5 tips for presenting to senior executives

The task of presenting to senior leadership can be both exciting and daunting. The chance to get in front of higher-ranking leadership can be an opportunity to really show your value and impress those who may have a hand in your career advancement.

Done correctly, this is your chance to speak up and shine; done poorly, and you might disappoint or annoy.

Luckily, there are some key tenets you can stick to in order to make your presentation solid and designed to impress. Here are some best practices for successfully presenting to senior executives in your organization.

1. Message

Nothing is more critical to the success of your presentation than clearly conveying your key message. Every slide, every bullet point, and every talking point must be examined carefully to ensure that it fits with your presentation’s agenda. When you begin compiling your notes, start by distilling your key point or desired outcome down to one or two short sentences, just for yourself. The exact words you write may never actually make it into your presentation, but they can act as your guiding light when editing your ideas to make sure they are fully on point.


  • Have an agenda clearly in mind
  • Make sure every discussion point furthers that objective


  • Try to deliver multiple messages
  • Simply share information – have a conclusion

2. Simplicity

It can be tempting to delve into all of the complex reasons why you are making a recommendation, or to detail all the circumstances that bring you to the issue or problem at hand. Whether you’re motivated by the desire to impress by “showing your work” or by demonstrating your understanding of the situation, it’s important to resist the urge.

Senior leaders want a clear, concise and confident presentation. Keep the details tight and the recommendations certain. Always stay on message. Be prepared with similarly succinct answers on any background information in case there are questions, but maintain a simple, clear approach in your presentation.


  • Keep your notes and talking points crisp
  • Be minimalist in your slides and visuals 


  • Over-explain
  • Give an exhaustive history of the current situation

3. Discipline

When you’re deciding what data to share in your presentation, look at everything with a critical eye. The right data can really help you deliver your message, but there can definitely be too much of a good thing.

Focus only on what matters most. The information you’re presenting needs to be just as clear and on message as the words you plan to say – and when in doubt, leave it out. If you’re asked for additional information, you can offer to share it post-presentation via email. Too much information on your slides will only be a distraction.


  • Use relevant, easy-to-read data
  • Be ruthless in your decisions on the most important information to show


  • Show complex or multi-step data
  • Display graphs that require a lot of thought

4. Structure

The structure of your presentation is key. Every single component should be on message and on point and flow together in a strong, linear order that leads your audience to your desired conclusion.

Avoid tangents and extraneous ideas. It can be tempting to put in your favorite side notes or interesting tidbits, but when you’re presenting to senior leaders, follow the path straight to your goal without deviating.


  • Follow a clear, linear order while presenting


  • Jump around
  • Go off on tangents or side notes

5. Feedback

When all is said and done and you’ve completed your presentation, be sure to check-in with your stakeholders gather feedback from your audience. Find out what worked, what didn’t and how you could improve. It’s important to know if your key message was clear, and how you were perceived.

Did you seem confident? Nervous? Frustrated? Positive? Did the audience learn what they hoped to learn? Were they swayed to your perspective on the issue? Be sure to be open and gracious in learning from those you consult. Keep in mind that people in your audience may be hoping to see their own ideas reflected in your presentation, so know your audience and adjust your talking points to communicate accordingly.


  • Solicit feedback soon after your presentation
  • Politely accept feedback and suggestions on how to improve
  • Make a plan on how you will do better next time
  • Consider coaching to improve your presentation skills


  • Make excuses or argue with feedback
  • Wait too long to ask for ideas
  • Give up! Keep improving!

Presenting to senior leaders can be unnerving, but with preparation and a solid presentation, you will be in a key position to show your value and demonstrate your knowledge.


Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 executive coaches in America. Global Gurus named Joel #14 on its list of top 30 global coaching experts. He has 19 years of first-hand experience working closely with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, The Ritz-Carlton, Gap and Starbucks. He has written seven books, including "Getting Ahead." More than 10,000 people subscribe to his FulfillmentATWork newsletter. Subscribe and you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!” If you are looking for practical advice for advancing up the executive career ladder, view his Career Advancement Blog.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

The team sales pitch: How to prep for success

When your company is pitching for a really big piece of new business, the stakes are as high as they get for your sales team. Yet many organizations squander those opportunities by failing to properly prepare for the pitch “team” presentation.

