Self-talk is not often covered as a leadership topic, but Erika Andersen cites it as one of the most important skills to master.
Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a firm that focuses on leader readiness. She’s the author of three other books: Leading So People Will Follow, Being Strategic, and Growing Great Employees. All of her books are full of actionable advice from her three decades of advising and coaching executives.
I recently spoke with her about her tips to manage our internal conversations.
Leadership Tip: listening and mastering self-talk are critical skills for leaders.
Let’s talk about managing your self-talk. How important is managing self-talk?
Critically important. If I had to name the two most valuable skills I’ve learned over the past thirty years, I’d pick listening and managing my self-talk. It’s enormously powerful to be able to recognize and shift how you’re talking to yourself about yourself and your circumstances. It allows you to have much more control over how you respond to what happens within you and around you.
You give 4 steps to managing it: Recognize. Record. Rethink. Repeat.
Yes, here’s how it works:
Recognize: In order to manage your self-talk, you have to “hear” it. Unless you’re aware of this internal monologue, it’s impossible to change it. For instance, let’s say you’re feeling incurious about something you need to learn. You notice your mental voice saying, This is so boring – I can’t possibly focus on this enough to learn it. Once you start attending to the voice in your head, and recognizing what it’s saying, you can begin to do something about it.
Success Tip: writing down your self-talk is a key part of managing it.
Alan Alda needs no introduction. He played Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, appeared on ER, The West Wing, and he’s appeared in numerous films from Crimes andMisdemeanors to Bridge of Spies. For eleven years, he hosted the award-winning series Scientific American Frontiers, and he founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. He has also won seven Emmy Awards and received three Tony nominations, is an inductee in the Television Hall of Fame, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator.
It’s a gross understatement to say that you see things differently. For instance, most people don’t go through a difficult surgery at the dentist, one messing up your smile, and end up with ideas about improving communication. I’m interested in two aspects of this experience.
One, how did it inspire you?
The experience of a dentist’s poking in my mouth with a scalpel — without seeming to care if I understood his terse one-word description of the after-effects – was pretty much the essence of poor communication. All he said was, “Now, there will be some tethering.” What? Tethering? “Tethering. Tethering!” He just kept saying the same word over and over. Too cowed, I let him go ahead, and my smile after that was really suitable for playing villains.
He knew what he meant, but he didn’t notice that I wasn’t getting it. To the extent he did notice, it made him impatient. That story has come back to me many times, especially the more I see that it’s up to us who are trying to communicate something to be aware of what’s going on in the other person’s head.
“People are dying because we can’t communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another.” –Alan Alda
And two, have you always had a unique way of viewing the world or was this cultivated over time?
I don’t know if this is unique, but some of my earliest memories are of trying to figure out how things got that way, or why adults were behaving the way they were. My mother was schizophrenic and paranoid, and I always had to check her reality against real reality. I think that helped me question things and always check them out from another point of view.
The Importance of Relating
Your book starts off talking about the importance of relating. I’m struck by your humility. You’re always up front with your mistakes, what you should have done, what you didn’t know at the time. For example, you say:
“My first blunder was assuming that I knew more than I did.”
“I was paying more attention to my own assumptions than I was to him.”
“I wasn’t listening.”
And then your story teaches us about relating, but also, we immediately relate to you because of your openness. Is this a relating tactic?
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach specializing in executive communication. You may have read one of her articles in “Forbes” or encountered her other book, The Power of Presence. Her extensive research and survey into what inspires people was fascinating. I recently asked Kristi about her latest work on inspiration in the workplace.
“When we highlight potential, we boost confidence.” -Kristi Hedges
Tell me more about the four factors that enhance our inspirational effect, what you call the Inspire Path.
The Inspire Path puts a structure to the research I found that uncovers what communication behaviors inspire others. It’s a guide to increase inspirational impact. While we can’t force someone to be inspired—and if we try to push, it backfires—we can create the conditions that foster inspiration. People are most often inspired through certain types of conversation with others. If we want be more inspiring, we should focus on being:
“What we concentrate on gets stronger.” -Kristi Hedges
Learning how to lead. It’s the focus of many lectures, articles, blog posts, and books. Joshua Spodek prefers the active to the passive, teaching with exercises designed to master leadership concepts.
He recently wrote a book titled Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow that takes this teaching approach. His background includes a mix of academic and corporate experience, allowing his coaching methods to incorporate the best of both. I recently spoke with him about his new book and his approach to leadership.
“What holds people back isn’t not knowing what skills to have but how to get them and use them effectively.” -Joshua Spodek
You bristle at the question of what qualities make someone a leader. Why?
Every book and resource lists qualities of effective leadership: integrity, self-awareness, resilience, empathy, listening skills, and so on. Popular terms now include grit and hustle.
Almost everyone knows what qualities make leaders effective. What holds people back isn’t not knowing what skills to have but how to get them and use them effectively. The techniques of nearly every book, video, MOOC, and every other resource are to teach people intellectually what they need.
