U.G.L.Y. Four Strategic Conversations to Have by Year End

Virtual Kick-Off Meeting: Why You Should Have One and How to Make it Great

How to Cultivate More Solutions-Oriented Employees

End-of-year meeting:How to host a great end of year meeting

End-of-Year Meeting: How to Make Yours Remarkable

Are you looking to host an end-of-year meeting? Think past the PowerPoint recap and look for ways to make yours remarkable.

In one way or another, your team has had an incredible year.

Fill in the blank: It was incredibly ________(successful, challenging, stressful, unusual). Maybe you’re remarkably proud of all you accomplished.  Maybe you got thrown a crazy curveball that derailed all your plans.  Or perhaps you just can’t wait for the calendar to turn over and start again.

Your team’s feeling it too. Don’t throw the opportunity to pause and reflect out with the holiday wrappings. Carve out time to talk about what you learned in an end-of-year meeting.

It’s tempting to have a “no one talks about work” luncheon, do the secret Santa thing, and have a few giggles. Or, to jump right into planning for the new year, “after all the past is behind us.” The best meetings build both results and relationships, and an end-of-year meeting done remarkably well sets the stage for thoughtful reflection and a more energized start to the new year.

How to Have a Remarkable End-of-Year Meeting

Make a CAREful plan and have your best end-of-year meeting ever.

C- Celebrate 

Celebrate both results and the human beings who achieved them.  Be sure your team knows the Most Important Things (MIT) they accomplished in terms of both results and building relationships. For example, it’s not just the 28% increase in efficiency, it’s also that they improved the contentious relationship with IT that made the collaboration possible.

If you’re doing formal recognition, resist the urge to just pick the top three by the numbers of a stack rank. Consider HOW the results were achieved. There’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than seeing their boss recognize some bozo who gamed and back-stabbed his way to the top. If there’s any chance your team will be texting one another “WTF” when an award is given, supplement your criteria to include behaviors that matter.


Acknowledge the disappointments. and what you could have done better. Talk about the effort that may not have paid off the way you would have hoped, and celebrate what did.  When we ask our audiences  “What’s one thing you feel underappreciated for at work” the number one answer is always, “The time I spend developing my people.” Acknowledge that too.


Do something to refresh and renew. One year one of my sales managers took his team bird watching in the local park, before digging into their strategic review. Another year I hired a caricature artist to do a composite sketch of the team. Another time, we had a white elephant exchange, but instead of wacky presents, each member of the team brought their favorite business book– people were stealing from one another right and left, and the side effect was a lot of strategic reading and dialogue happening that year. Most years at Verizon, I brought my team to my home for a planning session followed by a dinner celebration. Find some way to refresh and have some fun along with the reflection and planning.


Engage the team. Ask each team member to reflect on their own contributions in terms of results and relationships this year, as well as disappointments.

If you’re holding a small meeting with just your direct reports give them time to share. If you’re hosting a larger event, there are lots of fun ways to engage and capture reflections, from sticky notes and grouping themes; to “best of”/”worst of” reflections on index cards collected at the beginning and sorted into themes; to simple polling texting apps, with results projected immediately on the screen.

Find a way to get your team’s best view of the year into the conversation.

2020-2021 Virtual Meetings Update

If you’re looking to host a 2020 End-of-year meeting or planning a virtual kick-off meeting to start the new year, you won’t want to miss Virtual Kick-off Meeting: Why You Should Have One and How to Make it Great.

And our interview in Authority Magazine: Karin Hurt and David Dye of ‘Let’s Grow Leaders’: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event

Plan a Fast Start to Your New Year

Operational Excellence RalliesGet your team off to a fast-start.  Learn more about our Let’s Grow Leaders Operational Excellence Rallies. Let us help you and your team have a remarkable fast start to the new year.  We’d love to talk more about how we can custom-design a one or two-day strategic working session with high ROI.

See Also: How to Hold a Motivational Meeting

The Secret to Great Skip Level Meetings

Avoid This Infuriating Phrases in End-oof Year Feedback

4 U.G.L.Y. Conversations to Have With Your Team Before Year-End

How to host a great virtual kick-off

Virtual Kick-off Meeting: Why You Should Have One and How to Make it Great

7 Ideas to Inspire a Better Virtual Kick-off Meeting

If you’re neck-deep in planning your virtual kick-off meeting like so many of our clients, great! Your team needs this moment more than ever. In this extraordinary year, a virtual kick-off meeting is a great way to close this chapter and give your team a moment to reflect, connect, and feel the anticipation and hope of what’s to come.

