Help Your Team Focus With A Check-in

We are in unprecedented times. Most of us are experiencing some combination of fear, concern, worry, uncertainty, and information overload. Not to mention the challenges of working from home. Some of us are also suddenly responsible for home schooling. It’s no wonder we are distracted and having a hard time focusing.

As a manager, you can help your team focus on the work-at-hand by simply acknowledging how they are feeling. Not trying to fix it. Not trying to solve any problems. Just simply witnessing and acknowledging what is present for people in the moment. But how do you do this without spending your entire 30 minute Zoom meeting swapping fears and further distracting everyone?

A beloved colleague of mine, Richard Cohen, has refined a process called the check-in. It is a simple, powerful and short method to enable your team to focus when distraction and high emotions are vying for their attention. Here are the basics: 

Step One: Decide on your purpose

Knowing why you are doing a check-in can help you to be more confident in leading it and clear about what to do. During the coronavirus lockdown, some purposes that may be helpful include: 

  • Become more present for the meeting
  • Allow time for everyone to voice concerns
  • Acknowledge the team’s experiences
  • Get everyone’s voice in the room

Step Two: Decide how much time

How much time can you devote to the check-in?  That will differ depending upon your purpose, the length of your meeting, and the number of participants.  A check-in can be as short as a single word. For example, you could ask “What do you need to leave behind in order to focus?” A one word response might be “parents.”  Or you can allot 30 seconds or even a few minutes to each person, giving them a chance to elaborate. 

Step Three: Choose a question

Once you know your purpose and your time constraints you choose a question to support it. Suppose your purpose is to enable your team to be more present for the task at hand. Some questions that facilitate this purpose are: 

  • What do you need leave behind in order to focus?
  • How are you doing today?
  • What is one word that describes where your heart is at?
  • Is there anything that might affect your participation here today?

Step Four: Model the process

If this is your first time doing a check-in, it’s best if you go first and model it. Be sure that what you share fits the time frame you choose, so that the check in does not wind up taking more time that you expected. Then ask someone else to share.

The check in process is a good way for you to model emotional intelligence and support your team through these unique times. So take 30 seconds right now and ask yourself: Is there anything that might affect you from checking in with your teams today?

The Complete Guide to Working From Home With Kids

Watch Alexis’ amazing webinar on Managing Productivity While Working From Home with Kids here:

Watch Webinar

The Basics

Ok, we’re here, and I bet you’re freaking out a bit! School has closed. Work has sent you home. And in front of you lies an indefinite stretch of time where you’re going to be responsible both for doing your job and taking care of your kids (and making sure they learn something!).

And if that weren’t daunting enough, because you’re doing the right thing and practicing social distancing, you’ve probably cancelled your housecleaner (if you are lucky enough to have one), and all your kids’ after school activities have been cancelled as well. This means you’ll need to enlist the the whole family to keep things running smoothly and make sure you don’t all drive each other nuts.

But don’t worry, I’m here to help!

I’ll provide you with a 5 point plan to get you prepared to survive (and maybe even thrive in) this new reality. We’ll cover:

  1. How to plan your days and communicate those plans to the kids, so that you are able to maximize your work productivity, even with the kids at home.
  2. How to keep your kids learning, even when there is no formal school.
  3. How to keep your kids moving so they aren’t bouncing off the walls at the end of each day.
  4.  How to keep your kids motivated and keep the fun alive.
  5. And what to do if all else fails!

It’s a crazy time, but you can get through it. Like a lot of things in life, a little planning does a long way! You can do it! So, let’s get going.

Kids at home 1

1) Plan like your life depends on it!

You need a plan, and that plan needs to take into account both your work/meeting schedule, and the needs of your kids. And once you’ve got this plan, you need to communicate it to your kids and make sure they understand, and are on board.

First things first, just know from the get-go that you’re going to be a bit less productive when working from home if you’re also responsible for the kids all day. Accept that now, and plan your workload accordingly. Lowered expectations are your friend.

Then, make a daily schedule:

On this schedule, you’ll plan out what the kids will be doing, and you’ll color code those activities based on whether you (and your co parent, if you have one) will be available to your kids at these times.

  • Red for “you absolutely can’t interrupt because parents are in meetings/on calls”
  • Yellow for “please avoid interrupting if you can”
  • Green for “parents will be 100% available to kids”

Each day, make a new schedule and color code based on your meetings and obligations that day, share it with the kids to make sure everyone understands, and post it somewhere everyone can see (or maybe even multiple locations). Make sure you have a clock near the schedule so your kids can compare the schedule to the clock.