Each speaker tends to develop his or her own part in a silo. Members of the sales team might not even have the chance to hear one another before the big day. As a result, you lack a cohesive message, you repeat yourselves, and you might even contradict one another. The prospect can’t help but think you don’t have your act together.

Sound familiar? Is it any wonder your prospect chooses someone else?

Here’s how you should be getting ready for a team sales pitch to give your company the best chance for success.

Develop your core message

When I coach clients through this process, I begin by speaking with the team leader and every member of the pitch team individually. We talk through their messaging strategies and make sure everyone is tied to the vision. Whether it’s an external consultant or a member of your own business-development leadership, it’s essential that someone act as point person on alignment.

Before your team members go off to develop their own piece of the sales pitch, they need to understand what you’re collectively trying to achieve (and no, it’s not just winning the business). Ask yourself:

What differentiates us from our competition? This should be the basis for the core message you communicate in your sales pitch. It needs to be the common thread running through every aspect of the presentation. As I work with each member of the sales team, I make sure every segment of the pitch addresses this essential message.

Are we speaking the prospect’s language? Even if you’re selling a technical product or service, always communicate what you do in terms the prospect understands, because people tend to agree with what’s familiar to them. I’m a big fan of keeping it human. One of my clients did this in a creative way when pitching a major airline. When their team flew in for the meeting on that airline, they made a point of meeting the flight crew.

In their presentation, they began by introducing their flight crew, complete with photos and a quick story. They followed that with an introduction to their own crew (the sales team). The whole thing took just a couple of minutes, but it served as a warm handshake that established rapport and ultimately helped them make a multi-million-dollar deal.

What do we want the prospect to know about our organization’s culture or values? You’ll need to find a way to get that across in the presentation. One of my clients wanted to communicate their strong ability to work like a team. To present as anything less than a strong, cohesive team would have completely undermined their stated strength.

Here’s how you must prepare to become a cohesive team and boost your chances for winning the business.

Practice individually

You won’t often have much lead time before a big presentation, so plan for your team to meet in the prospect’s city for one or two days prior to the big day.

I begin by working with each team member individually to refine their message, polish their delivery, and refine their slides. This is referred to as a “table read” and is typically the first time they are practicing out loud, so there’s always work to be done.

Following this first round of rehearsals, each speaker uses feedback to rework and refine their presentation. That is followed by a second table read before coming together as a group.

Rehearse as a team

Once your team members feel more prepared individually, it’s time to make sure you’re presenting as a united front. Now everyone gathers to hear one another’s presentations. It quickly becomes obvious where you’re being repetitive, not supporting each other or lacking continuity of message. Your leadership can also step in and make positioning corrections at this point in the development process.

Tips for getting prepared

I always ask sales teams who go through this process to report their key takeaways. Here are some additional tips my clients have shared:

Keep visuals relevant and succinct. One common mistake is using a canned slide deck. Always develop your visuals with the prospect in mind. And keep them pithy! Learn more from this article: "Using Glance & Grab to Perk Up Your PowerPoint."

Have critical resources on hand. You know you’ll need to work on your slides, so it can be a big time-saver to have a graphic artist or PowerPoint developer available during your rehearsals.

Don’t forget essential equipment! You’d be amazed at how many times I’ve had clients borrow my speakers or clicker because they forgot to bring them. Use our Speaker Preparation Checklist.

How to know when you’re ready

My clients say they know they’re ready for the meeting when their story just rolls off their tongue and they know everyone has each other’s back. When you reach that point, you’re not so nervous about making a misstep or getting an unexpected question, because as a group you’re prepared to handle whatever happens.

When you have a contiguous storyline that resonates across the team, each person will feel confident and able to connect with the audience. This connection, reinforced from presenter to presenter, is ultimately what will win the client. Make it the goal for your next big sales pitch and chances are you’ll come away a winner!


Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter for sales management and strategy.

“Sit still, look pretty”: Women’s fight for gender equality in the workplace

A blonde CEO, despite having launched a successful, accomplished startup in Silicon Valley, didn’t always show her true locks: She used to dye her hair brown so the men she worked with took her more seriously, especially when it came to making more money.

