How to Get that Promotion - Executive Insight

I’ve been helping people get promoted for 30 years. Not to mention land big raises too. It's one of the things I most like about my work - helping people achieve their aspirations and dreams.

Recently I’ve had a wave of Directors and Senior Directors I’ve helped become VPs and I thought I'd share 7 key ingredients with you as, for some reason, getting the VP offer seems to be particularly tricky. These ingredients are necessary for ALL leadership roles, yet it seems it’s too easy to get stuck at Director level.

What do you do when you find yourself hitting an invisible wall you can't seem to get through as you're seeking that next step in your career? You come with your innate strategic abilities, you're able to span your attention and efforts across the organization, and you know you can impact key metrics in a meaningful way. Yet, there's that illusive something that seems to be missing.

But the thing I've seen hold people back more than anything is not these items. It's their ability to communicate.

Let's look at why.

As you progress up the organization, your communication skills increasingly go under a microscope.

By the time you’re CEO, you're not only living with this fact of life, you get used to having the magnification turned up to 400X.

What this means is every flaw you have is magnified. So flaws that you get away with as Manager, or as Director, are the kiss of death once you start looking at VP and above.

The reason for this is obvious. Your communication is now going to impact a lot of people. They’re going to read into everything you say and how you say it. There are consequences to even the slightest attitudes you have. Every communication from you matters. It's your main tool for making things happen.

And, most importantly, at these higher levels, it's your communication, and ability to communicate extremely well even under adverse circumstances, that's going to make or break the success of the organization.

What I've seen with my clients is, one for one, when they dramatically improved some very specific leadership type communication skills needed at the higher levels, the promotions not only happened, they happened ahead of schedule.

This is actually true at all levels of the organization, but especially dramatic for the leap between Director and VP.

So what specific skills cause you to rise above and be chosen? The sooner you start manifesting these skills, the sooner your organization organically selects you to be its next leader. It's inevitable. I've seen too much success with these specific skills to think otherwise.

Let me start with a broad statement about the feedback that many of my clients were given prior to coming to me.

I found it interesting that most of my clients were told they needed to develop “executive presence”. 

It's true they did need to develop it, but what was fascinating was they had no clue what it was. To them it was some magical aura that’s invisible but somehow communicates to everyone that you're a leader. It was a total enigma how to do it. They helplessly thought “Some people have it naturally and some (like me) don’t.” They had no idea of the anatomy of this utterly mysterious but vital necessity, which of course put them in a position where there's no hope they’ll ever develop it.

It’s sad that the people giving this feedback don’t themselves know what “executive presence” is. This term is so wildly open to interpretation, it means radically different things to different people. Fortunately, I’ve been helping people develop it for years and can explain, simplify and teach it.

By the way, I love seeing "executive presence" manifest. I feel lucky I get to see it manifest in a very rapid and dramatic fashion in a matter of 3 days because I do “before” and “after” videos of my clients. I just saw it yesterday with my most recent Senior Director. In his first video he looked like a Director. In his final video he looked like an Executive VP and he even had what most people would call an “aura”. 

So, let's look at the anatomy of this aura. 

And how you can start manifesting these skills now yourself to accelerate your next promotion.

#1. Don't be frazzled.

Frazzled means you come across as overly stressed and somewhat overwhelmed. Being frazzled is an "executive presence" killer. Directors and below are frequently frazzled, with good reason of course. However, while you shouldn’t even do it at the lower levels, you really can’t afford to do it at the upper levels. 

When you're a Vice President, if you get frazzled it freaks people out. A Vice President needs to communicate with poise, calm, be in the moment, not have his/her attention ping-ponging all over the place. The best Executives stop all their mental noise and are calm and in the moment. People walk in to meetings with this kind of Executive full of mental noise themselves and find their own noise calms down and vaporizes in the presence of real self-command. It gets calm.

#2. Senior executives have a strong sense of dignity.