If your kids are too young to read the schedule/a clock:

It’s still worth making a schedule and communicating to your kids that even though you will be physically there, you will not be 100% available at all times. This way at least you’ll have a pre-decided plan for which activities to move them through during the day and they’ll be prepared for this.


You might consider making a schedule with your partner (if you have one) in which you switch which one of you is “on cal” to be available to the kids during the day. Maybe one of you takes mornings and the other one afternoons, etc.

2) Keep ’em learning

If your kids’ school is offering distance learning, you’re one of the lucky ones! Still, you’ll want to make sure your kids are set up tor success with:

  • a computer
  • a webcam (for video conference classes)
  • a mouse (kids often prefer a mouse to a trackpad)

If your kids’ school is not offering distance learning, you’ve got your work cut out for you as a newly minted homeschooler! But never tear, there are lots of low cost (and even free!) options out there:

Huge list of educational services offering FREE subscriptions and/or access:


Khan Academy (free, online classes and practice activities for kids ages 2 through high school)


Use Audible or enable “Amazon Storytime” to read to your kids


Introduce your kids to some great podcastsCommonSense Media’s list of great podcasts for kids:


Kids can teach themselves a new language using Duolingo


3) Keep em moving

You know how your kids get when they are inside for too long. And we don’t want that because it’s not conducive to getting our work done. Everyone will benefit when you build ample opportunities to move their bodies into the daily schedule, depending on age. To keep them from bouncing off the walls try some of these suggestions:

If you’ve got a backyard, use it!

  • Get the kids outside and moving several times a day.
  • Arrange to work from your laptop inside so that you can see the yard from where you are and keep working, while keeping an eye out.

Exercise videos for kids!

  • Go Noodle (free movement and mindfulness videos)
  • Cosmic Kids Yoga Youtube Channel
  • Debbie Doo Kids TV Youtube Channel

Give em a calisthenics routine!

  • 50 sit ups
  • 50 lunges
  • Run up and down the hallway 25 times
  • Run up and down the stairs 15 times
  • Repeat until thoroughly worn out

4) Keep em motivated

It’s going to take some adjusting to be in the same space with your kids while you are trying to work. Why not build in some motivation with rewards that help you get what you want (i.e peace and quiet) and help your kids learn, grow and have fun. Here are some ideas to get your started:

Read a book > Watch the movie

  • Here’s a huge list of children’s books that have been turned into feature films:
  • Tell your kids that, as soon as they finish a book, they can watch the movie (For kids who can’t yet read, apply this strategy to audiobooks)
  • If you don’t have any of these books at home, remember that you can get books on Kindle from the public library, without ever leaving your house

Good behavior/compliance during the day > weekday movie night!

No one has a commute, everyone can get up a little later, so why not offer a fun weekday movie night if the kids can successfully keep to the schedule and not interrupt you during the red zones when you’re in meetings?

5) Short bursts of undivided attention!

  • Studies show that when kids get short bursts of undivided attention, they are better able to engage in solo play/work the rest of the time.
  • So build in “breaks” for yourself of 5-10 minutes every hour or 2 to be completely focused on the kids, to get them set up for the next activity, to hug them, get them a snack and essentially to make sure they feel seen, heard and loved. It’ll be a reward for both you you!
  • Don’t check email/Slack during these short breaks; instead, focus solely on the kids.

6) If all else fails…

Use the screens and ditch the guilt.

This is about survival, not perfection.

You’re doing the best you can and that’s good enough.

How Leaders in Transition Can Set Themselves Up for Success

This month we had a chance to sit down with Joanne Derr, executive coach and former Vice President of HR at We talked about how leaders in transition can set themselves up for success, and specifically:

Read the full interview below (7min read):

Pat, AceUp: What does the term “leaders in transition” mean to you?

Joanne: That could mean leaders who are new to a company, leaders who are promoted in a company into a new role, leaders who are relocating within the same company. A big type of transition involves leaders who are moving into an entirely different kind of challenge. They’re going into a startup, or turnaround, or growth situation, or a steady state, or they’re going into a mergers and acquisition environment, or helping to facilitate that. There are a lot of different kinds of transitions.

Pat: What skills must new leaders have during these transition periods to be successful?

Joanne: I think that the key skill is being thoughtful and planning. I use a framework from Michael Watkins’ Genesis group. Full disclosure: I’m also affiliated with the Genesis group. I use that model of executive transitions, and the first step is really looking at how you learn. So how did you do the last transition? How did you enter the company the last time and what were your successes, what were your challenges, and what will you do to mitigate the kinds of challenges you had the last time so that you’re not creating unnecessary missteps and that you gain momentum.

