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The Perils and Pitfalls of Leadership Emails–and 6 Tips to Avoid Them

When Rick forwarded the email of his new job description to all of his colleagues, he forgot the notes he’d appended to himself below, which highlighted sensitive information, including the salary range of his boss.

Have you ever hit send and then wished you could hit undo? Although sometimes you can recall an email, many times it’s too late. Whatever you’ve written and how you felt when you wrote it is out there for the world to see.Tips to avoid leadership email problems Here are 6 tips to help you stay out of trouble and get the results you want.

1. If you are angry or upset write a draft. Do NOT hit send. I know of one leader who was so frustrated that she wrote in response to a report she’d just received, “Bill, this is garbage. Can’t you get your team under control? I want this redone immediately.”

Now, I have to tell you, I saw that report. It wasn’t garbage. One of the most cathartic feelings in the world can be to write out our frustrations. That said, nine times out of ten–no, let’s make that 9.9 times out of ten–if we are really upset, what we write may be our own truth of the moment or just a venting of our frustration. It will not be a productive way to communicate. So, when you are really frustrated, write a draft. The safest way is to write it in a Word document. Put your draft away, overnight if possible, but at least for an hour. Then, reread it, copy and paste–and only then hit send.

2. Remember, whatever you send in an email can be forwarded. Be very careful. In the example above, that particular leader was having a bad day. Unfortunately, the direct report she sent it to forwarded her email to his team, and yes, well, you know the story. It ended up being an incredible demotivator for a group of employees who were working hard to put out some excellent work under extremely difficult circumstances.

3. Refuse to forward punishing or defamatory information. Nobody wins by receiving an email with nasty or pejorative comments. When leaders must provide critical feedback, one-way communication such as an email is never acceptable. Sensitive topics and communication must happen face-to-face. Or, if that isn’t possible, voice-to-voice, so that the recipient can ask questions and together you can resolve the issues.

4. Write a compelling subject line. The most important element in any email is the subject line. Your direct reports and colleagues are as busy as you are. If you don’t give them a reason to focus on your message, they may not open it in time to take the actions you want them to take.

I once worked with an executive who was desperately trying to introduce and manage change in his department. Three out of four times, his subject line would read “Important Information.” The problem was that after a while it was like the boy who cried wolf, and people didn’t respond as quickly as he wished. Finally, after one brave colleague suggested he summarize his critical information in the subject line, he began to get the attention he wanted. Instead of “important information,” he wrote subject lines such as: “Reports due by Friday at 10:00.” “Customer Feedback Report–Your Input Required by 5/15.” And, so on. Think about your subject line like this. If that was all they read, would your readers have an idea about the contents of your email?

5. Never forward an email from someone else without rewriting a pertinent subject line. Emily reported to a Marketing executive in a company that was undergoing a company-wide transformation. People worked around the clock to analyze customer needs, redo their digital marketing strategy, and transform their websites, trade show tactics, and overall approach to the marketplace. On average, team members received about 100 emails a day–many from their leader.

Unfortunately, this leader forwarded dozens of emails with processes, examples, and reports from current and former colleagues. He believed that the information they contained would accelerate the organizational change he wanted. What he neglected to do was change the original sender’s subject line to one that was meaningful and related to what he wanted his team to do with the information. An email with a subject line that read, “Company XYZ’s Customer Metrics for July,” didn’t seem critical when people received it. But when they finally opened the email and read his instructions, they learned their boss wanted to adopt a similar process, and he was frustrated that several days had gone by. Yeah, yeah, I know if something is from your boss, it’s a good idea to read it, but the fact is if anyone receives 100 emails in a day, one that does not seem hot may go unnoticed. He did this a lot.

6. Include just one main topic or action per email. A friend of mine once received an email that listed several job descriptions and examples of how to write a compelling resume to get an interview in a field she was extremely interested in joining. At the bottom of the email, her colleague had included a job opportunity. Unfortunately, my friend was going out of town, and didn’t see the most important part of the email until she returned.

By that time, the job was closed. The sender could have avoided this issues by sending two emails with separate headings:  1) Job Opportunity–Check it Out! and 2) Resume Examples for Project Manager Jobs in Information Technology. The first is clearly time critical. The second just as clearly not.

