Over ten years ago, I found myself in a class for leaders and managers. After building rapport and working to create a safe environment of trust, the class facilitator decided to have us go around the room and share our insecurities and fears. The coach was specifically homing in on our weaknesses and asking for us to be transparent with others in the room.
As we worked around a small circle, one woman was visibly nervous. When it was her turn, it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned her red. She stumbled over her words as she explained how fearful she was to speak in public. Even in a safe situation with supportive friends, she still was nervous to share. We learned that she even had nightmares where she was in front of a room, perched behind a podium, and she misplaced her notes and looked out at a sea of unforgiving faces. Another attendee encouraged her and told her that she was better off avoiding these events so she didn’t trigger her fears.
The fear of public speaking grips many people who avoid it at all costs.
I want to share why this “avoidance thinking” is toxic to aspiring leaders.
“Fear the fear of public speaking and do it anyway.” –Arvee Robinson
Recently, I spoke to my local chapter of Toastmasters and shared 7 reasons why learning to speak in public is vitally important.
1. Overcome your fear.
There’s enormous power in mastering and overcoming a fear, whatever it is. I can recall the smile on a new rock climber’s face when he conquered his fear. “I have never felt so alive and free,” he said to me soon after completing his climb. That same feeling happens if you overcome a fear of public speaking, and – at least to me – it’s a whole lot easier than climbing a mountain.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, and to sit down and listen.” –Winston Churchill
When you not only are able to overcome your fear but also become proficient at it, then your confidence soars. Confidence is often more compelling than competence. I don’t know what happened to the nervous woman after the class ended, but during the few days of our classes, she saw remarkable improvement. You could feel her confidence building.
“Competence without confidence just doesn’t cut it.” –Derek Lewis
Great public speakers attract opportunities. Why? Speaking makes you visible. You’re in front of the room, so that’s rather obvious. But the fact is that your credibility is enhanced. You become an expert.
“It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach, just get them to fly in formation.” –Rob Gilbert
Leadership is all about influence, about persuasion, about taking people from one point and moving them to another. Speaking is part of that process of persuasion and often the most powerful part. Anything that helps increase your influence is generally a good move.
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s a skill that anyone can learn. And Samuel B. Bacharach, the author of The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough, is an expert in execution. He is also co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group, which focuses on training leaders in the skills of the Agenda Mover, and is the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Sam about his newest book and turning ideas into reality.
Develop the Qualities of an Agenda Mover
Having a great idea is not enough. You teach a process for taking an idea into actionable reality. Before we go into your process, what leadership qualities are essential to being an effective agenda mover?
First and foremost, Agenda Movers keep their egos in check. They are aware that – no matter how good they think their idea is—there may be other perspectives out there. They understand that confidence is one thing, but they know ego can lead to delusion.
Second, Agenda Movers are deeply empathetic. I use that word in a very specific way, meaning that Agenda Movers are capable of standing in the shoes of other people and are capable of seeing the world from varied perspectives. They can see their agenda not only from their perspective but also from the perspective of others.
Third, Agenda Movers tactically focus. They are mindful of small details and tactics. They understand that charisma, bombastic ideas, and grand promises work only up to a point and that what is really needed to get things done are micro-behavioral skills.
Lastly, Agenda Movers understand that they can’t do it alone. To get anything done they need to have others in their corner. They understand the importance of coalitions, and they are able to adopt a coalition mindset.
If you look at the great Agenda Movers out there—these are the characteristics they all share.
“Agenda Movers understand what it takes to move things forward.” –Samuel Bacharach
The first step of your strategic blueprint is to anticipate others’ agendas and know where they’re coming from. I recall one person just totally missing it, oblivious to what seemed to be obvious signs. How do you help aspiring leaders to be more situationally aware of others and their motivations?
I think this is the number one mistake leaders make: They don’t spend enough time focusing on where others are coming from.
I remember years ago a student of mind was asking for advice on defending her dissertation in front of five faculty members I knew. The main advice I gave her was to stop focusing on her dissertation and instead to focus on the dissertations and research that the members of the committee had done. Simply put, I told her, “You know where you’re coming from. Make sure you know where they are coming from.”
Good Agenda Movers do their homework and I mean that literally. They dedicate time to figuring out there others stand, how they think, and what they want. They don’t presume they are born with situational awareness—they develop it and work on it.
Too often we look for shortcuts in trying to figure out the agendas of others. We think that if we understand their background or their personality, we can generalize their motivation and intention. This belief is both lazy and wrong. For most people, whether in organizations or in politics, motivation is determined by the specific agenda, not simply by personality.