The three types of learning that I talk to people about are technical learning, cultural learning, and political learning. Often people are so focused on their technical skills, they come in to do HR or finance or sales or marketing or product, and that’s what they’re focused on, as opposed to also what’s unique about the company [the cultural domain]. What are the values and the norms? What does success look like for them in this organization? And how does the organization handle change?

The political domain is how are decisions made, where is the power and the influence work, who were the influencers, and who do I align with? So planning your learning agenda is actually a major skill for executives when they’re going in. Not just technically what do I need to know, what do I need to nail, what are the products and technologies and systems, and my team?

Pat: What is uniquely difficult for a leader during a transition period?

Joanne: One of the hardest things is the short time frame that a leader has in which to really create their persona. There’s a four- to six-month time frame. All eyes are on the leader. They have high hopes for the leader. You have high hopes for yourself and you need to create this momentum, secure early wins, and also not step in any land mines in the political, cultural, and technical domains.

There’s a fairly standard and powerful cadence and a road map you can follow that has six steps from the book The First 90 Days, which I’ve been buying and giving to my executives for the last ten or twelve years since it was published.

The first step is knowing what’s my leadership style and how do I match that to the situation I’m in. If you’re in a startup your leadership persona will be different than if you are in a realignment or in an accelerated growth situation.

The second, which is huge, is gaining alignment with your manager. That’s a key relationship and I think oftentimes people come in and forget that, so if I’m working for you, Pat, and I’m feeling really good about our relationship, I’m off doing everything else and I’m not touching base with you as much as I could be. I’m not taking my onboarding transition roadmap and sharing it with you and saying, this is how I’m doing, this is where I need your help, and are we aligned?

Pat: How can leaders set themselves up for success?

Joanne: In addition to connecting with your manager and getting that kind of alignment and having a learning plan, assessing your team early on is super important, and that’s another place to use HR. They can be extraordinarily helpful. I think a mistake that leaders make is only assessing technical capabilities as opposed to also asking what kind of learners do I have, what is their drive, and are they working on the right things? How collaborative are they? How trustworthy are they? How do they show up in the environment? In addition to asking about their skills now and what they’ll need in the future. So one of the things I support people on is really a thorough, thoughtful, and comprehensive assessment. I recommend the team sets new goals, communicates their vision, makes sure they get alignment.

Pat: How does a leader set up a learning agenda that works for them?

Joanne: Having a written agenda is key, and following it and looking at it on a regular basis. There’s a gold mine of information that you’ve picked up in the interview process. People come into these roles having done so much research on the company and the people and the technology and the products. Everything they’ve learned can inform their strategic plan.

Pat: How can HR professionals help set up incoming leaders for success.

Joanne: Helping to align expectations with teams and bosses, or around organizing meetings with stakeholders and facilitating cultural familiarization. You can’t just bring in the new leader and expect that the manager to take care of strategic onboarding because the manager is busy doing their own thing and they think that the leader is going to take care of it.

Pat: How might a transitioning leader go about successfully navigating stakeholder alliances and everything that comes along with that?

Joanne: Leaders come in very aware that they need to build alliances not just with the manager but with their colleagues. What they forget to do is actually create a plan. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a plan.

I’m very visual, so one of the things that I coach my clients to do—and this is also something that HR can help do—is create a stakeholder map. Imagine where you are in the organization. Put your boss at the center of this map, at the center of a circle with concentric circles all around it, and ask yourself, if this is my boss and I’m supporting my boss’s agenda, or it’s a CEO and I’m here to help my CEO and this entire company be successful, who are the players around my boss or my CEO? How are they situated in relationship to my boss? Are they close ties? Are they loose ties? Where should I plot them on the concentric circles?

As I’m meeting people, I can turn them red, yellow, or green on the map. If I have a natural alliance with this person I’ve worked with before, they might be green. If I have nothing in common with this person, they have a completely different style than me, are more challenging or not inclined to like me or respect my function, they could be red. I like mapping with circles; other people do it in graphs. It doesn’t matter. The important part is planning your approach and being very thoughtful about who you approach, how and what your agenda is, and being as open as possible with that stakeholder.

Pat: What are some resources that could be helpful to a transitioning leader?

Joanne: Harvard Business Review is chock full of information about executive transitions, change and transition, leadership style. I would highly recommend anything by Michael Watkins and Genesis material. Suzanne Bates has two books out on leadership and executive presence. Those would be two that pop out for me.

A third is any reading and thinking about transition. I teach my folks the Kotter model and the Bridges, which is a nice, simple model of transitions. Understanding transitions on a systemic level, that would be more Cotter, and personally how people experience transitions would be more William Bridges material, which is a really nice thing to have in your back pocket.