And yet, sadly we’re hearing other folks say, “There’s no way we can do a virtual kick-off meeting. Just like everything else, we’re putting it on the list of ‘Covid- canceled.’ ”

Before you wring your hands and wait until next year, consider this.

One of our clients just reported that this year’s virtual kick-off meeting actually received better ratings from his global team than last year’s event (last year’s was held in-person, flying people in from all over the world for days of interaction, strategy, and fun).

He had gone out of his way to be real and vulnerable, established a compelling and realistic vision of the future, created tactile experiences, and leveraged the heck out of break-out rooms for a dynamic conversation that tapped into the best I.D.E.A.s from every team member.

Do people wish they could have gathered in person? Of course. Will they gather again when they can? Yes, and it will be that much sweeter. And, my guess is they’ll be telling stories for years to come about the ingenuity and effort of this year’s virtual experience.

7 Ideas to Make Your Virtual Kick-off Meeting Great

Of course, no one wants to add one more boring virtual meeting to the mix.

But with a little effort and creativity, you can plan a truly memorable event.

Consider these seven ways to enhance your virtual kick-off.

1. Be real.

Telling authentic stories with a bit of vulnerability is the secret sauce to building trust and connection at these large events. It’s important to close the distance between the executive speakers and the team by showing up real. And it matters even more in a virtual kickoff meeting.

The good news is, it’s not that hard. If your kid comes through with a PopTart, bring them on your lap for a minute. If the parakeet lands on your head, that will make for a good laugh. Let them see the human in you, and give your team opportunities to be human too.

Share what you’re grieving and acknowledge the hardships and losses the team has endured.

Your team will engage with your inspiration and fun, once they know that you get it and that it’s been hard for you too.

2. Share a compelling vision and clear direction.

The antidote to uncertainty is clarity. Provide a directional path forward even if you have some contingencies in the mix.  Be clear about what matters most and why. Ensure your team understands what your vision means for their role in very real and compelling terms. Ensure everyone leaves your event knowing what to do next and why it matters.

3. Make it easy to share ideas.

The biggest challenge with remote teams is the lack of a virtual water cooler. If your team is like most we work with, they’re longing for creative, spontaneous collaboration and to share what they’ve learned during this fast pivot.

Our FREE I.D.E.A. Incubator Guide can help you identify where you most need some great ideas and then help your team brainstorm, vet their ideas, and articulate them in a clear and compelling way.

4. Celebrate and recognize the “how” as much as the “what.”

As you think about who to recognize in your virtual kick-off meeting, if there was ever a year to think beyond the numbers it’s now. Who truly lived your values? Who stepped up to support struggling team members? How about the unsung heroes behind the scenes working long-hours to support your fast pivot?

During times of stress and change, it’s hard to over-celebrate. Take time to make a ruckus and let people know how much you appreciate them and their hard work.

5. Leverage the wisdom in the room.

Your team has extraordinary examples of doing the best they can with what they have from where they are. It’s likely that many of your team members have become “experts” in areas they never even dreamed about: balancing work with homeschooling; running effective remote team meetings; creative remote team communication …

What if you pulled together “expert” panels from across your teams in virtual breakout rooms and your virtual kick-off attendees pick the topics they are most interested in attending?

6. Make it tactile.

Yes, it’s a pain in the neck and not cheap to send a virtual kick-off care package to your team, but if you can pull it off, the effort goes a long way. One of our clients sent a box with all the swag they would have given in person—tee- shirts, a journal, and Legos to build metaphors of what it means to have a Courageous Culture. Everyone wore their tee-shirt and laughed as they talked about courage, values, and practical ways to encourage micro-innovation and speaking up as they built metaphors out of Legos in breakout rooms.

7. Bring in speakers who know the art of live-online interaction.

Virtual kick-offs require extra effort to keep people engaged. Where some motivational keynote speakers might light-up the stage in a big ballroom, keeping people on the edge of their seat, it’s more challenging to hold people’s attention over a Zoom screen.