This is a big component of “executive presence”. The last 100+ clients that I asked what the word “dignity” means gave me woefully inadequate or incorrect definitions for it. This is a very important word to know. “Dignity” is the sense of being worthy of esteem and honor. Many of my clients try hard to please others, look to others for approval, let others determine their value, they lose their own sense of worth. Some of them have been hammered by bad feedback and coaching and don’t have a strong sense of their own value. They will say, "I do good work", but that is a far cry from a robust sense of dignity. Dignity radiates from within. It’s not the same as confidence. It’s definitely not arrogance which rubs everyone the wrong way. Dignity is your own sense of being worthy. It's a skill to be able to communicate with dignity. It can be developed. It gives you an aura. It’s vital in the skill set of a senior executive.

#3. Every successful senior executive I’ve seen or worked with communicates with a superior level of intention.

Intention is not effort, it’s not putting energy into it, it's not trying hard. Intention is senior to effort. It commands attention and understanding. Many people communicate with intent. Executives do it at a superior level. It's the difference between watching someone play tennis on weekends or a champion professional. The amateur doesn’t have the skills to win at the same level, no matter how hard they try or how positive their attitude. This level of communication penetrates, inspires, makes things happen. It is true leadership level communication. I say a lot about this in my LinkedIn article called “The Look in Your Eye”. Here’s the link for it:

#4. Give your undivided attention to the person who's talking to you.

Look into their eyes, both when you're speaking as well as listening. When you’re on the phone, make the world go away, tune in and feel the presence of the other person fully. 

Directors and below have so much going on, they’re frequently trying to multitask. With those executives who I would say are very noteworthy, I hear the people around them say, “Wow, when you talk with him/her you feel like you're the only person in the world.” Why is this important? Because people want to be led by someone who makes them feel that way. How you make people feel has everything to do with whether not they want you to lead them.

I recently had someone email me this about his new VP: “I love him! I get 100% of his focus. I feel fantastic talking to him. He’s not rushed. I feel like an eternity has gone by, I hang up the phone and realize it was a 12 minute conversation. That kind of impact in 12 minutes! WOW!”

#5. You need the ability to make deep human connections, to build a warm rapport with anyone.

Your ability to make a deep and real human connection determines how much trust you will enjoy. There's a world of difference between "talking" and making a deep connection, and the difference will have a big impact on your career: Getting others to open up and your ability to listen play a big part in this. I have worked with many people who are trustworthy, but they didn’t know how to make deep connections and people didn't trust them. Once they learned how to make that deep connection, trust grew rapidly. Trust is the basis of the real, solid cooperation you’ll need.

#6. You need to communicate so well that you have the ability to make resistance and conflict evaporate.

The reason for this is because unhandled conflict in the organization will escalate to your level. By the time it gets to you, no one below you has been able to handle it - it will be up to you to make conflict go away.

Of course, the best thing you can do is prevent conflict in the first place. Conflict can almost always be prevented with outstanding communication. Disagreement is a natural part of life when you’re dealing with many viewpoints, but there’s absolutely no reason it needs to turn into conflict. I have seen over and over with clients that conflict is never a result of the issues, it is always a result of communication and understanding breaking down.

While we experience a lot of successful communication, there is nothing in this world that breaks down faster, or with more frequency, than communication …. nothing. As advanced as we are as a civilization, as much communication technology as we have at our fingertips, as breathtaking are our opportunities to communicate to each other and to the world, we still experience communication breakdowns daily, both at work and at home, on a personal, organizational and even international level. You need to be able to rapidly repair it when it breaks.

And when you’re high up in the organization, you’re dealing with so many people, so many multiple viewpoints, so many realities, it becomes important that you can manage all of them simultaneously. It kills your organization if you don't.

Start to demonstrate that conflict and resistance do not happen around you, and that when they do, you confront it head on and make them evaporate and get everything rapidly moving forward, and the people in power will naturally put you in a leadership role very quickly because managing communication, other people's perceptions, realities, expectations, frustrations is an enormous part of a leader's job. 