The last piece is really being aware of your own personality preferences, whether that be through Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Big Five. Understanding if I come at things from a thinking point of view but I have somebody in front of me who’s very feelings oriented. To meet people where they’re at and being very aware of your own style and approach is magical in a successful transition. Having that level of self-awareness and self-management is hugely important.

Conflict Management: 3 Tips for Keeping Your Cool During Conflict

If you’re good at managing conflicts, you have a competitive edge for influence, team building, trust, and promotability over others who aren’t.

According to Korn Ferry International, the ability to manage conflict is a skill that’s among the hardest to find and hardest to develop. Conflict management relies on high levels of nearly every emotional intelligence skill; from self-awareness and self-control to empathy, problem solving, impulse control, and the ability to inspire, influence, and balance the needs of stakeholders who are at odds with each other.

Two colleagues coming to an agreement

Nearly every organization needs to have at least one person that people can rely on to smooth over ruffled feathers, de-escalate when tempers boil over, and generally be the go-to person when others need help resolving their differences. If that person is you, you become a valued team member who is difficult to replace.

So, if managing conflict is uncommon, becoming more important but is really hard to get good at, where do you start if you want to develop this rare and valuable skill?

You can start by implementing the first rule of emotional intelligence: control yourself first. In a typical situation where there are multiple sides vying for influence, power, and attention, the person who can maintain calm in the storm has an advantage.


To gain mastery over yourself, even when things get heated, try accepting these three things about yourself:

1. Accept that you will make mistakes

Admit them when it happens. Learn from it when it happens. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Don’t frustrate others by trying to cover up or deny your mistakes.

2. Accept that your intentions are complex

Even opposite feelings can co-exist. For example, you can love your job and hate getting up in the morning. When conflicts arise, look inward to see if you have more than one intention. Consider whether you are giving confusing signals about what’s important. Recognize that other people’s confusing signals may arise from inner conflict too.

3. Accept that you have contributed to the problem

This is often the hardest part. Very few people go to work intent on creating problems. Problems arise even when everyone is trying their best. Sometimes trying too hard to be the best is actually the root cause of conflict. If you have been judgmental rather than empathetically seeking understanding, if you have talked down to others because you feel your position is justified or somehow superior, if you have kept silent when your perspective would have been valuable—you have contributed to the problem. Consider building a spreadsheet and laying out what the principle people in the conflict have said, including yourself, and map out contributions. From there, you can begin to understand the origins of the conflict and begin to find ways to resolve it.

But you don’t have to do it yourself! If you’re curious about your emotional intelligence (EI) abilities, get a coach to assess you. Once you have an EI profile, you’ll uncover your strongest emotional intelligence skills and be able to create a customized plan to improve in areas where you will get the most value.

It takes time and effort to build conflict management skills, but you’ll stand out among peers if you do.

5 Strategies To Enhance Your Executive Presence

Executive presence is how we show up everyday – from the boardroom to the living room. It’s our ability to inspire confidence, engender trust, and let others know we’re reliable and capable. Our executive presence determines opportunities and opens doors. It influences how people evaluate us and make decisions about hiring us or promoting us, often when we are not even in the room.

Understanding executive presence is as simple as knowing your A-B-C: Appearance, Behavior and Communication. Our appearance is not only about how we look but also comprises our body language. Our behavior includes three key components: empathy, composure and confidence. Developing effective communication requires the ability to read a room, speak with clarity, and deliver messages concisely.

So how do we go about enhancing our executive presence?

First off, self-awareness is key. Leaders with strong executive presence are always aware of these ABCs. They understand what they want to convey and how to convey it, while also being in tune with how others perceive them.

Here are five things they do well and what you can do to improve your own executive presence:

#1: Adopt positive body language

Your body language is a silent but powerful communicator. In other words, your posture, facial expressions, and gestures convey volumes about your executive presence. So, what does positive body language look like? There are 3 keys:

  • Good posture – typically standing tall, shoulders back – not hunched – and back straight
  • Open position – this means a relaxed look with arms and legs uncrossed and fists unclenched with open palms
  • A smile and good eye contact always indicate receptivity and engender trust

I recommend practicing in front of the mirror to become more conscious about how you come across. For more about how body language can shape who you are, check out social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk.

#2: Listen first, react later


This is important for developing a connection with the other person and is considered a leadership trait. To be a better communicator, listen without distraction and multitasking to truly understand what the other person is saying. Epictetus once said, “Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.”

To improve your listening abilities, don’t think about what you’re going to say – rather, listen to truly understand where the other person is coming from. When the person is done, recap or summarize what the other person said so you can demonstrate that you understood what they’re saying and can then add your perspective as needed. Happy listening!