Email is an important communication tool in our crazy, busy worlds if we are to stay in touch. As leaders we just have to remember that once something is written and sent, it’s out there for all the world to see. Our goal is to get the results we really want. So, on those tricky, difficult days when you don’t have two seconds to rub together, take a breath and read what you’ve written before you hit send.


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Three Types of Leaders Exist–What Type Are You?

As we move into 2013, we have the opportunity to take a new look at the leadership challenges we face and how we choose to meet them. Below is an updated version of the first blog I wrote in June 2012. I offer it as a reminder that when we care and dare enough we will make a difference to our world.Change management and communication tips for leaders

Did you know that three types of leaders exist?

  1. Leaders who can talk about anything to anyone to make things happen. But bottom line? They don’t care about their organizations or anyone in them. They care about looking good.
  2. Leaders who care passionately about making a difference but don’t know how to capture attention and inspire people to take action.
  3. Leaders who care passionately and have the communication and change management skills to establish credibility,  command attention, and put the right processes and systems in place to make things happen.

Oh, and another thing? True leadership is not a title. It’s a state of mind. When we care enough about our work and our teams to learn and share our unique gifts of knowledge and expertise—any one of us will be a leader who can make the difference between failure, mediocrity—or success.

Welcome to the last post in 2012 of Communicate with Moxie—the blog.  I chose this name because I believe the best leaders are those who possess fortitude and determination, spirit and courage. They care about people, and they care about making a difference. The best leaders are those who are willing to learn and apply innovative communication and change management techniques to capture attention, challenge the status quo, and get results.

Moxie. Although Apple may not have used the term in this old ad, the essence of leadership moxie is exactly what they captured by stating:  The ones who see things differently . . . They change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Stay tuned in 2013 for more blogs about how to sharpen your communication and change management skills to make the difference you want to make for your teams and organizations.

Happy New Year!

        Sher Foerster Kyweriga


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Business Communication: Keep It Simple

When we communicate at work, our primary objective is to get ideas from our minds directly into someone else’s quickly, concisely, and accurately. Our goal is to express—not impress.

Why use a four-syllable word when a one-syllable word works just as well—or better.  At work, it’s not uncommon to readCommunicate to express--not impress or hear something like this:

The manager’s utilization of corporate training facilities is less than optimal.

However, would anyone ever say:

My three-year old son’s utilization of the bathroom facilities is less than optimal.

Good ideas are impressive all on their own

Unless a particular word provides greater precision or nuance, it’s best to stick with the simplest, most direct words we can find. Some of the most eloquent communications in the world have been extremely simple:

  • Jesus wept. (This is the shortest sentence in the Bible.)
  • “The news from France is very bad.” Winston Churchill said this in his speech about Dunkirk. His message was much stronger than if he had said, “The situation in France is becoming increasingly serious.”
  • Roosevelt summed it up when he said, “Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all.”

Clarity is critical—an anecdote

Puffed up words don’t make us look smarter, but they can detract from the clarity of our message.

A plumber in New York City once wrote to the Federal Bureau of Standards that he had found hydrochloric acid did a good job of cleaning out clogged drains.

The bureau wrote: The efficacy of hydrochloric acid is indisputable, but the corrosive residue is incompatible with metallic permanence.

The plumber replied he was glad the bureau agreed.

Again, the bureau wrote: We cannot assume responsibility for the production of toxic and noxious residue with hydrochloric acid and suggest you use an alternative procedure.

The plumber was happy again that the bureau agreed with him.

Finally, the bureau wrote: Don’t use hydrochloric acid. It eats the hell out of the pipes.

What’s unique about the following passage?

In my business writing classes, I used to ask participants to describe what was unique about these paragraphs. Can you see what the author has done?

Small words can be crisp, brief, terse—go to the point like a knife. They have a charm all their own. They dance, twist, turn, sing. Like sparks in the night, they light the way for the eyes of those who read. They are the grace notes of prose. You know what they say the way you know a day is bright and fair—at first sight. And you find, as you read, that you like the way they say it. Small words are gay. And they can catch large thoughts and hold them up for all to see, like rare stones in rings of gold, or joy in the eyes of a child. Some make you feel, as well as see: the cold deep dark of night, the hot salt string of tears.