#7. An unspoken question they’ll ask about you before they decide to promote you is, “Will the organization be happy under him/her?” This is another way of asking, “How good are your communication skills? Are they at a leadership and executive level?” 

It takes outrageously great communication skill to not only communicate well with the person in front of you, but to do it so well that it carries through the rest of the organization.

If you start demonstrating these skills now, I see a promotion in your future regardless of where you are in the organization.

These skills are rare. They will accelerate and raise the trajectory of your career and your income. You’ll feel like this client who recently emailed me:

“I am convinced that the skills I learned have been the biggest factors in changing the trajectory of my career. There is no doubt about it. It makes me smile to compare conversations I had before, where they labeled me as a “strong practitioner” to the daily interactions I have now with senior executives who promoted me 3X in 2 years and treat me like a “high level leader”. I was the only person out of the 500+ of us to receive this many promotions and this particular level of promotion. It is heady stuff and very exciting.”

If you want to have these skills, go to:  Causative Communication

If you would like to subscribe to Causative Catalyst, you'll receive weekly support via email. I'm going to share what I've learned in the past 34 years, give you new tools, tell you client stories. You'll have new insights, new things to try. 

No cost, nothing being sold. We don’t share your information with anyone.

Each issue has 1 goal: Help you assume a causative role in your communications so you can transform any situation to live life on your terms.

If that's what you want, I invite you to begin your subscription to Causative Catalyst. Scroll down a little to the subscription box:

Why relationships are nothing like driving your car

If I want to take a fabulous road trip back to my hometown of Philadelphia, fundamentally I’d decide when I wanted to leave and arrive, I’d map out the route, plan the stops, pack, get in the driver’s seat, start the car and drive.  I’d go straight when I wanted to go straight, turn right when I wanted to turn right, stay on my route, get out to stretch whenever I felt like.   I’d follow my plan, drive as fast, or as slow, as I liked … and I’d eventually get to Philadelphia.  If I were by myself, there wouldn’t be any conflict.  I’d get the outcome I wanted, the way I wanted it, when I wanted it.

Relationships aren’t like that.

Relationships aren’t even like having a passenger in the car. Any relationship you have, whether at work or in your personal life, is like driving a dual-control car. You’re in the same car, but the other person also has their own steering wheel they can turn, and their own full set of controls, including a gas pedal that can accelerate the car anytime, not to mention a set of brakes.  Two people controlling 1 car.

With dual controls, you're going to have a serious problem if the other person turns right while you're turning left, or if they put their foot down on the brake while yours is hard on the gas pedal.

In a car this seems obvious, but in personal and professional relationships I often see two people simultaneously trying to control where the “car” is going and this creates endless difficulty.  I see them struggle for control, or one just gives up in frustration and lets the other take the wheel.  Not a recipe for happiness.  Bad road trip. 

Managing any relationship is like managing a dual-control car.  First of all, it's probably a good idea to agree on the destination. If I want to go to Philadelphia and the other person wants to just cruise up and down California’s coast Highway 1, one is east, the other’s west, we're going to continuously steer in different directions, making the car look crazy, going all over the road.  And there’s one thing that’s certain. Neither are we going to get to Philadelphia, nor are we going to have a nice cruise along the coast down Highway 1.  I’ve seen many personal relationships that look like this, but also many that my clients have at work in large corporations.

And if you think about working on a team or with a group, it can get even crazier the more people are involved controlling the 1 car.  If you don’t all agree on exactly where you want to end up, you can get stuck in places no one wanted.  Not to mention when trust is missing and you’re not looking, they can step on the brakes or turn the wheel – and suddenly you find yourself on a strange road and you don’t know how you got there or how to get out.

It's amazing how things smooth out once you agree on the destination. So this is a skill it's really handy to have:  the ability to get anyone, in any situation, under any circumstance, to come to an agreement with you regarding the destination. Of course, that's just the beginning, but without this beginning you may never even make it out of the driveway.