#3: Become intentional about your appearance

Most people never put a lot of thought into what they wear. Yes, we get influenced by the weather and seasons, but how many times have you thought about your day and the people with whom you will interact.

By learning to dress for the audience and the occasion, you become thoughtful and intentional about what you want to convey about your own self and the type of impression you want to create. So choose your presentation with care! This includes not only your clothes, but also your accessories, hairstyle, fragrance, and grooming. My tip to clients is to think about the person that you need to be in any situation – then dress, groom, and accessorize in a way that helps you mentally step into that personality.

#4: Communicate with clarity and conciseness


Verbosity kills executive presence. If you cannot convey your message effectively in 10 words or less, you’re losing your audience. This is especially critical in today’s technology-driven world where attention spans are constantly decreasing.

Here’s a simple exercise that will make you self-aware about your verbal skills. Pick a topic – for example, how would you introduce yourself at a networking event. Record yourself for 30 seconds using your smartphone. Then playback and listen for how long your sentences were, how many filler words (ums, ahs, likes, etc.) you used, and whether you effectively conveyed who you are and what you do.


#5: Watch yourself on camera

The best way to assess your presence is to record yourself on video. You don’t need costly and bulky equipment – our smartphones are valuable tools. Similar to the above exercise, record yourself but this time observe your body language, facial expressions, your energy levels, and your movements. You’ll be amazed at the feedback you give yourself.

Executive presence can be learned. You don’t have to be born with it, but you must work at it. Self-awareness is key. Once you begin to observe yourself and understand how others perceive you, you can begin to take small steps to address each element of appearance, behavior, and communication. Be open to feedback but don’t judge yourself too harshly – remember to have fun with this!

Self-Leadership: Turning Stressors to Strengths

Today’s world requires a great deal of personal and professional self-leadership. These are indeed disorienting times, and some find themselves simply overwhelmed by the demands of daily life, whether at home or at work. You are not alone. If you find yourself withdrawing from daily activities, being irritable more often than not, or engaging in avoidant strategies, it is time to mobilize your strengths for healthier outcomes.

Here are the major themes I have been hearing from clients over the past months. See if these are themes that you can shift from a stressor to a strength:

Stressor 1: I feel alone.

I hear this more and more from individuals. It may not be surprising given that we live a very mobile lifestyle, and many must relocate for professional reasons. Our demanding lives and the disintegration of community – such as knowing neighbors or being part of a church or club – reduces contacts more. In a 2011 study, the average American had three friends they could confide in. When this study was completed again in 2016, that number dropped to 2 friends. This does not mean we are becoming less social as a species, but perhaps we are engaging less with our community and hence find fewer emotional supports to lean on.

Strength: Proactively cultivating connection.

As social animals, we need to be with others and feel part of a group. I often ask my clients who report that they feel alone, “when was the last time you invited friends over for dinner or extended an invitation to someone for coffee?” Many cannot remember the last time they did so in a non-business-related framework. Another question that I ask is “what sort of organizations do you support or are you a part of?”

If feelings of loneliness is a stressor for you, create a list of 7 passions (those aspects of life that you look forward to engaging) and 7 interests (topics which you would like to learn more about) and challenge yourself to work towards these passions and interests more often. Be inspired and extend yourself to an activity or an invitation and savor some connection.

Stressor 2: People seem easily angered and upset.

It doesn’t take much to get a pulse on the stress and anxiety on a commute to and from work. I see higher levels of frustration and anxiety in family, friends, clients, and myself. We simply are always going, going, going, and doing, doing, doing.

Strength: Build activities that promote resilience.

There are many counter-measures to the increasing heated feelings we carry around. The three major ones I find immediately useful are exercise, meditation, and downtime with friends and family (and please take that vacation time you have accrued at work).

As a first step, complete the North Stars exercise: reflect on your 7 core values (philosophies or values) that guide you in life. At a quiet moment, ask yourself what is important to you. Then look at how those values are showing-up in your daily life. For example, if you put “nature” as a value but have not taken a hike in years, it is high time to do so.

Stressor 3: At times I feel hopeless or helpless to making change.

We all need a space that creates a respite – a place to retreat and recharge. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or complicated: the library, a walk in the park, or a coffee shop can provide such opportunity. Hopelessness and helplessness are the major drivers of anxiety and depression. Without a sense of a chance for change or options to change, human beings suffer.

Strength: Adapt to change in life.

In a rapidly changing world it is critical to adapt. Assess approaches that are useful for you to keep and jettison that which is no longer helpful. Resistance to adapting to new circumstances runs the risk of going “extinct.”