“I was told for this raise [of funds], that it would be to my benefit to dye my hair brown because there was a stronger pattern recognition of brunette women CEOs," said Eileen Carey, the CEO of Glassbreakers.

The saddest part? Almost every woman in the working world can tell you a similar tale.

I certainly can.

When I was 18, I applied for a job at a car dealership because the ad in the paper said women were encouraged to do so, regardless of experience. The day I showed up, middle-aged men surrounded me; they’d applied for the same position. “What do you know about selling cars?” they asked me. “Very little,” I replied, “but I’m willing to learn.”

The next line (from the employer, no less) would be one of many sexist remarks I’d hear in my career: “Listen, we want to be very clear: We don’t report sexual harassment — we grade it here. Get used to it.”

I got the job but kept my mouth shut and outperformed my peers, despite sexist sabotage around every corner.

And so it goes: Women are (and have always been) at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to advancing in a career, let alone making the same salary as men. That’s just one of many fights we’ve yet to win, and I believe it’s due, largely, to the inherent and blatant sexism that plagues our system.

Still, there's a small light at the end of this age-old tunnel, and it comes from within us: Stop listening to the sexists of the world; start listening to our hearts and our heads. It'll drive us to places our mothers and grandmothers only dreamed of.

This is (still) a man’s world

When I was seeking VC funding to start my company, I was so fed up with men asking whether I was single or married that I bought a diamond ring to put on my left ring finger. I thought it would deter them from focusing on anything other than my numbers and my merit.

I was wrong.

My pitch, my transactions, and my operation were solid, but it didn’t matter. I was told instead to consider finding a co-founder, preferably a male. And while the feeling of defeat was instant, it was also fleeting. I knew then, more than ever, that I’d have to fight for what I wanted. And though I succeeded in the end, I shouldn’t have had to climb an arduous, male-dominated mountain to get there. No woman should.

It’s time to break the glass ceiling

While a study from McKinsey & Co. suggested that companies’ commitment to promoting gender diversity is the highest it’s ever been, there’s still so much room for improvement. Though the ratio of females to males in the workplace is actually pretty even, the rate at which one gender climbs the ranks is not.

In fact, by the time employees reach C-suite status, a staggering 81% are men, according to McKinsey.

So what do we do, ladies?

1. Don't take "no" for an answer. I've been told "no" more than 100,000 times in my career. Could you imagine if I actually believed each and every rejection? I wouldn't be writing this article and sharing my successes. Never believe the naysayers — just move on in your endless search for a solid "yes."

2. Know your worth, and be your No. 1 cheerleader. They will try to knock you down, squash your ego and stop you in your tracks, but when you know your worth, it won't be effective. Believe in yourself, dig deep, and find your authentic voice. Then shout it from the rooftops (even if they tell you to be quiet).

3. Practice nonattachment. This is an important mental yoga move. When you're feeling impatient and frustrated, lean into nonattachment. Remember: We are not our feelings, nor are we the stories others say about us. We are creating our own experiences, and the less time we attach to the words and actions of others, the more time we'll have to taste freedom!

4. Learn from every experience, whether it's good or bad. New experiences shape our world, so choose them wisely. Through each encounter, there is opportunity to overcome doubt and grow as a result. The process of self-actualization is something no one can ever take away from you. Trust me, these lessons will eventually add up to a lot, and you'll become an expert in your own domain as a result.

The bottom line? Stop looking to convince others of your greatness; find it in yourself, and reach for the stars. You’ll get there, despite any mansplaining that told you otherwise.


Kassandra Rose founded Rent My Way in 2014. Based in Seattle, Rent My Way serves as a rental relationship management tool for landlords, property managers, and renters that assists in matching inventory to client needs and manages their experiences with transparency for all parties.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader and communicator. We also have more than 200 free industry-focused newsletters, including weekly emails for women leaders in retail and in foodservice.

The leadership killer

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Bill Treasurer. 

Leadership is seductive. When you’re in a leadership role, it’s easy to slip into the idea that you’re better, smarter, and more special.

