How to Lead in the Moment

impromptu speaking

Impromptu Leadership

Leaders today must be quick on their feet, have a ready answer, and operate at net speed.

Your credibility drops with ums and ahs.

Your leadership brand is sullied by blank stares or unclear answers.

No one is perfect, but it’s important to read an audience. It’s often important to improvise.

I know that I often credit my extemporaneous speaking to my early forensics club in high school and college, skills that I depend on every single day as the CEO of a global organization. It’s not something you’re born with, but something you can learn through careful practice and preparation.

Judith Humphrey, in her new book, Impromptu: Leading in the Moment, provides a perfect opportunity for every one of us to up our game and improve our skills. I’m always on a quest to improve my skills in this area, and that’s why I welcomed her book into my self-development arsenal.

I followed up with Judith to talk about her work in this area. Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group Inc., a top tier communications firm. For over thirty years, she has been a communications coach and speaker. She’s also a columnist for Fast Company.

 

The Importance of Extemporaneous Speaking

Why is extemporaneous speaking so important? 

Off-the-cuff remarks have become the new normal for business leaders. Organizations have flattened, and knowledge and decision-making are decentralized. Not long ago, messages were delivered from “on high.” Only those in the C-suite seemed to be empowered. Now leaders at all levels are speaking out and communicating in a more open, authentic, and informal manner.

Such everyday communications involve leading in the moment and speaking spontaneously. This is leadership in the organization of the twenty-first century. It takes place in corridors, elevators, meetings, interviews, networking events, and chats. Many small stages have replaced the big stage, and impromptu communication has become far more important than scripted speaking.

 

“Good impromptu speaking is a matter of words, scripts, and presence.” -Judith Humphrey

 

Most people think impromptu speaking would be an innate skill; you have it or you don’t. But you point out that it’s a skill you develop. Would you share some historical examples of people who practiced their extemporaneous speaking skills?

History provides many examples of individuals who faced the challenge of impromptu speaking—and discovered how to measure up to that challenge.

Abraham Lincoln told young lawyers that “extemporaneous speaking should be practiced and cultivated.” He showed his own gifts as a spontaneous speaker in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. Mark Twain talked about needing several hours to prepare an impromptu speech. Winston Churchill also believed in the value of preparing impromptu remarks. In one oft-quoted example, he paused before exiting his car as his driver opened the door for him, saying, “Please wait a moment, I’m still going over my ‘extemporaneous remarks.” Lou Gehrig prepared for his “Farewell to Baseball” speech, but did not read a text–he spoke spontaneously and without notes. And one of the greatest examples of prepared spontaneity is Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he improvised the centerpiece of the speech.

Even though we think of impromptu speaking as winging it, we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t prepare. In fact, the word “Impromptu” derives from the Latin in promptu meaning “in readiness.”

 

“Spontaneous, nonhierarchical dialogue is the new narrative for business leaders.” -Judith Humphrey

 

Embrace the Impromptu Mindset

What’s the impromptu mindset?

The impromptu mindset begins with intention – the willingness to see every situation as a potential leadership opportunity, whether it is an encounter in the corridor, an exchange in the elevator, or a comment interjected in a meeting dialogue. This intentionality is paramount for any leader who wants to make the most of impromptu opportunities.

Beyond that, the impromptu mindset includes the willingness to listen—to be engaged in what others say. Listening is critical if one is to avoid the one-way monologue that defined traditional executive communications.

The impromptu mindset also involves authenticity. Never before have leaders had to be so open with their audiences. Authentic leaders are comfortable in sharing their ideas, values, beliefs, vulnerabilities, and stories.

Finally, the impromptu mindset includes respectfulness and the ability to focus: everyday audiences need to be respected because each encounter involves—and can strengthen—a relationship. And in speaking off-the-cuff it’s critical to focus, because your impromptu audiences expect you to be there, truly present, for them.

 

“The most successful executives and managers see every encounter as a potential leadership moment.” -Judith Humphrey

 

How do you read your audience in advance?

How to Recruit Rockstars

rock stars

Recruit the Best

Jeff Hyman has hired more than 3,000 people over the course of his career as a top-tier executive recruiter. Jeff’s new book, Recruit Rockstars: The 10 Step Playbook to Find the Winners and Ignite Your Business, reveals his method for landing the very best talent.