Taking a healthy step back provides an opportunity for greater perspective that is often lost when life is demanding. Try to get an aerial view of your options and opportunities, often best done in consultation with trusted people in your life, and then enact constructive adaptive change.


In leading change for oneself or others, it is critical to continually recombine our “DNA.” Look at the stressors in life and see how another perspective may allow you to change something destructive to a constructive outcome. This requires deploying your strengths in order to undertake the challenging task of change. It also requires engaging in self-care in order to manage the disequilibrium that change requires. Change is possible and new normals will emerge, but it requires ongoing adaptation to not only survive, but also (and most importantly), thrive.

Executive Presence: As Easy as ABC

Executive presence sounds like one of those often-touted buzzwords that no one quite seems to understand, yet we all keep hearing about it from leadership gurus and corporate bosses. Do you have to be an executive to have it? Are you born with it or can it be acquired?

The What:

To put it in simple terms, executive presence is how we show up every day. It’s our ability to inspire confidence, engender trust, and let others know we’re reliable and capable. It’s sometimes described as charisma or the ability to own a room.

The Why:

Our executive presence determines opportunities, opens doors, and helps us climb the corporate ladder of success. Whether it’s a decision about a promotion, a role on an exciting new project or leading a high-visibility team, our executive presence will influence the outcome based on the confidence we’ve inspired in decision-makers, even when we are not in the room.

The How:

When it comes to developing our executive presence, the good news is you don’t have to be born with it. Executive presence can be developed and learned.

Understanding executive presence is as simple as knowing your A-B-C, which make up the three elements of executive presence:

Executive Presence = Appearance + Behavior + Communication



It takes less than 3 seconds to make an impression. We convey volumes by the way we look, even before uttering a single word. Our brain is hardwired to make judgment calls based simply on what we see. How we package ourselves creates a visual impression of who we are – and in the work setting, instantly conveys to others how professional, serious, and capable we are even before we prove ourselves.

There are two components to your appearance – your look and your body language. Though your look is never a substitute for substance, it can make a difference to your success. As the famous adage goes, “Dress for the job you want not the job you have.”  So put your time, effort, and money into training, grooming, and encouraging YOU.

Your body language is the silent communicator. According to behavioral psychologist Albert Mehrabian, only 7 percent of what we communicate is what we say – in other words, our verbal content. 38 percent of our communication is our voice, tone, intonation, etc., while 55 percent of our communication is visual.  That includes our body language, facial expressions, gestures and postures. Think about it – you’ve already made a good or bad impression even before you actually say something. As such, paying attention to how you carry yourself — are you open and inviting or are you arms crossed and close to your chest — conveys volumes and indicates to someone how self-aware, confident and approachable you are.


Three key pillars form the basis of behavior: Empathy, Composure, and Confidence.Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft once said, “Empathy makes you a better innovator.” Empathy is the ability to understand or share the feelings of others. Research suggests that empathic people tend to be more generous and concerned with others’ welfare, and they also tend to have happier relationships and greater personal well-being. Empathy can also improve leadership ability and facilitate effective communication.


To truly develop empathy, we need to be genuinely curious about people and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes even if our backgrounds, cultures, and situations are completely different. We need to set aside any preconceived notions and judgements we may have about a person to understand their perspective.

Merriam-Webster defines composure as a calmness or repose of mind, bearing and appearance or a state of self-possession. We all deal with tough situations every day – in the subway, stuck in traffic, when things don’t go our way, rude people, disagreements…our stressors go on. How you keep your cool and handle yourself in these difficult situations is a measure of your composure. 

The third pillar, which typically tends to dominate someone’s executive presence is confidence. Confidence is a belief in ourselves and our ability to succeed in any situation. Striking a healthy balance between too much and too little is key as it helps us gain credibility, make a good lasting first impression, deal with pressure, and meet personal and professional challenges head on. We project confidence in how we look, what we say, and how we say it. 


The “C” of Executive presence is Communication. While this is a huge topic, I’ll highlight three areas that often trip up people – the ability to read a room, clarity, and conciseness.


An important skill I would recommend for anyone is to be able to read a room. Even before you open your mouth, be aware of what’s happening in the room – whether it’s a room full of people, a small group or just one person.  Learn to read the energy, the mood, the body language of people around you. The best way to do that is observe and truly listen. Make your experience about someone else rather than yourself.

Clarity is an effective communication skill. From the showroom to the boardroom, our ability to deliver a message with clarity has a major impact on our success. Remember, if you can’t communicate your message in 10 words or fewer, you’ve lost the receiver. Be crisp and to the point. Keep it simple. Know what matters to your audience and say it.