But intellectually knowing that self-awareness is important doesn’t increase yours. I know the principles of playing piano. But I haven’t practiced, so I can’t play. Those least self-aware know least what to do about it, despite needing it most. The same goes for any social or emotional leadership quality.
You can’t lecture someone into integrity. No amount of reading will develop grit.
To develop social and emotional skills, you need to take on social and emotional challenges. Lectures, case studies, biography, and psychology papers may be intellectually challenging, but they are socially and emotionally passive and therefore ineffective at teaching social and emotional skills.
“There is no glory in practice, but without practice there is no glory.” -Unknown
Is that what you mean when you say that business school taught you about leadership but not how to lead?
Exactly. Business school taught me principles but gave me little practice using them. Discussing a case study of someone else’s life will teach you something. I’m not saying lectures and case studies are worthless, but they can’t substitute for facing personal challenges.
After graduation, I learned leadership skills in practice, but I doubt it was any faster than had I not learned the principles.
Going to a top-5 school didn’t help. The more elite the school, the more the professors got there through publishing or perishing, not facing social and emotional challenges.
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” -Vince Lombardi
I struggled with that question, especially after noticing how many great leaders dropped out or were kicked out of school: Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Sean Combs, Michael Dell, Elon Musk, … the list goes on.
I wondered: did school hurt?
Two observations resolved the situation for me: How you learn is as important as what you learn.
The first was seeing how many top actors had tremendous emotional and social skills, coming off as tremendously genuine and authentic, yet dropped out of school, often high school. I learned that they didn’t stop learning. They switched to a different style of learning.
The other was connecting with the project-based learning and teaching community. I found that their students developed leadership skills that MBAs would dream of, but without taking leadership classes.
How does that play out in practice?
I learned that experiential, active learning is more effective for fields like leadership that are active, social, emotional, expressive, and performance-based. Plenty of fields are like that besides leadership and acting: playing musical instruments, athletics, dance, singing, improv, the military.
In all of them we teach through practice and rehearsal. When you master the basics, you move to intermediate skills. When you master them, you move to advanced.
Only with leadership do we start with theory. Compare the quality of athletes and musicians our nation creates with the quality of our leaders, or rather people with authority.
That’s why so many great leaders emerge from sports, acting, the military, and places outside academia. Look at your page on leadership insights, http://www.skipprichard.com/leadership-insights: the first people I see are baseball player R. A. Dickey, athlete/actor Chuck Norris, and basketball player Bill Bradley.
Try a New Approach
Can you clarify how you teach if not traditionally?
I teach and coach by giving students and clients an integrated, comprehensive progression of exercises starting with basics and leading, with no big anxiety-causing jumps, to skills so useful and advanced that most seasoned leaders would learn from them.
The exercises have you do things with people you know on projects you care about, so you face social and emotional challenges, but in safe contexts, so you don’t risk your job to develop the skills. It’s like practicing piano alone, then doing small recitals, and so on to get to Carnegie Hall.
My exercises are like scales in piano or footwork in dance. Basics are valuable at every level. Look at the top seeds at Wimbledon before finals. They practice their ground strokes. LeBron still practices layups and jump shots.
I call how I teach Method Learning, after Method Acting, which is what we call the style of learning and practice for acting, and it produces Method Leaders. It’s not just acting. All the fields I listed above use the same technique.
You develop greatness, genuineness, and authenticity the same in leadership as in any of these other fields: Practice, practice, practice!
My book has stop signs after each exercise description saying, “Put the book down. Go practice. Reading about lifting weights doesn’t make you strong.”
“Reading about lifting weights doesn’t make you strong.”
Meeting a new business contact can be nerve-wracking. Just like a first date, your first impression is of the utmost importance, as it can determine the trajectory of the arrangement. And while rehearsing what you are going to say and arguments you intend to make can be helpful, a major part of making a good first impression has to do with unspoken qualities such as body language, hygiene, and preparedness. Below you will find a few aspects that should always be at the front of your mind when you schedule a meeting.
1. Research before the meeting
Find out as much as you can about the client and company involved in the meeting. Learn about their goals, values, and interests. Use LinkedIn to get a sense of the person’s background or find common threads. Prepare some questions based on your research, and get ready to make it clear they are important to you.
“He who does not research has nothing to teach.” -Proverb
Your body language is capable of communicating almost as much as your actual words, so it’s important to be intentional with it. Remember to maintain good posture—no slouching! Not only will slouching communicate a lack of confidence and composure, but also it isn’t great for your back. You may have also guessed that a firm handshake is important, too. Make sure that your handshake is indeed firm, but also keep in mind that it isn’t a test of strength and should not be overly firm.
Tip: Your body language communicates as much as your words.
While meetings often take place outside of the office, that’s no excuse to go uber casual on the clothing front. Take some time to consider the right outfit, whether it be a full suit or something business casual. Of course, this will depend on the industry. Silicon Valley is a good example of the shift in attitudes toward dress, as jeans paired with blazers or black turtleneck sweaters grow in popularity, even among people in leadership positions. But when in doubt, dress up.
“Dressing well is a form of good manners.” -Tom Ford