Why wouldn’t you think that, after all, given all the cues you get telling you how great you are? First, not everyone gets to be a leader, so the fact that you are one sends the message that there’s something special about you. Second, leaders get more perks. When you’re a leader, you get bigger titles, bigger workspaces, and a bigger salary. Finally, leaders get a lot more behavioral latitude. Nobody challenges you when you show up late for a meeting, interrupt people, or skirt company policies that lower level employees have to abide by.

Given the special treatment you get as a leader, some leaders start internalizing their superiority, believing that they are above the people their leading. Leadership comes with power, and few people are capable of handling power in a levelheaded way. Instead, power ends up inflating the leader’s ego, and even people who were kind and just before moving into a leadership role can develop an inflated view of their worth. You’ve seen it before. That diminutive guy who did a competent job managing a key project becomes a little Napoleon when he is assigned his own team.

Recently I had a conversation about the dangers of leadership deduction with my college buddy, retired Capt. John Havlik. John spend 29 years as a Navy SEAL, and has seen the damage that cocky leaders can cause.

“The thing that will get a leader into trouble every time is hubris," he said. "When focus shifts from the mission and the team onto the leader, that mission and that team are going to be in big trouble.”

Havlik rightly points out that all you have to do is pick up the paper each day to see examples of leadership hubris. A recent example is the resignation of Uber’s cocky CEO, Travis Kalanick. He’s ego was on display for the world to see when a video of him arguing with an Uber driver went viral. After an avalanche of sexual harassment and other allegations, he was forced out. Uber is now challenged with cleaning up the damage that the “bro culture” Kalanick created.

As Uber’s example shows, even in hipster tech companies aren’t immune to leadership hubris. Drinking craft beer, wear skinny jeans and a bespoke tee-shirt, and sporting a beard won’t prevent hubris from harming your leadership. In July, David McClure, founder of the mentorship program 500 Startups, resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. The title of the blog post he wrote after resigning says it all: "I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry."

Even in the military, where you’d hope that leaders would be expected to embody nobility and principled behavior, leaders have succumbed to hubris. Wayne Grigsby, a two-star general, was stripped of a star and forced to resign for having an inappropriate relationship with one of his staff members, a female captain. Grigsby became the first division commander to be relieved of his duties in over 45 years.

More recently, seven chief petty officers of the Navy, all deployed to the same cruise missile destroyer, were punished for misconduct ranging from adultery to public drunkenness.

Taking sexual liberties with others is often the most egregious display of leadership hubris. Four-star Army Ret. Gen. David Petraeus resigned as the head of the CIA after admitting to an affair with his biographer. He also showed her classified documents. Robert Bentley resigned as governor of Alabama and agreed never to seek public office again after a number of state employees claimed that they had been threatened not to reveal an affair he eventually acknowledged having.

In my conversation with Havlik, he stressed the importance of keeping your ego in check.

“A leader always needs to remember that he or she is there to serve the mission and the team. Period. Your influence on people and situations comes from your ability to be a role model," Pavlik said. "You need to be the standard-bearer of the values that you expect the team to live by. You’ve got to get your ego out of the way, because it’s constantly wanting to take over. The thing that will neutralize hubris is humility.”

Hubris narrows a leader’s center of focus to himself, ultimately making him selfish. Humility does the opposite; it focuses first on the needs of others. Preventing hubris means remembering that you’re no better than others, regardless of what cues you’re getting about how special you are because you’ve been tasked with leading others. Serving others in the best possible way means getting out of yourself.

Captain Havlik suggests heeding the advice of another ship leader. “Spock, from 'Star Trek,' had it right when he said ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’ When you’re a leader, you’d do well to remember that leadership is about everybody else, not you.”


Bill Treasurer is chief encouragement officer of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company. For over two decades, Treasurer has worked with thousands of leaders across the globe, strengthening their leadership influence. His newest book, "A Leadership Kick in the Ass," provides practical tips for building confidence and humility. Bill frequently talks on leadership with Ret. Capt. John Havlik, Navy SEAL. To inquire about having Treasurer and Havlik strengthen your leaders, go to CourageBuilding.com.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader and communicator. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

How to develop the skills of innovative leaders

I attended a private school until the eighth grade. The only students were my brother and myself because we lived on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming. The nearest town was 90 minutes, one-way, on a dirt road.