The other side of the clarity coin is conciseness. Less is more. In today’s world, attention spans are rapidly decreasing and if we cannot communicate concisely, we just aren’t communicating effectively.

To recap, executive presence is how you show up everyday — from the boardroom to the living room — and in the process, engender trust and inspire confidence in your abilities. Remember, executive presence can be learned at any stage in your life. To develop executive presence, you need to become self-aware about and work on your A-B-C: Appearance, Behavior and Communication.

Resolve to Give More Feedback Without Being Negative

Looking for a new year’s resolution? How about giving more feedback? Studies show that about two-thirds of managers avoid feedback, even though it’s the best way to help your people on your team grow and improve.

The problem is that feedback sessions tend to lead to negative feedback. After you discuss what they are doing right, there’s the moment where you have to reckon with areas where they can use improvement. This can be uncomfortable and even unpleasant. People can get defensive or just clam up if you start criticizing. No one wants that, so it becomes easier to avoid giving feedback altogether.

What if you could give feedback without being negative at all? What if you could help someone address even their most problematic behaviors while also encouraging them to focus on their positive contributions to the team?

You can! Good leaders do it all the time. Here are a few steps to help you stay positive when someone shows problematic behavior:

1. The first step is awareness.


The person needs to become aware that what they are doing is a problem. If you start talking about problems, though, they are likely get defensive or shut down. Instead of telling them they have a problem, find a private space to have a conversation. Offering coffee or food can help ease tension. Then let them know you’ve been thinking about a certain incident or project and want to know their perspective on it. Ask questions. Be curious. Ask them to retell the events or discuss their approach, to examine how they were feeling and what they were thinking, how satisfied they were with the outcome. Finally, ask them how others might have felt. Let them talk until they begin to see the problem themselves.

2. Normalize and model self-improvement

Once they see there’s a problem, it’s important to calm fears and let them know that self-improvement is normal. If you can share a story about something you learned, that will help engender trust. If you can tell them about something you are still trying to develop and strengthen, that is also reassuring. Let them see that they can change, and that change is a sign of growth – and more importantly, a positive one.

3. Support growth

Before the end of the conversation, ask how you can help them do things differently. Ask them to imagine the incident or project again and see if they can find a way to change what they did for a better outcome. Help them find a way to express how they felt without offending others. Encourage them to consider other options, to watch others, and to learn how to improve.

4. Follow up


Words of encouragement can have a big impact, especially when you see change or efforts to try something new. Let them know you see them trying and support them. Offer another conversation for self-reflection. Celebrate when you see improvement, even if that celebration is just a smile or a private time to tell them, “good job!”

It’s not always comfortable, but conversations to provide feedback don’t have to be negative. When you reduce errors, friction, division, and turn-over, you can increase productivity by turning attention to more positive tasks. Taking the time and trouble to help your team run smoothly empowers your team to focus on results, which in turn makes you look good.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements – in fact, disagreements are important for innovation, collaboration, and growth. But disagreements don’t have to disagreeable. Everyone should be expected to listen respectfully to others and express themselves without offending others.

So look forward to a new year with more feedback, more open dialogue, less friction, and better results. That’s a resolution worth keeping!

Patience as a Leadership Asset in Turbulent Times

In today’s high-paced world, the predisposition for most leaders I’ve encountered is to take quick, decisive action. I’ve heard many say if you’re standing still, then the whole world will pass you by. This advice can conflict with some of the traditional sayings regarding the wisdom of patience, such as:

  • “Good things come to those who wait”
  • “Patience is a virtue”
  • “Patience, grasshopper”

The caution here is not to throw out these time-honored adages of patience in today’s hyperactive environment, but to better understand what patience means.

To me, patience does not equate to inaction. Patience means thinking, being attentive, actively scanning the environment for strategic indicators, and reflecting. Patience suggests less talking and reacting. Instead, patience implies listening conscientiously to enable focus on the message being shared – whether through words, body language, or other forms of communication such as non-response.

Let me be clear on this: action is needed in leadership. However, as a leader, there is the need to briefly stop, pause, and think – especially in turbulent times.

Don’t think just about the next immediate action. Think deeper and more critically: what’s the possible ripple effect caused by your next immediate action?


Leadership roles require a “chess game” mentality. If you make a move, what are the possible outcomes or repercussions of that move that you’ll have to deal with later? It doesn’t have to take long to process these strategic thoughts – some folks can do this in mere seconds. If your logic and your gut are telling you different things, pause and figure out why there is a gap.