I recently spoke with Jeff about his book and work. Here are a few ideas that will help you assemble a team of rock stars.

 

“90% of business problems are actually people problems in disguise.” -Jeff Hyman

 

Recruiting Mistakes

What percentage of business problems do you attribute to recruiting mishaps?

  • 90% of business problems are actually people problems in disguise.
  • Hiring B and C Players can cause more problems than staffing these roles solve
    • They may do the job, but do they do it well? And if they don’t do it well, that’s another problem to fix.
    • B and C Players need to be micromanaged, which distracts the leader’s time from improving the company’s performance.
  • By investing in hiring Rockstars, you can take time away from micromanaging and fixing the problems of B and C Players

 

“Hiring the best is your most important task.” -Steve Jobs

 

Improve Recruiting Accuracy

How to Turn Disagreeable Clients Into Your Best Customers

difficult customers

Dealing With Difficult Customers

It’s not easy running a business today. A single customer complaint, handled improperly, can send your business into a tailspin. At the same time, if you respond to every single customer complaint, you end up wasting time and money chasing an unsolvable problem.

Enter Noah Fleming and Shawn Veltman, who have written a new book, Dealing with Difficult Customers: How to Turn Demanding, Dissatisfied, and Disagreeable Clients Into Your Best Customers. I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about their work in dealing with customers.

 

When the Customer Is Blatantly Wrong

You say that, “The customer is not always right. In fact, the customer is often blatantly wrong.” Share your perspective on this. How did “the customer is always right” develop and where did it go wrong?

All of your readers will have their own favorite “unreasonable or crazy customer stories.” In our experience, after complaining about accountants and management, it’s in most salespeople’s top five favorite cocktail party conversation topics.

We start our book with a list of completely clueless, hilarious, and real customer complaints.

Our favorites are:

  • “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits, like custard creams or ginger nuts.” 
  • “Although the brochure said there was a ‘fully equipped kitchen,’ there was no egg slicer in the drawers.”  
  • “We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers, as they were all Spanish.”

Funny when you read them, but scary when you hear that these are 100% real complaints left by real customers. Is the customer right to be upset that the local store doesn’t sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts? Or a customer who complains of too many Spanish people in Spain? Of course not. In these examples, the customers are blatantly nuts.

This idea that “the customer is always right” is one of those things that’s easy for management to tell their frontline employees; it sounds good in practice, and it leads to tremendous wasted time, effort, and often burnout.  Because, sometimes, you really do have to fire customers – one of the things we talk about at length in the book.  Telling your people that the customer is always right is asking them to close their eyes to reality, and when you ask them to do that, it hurts your ability to ask them to do anything else.  After all, with some of the complaints above, how could those customers be right?  What does it mean to treat the customer as if they’re right?

How to Survive Against Fierce Competition

shortcut

Dealing With Competition

The Reum brothers, Courtney and Carter, are known for their roles on the television show Hatched. They are also behind many household brand names including big names such as Lyft, Pinterest, Warby Parker, and Shake Snack. Their new book, Shortcut Your Startup: Speed Up Success with Unconventional Advice from the Trenches is full of advice and shortcuts for those who want to take a start-up organization and scale it quickly.

 

In the Introduction of your book, you talk about both how it’s cheaper and easier than ever to start a business but also that the competition is more fierce than ever, too. What are the implications of these market forces?

The effects are twofold. On one hand, an abundance of resources has recently come into existence that—in a vacuum—would make life infinitely easier for any entrepreneur. Obvious examples are Kickstarter, social media marketing, Amazon’s e-commerce platform, data analytics—the list goes on. Obviously, these facilitate the arduous and historically expensive process of starting a business. Just look at the following graph showing the decrease in time needed to scale a brand.

Copyright Reum Brothers, Used by Permission.

The problem with these resources, however, is that everybody has access to them. Since these goods and services simplify business building, more and more people enter the landscape and competition increases. While the increased number of competitors certainly is an implication, a more important one is that it becomes significantly more difficult for the best business to separate itself from the crowd.

 

Use a Microscope and a Telescope

Another juxtaposition of ideas is from the old saying that you need to have a microscope on one eye and a telescope on another. You also use the speedboat versus sailboat analogy. Talk about this and how aspiring entrepreneurs need to understand the differences and their role.