There were no other kids to play with, so I played with trucks and dolls when I was young. As I got older, I spent time with animals. I talked to them and treated them as friends -- indeed, the only ones I had!

When we role-play, we imagine ourselves in different situations. One week, I would be a veterinarian and patch up all sorts of ills that befall animals on a ranch. Or a John Wayne character who packed a gun and brought justice to the wild west.

I always imagined myself to be someone whom I aspired to become like when I grew up. At that age, my hero was someone very real to me. My imagination gave me permission to walk in the shoes of my hero, if only for a few moments.

Research tells us that children who have a good imagination grow up to be more creative as adults. Imaginative and creative people also tend to be more innovative as well.

Innovation is the secret sauce that can accelerate a company’s profits and growth beyond its competitors. In a recent study, innovation was ranked a long-term challenge for driving business growth. It is a key talent needed at all levels of leadership, starting with the CEO.

Despite its importance, innovation is a difficult quality to cultivate in both leaders and organizations.

As a leader, what if you feel you’re not innovative? You may need to fake it until you make it, but it is possible to create a mindset that will allow you to develop your creativity. Oscar Hammerstein wrote that by whistling a happy tune, “when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.”

Creating an innovative mindset takes work and may require some retraining, but anyone can innovate if they develop these core competencies:

1. Seek out innovative environments

Our environment plays a major part in developing our innovative characteristics. We can’t change the circumstances of our upbringing, but we do have a choice in the kinds of people with whom we associate and surround ourselves.

We tend to take on the same characteristics as the people we spend the most time with, so be picky! It’s fine to spend time with school chums and old acquaintances, but we need to challenge ourselves to develop new friends who will truly nourish our desire to be the person we want to be.

Likewise, spend time with colleagues who possess high levels of innovative traits.

Tip: Create a learning environment or community that generates new knowledge and perspectives. This type of networking will expose you to different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

2. Observe and be curious

Innovative leaders score high in curiosity. They desire to know more and take the initiative to learn new information. They keep their skills and knowledge current to give them a competitive edge.

Innovative leaders are mentally tough because they believe they will prevail in their circumstances, rather than hope their circumstances will change. If an obstacle pops up, they react with curiosity as they investigate the endless possibilities before them.

Innovative leaders see possibilities everywhere and constantly add new information as they learn more. They are curious about other people and come up with many of their own innovative ideas as they observe others.

Tip: Become an investigator who looks at an obstacle or roadblock from many perspectives. Curiosity and observation are two important traits in innovative people. Look for the possibilties in your situation, not the dead end.

3. Pinpoint self-fulfilling prophecies

We all have self-limiting beliefs about ourselves that often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies about what we can and cannot do in life. We can place limitations around ourselves when we predict the outcome of a situation. We change our behavior so that the prediction comes true.

If you think you’re going to fail a job interview, that belief may lead to behavior that ensures you do, indeed, fail the job interview.

Tip: The self-fulfilling prophecy can work in the opposite direction as well. Stay positive and rein in self-limiting beliefs that can sabotage your performance.

4. Shake things up

The same study cited above also revealed that innovative leaders scored 25% higher than non-innovative counterparts in managing risk.

Risk ignites innovation because it moves us out of our comfort zone. Risk does not cohabitate with complacency because embracing risk is experimenting with the unknown. We try new experiences, take things apart, and test new ideas.

Innovation requires us to make something out of nothing. It requires the grit to keep working at something until you find a solution.

When you shake things up and embrace risk, one of two things will happen: You will succeed at meeting your goal, or you will succeed in getting an education.

Tip: Seek out new experiences that will stimulate your thinking and avoid the mundane. Habits are the killer of innovation.

5. Seize opportunities

Innovative leaders take risks, and when they do, they seize opportunities. Because they are also careful observers, they change direction when the advantage becomes apparent.

Innovative leaders can anticipate potential obstacles and are not surprised when they pop up. They are prepared for them and are able to pivot and move forward, without losing valuable momentum.

Tip: Rather than accept the learning opportunities when they occur, intentionally broaden activities in strategic areas. Be proactive in moving into those areas where you want to expand.