When bringing in an outside expert, be sure they know how to leverage interaction to draw your team into the story and keep them focused.

Your Turn:

What best practices have you seen in virtual kick-off meetings and large team events?  What’s worked well for you? We’d love to hear your stories.

And of course, if you are planning a virtual event, we’d love to talk with you about your goals and share some ideas. Just drop me a note at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com

More Articles to Help You Plan Your Virtual Kick-Off Meeting

Authority Magazine: 5 Things You Need to Now to Successfully Run a Live Virtual Meeting

End of Year Meetings: How to Make Yours Remarkable

6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Townhall Meeting

How to Start the Decade in Deeper Conversations

(From Zoom) Planning a Successful Virtual Sales Kickoff Event

how to manage your stress

How to Manage Your Stress Without Frustrating Your Team

You’re working hard to manage your stress and create a sense of calm for your team.

But now your team is looking at you and wondering if you get it.

They think, “If she really understood what was happening here, she wouldn’t be so calm!”

So, how do you manage your own stress AND encourage that sense of calm urgency on your team?

Manage Your Stress By Showing Up Excited, Not Excitable

The proverbial stuff had just hit the fan. I was stressed for “Mark” a Senior VP at a Fortune 10 company.

“Mark, are you okay? Are you stressed? What needs to happen next?”

He smiled, “Karin, I don’t get stressed. There’s no use in that. But as it turns out I’m a stress carrier.”

In humor lies the truth.

Mark had mastered the art of managing his own stress. He had what I call “excited without being excitable” nailed.  Deeply passionate about the work, nothing appeared to rattle him.

He approached this new challenge as if he’d seen it a thousand times before. His actions were values-based, consistent, deliberate, and timely.

And yet he knew that his calm words didn’t always have a calming effect on his team.

In fact, sometimes, the calmer he got, the wilder his VPs became—as if to make up for his lack of stress and outward frustration.

Stress was still rolling downhill, even though Mark had tried to stop it.

Excited Energizes, Excitable Freaks People Out

In almost every company I work with, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern—things are remarkably calmer on the executive “floor.” (Even if it’s not a real floor these days.)

The stakes are higher, the decisions more vital. These folks have farther to fall, and yet when the going gets tough (for the execs who’ve mastered executive presence) the volume doesn’t amplify.

In full disclosure, I didn’t learn this early in my career. For a long time, I believed my excitable nature proved I cared. I confused stress with passion. Fired up is different than freaked out. Know the difference in yourself, and in those you lead.

Your team longs for calm in you—and in them.

How to Encourage Excited vs. Excitable

So how do you grow leaders who emulate calm, in a frenetic context?

1. Acknowledge reality.

More than anything, your team needs to know you get it. Otherwise, they think your head is in the sand. When you calmly state the issue and the implications, your team gets to exhale. They’ll move from trying to prove that the fire is real, to trying to figure out how to extinguish it.

2. Stay consistently true to your values.

Great leaders stay true to their values when the going gets tough. If “customer service is our most important thing” has been your rallying cry and you start short-cutting when budget (or boss) pressures loom, your team will be confused at best. Don’t change course. Instead ask, how do maintain our commitment to a great customer experience with these new parameters?

3. Encourage innovation and creative problem-solving.

Chances are that someone is sitting on an idea that is so crazy it might just work. Give them an opportunity to share. Then help them calm down, ask great questions, and consider how they could best execute.

4. Use failure as learning.

When the going gets tough, our tolerance for failing decreases. And, even in many well-intentioned leaders, it fully disappears. Ironically, it’s when times are tough that we need to fail gracefully, learn, and move on. Compounding setbacks take their toll on an already stressed team and it can easy to stop trying anything new.

5. Stay real.

When the going gets really tough, your team wants the truth. Share what you can and help them to make informed decisions.

Stay excited. Resist excitable—for you and your team.

See Also: How to Manage Your Stress When the Sky is Falling (Harvard Business Review)

A Practial and Free Way to Get Great 360 Feedback

A Practical and Free Way to Get Great 360 Feedback

Do you know where you stand with your boss? Do you have a good sense of what your peers really think about you? Has it been a minute since your last formal 360 feedback review? Or, is a 360 Feedback something you’ve heard about, but your company hasn’t quite gotten there yet?