Small words move with ease where big words stand still—or worse bog down and get in the way of what you want to say . . .

The above is an excerpt from Joseph Ecclesine’s “Advice to Scientists—in Words of One Syllable,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 1965. His advice was to communicate in the clearest, most concise way possible–especially when we are communicating about complex topics. In spite of the years that have passed since Mr. Ecclesine wrote his article, I don’t think much has changed about the best way to communicate, do you?

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How to Use Psychology to Be a Better Presenter

Improve business presentations with tips from 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People.

Did you know that people only remember four items at once? That we are affected by how the furniture is arranged? Or, that small commitments lead to more action? In her book, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about PeopleSusan Weinschenk, Ph.D., describes how to use psychology to be a better presenter:

If you want to give a great presentation, you need to know a lot about people. The more you understand how people think, learn, hear, see, react, and decide, the better able you will be to put together a presentation that informs, inspires, and motivates. When you learn about others, you’ll know how to craft and deliver a powerful presentation. 

Dr. Weinschenk has not only created a thought-provoking book on how to create and deliver powerful presentations, she has created a beautiful book, colorfully laid out with bite-sized pieces of information. If you only have a few minutes to read, you will benefit from a couple of her 100 tips. Or, you can indulge and quickly read the entire book to prepare and deliver an upcoming presentation with more confidence, credibility, and power.

The book is divided into 10 sections, each packed with practical information.

  1. How people think and learn
  2. How to grab and hold people’s attention
  3. How to motivate people to take action
  4. How people listen and see
  5. How people react to the environment
  6. How people react emotionally
  7. How people react to you
  8. How people decide to take action
  9. How to craft your presentation
  10. Your 90-day improvement plan

It’s been a while since I’ve come across a book on how to present that is this powerful. If you have a chance, pick up a copy. I think you will be impressed.

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How to Negotiate Your Salary

Have you ever wished you could start over to negotiate your starting compensation?

One of the most important communication challenges any business woman faces is how to negotiate a salary package. Before we begin to even think about talking with a potential employer about compensation, though, we need to first have a frank conversation with ourselves.

According to David Larson, Huffington Post blogger, 8 out of 10 companies are willing to negotiate, but only 3 out of 10 job candidates ever try.

So, today I want to share with you:

  • A story about a lost opportunity and what I learned from it.
  • A personal communication process that will help you think things through before you’re in the hot seat.
  • A list of resources about how to negotiate a better package.

A story about a lost opportunity

I was in the final stages of being hired as the global communications leader for a major company, a job I’d dreamed about. When the vice president of Human Resources asked me, “what are you looking for in terms of compensation,” I said something brilliant like, uh, uh, uh, and then spit out a number that I thought would be acceptable—but not too high. And, then I wished I could do it again. When I got the official offer, I was a little disappointed, but I didn’t even take one breath before saying yes.

Fast forward a couple of years. Another company asked me to consider a position with them, and somehow the recruiter who helped me secure my current position found out. He called and said he wanted to share some things he thought I should know and that might help me negotiate my next career move. And, that’s when I found out how naive I’d been. Who knew?

The recruiter told me that when the CEO hired me, he had decided to have me report directly to him instead of the VP of Human Resources, which had been his initial plan. The recruiter said, “If she reports to you that means she should have a vice president title just like everyone else on your team.”

“Okay,” said the CEO. “Then make her a VP. She has the background, and I really want to increase our strategic communication focus.”

“Great,” said the recruiter. “That means she will be eligible for other perks, including a car allowance and stock options.”

Pause. “Oh. Then, make her a director. But I still want her to report to me.”

Now, here’s the question. Could I have negotiated those additional perks? Maybe. But I’ll never know. I share this story because yes, it’s critical that we understand how and when it’s appropriate to talk about potential compensation, but the most important person we need to talk to first is ourselves.

A Personal Communication Process

It’s up to us to be prepared, to know what we want, to understand what the market will bear, and to know that our compensation is more than just the amount that appears on our checks each month.