The trick, though, is to not get stuck in analysis paralysis, waiting for the perfect set of conditions for everything to be crystal clear beyond a reasonable doubt. My experience has been that there is never a perfect time. You must understand what your criteria is for “good enough” to make your move. Furthermore, you don’t need to make all the moves at once. What’s the smallest incremental move you can take to give you greater confidence for the next step? Then move. Take action.

Who knows – you may likely need to take action to create the conditions that make the environment more ideal for you.

So, don’t think of patience as inaction. Patience gives you the permission and wisdom to take a slight necessary pause to think and reflect. Taking action for the sake of taking action can cause waste that you’ll have to clean up later. Knowing how to use (or create) the environment to make conditions more suitable for your outcomes (but not waiting for perfection) could be one key to both survive and thrive in a fast-moving, uncertain, and volatile world.

4 Counter-intuitive Tips to Increase Your Influence

Several times a day, you probably need other’s cooperation to get your job done. Maybe you need colleagues in the lab to regularly clean the lab equipment. Or you need the person assigned part-time to your project to really put in all the hours if you’re going to meet the mission-critical deadline. Perhaps you know the marketing strategy isn’t targeting the right audience, but you’re not sure the boss is listening.


Gone are the days of command-and-control. For managers, it is no longer effective to just “order” an employee to “just do it.” Many managers have cross-functional responsibilities with no direct authority. Individual contributors are increasingly asked to accomplish tasks that require collaboration – so they need to influence others. Further, millennials are likely to disengage when “ordered,” preferring instead to be motivated and inspired. Science and engineering are often done in matrixed organizations that require collaboration to get complex tasks done, but rarely does one person have all the authority needed to do their job. Most organizations will either thrive or dive based on their ability to collaborate, create and innovate – none of which is driven by command-and-control.

So how do you get anything done? Although influence is as much an art as it is a science, it can be learned and developed. Work on these four counter-intuitive steps to begin increasing your influence.

Clarify Your Purpose

Many of us have counterproductive assumptions about influence. One of my coaching clients thought influence meant getting more for yourself and being selfish. Another saw it as trying to get someone to do something they don’t want to do. If this is what you’re thinking, then the other person probably knows it – or can at least feel it. And they don’t want to be fed (what they perceive as) your selfish agenda or do something they don’t want to do.

However, when I ask my clients about their deeper purpose we often find a much richer tapestry. One client felt strongly that a molecule she had isolated had potential to address a hard-to-treat disease. She was trying to influence her boss to dedicate time to explore it more. Another saw great potential for his organization to serve the community. He wanted the board to adopt a more ambitious agenda. As we dug into what they really wanted, their intentions were linked to the larger good of their organization or community. So tap into your larger purpose. It’s not only more motivating for you, it’s more motivating for others, too.

Get into Their Head

When we feel strongly about something, we think we’re right and we see all the relevant facts. So, we want to just tell them what they need to do, why it’s important, and have them go do it. However, they probably don’t see it the way you do.

Before you even start, get curious about what’s going on for them. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do they think they should do?
  • Why would they want to do that?
  • What needs, desires, concerns does it serve?
  • What data or sources are they looking at that tells them it’s a good idea?


Notice that the questions require more than just a yes/no reply. They are open ended questions that solicit lots of information. And you may learn things you didn’t know. So, think about what might be in their head and ask questions to really understand.

Don’t worry about getting it all right, and don’t worry if you don’t know. The point is to just get curious. Then begin your attempt to influence with questions. Really understand what’s going on for them. Once you understand – and they feel understood – your chances of influencing them go up, AND you’re more likely to reach an agreement that is even better than what you envisioned.

Pile on the Love

People want to be seen and appreciated. It’s a basic human need, and sorely missing in our workplaces. So when your coworker does something right, say “nice job”. When your boss asks for your feedback, say “thank you.” Make a point to regularly practice appreciation.

Without a doubt, this is the long-term approach to influence. No, you cannot go into your coworker’s office, drop an acknowledgement, and then immediately tell them what to do. But over time, people will come to appreciate that you see what they do. Then when you ask them to do something, you’ll have some rapport, trust, and respect to begin the process.

Step into Learning


Getting better at influence is a learning process. Sure, some people are born charismatic and seem to be naturally persuasive. Most mortal humans, however, need to develop the skill. When you recognize an opportunity for influence, take some time to prepare. What would you like to do differently this time? What would you like to keep doing? What do you need to support the behavior change? Notice what happens. How do you feel? How does the other person respond? What do want to keep doing? What do you want to do differently? By taking even a few minutes to prepare and then reflect on what happened, you will begin building your influence muscle. And who knows, maybe someday you will make it look like you were born with the skill to influence.