You don’t have to wait for HR.  You can build your own Do It Yourself (DIY) 360 Feedback Process to get the feedback you crave.

We often include DIY 360 Feedback in our long-term leadership development programs. Participants frequently tell us they like this approach even better than a fancy on-line tool because it pushes them to have much-needed, real-deal, one-on-one conversations with their boss, peers, and direct reports.

The upside (or downside), depending on your perspective, is that it’s not anonymous.

But if you start with a foundation of trust, really listen, and respond well, you will not only get the feedback you need but also build a foundation for future dialogue.

Start Here To Get The 360 Feedback You Crave

At the end of this article, we’ve included instructions for a DIY (Do It Yourself 360 Feedback) that we use in our programs.  But before you go there, here are a few simple foundations to consider.

1. Ask for the Truth

Set up some time with your boss and peers to really ask for feedback. Avoid the generic, “Do you have any feedback for me?” Or letting them off the hook, by accepting “You’re doing everything just right.”

Ask questions about areas you’re specifically looking to improve.

“What specifically do you think I could do to run our project meetings more effectively and efficiently?”

“I’ve been under a great deal of stress recently, and worry that I might be rubbing some people the wrong way. Is there anything I can do to improve the way I’ve been communicating with you?”

“If you had one piece of advice that could really help me take our team’s performance to the next level, what would that be?”

2. Say Thank You

When someone shares a hard truth, especially about you, thank the person for having the courage, taking the time, and caring enough to share it with you.

3. Respond

If you ask for input, take the time to respond. Even if the ideas aren’t actionable, when you acknowledge that the ideas were heard and considered, you increase the likelihood of hearing more in the future.

4. Never, Ever Shoot the Messenger

If someone has the heart and courage to bring you a difficult truth, even if you vehemently disagree, keep your cool. If you attack them, they won’t bring you another concern.

5. Find Your Truth-Tellers

There are people who understand their team, environment, or processes and are willing to voice their observations. Find these people, keep in regular communication, and let them know you value their observations.

6. Check Your Behavior

If you suspect you are not hearing the truth from those around you, it is time to examine how you are interacting with others. Be sure your paying attention to the items on this list.

If you are struggling to see it, ask others for input, find a mentor, or consider a leadership coach.

7. Model It

The best way to get people to tell you the truth is to build a reputation as someone who tells other people the truth. Start from a place of deep caring with their best interest at heart. If you want more truth-tellers, be a truth-teller.

How to Get Started: A DIY 360 Feedback Tool

Do It Yourself 360 Feedback



See Also: Why The Best Leaders Crave Feedback

What Employees Are Yearning For in Their Remote One-on-Ones

How to Lead Decisively When You Don't Know What's Next

How to Lead Decisively When You Don’t Know What’s Next

How do you lead decisively when you just don’t know what’s coming next?

You don’t know what you don’t know, and even what you DO know you know, could change.

In a recent conversation, “Joe,” a senior leader in the assisted living industry, recounted his first days of the COVID crisis in what turned out to be an early hotspot.

In those first few days we had so little information about this virus or how it spread and no guidance on what to do next. The only thing we knew for certain is that our residents were the definition of vulnerable—so I told my staff ,”Close the doors. No more visitors. Period.”

“But the families will be angry,” my staff warned. “Yes, they will—our primary mission is resident safety, I repeat close the doors.”

“But, what about …” (insert all the reasons why a bold, decisive move like this will be unpopular.   “I hear you. Close the doors.”

He shared, “I’m certain that early decision saved lives.”

A courageous culture needs clarity.  Knowing your values. Understanding what’s at stake and being willing to lead decisively with the information you have at the time.

And, staying curious and open while the situation evolves and be open to ideas of what must happen next.

5 Ways to Lead Decisively When You Don’t Know

When leading during times of uncertainty and change, it’s easy to feel like you don’t know anything. But you do.  Start there.

1. Ground yourself in your values.

The most decisive leaders we know have a clear set of values that guide their decision making. The wafflers are the ones who are more focused on optics or popularity than doing what is right.