  • Do the research to completely understand salary ranges and potential perks:
    •  The U.S. Department of State lists at least a dozen websites you can search for salary information (you need to scroll down the page to find the list) and other excellent resources.
    • Glassdoor lists company salaries and reviews written by employees, including inside connections for many companies.
  • Write down exactly what you want on three levels so that you are clear about your needs and desires before you need to share them with anyone else. Understanding what you want on each of these levels will allow you to be flexible and yet still negotiate more of what you want:
    • Pie in the Sky: If you get this salary and these perks, you will think you have died and gone to heaven. Don’t hesitate, write everything down. No one is going to see your list. It belongs to you.
    • Bottom Line: What is the very least you will accept? Write it down. This is your ultimate fall-back position.
    • Split the Difference: What is the middle ground between the least you can accept and your ideal. Write it down.
  • Learn everything you can about how to negotiate, including timing, how to ask the right questions, and how to make your requests. Here are some good resources to check out:

It’s true that when times are tough, we may choose to take less than we’d like. But at the end of the day, we just don’t want to be in a position where we have to wonder: Could I, should I, have asked for more.

It’s always important to communicate without arrogance. It’s also important to emphasize how much we want the position and how hard we will work to make the companies we wish to join a success. But I’m guessing you already know that.

The most important thing of all is the value we place on ourselves. Because, remember, others may have similar skills, but no one else in all the world has our unique mix of personal qualities, experience, and skills.

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How to Recover from a Leadership Mistake

The issue is not whether we will make mistakes as leaders. The real issues are how we respond when they happen and what we learn as a result.

This four-step process will help you increase your credibility and retain your sanity when a leadership mistake occurs in spite of your best efforts:

How to recover from leadership mistakes

  • Perform triage to contain whatever has happened.
  • Create a system to avoid similar mistakes in the future.
  • Forgive yourself—and move on.
  • Share the mistake with others so they can avoid committing it themselves.

Jaime Richardson headed up marketing for a national manufacturing company. Her team produced an expensive printed calendar to send out to all customers. The theme of the calendar was quality, and the key message was about how the company embedded quality in everything they did. When the calendars arrived from the printer, Jaime grabbed one from the box, and as her team gathered around, she flipped through it, excited to see the finished product.

The calendar was beautiful, reflecting their quality message with vibrant color and images. But when Jaime got to August, her eyes opened wide. Instead of August 28, August 38 appeared in large black letters.

Her team was devastated. They’d worked so hard to produce a high-quality marketing piece to reinforce their commitment to quality—and the irony was that their customer gift contained a mistake. Jamie called the printer immediately, but the calendars had already been sent out to every customer on their list. Here’s how she followed the four-step leadership recovery process:

  • Perform triage to control what happened: The first thing Jaime did was inform her boss and propose a recovery plan. He was impressed with both her plan and how quickly she’d come up with it. He agreed. Jamie immediately asked the printer to correct and produce a new set of calendars and sent them out with a note from the CEO to all customers explaining that the first batch contained a mistake, and so they were sending out a correction. In the note, she also took the opportunity to reinforce that providing the highest level of quality was their commitment to customers and that they would always make things right. The CEO received notes from several customers thanking him, and in the end, the mistake turned out to increase their credibility with customers.
  • Create a system to avoid a similar mistake in the future: Jaime and a member of her team had carefully proofed that calendar more than once. Unfortunately, one of the executives had come down and requested a small, last-minute change. Because they only proofed the requested change, they didn’t see that somehow in the process a typo was entered for the August page. To avoid any similar mistakes in the future, Jamie and her team devised a new process for managing last-minute changes.
  • Forgive yourself and move on: When Jaime went in to apologize yet another time, her boss said, “Well, did any babies die?” Jaime was so surprised, she couldn’t think of a thing to say. Her boss just smiled and said, “Look, if you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing, you’ll never be the leader I know you can be. This isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. Let it go.”
  • Share the mistake with others so they can avoid committing it themselves: Jaime used this story to help train new employees when they joined her team, and even more important to reinforce the fact that everyone makes mistakes. She also shared it during a speech she gave to her professional association, and the fact that she was so open about her department’s mistake caused others to share and everyone learned more in the process.