6. Avoid phony at all costs

Aristotle once wrote, “Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a certain way.” That is the source of the "fake it until you make it" mantra.

While you can fake it until you make it when you start out, there is an important caveat: Don’t expect it to take you all the way to the top.

Innovation is a mindset. As such, you work to create a mindset that seeks ways to move around obstacles. If you are a talented individual, you can fake your way through the learning process until it becomes a genuine skill you own.

Tip: If you do not have the talent, desire, or confidence to take your career to the next level, no amount of faking it will help. You risk being seen as an imposter.


LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.


Which do you manage more closely: your personal finances or your business’ finances?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

Which do you manage more closely: your personal finances or your business’ finances?

  • I manage my personal finances much more rigorously: 29.7%
  • I pay much more attention to my business’ finances: 30.6%
  • I strike a good balance on managing both equally well: 36.1%
  • I don’t manage my personal or my business finances well: 3.5%

Money matters. Most of you report paying a lot of attention to business finances, but be careful that attention doesn’t come at the expense of your personal finances. If your own finances get messy because of mismanagement, it can cause issues with job performance. This isn’t only about making sure your checking account is full and retirement plan is maxed out. Take care of all aspects of your financial well-being. That includes protecting yourself from identity theft and fraud. Those two items alone can cause you problems when you go to get a job, move or get a loan. Protect your identity from theft, and manage your credit carefully. With all the high-profile security breaches of late, it’s probably a good idea to pay some attention to that part of your life.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

Let’s teach our children to become leaders

You don’t have to try very hard these days to worry about the need for leadership. Just turn on the news. There seems to be no end to the political upheaval, violent extremism, threats of nuclear proliferation, dangerous environmental disasters, corporate misbehavior and poverty around the world.

As for me, I watch my 2-year-old grandson playing while trying not to obsess about it. Where are our leaders?

An objective definition of leadership is “the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.” Viewed through that lens, perhaps the problem isn’t so much a lack of leaders, but that we’re seeing charismatic individuals leading us in directions that have terrible implications for humanity. In other words, we’re letting some bad apples get the better of the apple cart.

When most of us think of great leaders, who comes to mind? Abraham Lincoln? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Maybe Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, or Jane Addams?

The historical figures we cherish as great leaders were not perfect people. They didn’t possess superhuman talents, and they didn’t know everything. But each of them was so sure of something that it propelled them forward against many odds and at great personal risk. Each was willing to put themselves on the line for what they believed would benefit humanity.

It would be a mistake to think that being a great leader requires headline-grabbing actions. Consider Dorothy Vaughn, NASA’s first black supervisor and a leader in the (then) new field of computer programming. It took more than 50 years for her story to come to light in the movie "Hidden Figures." She and her colleagues were not perfect, and they didn’t know everything. They worked hard to develop their unique talents, and believed in the country’s nascent space program so passionately that they pushed against significant social and legal barriers to participate.

In fact, most “great leaders” probably didn’t think of themselves as such. They were more concerned with the change they wanted to see, and the change they wanted to be.

So how can we cultivate a new generation of leaders to match the achievements of those from the past? Whether you are thinking of your role as a parent, mentor, teacher, supervisor, or CEO, my advice is the same: Be the leader you want those around you to become.

Stand for something. Think about your values. Be open about them. And then invite those who look up to you to think about and share theirs. Be respectful when their values do not align perfectly with yours. Even better, ask them why they feel the way they do. You might learn a thing or two, which brings me to ...

Be open to new ideas. Know-it-all types get us into trouble, every time. Good leaders know when to balance unshakeable faith with new ideas and information. They are driven by what is right, rather than with being right. 

Serve. If you are of a certain age, you remember when John F. Kennedy (another imperfect individual who is remembered for his leadership) said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” How do you serve your community? Whether you are a trustee of a major philanthropy or you volunteer at the local soup kitchen, let those who look up to you know how it makes you feel. Better yet, invite them to work side by side with you to see for themselves.

Try. Fail. Try again. Given the current conversations about anxiety and fear of failure, I think we may have lost sight of this concept. Demonstrate for others your willingness to go outside your comfort zone, without knowing how things will turn out. Thankfully, there are many ways of doing this without jumping out of an airplane or swimming with sharks. Find an experience you can share. Go to a cooking workshop or public speaking class together, or try a kickboxing workout or guitar class. Cultivating the ability to try new things on a small scale builds the ability to take risks on bigger, more important things.