2. Stay focused on what matters most.

Joe could act decisively because he knew saving lives trumped satisfaction ratings or anything else. Of course, he cared about his residents and their families. He understands the importance of quality of life and the need for human connection. All that matters, a lot.

And in this moment, saving lives came first. In a time of crisis, being laser-focused on what matters is key when you have to make a quick, tough call.

3. Make the best, next, small, bold decision.

You don’t have to make all the moves to act decisively. Your equivalent of “shutting the door” doesn’t have to be for a month. But, 48 hours can buy some time to get more information. You can tell your team, “I don’t have all the answers. And our direction may change. But for today, this is what we’re going to do.”

4. Show up with confident humility.

We were talking with “Jane,” another healthcare leader who had been given an enormous responsibility for operational safety during the early COVID preparation.

I was given a yellow vest to wear which meant that if there was a tough decision to make, it was up to me to make the final call. Sometimes this meant I was being asked to make decisions in departments where I was not the functional expert. I had to show up confident, people needed to see that in their leader—but also incredibly humble, to ask a lot of questions of the right people and to really listen to their point of view, including watching the looks on their faces while I weighed options. And then take that information in to make the best rationale call.

5. Prepare for the pivot.

We’re all living in a world where the news could change tomorrow. Leading decisively at a time like this also means being willing to remain detached from the decision and be ready to pivot when new information comes along. It’s okay to say, “Yesterday I said we were going to do this ___ and that made sense with what we knew at the time. And now we also know ____. So here’s what we’re going to do now and why.”

And sometimes…

“Let’s wait and see” is also an appropriate answer when you just don’t know. Some decisions don’t need to be made right now. Deciding when to decide is also a decision worth making.

See also: How to Change your Mind and Not Lose Their Trust and Support

How to Disrupt the Disruption and Help Your Team Move Forward

You can download a FREE chapter of our new book Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates here.


How to Change Your Mind and Not Lose Your Team

How To Change Your Mind and Not Lose Their Trust and Support

Does this sound familiar? You started the year with a clear vision and direction. You’ve rallied people around that vision and worked hard to engage everyone’s hearts and minds. You connected what to why. And had brilliant momentum. No one ever anticipated you would change your mind.

Not about THAT.

And now, THIS.

No one could have expected THIS.

I hear you, we’re changing direction fast too. We’re all on a super-fast pivot right now.

It’s even more tricky if you’ve laid a strong stake in the ground with certain absolutes.

  • “Quality is our biggest priority. We don’t launch a new product until it’s undergone six months of field testing.”
  • “We’re a 4-star restaurant, we don’t do delivery. That would cheapen the brand. People come here for the experience.”
  • “We never start a new-hire until the CEO is available to meet with them in person and shake their hand.”
  • “Never submit a proposal until you’ve met with all the stakeholders and fully vetted the plan.”
  • “The security issues are too great to let people work from home.”
  • “We always meet the client on-site when we’re making important decisions.”
  • “We’ll weather this storm together. We won’t do layoffs.”

Circumstances changed. And now you’re looking to do the best you can, with what you have with where you are.

You have new information, but certainly not enough. Everything is still changing. You need to change your mind—even to consider places you never thought you would go. And the truth is, you might have to change your mind again.

How to Change Your Mind Without Losing Momentum

So how do you change your mind without losing momentum?

1. Get comfortable with the pivot yourself.

Start with yourself. Get clear on why you’ve changed your mind and give yourself permission to be okay with that. Great leaders know how and when to pivot. Your team will take their cues from you on how confident to feel about this new direction. If you were wrong (even if these circumstances had not changed), that’s okay. Be ready to admit that. Everyone is disoriented right now. Stay grounded in what you’re doing and why.

2. Communicate with transparency.

Be as transparent as possible. We were working with one senior leader who shared, “I know this is exactly the opposite of what I said two weeks ago. And here’s what I know now, and why I’ve changed my mind.” That simple statement was exactly what everyone needed to hear. We’ve seen other leaders who pivot without sharing all the reasons, and their team ends up confused, frustrated and demoralized.

3. Uncover fears and unspoken concerns.

Change is hard enough, but now you’re asking people to change on top of a mountain of stress they’re already coping with.  Give people an opportunity to talk about their fears and concerns with this new change and direction. Don’t underestimate the need for some good venting. Take a minute. Address concerns. When we’re doing our Courageous Cultures research, one British manager told us, “sometimes what people need is to just have a good moan.”