In order to grow, every one of us needs to reach and risk. Sometimes we will make mistakes. But as Marvin Weisbord said in his book, Productive Workplaces, “Unless we make our own mistakes and learn to forgive ourselves, we cannot learn at all.”

How have you recovered from the mistakes you have made on the job?

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Leadership Resilience: On Starting Over

Remember, you don’t have to be perfect. It’s never too late to start over with your team if you remember these Starting over with your teamfour things:

  • It’s more important to listen first and speak second.
  • Use everyone’s expertise to plan and get results.
  • When you are wrong, apologize.
  • Honor your team. and they will honor you.

When I was promoted to my first leadership job at Honeywell’s Systems and Research Center, I was committed to being the best leader I could be. One of the first things I learned from my team was that they felt like second-class citizens. I had lots of ideas about how we could become strategic partners to support our business, and I shared them all. I was passionate. I was animated. I talked a lot. I listened a little.

Then, shortly after I started, my mother died, my father-in-law died, my own father had a stroke, and my grandmother died—all within a sixteen-week period. The pain was devastating, but I ignored it, and charged on. I was the leader after all, right?  My job was to set an example, not be an example.

I was exhausted, not particularly coherent, and I was abrupt as I tried to hide my feelings. Finally, Mike, the senior member of our team asked if I would meet with everyone the next morning. When I walked into the conference room, all ten of my direct reports sat waiting for me around a long table. Mike sat at the foot, and the chair at the head of the table was empty, waiting for me.

Before I could say a word, Mike broke in. “First of all, we want you to know that we really care about you. But lately, Sher, you seem really curt, and we feel that you don’t have any faith in us.”

“Are you speaking for everyone when you say “we feel”?  My voice was clipped and short, and then my face started to burn. I’d just proven his point.

Rita spoke up. “You seem to want to know every detail about all of our projects. It feels like you don’t trust us. And, you have all these ideas about how to change things.”

Linda added in her soft voice, “You just seem so defensive, lately. What’s wrong?” Linda was one of the kindest, most honest women, I’d ever met, and if she said I was being defensive, then I had to believe her.

Something shifted inside of me. I could feel it as I slumped in my chair and forgot about being the perfect leader for the first time since I’d joined the team.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I’d like to listen, really. I do want to understand what you’re thinking and feeling.”

Around the table, people visibly relaxed, and I realized for the first time they’d been as nervous as I was. For the next hour, I listened for a change, and they spoke. Looking back, I realize that they had no big complaints. They were sincere when they said they wanted to work with me. They just needed me to listen.

“Thank you for having the guts to speak up,” I said after everyone had gone around the table. “I have been curt and preoccupied, but it had nothing to do with you.” And, I finally shared why I’d been out of the office. They’d had no idea about all the deaths in my family. “I’m really sorry it seemed as though I was finding fault. I didn’t mean to come off that way. I’ve been talking a lot about my vision. Can we start over and instead talk about our vision?”

I got an enthusiastic “yes” from everyone around that table.

Over a three-year period, we worked hard, becoming serious business partners with all the science areas at the Systems and Research Center, and we moved well beyond our previous role of support staff. We doubled our productivity, we maintained a flat-line budget, and we had fun.

It’s been more than 20 years, and I still remember that team with love and honor them for the lessons they were so willing to help me learn. I went on and studied everything I could learn about leadership communication. Since then, I’ve led global and strategic change management communication teams at GE, American Express, Honeywell, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders all over the world from the front line to the C-Suite, from high tech to financial services to manufacturing. And to this day, the four most important leadership lessons I’ve learned are:

  • It’s more important to listen first, speak second.
  • Use everyone’s expertise to plan and get results.
  • When you’re wrong, apologize.
  • Honor your team. and they will honor you.

It’s never too late to start over as a leader when things go awry. Have you ever started over? How did it go?

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Increase Your Leadership Credibility with a Story

Leadership authenticityPeople don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith—faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.” Annette Simmons, The Story Factor

Our strategy offsite began when the CEO stood up to formally introduce himself to his new leadership team. No doubt about it, his background and credentials were impressive, but as he spoke I found my attention wandering.

