Qualified Candidates Who Lack Executive Presence are Often Overlooked for Executive Positions

A client I recently coached comes to mind as an example of the need for executive presence.  The woman had been with a company since its inception – more than twenty years.  She’d advanced to senior manager level, then about ten years ago stopped being promoted to positions of greater responsibility.  Although she was widely respected for her ability to “get things done” and was often called upon to “do the impossible” when a project was in trouble, she hadn’t been selected for a newly established executive position.

The day she learned she hadn’t been selected she came to see me.   I’ve rarely seen someone so devastated.   She was at a loss to understand why, after all her contributions and hard work, she hadn’t been selected.  I’d been working with the organization for some time, been privy to the selection process, had worked with her on several initiatives, and knew the issue.

The company had a relaxed dress code she embraced and she put little effort into her grooming.  Her desk was cluttered with the soft drinks and snacks that she consumed  incessantly.  Because her computer screen was visible to every passerby, a standing company joke was the amount of time she spent mindlessly surfing the Internet or on personal calls.

Her communications were informal and laden with slang.  During several presentations I attended it was apparent she was unprepared.

She was known to gossip andhad a strong informal network that often worked around established processes and procedures.   While on the surface this was seen as a strength, the company’s growth had plateaued, largely due to the tendency to abandon standard processes and work in crisis mode.

The person who had been selected for the position dressed well and was impeccably groomed.  In her previous position at the company  she’d  transformed her department by establishing measurable goals and enabling her team to meet  their goals.

Her reputation was stellar.  She was warm and friendly, but with executive reserve.  She was always prepared and the tone and level of her communications were always professional.

In short, she had executive presence.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in late 2017.

 

 

The Executive’s Toolbox: Developing A Roadmap

Setting specific goals brings focus to what we do every day.   Without goals, it’s too easy to get so caught up in (whatever “comes up”) each day, only to look up and realize we’re only sustaining the status quo or losing ground.

My “adopted” daughter, Tina, did that six years ago.  At the time she was still recovering financially from a relationship that caused her to move from Wichita, Kansas to Dallas, Texas.

She set two specific goals.  Her first was to have financial stability and not live paycheck to paycheck.  Her first leg of that portion of her journey was to rebuild her credit rating.

She found a job working nights that allowed her to pay her debts and, while reducing them, began to put 10% of everything she made in the bank.  By the time her old car conked out last year she had plenty of money for a down payment and had rebuilt her credit rating so she was able to get a car loan for the rest at a low interest rate.  Now she’s saving for the down payment on a home.

Her second goal was to have a career as a counselor to help other people, particularly children.  She knew it would take an advanced degree and that her first stop along that path toward was to attend community college and earn her Associate’s Degree.

At the same time, she enrolled in community college and in less than three years finished her associates degree.  She then began pursuing her bachelor’s degree and at the halfway point was invited to take classes that would apply to both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and will finish both within the year.

Tina’s success was, in large part, due to her self-discipline and commitment; however, she used some tools that supported her along the way.   She walks around with a picture of her roadmap in her head.  She talks about it, thinks about it, and as she progresses toward each goal, updates it.

Mapping (and tracking) what we need to accomplish at intervals keeps the focus on what where we’re going and what we need to do next.

The process of converting our roadmap to paper is a tool that can serve as a visual  guide that illuminates hidden challenges as well as  opportunities.  The act of drawing the map demonstrates commitment to our goals and the map becomes a tool we can use to check our progress.

Consultants often use the process of building a roadmap with their clients to visually lay out the process of achieving a specific set of goals.  The maps typically have three basic components:  here’s what we want to do, here’s how we’re going to do it, and here’s how we’re going to know we did it.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of

.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.

Enrich Your Network With Every Encounter

Our days (and especially our routines) offer dozens of built-in opportunities to build your relationships network.  From our daily stop at the coffee shop, to our visits to the gym to the parties we attend, we get to know dozens of people…or do we?

Networking for work has never been easier (hello Linkedin), but the people we meet when we’re not “working” tend to be categorized as social rather than business opportunities.  Maybe as a reaction to being able to have 500+ connections rather easily, we’ve learned that building actual relationships is more valuable than ever.  Every face-to-face encounter is an opportunity to form or build a relationship—a gift in and of itself.  As a management consultant, I’ve seen and heard many stories about business that resulted from “social” relationships.  Here are some of my favorites.

Dave, a friend of mine is one of the most successful business development executives in the consulting industry.  He lives in a Chicago suburb and attended his two daughters’ soccer games during their high school years.  Throughout those years, he often sat next to their teammate’s father, who happened to be the CEO of a healthcare company. When that company wanted to improve their performance, he received a call from the CEO.