Ask for and accept help. The very definition of leadership is being inclusive of others. Every leader in every age has had teachers, colleagues, supporters and assistants. Demonstrate your willingness to share the burden and the glory.

Own up. Take responsibility. Show others that you take responsibility, even when it is embarrassing. When you apologize, do so with humility. When you accept the consequences, do so with grace. On the flip side, give credit where credit is due.

Simple, yes, but not always easy. It is tempting to hide in our corners, believing that we are paralyzed by rhetoric designed to divide us into idealogical camps, as if were impossible to find a common human thread. But that wouldn’t be very leader-like, would it?

Instead, turn off the TV and close the newsfeeds on your phone. Engage in life and take your kids with you. Expect to fail, expect to apologize, and expect to be frustrated. You won’t be disappointed. Then expect to see your children (or employees or mentees) outpace you at every turn, becoming passionate, values-driven leaders willing to take risks you never would have considered. You won’t be disappointed on that count either.

I will leave you with good news. There are amazing young leaders around us, right now, working hard for humanity. Malala Yousafzei, now in college, continues to travel the world advocating for girls’ rights to education. Aja Brown, who in 2013 was the youngest mayor ever elected in Compton, Calif., just started her second term.

Naisula Lesuuda is the youngest woman in Kenya’s parliament and a leading advocate for women’s rights. Qin Yuefei and his fellow Yale graduates founded Serve for China, a nonprofit that helps villagers build roads, connect to clean water and the internet, and improve local schools. I could go on, but you get the idea.

And lest you think these are the outliers, consider this: Crowdpac, a nonpartisan crowdfunding platform that supports broad and inclusive political candidacy, reports that twice as many candidates signed up in the first 40 days of 2017 as in all of 2016, and that more than 60 percent of those running for office on their platform are millennials. Now that’s good news about the future of leadership.


Dennis C. Miller is a nationally recognized strategic leadership coach, executive search consultant, author and keynote speaker. He is the managing director of The Nonprofit Search Group, with more than 35 years of experience working with nonprofit board leadership and chief executives across the country. Dennis is also an expert in board governance, leadership development, philanthropy and succession planning. In addition, he is a sought-after motivational speaker, retreat facilitator and leadership performance coach. Dennis can be reached at dennis@thenonprofitsearch.com

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

Why it’s up to you to create a civil workplace

Did you know that nearly half of the people in your organization are afraid to be civil to one another? According to Georgetown University researcher Christine Porath, more than 40% of employees say they hesitate to show civility at work because they fear people will take advantage of them.

Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business and author of "Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace," has studied incivility in the workplace for nearly two decades. A great deal of incivility is due to a lack of awareness about our actions, not necessarily evil intent, explains Porath.

The workplace, with its reliance on technology as a primary means for communication, increasingly distances us from face-to-face interactions. This, in turn, makes many of us a bit rusty on the social niceties necessary for a high-functioning workplace.  

Has your office become a less civil place to work? If you’re in a leadership role, you have far more influence than you might realize regarding how others treat one another. Here are three things to consider when it comes to creating a more respectful workplace.

What norms are you setting around civility?  

Leaders set the norms for their organizations. People watch what you do and determine what passes as acceptable behavior. Leaders who step up and “go first” in terms of acknowledging their civility shortcomings experience better success in creating a respectful environment than those who simply send employees to civility training (yes, that’s actually a thing.)

Porath cites an example of an international law firm whose head partner brought in Porath to provide training on civility. Not only did the head partner participate in the training, the firm’s chairman of the board participated.

“About a year and a half after we began our work together, the firm won a Best Place to Work award,” notes Porath, something that would have been unlikely just a couple of years earlier.

Beware the contagion of incivility

Unfortunately, bad behaviors can be as contagious as a flu bug. Research has shown that we unconsciously mimic behaviors of those around us, including rude behavior. Start with your own actions: reflect on your emails, texts and in-person communication with your team. You may think you’re in the clear, but perhaps your attempt at being a good role model is being sabotaged.

