In my work coaching Fortune 500 leaders, I’ve seen a fair share of perfectly smart and capable professionals who are at risk of derailing otherwise promising careers. It's usually for a lack of mastering core communications skills that denote executive presence, the perception of which senior executives consider a key characteristic of getting ahead.
Manage your leadership brand at work by avoiding the following blunders:
1. Not being able to make a solid business case.
You have a great idea that could save your company millions annually. The conversation with the decision-makers in this case will go one of two ways: They will see the value of your idea and potentially implement it, in turn boosting your position with them. But if you can’t make a solid business case and don’t properly showcase your plan, both you and your company miss out.
Presenting a solid business case is half preparation and half soft skills. It means linking needs to strategic goals, detailing risks, opportunities and projected return on investment. It also means getting up and telling a compelling business story that resonates with your audience.
At the heart of a good business case is storytelling. It may be a tale of a business need, but it should begin with the core problem or conflict, have compelling characters and a flow along a defined arc. Subject-matter experts can add valuable support to your script.
It’s also essential to know who’s really calling the shots in the decision, which can inform your approach. Work your LinkedIn and other social sites to see if you can glean information about what your decision-makers are passionate about. Find your commonalities.
As a Harvard Business Review handbook put it: “They’re more likely to invest or partner with you if they have an emotional connections to your project in addition to confidence in the financials.”
2. Not knowing how to negotiate.
We’ve all heard people say how someone they know is a “born negotiator.” There is no such thing. Some people may be born with characteristics that are helpful in these situations, but negotiation is a learned skill that anyone can master.
Think of it as a game. Like any other game, it comes with rules and loopholes that can be used to affect the outcome. And it’s another case where practice improves and simplifies the process over time.
But you can’t sit this one out. If you avoid the necessary conflict that is the negotiation process, you will not win the game.
In any business negotiation, research should be the first step. Having data and past precedents can give you an edge while boosting your confidence. The entire process is truly about compromise, so it’s important to understand what the other party needs.
Most importantly, regardless of the outcome, don’t take it personally. It’s a business decision that should be emotionally neutral.
3. Not being able to provide good feedback.
No one likes having to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. But the so-called “s**t sandwich” approach -- a good comment followed by a bad one, then another good one -- seems insincere and is largely transparent. It is, however, possible to be kind and thoughtful while issuing criticism, and being able to handle this difficult interaction with direct reports, peers or even superiors is an important part of any business role.
Above all, make sure the feedback is clear. According to the American Management Association, unclear feedback “fosters a sense of helplessness and hopelessness because it offers no clues about how to improve.”
On the other hand, solid and effective feedback can not only remedy a specific situation, but also encourage overall development in employees. As the company benefits from both, it’s likely your supervisors will remember how well you handled a situation they probably also find challenging or distasteful.
4. Being unable to inspire.
Being there is not enough. Being good is not enough. The biggest CEOs and professional leaders have one thing in common: they know how to inspire people.
It’s interesting that while you can train yourself to inspire, the act of being inspired is generated spontaneously from within an individual, as researchers Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot discovered. They also determined inspiration must be transcendent of more animalistic and self-serving concerns, and lead to the inspired acting on his or her inspiration.
It’s this last part that’s the most important. Inspiration is not something you want in a leader; it’s something that absolutely must be present for any leader to be effective.
This is supported by the findings of a study by Marina Milyavskaya and her colleagues in the department of psychology at Montreal’s McGill University, which noted a direct correlation between inspiration and self-described happiness and participation.
Inspiration is intangible but far from elusive. At its core, it’s a byproduct of an emotional connection with a target audience. By being relatable and enthusiastic, and empowering others to both question the status quo and participate in decision-making, it is possible to evoke inspiration, one of the most important business resources.