An individual may be a staunch traditionalist on one issue and a complete revolutionary on another issue. Leaders who make quick summations about the agendas of others and don’t do their homework are bound to make mistakes.
“Leadership is about building a coalition that can turn an innovative idea into reality.” –Samuel Bacharach
Gaining traction and initial support is crucial. If you’re met with resistance, what do you do?
First of all, resistance should never come as a surprise to anyone. All leaders, all organizational actors, will face resistance—it’s just a question of when and how much.
In our political and organizational systems, resistance is part and parcel of the checks and balances that improve what we’re trying to accomplish.
So for starters, don’t let resistance throw you for a loop. Don’t let it shock you. Don’t let it root you to the ground. Instead, you should expect it and have a plan to deal with it.
I argue in my book that there are only a handful of ways people can resist an idea. To the surprise of my students, this really isn’t a daunting challenge. There are a limited number of ways resistance can argue against any idea and leaders can easily defend against these arguments with a little preparation. Once you’re able to categorize the arguments of resistance, you will be able to apply your counter arguments of justification.
Leadership Tip: Know where you want to go and whose support you need to get there.
The first thing you need to understand is what type of resistance you’re facing.
In my book I look at three main types of resistors in an organizational context: active resistors, passive resistors, and internal resistors.
While I always support leaders building a wide swath of support, they might have the hardest time convincing active resistors to join their coalition. At some point, an Agenda Mover should move on and not waste his or her time.
Good Agenda Movers focus on talking with passive resistors. They are those actors who aren’t actively undermining your efforts, but certainly are not helping them, either. Since they are on the fence, so to speak, a leader can be clever and find ways to incorporate them into his or her coalition by presenting potential benefits to them.
Lastly, there are internal resistors—those who sneak into a coalition in a Trojan Horse. Agenda Movers can prevent them from showing up by monitoring their coalition and making sure they don’t let team traction and momentum slip after an initial surge.
“Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” -Martin Luther King
Once you get going, you need to sustain the momentum. How do you use small victories effectively? Why do some ideas die in this stage?
Some leaders are great at mobilizing political support for their agenda. They’re great at convincing people of the need for innovation and change. They’re great at getting others to join them. But they drop the ball once they mobilize support. It’s sort of like the politician who gets elected but doesn’t deliver.
These leaders stop doing their homework. They stop thinking about the team. They lose their focus and start looking toward the horizon for another big project or a big career move. As a result, they leave it to their coalition to work out the day-to-day details of implementing a new idea.
Agenda Movers can’t relax once they start building some traction. If anything, they need to work harder to drive momentum by not only celebrating small victories but also by providing the right resources and maintaining optimism. They have to supplement the prudent political competence they have used to gain support with a managerial capacity to make sure that things keep on moving. Like I said, it is one thing to gain support and it is another to deliver.
“People who produce good results feel good about themselves.” –Ken Blanchard
Throughout all of our discussion and throughout all of Henna’s writing, I noticed a key theme: service to others. Everything we do should be in a place of service. It’s one of the reasons I was drawn to her work.
“Authentic leadership is about leading from the core of who we are.” -Henna Inam
Jesse Itzler doesn’t do conventional. He doesn’t follow the social norms most of us do. He is a bold, risk taking entrepreneur who seemingly tries anything. He once pretended to be a major hip-hop artist to get a meeting with a studio executive and ended up with a recording deal.
But hire one of the toughest men on the planet to get you into the best shape of your life? Jesse did just that. I recently asked the wildly successful and completely unorthodox Jesse Itzler to share some of his experiences. His new book Living with a Seal: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet, is a hilarious account of his physical fitness journey. (Warning: the book contains language that may be offensive to some readers.)
“It doesn’t have to be fun It has to be effective.” -SEAL
I’m not quite sure how to describe you, but you’ve had crazy success from music to business. You cofounded Marquis Jet, invested in ZICO, and your wife invented SPANX. That seems like you would be someone who would make wise decisions. And then I read this hilarious book and wonder about that assumption. For those who want to emulate your success, how do you describe your decision-making process?
We are totally on the same page because I really don’t know how to describe myself either. I have always lived my life out of the box, and it has brought me great rewards. For the most part, my decision making has been based on my gut mixed with a philosophy of let me get my foot in the door first . . . and then figure the rest out later.
“If you want to be pushed to your limits, you have to train to your limits.” -SEAL
Jesse, you see a crazy in-shape SEAL and decide he should move in with you and your family. You don’t know him; you didn’t do a background check; you agree to do whatever he says. ARE YOU INSANE? Why did you do this?
