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: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/look-your-eye-ingrid-gudenas.
#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.”
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