4. Say “thank you.”

Thank them for their commitment and support. Acknowledge their past effort, and explain why it’s not wasted—even if all that was accomplished is the learning. Thank them for perseverance, and for taking care of one another.

5. Communicate consistency.

Remind them of what hasn’t changed. Your mission, core values, the need for teamwork. People need to know what’s sacred and staying.

6. Create clarity.

Describe the new direction as well as you can. Be very clear on the next steps and what you need each person to do, and check for understanding. You don’t need to know all the answers, but share what you know, and make it easy for your team to know what to do next.

At times like this, it’s easy to feel like you’re going backward. It’s okay to feel disappointed that you had to change your mind. But don’t forget to give yourself credit that you’re doing the best you can with what you have from where you are.

Thank you for leading your team toward a brighter, bolder future.

Your turn.

What advice do you have for leaders who need to reverse direction or change their mind?

How to be a Better Leader as Your Responsibilities Scale

How to Be a Better Leader as Your Responsibilities Scale

Transitions in scope and scale are tricky. If you continue to approach your work exactly the same as you did at the last level, you will surely fail. On the other hand, if you abandon all your best characteristics and approaches that won’t work either.  As you work to be a better leader as your responsibilities scale, you want to stay true to your values, leverage your strengths, and be deliberate in finding new ways to serve your larger team.

Sam and Jenny

Take Sam. Sam was beaming with excitement as he told me about his promotion. He was in the throes of a transition from supervisor to manager. He’ll now lead leaders.

“But it’s scary,” he confided. “I know I have to handle this whole thing differently. I was very close to my team. We talked about everything and shared common interests. Now I must distance myself, not share too much, not get too close.”

Sam continued with the list of all her other behaviors that MUST change. I heard none of what must stay the same as his scope increased. He was at risk of losing the very best qualities I respected in him as a leader—particularly his ability to build deep trust and connection that led to loyalty and deep collaboration. People wanted to work for Sam, so he attracted an “A” team.

And then there’s Jenny who had been promoted for her long track record of strategic thinking and strong execution. Her new role was enormous and there was much to learn. We met to discuss her performance agreement and goals, and I asked, “So what’s your strategy for taking this team’s performance to the next level?” Silence. “What are you doing to build your team?” Crickets.

She’d been doing a great job learning and keeping things moving as they had before. But she wasn’t yet leveraging her best gifts, the ability to identify a transformational vision and rally the team around it. She was trying to lead like the leader before her.

How to Be a Better Leader as Scope and Scale Increases

If you’ve just been promoted, here are few ideas to keep in mind to ground your leadership and influence.

1. Inventory your strengths and opportunities.

Carefully consider the strengths that helped others see you as the candidate for this increase in scope and scale. You might even ask those who helped you get this role, “What is it about my leadership that made you think I was a good fit for this position?” Then consider how those strengths might work well in this bigger role and make a deliberate plan to leverage those strengths in your leadership.

Also, consider which aspects of the job come less naturally for you and make a plan to get the help you need until you can get up to speed. It’s likely that one of your new direct reports is a rock star in this arena. Have the humility to ask for help.

2. Translate the landscape.

You are in a wonderful position of having a more strategic seat at the table while having fresh memories about what it feels like to not have all that information. Pieces of the puzzle are coming together for you in a new way. Capture that feeling and share it with your team. Explain the strategy as you would have wanted it explained to you yesterday.

You can also use your new vantage point to help your boss and peers understand how the latest processes and policies are playing out in the field. Combine your old knowledge and new insights into an enlightened and integrated perspective.

3. Be visible, approachable AND get out of the way.

As a leader with a broader scope and scale, of course, you want to be visible for your larger team and you want to be approachable. But don’t get in the way. Nothing will annoy your new team more than having your door so wide open that employees skip right over their direct manager and come right to you,

Respect your team and their authority. Of course, there are important times for skip level meetings and interventions, but it’s important to respect your direct reports and the work they are trying to do with their team. Help them lead their teams more effectively by working through, not around them.