I met SEAL at a 24 hour ultra marathon. I ran the race as part of a relay team, and SEAL ran the entire 24 hour race . . . alone. He was his own team. He had a determination and focus that I had never witnessed before in my life. I decided on the spot that I could learn a lot from that man.
How to Help Your People, Team, and Organization Achieve
In the Seven Disciplines of a Leader, Jeff Wolf explores what leadership looks like when done right. Jeff has coached hundreds of leaders and offers his disciplines in order to benefit leaders at all levels of the organization. I recently talked with Jeff about the leadership disciplines discussed in his book.
“Companies place the wrong leadership in the job 82 percent of the time.” –Forbes
What advice do you give to someone who wants to stand out and get noticed as a leader in a large organization?
Learn what your company looks for in its leaders. See if there’s a competency model that identifies successful leaders’ strengths and characteristics. Study this model and be sure to practice the competencies. If no such model exists, seek out successful company leaders and talk with them to gain a better understanding of how they became successful.
You should also volunteer to lead small projects, which will provide useful leadership experiences and exposure. You’ll gain confidence and enhance the skill sets that are weak.
Always be curious. Seek new opportunities and experiences, and always be open to trying something out of your normal comfort zone.
I would encourage budding and aspiring leaders to create a plan, put it in writing, and then “work it.” Research proves that people who put their goals in writing are usually more successful.
Read as many books and attend as many training courses as possible, both within and outside of the company. Vary courses so you can experience a broad spectrum of leadership skills.
“A leader’s upbeat attitude is contagious and lifts morale.” -Jeff Wolf
There’s another important challenge to overcome: Learn the areas in which you must improve because we all have blind spots. We see some of our weaknesses, but it’s truly impossible to identify all of them.
It’s important for leaders to be positive and have a great attitude because they can either impart or sap energy. A leader’s upbeat attitude becomes contagious, lifting the morale of those around them. You can always teach skills, but you cannot always teach people how to be positive; they either have a great attitude or they don’t.
Be sure you are striving to work well with others and be aware how other people view you. When you stand up to speak in front of a group, do you exude confidence, present articulate, clear messages, and carry yourself well?
Coaching for Success
What is the most common reason someone calls you for coaching?
Coaching used to be thought of as a tool to help correct underperformance or, as I often call it, the “broken wing theory.” Today, coaching is used to support leaders, employees with high potential, and top producers in an effort to enhance individual capabilities.
We work in such a high-speed environment! Organizations are finally beginning to recognize the importance of helping leaders achieve critical business objectives in the shortest possible time, so they’re hiring me to speed personnel development.
I’m often brought into organizations to deal with a number of leadership issues. Providing feedback is one key area. As leaders move into greater levels of responsibility, they receive less—perhaps even no—feedback from others on their performance. The unfortunate consequence is stagnation. Critical leadership and interpersonal skills often reach certain levels, and the leader is given no opportunity to become an even better leader. Working one-on-one with an objective third-party coach offers these leaders a trusted advisor who can focus on behavioral changes that organizations are ill equipped to handle. Coaching develops extraordinary leaders. Extraordinary leaders produce extraordinary business results.
If you are a new manager, what are a few ways to have a quick impact?
Leadership is not rocket science. It comes down to living and leading by the golden rule: Do unto others as you want them to do unto you.
People make companies. As leaders, we often spend most of our time on strategy and improving bottom-line results, but what about our people? It’s our job, as leaders, to guide them, help them develop more skills, and increase productivity.
I think Walt Disney put it perfectly: “You can dream, create and design the most wonderful place in the world….but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
For a quick impact, work to understand what your people want, not just what you want, and act accordingly. Ask your staff for their feedback with questions such as:
What can I do to make you happier here?
What do you find challenging about your work?
What’s energizing about your work?
How can I be a better leader for you to be successful?
What resources do you need that you currently don’t have?
What motivates you to work hard?
Do you feel appreciated and receive the praise and recognition you feel you deserve?
Often times a new leader’s first inclination is to become too friendly with people. After all, everyone wants to be liked. But by trying to become everyone’s friend, leaders run the risk of losing respect and influence. If your staff considers you to be one of the group, they may not respect your judgment on important issues.
Additionally, they may lose their motivation to achieve goals, fail to work hard, and assume deadlines are soft when they believe their “friend” will never reprimand them. That’s why leaders must avoid falling into the trap of becoming too friendly with their staff. The bottom line? You’re the boss—not a best friend! You cannot be objective and unbiased when staff members view you as a work pal.
“It takes people to make the dream a reality.” –Walt Disney