I’ve been a leader in corporate America for a long time, decades at this point. Even so, I still realize that I can always be better and that I need to get better. Many of you have heard me tout one of my favorite leadership books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, world-renowned business educator and coach. It’s true. Marshall helps us understand that what we did yesterday that enabled us to succeed isn’t necessarily what it’s going to take to be successful in the future. We may need to do less of, more of, or something different to achieve continued success.
I work with a coach. His name is Bill. Bill and I download on recent business challenges and prepare for what’s in front of me. Approach is a huge part of the conversation. The words I’m going to use are reviewed and tweaked. Recently, Bill also reminded me of something I tend to forget as a senior leader; that I am on stage every minute of the day I’m in front of people.
Yes, whether I like it or not, people are watching and listening. They are looking for cues so they can decide how they are going to behave. Is she engaged? Is she energized by this conversation and participating? Or is she quiet because she is bored? Is she sitting up and leaning forward or is she slumped in her seat? Is she taking notes? Is she making eye contact? Is she asking questions? Is she making statements to indicate she has an opinion? These are all of the thoughts subconsciously running through their brains.
Let me boil this down for you. Participating = Engaged = You Care. Not participating = Unengaged = You Don’t Care. When you are a leader, you should not give yourself the option of being unengaged. When you are unengaged, you are not doing your job. If you are an executive leader you are on stage all of the time, whether you want to be or not. This means you need to be “on” any time you are in front of others.
Now let’s take a step back to see how this same idea applies to people who are in an earlier stage of their career.
So many young professional women I mentor or coach say they have a hard time participating via speaking up. They don’t like to interrupt or fear that what they have to say will not be credible in some way. The shame here is that they really are participating by listening, but no one knows that because they’re not saying anything. Then they wonder why they’re not being promoted. Leaders participate. Leaders care about the direction a conversation is going and the decision being made. You can’t influence either if you’re not speaking up. Yes, if you’re speaking up you are on stage. You have to be. It’s required if you are going to be a leader.
Being either a new leader or a very experienced leader is hard work. No matter how long you’ve been in a leadership role, it will never be easy. You will never be “done” with learning how to be a better leader. You will always be on stage, you will always be watched, and how much you “care” will always be one of the most significant factors in determining whether you will advance.
If you would like to learn more about demonstrating strong leadership skills, see Chapter 11 in my new book, Money On The Table, How To Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership, available here. Better yet, reach out to me to find out how I can help you became a more successful leader.