The next executive stood up and started to speak.

“I grew up in Alabama, and I wanted to go to college more than anything. I remember the day I asked my dad if he would help me, and he said ‘sure.’ Then, he got up from his chair in front of the television set, walked into the kitchen, and came back to where I stood in the living room. ‘Here,’ he said, and he threw the telephone book at me.”

My attention was no longer wandering. This leader went on to describe how he went to school to get his nursing certificate so that he would have a solid, well-paying job as a foundation to continue his education. He talked about how he listened and learned from everyone he spoke to about how to invest, how to save, how to risk and grow. Then, he told us about one of his last nights as a nurse in the Level 2 nursery where he cared for the tiniest, most at risk babies.

“Eight babies died that night,” he said. “And, I knew that I didn’t have what it took to stay in the nursing profession. But I also knew, that I wanted to make a difference, and so I went back to school, determined to learn as much as I could.” He went on to tell us more about his journey. When he spoke of his vision for how our company could serve others, I could feel my own passion soar along with my commitment to this new organization I’d just joined.

I heard this leader’s story more than 15 years ago. I’ve never forgotten the passion in his voice, the humility, and his resolution to learn what he needed to learn so that he could be the best leader possible.

When we share our stories, we connect in ways that break down barriers and allow others to listen, understand, and remember what we want to communicate. That understanding allows us to connect on all three leadership communication levels:  intellectual, emotional, and practical.

In her book, The Story Factor, Annette Simmons describes six basic leadership stories:

  1. Who I Am Stories demonstrate who you are. If you are courageous enough to tell a story that shares a challenge or failure, and what you learned as a result, you will deepen your relationship with others. What you are sharing means that you know no one is perfect, and that means anyone listening doesn’t have to be perfect either. That knowledge allows others to stretch and grow and accomplish things they might not otherwise accomplish.
  2. Why I Am Here Stories tell people right up front why you are speaking with them at a given point in time, what you want from them, and why they should care.
  3. Vision Stories take courage to tell, and may seem sentimental, but if they are well done, they are extremely powerful in helping people make it through challenging times.
  4. Teaching Stories not only help people understand what you want them to do, they provide a joint experience that allows you to transform information into understanding.
  5. Values-in-Action Stories allow you to reinforce abstract concepts like quality and integrity in ways that keep people thinking for themselves about how they can personally demonstrate these values in the work they do.
  6. I Know What You Are Thinking Stories allow you to name potential objections an audience may have right up front to eliminate fears and disarm potential objections

The Story Factor is one of the most profound books on communication that I have ever read. Annette Simmons sums it all up so well, “Telling a meaningful story means inspiring your listeners . . . to reach the same conclusions you have reached and decide for themselves to believe what you say and do what you want them to do.”

How will you tell your leadership stories?

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Real Leaders Know How to Say, “I’m Sorry”

Real leaders know how to say I'm sorryA sincere apology increases leadership authenticity, credibility, and opportunity.

We all have days when we’re tired or stressed, days when we’re critical and sharp with others, days when we’ve risked, reached, and made mistakes. These are the days when we just need to say, “I’m sorry.”

In their Forbes blog post, Creative Leadership: Humility and Being WrongDoug Guthrie and Sudhir Venkatest state that, “leaders must not only recognize their failures, but also acknowledge them publicly. In being wrong, they can find both authenticity and opportunity.”

A sincere apology goes a long way to building our credibility. And even more important, it allows others to risk and reach, knowing that they do not have to be perfect either. Let me tell you a story.

I suspected I was in trouble when I found Alan, our CEO, waiting for me behind his desk. We usually met in the adjoining conference room to discuss his speeches. He was reading the script I’d written for him to deliver the next day.

“Come in, come in.”  His tone was sharp, and he didn’t look up. “This isn’t right. If we don’t focus on the sales data from the past six months, they’re never going to get it.You didn’t include enough data, and I want to start out with what they’re doing wrong.”

I explained that instead of putting the data right up front, I’d woven it into his comments in a more participative way to ensure that he was communicating on all three levels: intellectual, emotional, and practical. I explained that instead of feeling threatened and as though they’d failed, the team would feel motivated instead.