4. Listen, learn, and be strategic.

Go on a curiosity tour and learn all you can, but don’t react. You’ll be tempted to jump in and fix stuff because you have the answers, and perhaps can do it better than anyone else. That’s not your job anymore. Delegate the immediate fixing, and then take it up a notch. Look for patterns. Consider the strategic implications and root causes. Build cross-functional teams to tackle the challenges to make a greater impact.

5. Build better leaders.

Your most important work as a leader of leaders is helping them grow. The tragic truth is that many leaders spend less time developing their leaders as they increase in scope. Nothing will drive results faster than strong leadership at every level.

6. Respond versus react.

As your scope and scale increases, so does the gravity, quantity, and urgency of your challenges. Great leaders pause, listen, gather facts, and respond. Sure, that response must often be quick, but frantic reaction slows down helpful behavior. Learn to keep your cool early in the game.

7. Become a Roadblock Buster.

Spend time making things easier for your team. Find out where they’re stuck, and offer to remove roadblocks. With that said, here are two words of caution. First, don’t jump in without asking. Too much help will make your team feel like you don’t trust them. Second, be sure to take a moment to teach your team while you’re busting down those barriers.

Oh, and be sure YOU’RE not the roadblock. Respond quickly with needed approvals and work to diminish unnecessary time wasters and bureaucracy.

8. Invest in your development.

Many leaders spend less time on their own development the further up they go. Don’t fall into that trap. As your scope and scale increases, so does your responsibility to lead well. Get a coach. Have a collection of mentors. Read constantly.

Your turn.

What’s your best advice for becoming a better leader as your job gets bigger?

See Also:

5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings

Executive Visits: 4 Great Approaches For Influence and Impact

How to Be the Leader Employees Want to See Walk Through the Door


6 Reasons to Give Your Team Better Executive Exposure

6 Reasons to Give Your Team Better Executive Exposure

You want to give your team executive exposure but, if you’re like me, you’ve learned the hard way that it can backfire. After all, not all executive exposure is good exposure.  It can be tempting to hold back visibility in an effort to protect, you or your team.

  • “She’s a little rough around the edges. She’s not ready for that kind of exposure.”
  • “Not all exposure is good exposure. What if he says something stupid?”
  • “If I bring my SME along to the meeting, my boss will think I don’t know what I’m doing.”

These are just a few of the reasons managers give for keeping their employees in the background doing the heavy lifting, while they present the results and negotiate the political landscape. Sure, it’s more efficient to have the workers doing the work while the managers explain it, but you might be missing vital opportunities for development, recognition, and growth.

6 Reasons to Give Your Team Better Executive Exposure

1. The Spotlight Will Show Up When You Least Expect It
Perhaps the most pragmatic reason to get your team comfortable speaking at the next level is that someday, you won’t be around and they’ll need to. Some exec will start asking questions as they poke about, and if your employee’s not prepared, he’ll likely stick his foot in his mouth.

2. It’s the Best Way to Understand the Bigger Picture
No matter how many times you explain “why” you are asking your team to do something, somehow when your boss says it, the lightbulbs go off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my direct reports  say, “You know I said that exact thing, but when you said it, they listened.” Sure it’s frustrating. But the point isn’t who gets credit for getting through—the point is getting through.

3. They’ll Learn By Watching You
Bringing your employees along gives them a great chance to watch you in a more senior environment. They’ll learn more from watching than anything you could tell them.

4. They’ll Learn By Watching Your Boss
I’ll never forget the first time I walked onto the C-level floor. The atmosphere was completely different than the scurry below—a calm intensity was standard protocol. Not easy to explain. The only way I learned to swim in those waters was to watch the bigger fish.

5. The Preparation Is Great Development
The conversation you have while preparing for, and debriefing, the session is full of opportunities for growth and connection.

6. It Takes Time to Build a Brand
Don’t wait until Jane is perfectly ready to be promoted until you start talking up her accomplishments and skills. A slow and steady trickle of positive exposure will lay a strong foundation when it’s time to throw her hat in the ring.

It’s natural to want to protect your team until they are completely ready for higher-level exposure. Don’t throw them into the spotlight under-prepared, but regular exposure to higher-level people and strategy will go a long way in accelerating their development.

See Also: 6 Things Good CEOs Always Do to Connect With Employees (Inc)