Let me give you a real example.  I had a client who was trying to negotiate a partnership between his large corporation and another one.   Both stuck in their ways.  They were so busy arguing about what the other side should give them, they didn’t realize they hadn't really agreed whether they both even wanted a partnership.  The whole thing was coming across like something my client was trying to “force down their throats”.  So, he backed the discussions away from the areas of conflict and got them both to discuss, and then agree, they actually did want a partnership, that it should be a real partnership where 1+1 was much greater than 2, that both organizations should benefit tremendously.  It sounds simple, but it took a couple of skillfully conducted meetings just to get to that agreement to even have a partnership. But once that agreement was solidly in place, everything else proceeded smoothly, additional agreements happened rather rapidly and their partnership was announced in the news.

So, the first question to ask when you’re in this dual-controlled car is – what’s the destination we both/all fully agree on and can commit to?   And then use your skills to make that agreement and commitment real.

By the way, I did several fabulous road trips from Philadelphia to California, where I now live. America is stunning.   Took my time, 3 months.   Appalachian Mountains, Mississippi River, Kansas cornfields, Rocky Mountains, magical New Mexico, Utah’s Lake Powell, Grand Canyon, and up the incomparable California coast Highway 1.  When you do a trip like this, you really have to get along well with anyone in the car with you!

Wishing you good travels and relationships on your journey!


Why I'm an Educator

Many people think “education” stops with school and is replaced by “training” in business.  They’re missing the true, very uplifting, definition of education.  I thought you might like this exploration of words and their meanings, the precise words that define a very liberating experience.

I’ve been in the business world for over 30 years.  I’ve been called a consultant, trainer, coach, instructor, and instructional designer.  Because I’ve specialized in working with large corporations, the word “educator” has hardly ever been used.  And yet, that is how I see myself.  Let me tell you why.

The word “education” came from “educare”, a Latin word meaning “to lead out”.  Despite many examples to the contrary, it has nothing to do with “depositing information into another person.”

Education’s not a “putting in.”  It’s a “leading out.”

The real definition of “education” can be found in Webster’s New World College Dictionary which says education is the process of developing the latent faculties and powers of a person.  Let’s take these words apart and see what they mean for you.

“FACULTIES” are exceptional abilities or aptitudes.  Think of faculties as a whole package of abilities that combine to create far beyond ordinary competence.

“LATENT” means present but not actualized.  Actualized means “made actual or real.” Latent means these abilities are there … but are not yet revealed or visible.  You can’t quite see them yet.

“POWER” means a great ability to produce a result.

“OF A PERSON” – “Of” means “belonging to” – this means, these abilities and powers already belong to you.

“DEVELOP” means to take from one stage of growth to another.

“PROCESS” means how you do something.

Good education is the process of developing your latent faculties.  It helps you take your latent powers from one stage of growth to another until they are fully visible and under your complete control.

Your latent faculties or powers can be at any stage of development.  What’s important is that they ARE there inside you already; they belong to you even now.  True education just develops them, one stage to the next, until they are fully revealed.

How latent can they be?  Well, they could just be a seed.  If you’re reading this, you’re at least aware of something inside you that could be great.  That’s a seed.

Or perhaps the seed has sprouted and this ability is growing – underground.  It hasn’t broken soil yet where others can see it.  You can feel it emerging, but right now, you’re the only one who sees it.

Perhaps your plant has broken soil and is now a tiny green shoot above ground.

Or perhaps the plant has grown taller and is starting to actually look like something.

Wherever you are in these stages, a great educator takes you from one phase through all stages of development until you arrive at your own sense of, “WOW!”

The important thing to know is that you already have powers, meaning you have great abilities to produce results, whether that power is a seed or a visibly growing plant … you’re capable of all I’ve written here.

Perhaps someone has stepped on and squashed your plant before it had time to grow.  Education helps you with that too.

True education simply helps you keep developing your faculties and powers, leading them out, until you’re unmistakably powerful.



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The Look in Your Eyes

The look in your eye tells me everything I need to know.  I can tell by the look in your eye if you are going to win, barely maintain, or lose.

What is it I see?  I see the strength of your intention.  The strength of your intention tells me how it’s going to turn out for you.