“No, I want you to do it my way.”

“Okay, fine.”  I was less than smooth, and I knew my irritation was showing. But darn it, I’d done the research. I’d spoken to dozens of field representatives, and I knew they didn’t have all the information to understand Alan’s point of view.

So, I went home feeling like a failure myself, ate dinner, set the alarm clock, and went to bed. I got up at 3:00 a.m., made a pot of coffee, and sat down to revise the speech.

I left the revised speech on Alan’s desk at 6:00 a.m., feeling tired and discouraged.

At 6:30, my telephone rang. It was Alan. My blood pressure leapt as I waited to hear his assessment of the speech.

“Good morning, how are you?” His voice was quieter than usual.

“Uh, I’m fine, how are you.” I was surprised at his question. Alan didn’t usually spend much time with preliminary conversation.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Look, I’m sorry, Sher. You were right. Will you put the speech back to the way it was?”

I was astounded. I’d worked with many other CEOs and never had any of them apologized for anything. “You’ve got it!”

My respect for this CEO shot sky high, and my energy bounced back with a bang. I’ve never forgotten how that executive leader made me feel and that it took courage for him to apologize. And, I have always tried to remember to apologize to others when I slip because I’m tired or stressed and communicate in ways I never meant.

Sometimes, leaders tell me that they don’t know how to apologize. They worry they will sound weak or glib.

In her Forbes blog post, Courageous Leaders Don’t Make Excuses…They Apologize, Erika Anderson from Proteus International offers her 5-step Apology Primer. Really good stuff.

How have you felt when a leader has sincerely apologized to you?

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Manage the Presentation Terrors with These 3 Secrets

Learn to laugh, breathe, and push a wall to purge those nerves before you present to senior leaders.

It was 7:00 a.m. on a Friday morning many years ago, and I was scheduled to give a speech to the senior leadership team at Honeywell’s Systems and Research Center. It would be the first presentation I’d ever made to a group of executives. I was so nervous my hands shook, my knees wobbled, and I didn’t have a speck of spit left in my mouth to swallow.Managing nerves while presenting

I arrived at the conference room an hour early to practice and get my nerves under control. I was wired and so scared about making a fool of myself in front of my senior leadership team. I started speaking to the empty room, pretending each seat held an executive. Suddenly, I heard someone clapping, and I turned to find a man standing in the doorway.

“Honey, you’re going to be just fine,” smiled the janitor as he held both hands above his head in a victory shake. “Just look ‘em straight in the eye when you speak, answer their questions, and don’t forget to breathe.” I started to laugh, and in an instant, my nervousness disappeared. I thanked him for the tips, and by the time the executives came into the room, I was ready. I’ve never forgotten that man, and that he cared enough to give a frightened young businesswoman some much needed encouragement. I learned that day how laughter and remembering to breathe are excellent ways to dispel what I not so fondly referred to as the presentation terrors.

A couple of years later, I learned another way to manage the presentation terrors. I came across an article about how actor Yul Brenner pushed a wall before each of his performances in The King and I. He understood that by managing his nervous energy he would give a better performance.

Nervous energy is simply unchecked adrenalin, and it’s not a bad thing. Without energy, our presentation delivery is blah and boring. Learning to harness it allows us to direct that energy into our voice and gestures, which increases our power to inform, persuade and motivate others. When we don’t know how to manage that energy, adrenalin floods our bodies. The result?  A shaky, weak voice. Sweaty hands. And, wobbly knees. So, the next time your adrenalin is misbehaving right before an important presentation, find something to laugh about and push a wall:

  • Stand about two feet in front of your chosen wall.
  • Place both hands flat against it.
  • Push as hard as you can. As you push, your diaphragm will tighten, and the adrenalin will disperse throughout your body, leaving you with energy—and without the shakes.

Not convenient to push a wall? No worries. Just sit back in your chair and push against the conference table, discretely—but as hard as you can. You’ll get the same result, and no one will notice.

And, whatever you do, don’t forget to breathe!

Please share your own tips about how to manage the presentation terrors.

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