I worked with a team on a consulting engagement in New York.  Midway through that project we learned the client company had been purchased by a company in Chicago. The acquiring company sent a representative to listen to our findings. We were thanked for our efforts and dismissed.  Two weeks later our team was asked to present to the buyers in Chicago, one of whom happened to be someone Dave had met at a neighborhood Christmas party.  We got the engagement.

Dave is also passionate about airplanes.  He holds a private pilot’s license, owns his own plane and is a member of multiple aerospace industry associations.  A few years ago, a pilot friend from one of those associations asked Dave to put a team together to help streamline aircraft production. That team delivered a successful project and Dave has since built a healthy aerospace consulting practice.

Dave’s success is well earned and well spent.  Anyone who knows him will tell you he and his wife share the fruits of their labor and their gratitude by giving back. When one of his former clients lost his job due to a merger, Dave hired him immediately.  He has also served on the board of a start-up company for a new aircraft that is designed for disaster relief, and quietly worked to help them secure additional funding they needed.  His genuine interest in other people shows with everyone he meets.

Great networkers like Dave are never really networking—they’re having a conversation.  Take a fresh look at all the people you meet.  Whether your Lyft driver or barista is building a startup or not, enrich your life and theirs with a conversation.  No matter where it leads.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based on Amelia Island, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  

Leveraging Our Network: Introductions

Making the effort to connect people whose relationship may be mutually beneficial is a networking habit that demonstrates to members of our network that we hold them in high regard.  Almost like match-making – when we meet someone who appears to have parallel interests with someone else in our network – we can check with them to determine if they have interest in the connection, then make the introduction.  Although nothing may ever come of the introduction we have complimented both through our effort.

When a colleague makes an introduction on our behalf it’s important we acknowledge that compliment by following up on the introduction.

I’m reminded of an accomplished executive who I added to my team on a consulting engagement.   She had a deep background as a subject matter expert in a specific field.  As I got to know her I recognized it was important to her financially to be selected for additional engagements.

With her permission, I introduced her to two former colleagues of mine.  One owns her own firm and often has work she outsources.  The other is a highly sought after consultant who is often in the position to refer subject matter experts.

I received notes from both my colleagues thanking me for the introduction but, to date, have never received any feedback about subsequent calls that took place.

The learning for me was I could have been any of the parties involved in this scenario.  In this case I made the introduction.  I’ve been the person who was introduced and the person to whom someone was introduced.

I could be left with the feeling that I wasted my time; however, making the introduction gave me the opportunity to reconnect with two colleagues I admire.  It also reminded me how important it is to acknowledge the effort when someone makes an introduction on my behalf.

There may come a day when we need to contact that person, or someone else in our network, because we’re looking for a referral, a reference, or an introduction.  If we’ve established ourselves as someone who refers, provides references and makes introductions; and, who acknowledges our colleagues when we’re referred, when a reference is provided on our behalf, or when we’re introduced, we’ll be less reticent to ask for one when we need it and more likely to be the recipient of the support we need to be successful.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  

Leveraging Our Network: References

A reference is a testimonial of someone’s suitability to fill a specific role in an organization.  When we find ourselves in a position where we’re asked to provide a reference for a colleague who’s interviewing for a position, it’s important to provide an honest assessment, particularly if that person wasn’t a top performer when we worked with them.

Although we’d all like to believe we were top performers in every position we’ve held, there are a multitude of reasons – some that might have been outside our control, this might not have been the case.  The same holds true for everyone in our network; therefore, sometimes it’s important to give them the same benefit of the doubt we’d like them to give us.

When asked to be a reference I’ve found I can serve all parties more effectively if I have the person asking for a reference send me an EMAIL.  In that EMAIL I ask for a description of the position they’re applying for, why they want this particular position, why they want to work for this company, and why they believe they’re a good fit.  Using that description, I prepare specific of examples of when I’ve observed this person doing this work successfully, being careful not to stretch the truth or fabricate any of the information.

Using what I’ve written and the information of why the individual thinks he’d be a good fit, I review this information with him so that he has a good understanding of what I’ll be sharing with his prospective employer.  This gives us both the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and allows me to not only represent him accurately but provide a reference that’s relevant to the position.

When we’re asking a colleague to provide a reference we can follow the same process.  We call the colleague and ask if he is willing to provide a reference for a specific position (or opportunity), why we want to work for this company, why we think we’re a good fit, and offer specific examples of when we’ve done similar work with him.

If our colleague is willing to be a reference, we let him know we’ll be sending him an EMAIL with the background information and, during the call, schedule the quick follow-up.  This insures we’re aligned on what the reference will contain.

It’s important to let our references know the outcome of our candidacy, regardless of whether or not we get the position.  We certainly don’t want to put ourselves in the position where the next call we make to them is to ask for another reference, referral, or introduction.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Ferndina Beach, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.