Intention is not generally well understood.  Back when Noah Webster published the first American dictionary in 1828, he stated a great definition for it.  He said intention is:  when the mind with great earnestness fixes its view on any idea, purpose or goal, and will not be called off.  To be in earnest is to be very determined and deliberate in stretching towards an objective. To fix is to establish immovably, without wandering. 

To call something off means to decide it will not happen.  Will not be called off means that nothing – nothing – can make you decide that the outcome you want might not happen.

The word intention comes from the Latin word intentio which meant a stretching out.

Intention is when you have decided the outcome that will happen in advance and this decision is so strong, the only outcome possible is the outcome that you decided. 

Intention is certainty.

I first saw Stephen Curry play basketball in March 4, 2013.  I knew nothing about the Warriors.  The last basketball game I went to before this one was before the turn of the century.  I went to this game because it was a special event for Lithuanians (I’m Lithuanian – the relationship between that and basketball is a story for another day).  That night the Warriors were 2 years from winning the 2015 NBA Championship … with no sign they would win. 

I saw the look in Stephan Curry’s eyes and knew.  I knew he was a star.  I knew the Warriors would go on to win the NBA Championship and that it wouldn’t happen right away (because I didn’t see the same look in everyone else’s eye).  I knew he would uplift the team.  I knew he would uplift the city of Oakland (which you know he did in a big way if you were at the amazing celebration after they won).  I saw that much intention in his eyes.

I wasn’t watching how he played … I was watching the look in his eye.  The intention was unmistakable.  I rarely see that much intention in others and was powerfully impressed.  Look at those eyes.  You can see from the look in his eyes:  he will not be called off.

So, I did something I have never done in my life …. On March 4, 2013 I started following a sports team.  I’ve enjoyed every moment, but I have not been the least bit surprised as the story unfolded and we’ve witnessed the Warriors become one of the best teams in NBA history.  With Stephen Curry as one of the best players ever.

Earlier this week they lost the 1st game of the NBA Western Conference finals to Oklahoma City Thunder.  I wasn’t surprised when this happened either.  I saw the look in their eyes before the game.  I wasn’t looking at anything physical or how they were playing.  Just the look in their eyes.  Intention had diminished.

Yesterday morning, hours before their 2nd game, I read an article by local Sports writer, Tim Kawakami.  He saw the Warriors at practice the day before and wrote:  “Stephen Curry had the look, Draymond Green had the look, Andrew Bogut had the look, Andre Iguodala had the look, Steve Kerr had the look.  Even team Consultant Steve Nash, in a rare practice visit had a unique kind of focused/relaxed/super-alert look on his face at Warriors headquarters.”

I thought, “Ahhhhh …. They’re going to win tonight ….”  And they did.  What a game.

How does this relate to you?  How do you get enough intention to give you that look in your eye?  How do you become the Stephen Curry of your world?

It’s not physical.  It comes from within.

What kills it is uncertainty, doubt, indecision.  Most people have a hard time completely eliminating these from their thoughts.  But that is what it takes.  Making an unwavering decision about an objective and not allowing yourself to be called off.  Very simply, you make a decision and the decision is that strong.  No “maybe yes, but maybe no”.

Don’t confuse this with stubbornness, aggressiveness, force or bullying.  Intention is none of these.  People with these qualities (qualities that drive others away) always have very little, if any, true intention.  Intention is a decision and a consideration – it’s at the level of thought, not energy - and has nothing to do with force.  People with high intention are also capable of extremely gentle and warm communication and very respectful listening – as you can also see with Stephen Curry.

No one can diminish your intention but you.  No one can increase your intention but you.  Your degree of intention has nothing to do with your environment or your circumstances.  We would like to assign responsibility for what happens to us elsewhere because it lets us off the hook. But it’s not the truth.  People had told Stephen Curry he wasn’t going to make it as a basketball player.  He never let it monitor his intention.

His certainty about winning is so great, he doesn’t even turn around to look to see if his shot went in.

The general population doesn’t fully realize how vital intention is.  They don’t realize they didn’t succeed because they didn’t have enough intention.

I’ve worked with losers, mediocre performers and rock stars in their profession, including the world’s foremost experts in their field.  The biggest distinguishing factor is their intention.  I’ve seen amazing stories (and I know you have too) of people, when the world was against them and intention is ALL they had … and they won.

Intention is like a muscle.  It’s one of your greatest capabilities.  The more you exercise it, the bigger it will grow.  You have it in unlimited quantity.  You create it. 

There is nothing you can’t do.  There is no dream that is unattainable for you.  Your intention is powerful magic.  Stretch toward that objective you want.  Make that decision to win.  Decide to have certainty and confidence, complete freedom from doubt about winning.  Don’t be called off.  Use your intention to make it happen.  And win.

The world will see it in the look in your eye … and know that you are a winner.

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The Difference Between Women and Men

If you asked my father about the difference between women and men, he would have said men were better drivers (something he commented on frequently while driving, my mother, sister and I surrounding him in the car, talking over each other to argue him down).  He certainly did like to provoke us.

In the 1980’s we did a survey and found men thought women talk too much and women complained men didn’t listen.  Now, there’s a recipe for frustration!

Two weeks ago I worked with a group of all women.  Last week I worked with a group of all men.   These two groups made me take a fresh look. 

The women were interested in talking about communication at work.  The men were interested in talking about communication at home with their spouses and children.  Isn’t that interesting?

The women needed more coaching on how to get their communication across, how to be fully understood, the art of delivering a compelling message.  They needed a boost in confidence, were concerned about their credibility and being heard.  One woman, for example, practiced telling her co-workers they need to improve the quality of their work (difficult for her to do initially without shrinking into herself). 

The men needed more coaching on how to listen, how to really give their full attention (and I mean truly undivided attention) and be strongly interested all the way through to the end.  The guys initially had trouble making it even to the 30 second mark before “checking out”.

What was interesting to me was that you could say they did fit stereotypes …. but only at the beginning of the training.  Not at the end.  By the end of the training they were all excellent communicators, each with their own unique style and charisma, no two alike, extremely distinct personalities.  You would look at them and think, “You are truly you; you are truly one of a kind.”

I had a stunning realization.  People fit stereotypes when they are missing communication skills.  An engineer who doesn’t know how to start and carry a conversation gets labeled an “introvert”.  A sales guy who pushes his message without listening is called a “typical sales guy”.  Stereotype labels abound:  emotional, aggressive, geek, insensitive, millennial, etc, etc, etc.  Anytime someone uses the word “typical” a stereotype follows.

But, this is what I see over and over again.  Once they have the full range of communication skills, no one ever again fits a stereotype.  Stereotypes put attention on what is lacking, what is missing in communication.  When this is remedied, the power of a person’s communication defies stereotypes.

You can see this with historical figures who were extraordinary communicators.  Mahatma Gandhi was a typical what?  Margaret Thatcher fits which stereotype?  Winston Churchill was just like whom?  Nelson Mandela is a classic what? 

Even today:  Arianna Huffington is just like which other person you know?  Oprah reminds you of what group of people who are just like her?  Bill Clinton is in what category?  Sheryl Sandberg reminds you of whom?  There is no one like any of them.

Why does extraordinary communication seem so rare?  Because few people master all of it.  Communication doesn’t require one or two skills – it requires the mastery of at least 20 separate skills (I’m being very conservative here) and the ability to weave them all together effortlessly during conversations or presentations, usually while thinking on your feet. 

That’s where training in communication skills comes into play.  Good instruction helps you take your skills from where they are today to exceptional, so that when you communicate, you are truly you, and there is no mistaking that. 

We tend to stereotype or label when we can’t communicate to someone.  Communication is the only thing that opens the door to true understanding. 

Next time you find a label or stereotype filling your thoughts about someone, take a look and see how you can take your communication with that person to the next level to reach the full understanding that will satisfy you.

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