Next, consider your entire team. Heads up: It’s not just the rude folks who are spreading the malaise. Porath’s studies found that even if people aren’t personally rude, they can be “carriers” of the scourge. People who observe incivility are three times less likely to be helpful to others and 50% less likely to share resources.

Civility is good for you and your team

The good news is that civility is just as easy to spread as incivility. Simple gestures such as smiling, saying “please,” “thank you”, and “I’m sorry” help pave the way to a more civil workplace. Extending courtesy also help keeps you healthy.

According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, you benefit physically and emotionally  when you show basic courtesy to others. Kindness also has a “domino” effect: research shows that when a group of people witness a positive act of kindness, everyone’s mood is improved, thereby making them more likely to pass along another act of kindness. This means that as a leader, your courteous acts when in team meetings and other group settings are amplified. It takes very little of your time to “get the ball rolling” and set a positive example of respect.

Writer Christian Nestell Bovee is credited with the words, “The small courtesies sweeten life; the greater ennoble it.” Are your actions as a leader ennobling or eroding the daily life of others in your workplace?


Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

Opening with a negative may be a positive

All of us have heard negative comments when a new initiative comes our way. We are good at coming up with reasons for avoiding new work. It’s part of human nature. So if this is true, then why not address the concerns in the room at the outset?

Let your people vent their feelings first before giving them a new assignment. It is good to confront the issues in the room -- head on.

Once the explaining is done – by the manager, the employees or both -- it will fall to the manager to make things happen by handing out assignments. Before doing so, however, it would be wise to ask employees what they can stop doing so they have time to focus on the new project.

Asking employees to give up work to take on other work is not novel. Such an approach is rooted in lean thinking, where you pare away tasks that have no added value. Eliminating them frees up employees to do more without adding to their workload.

One final note. Be positive. Position the new project as an opportunity.

So next time your team is tasked with a major undertaking, consider opening on a negative (allowing people to vent) as a means to getting to the positive (a fully engaged team).

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2017, Trust Across America named him a Top Thought Leader in Trust for the fourth consecutive year. Global Gurus ranked John No. 22 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named John to its list of top 50 leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

4 mindsets needed for a better talent pipeline

As leaders face the most volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business conditions ever, one thing is clear: Talent is an organization’s most powerful and sustainable competitive advantage.

As a result, improving the talent pipeline by attracting, developing and retaining the best possible employees is among a leader’s most fundamental priorities.

It’s an unfortunate reality, however, that the pipes we’re most familiar with -- the plumbing that delivers water to our homes -- operate differently than organizational talent pipelines. Whereas water begins flowing upon demand, great employees don’t rush into the building as soon as a key position becomes available.

This means that leaders must continuously have talent on their minds and in their day-to-day behaviors. Best-in-class organizations report that that their leaders share four key mindsets that help to keep pipelines well-populated with top talent.

Mindset No. 1: I am in the best possible position to source new talent

Attracting top talent can no longer be an activity that’s delegated to HR. Local leaders are the ones closest to the needs -- and closest to those who might be best suited to meet those needs. As a result, leaders at all levels must begin expanding their job descriptions to include being a talent scout.

Talents scouts are perpetually on the lookout for prospective new employees. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they look at things through the lens of “How can I make connections that will support our needs today and into the future?” Whether it’s at a conference, reading a business journal or standing in line at the coffee shop, talent scouts recognize possibilities where others don’t. And they cultivate relationships, even if there’s not an immediate need to be filled.

These leaders are also creative in terms of where they seek out talent. Rather than mining the same tired sources as their competitors, they look in novel places and identify those who aren’t necessarily the “usual suspects.” And when they do that, they contribute powerfully to a rich and sustainable talent pipeline.

Mindset No. 2: My actions contribute directly to the employment brand we project in the marketplace

Given the instantaneous and ubiquitous nature of information today, prospective candidates can learn a lot about an organization before ever agreeing to an interview. Increasingly, leaders are coming to appreciate that the company’s employment brand may be as important as the brand reflected to customers. And that brand is the cumulative effect of the culture, behaviors and policies that affect employees.

Leaders who want to support a positive employment brand must ask themselves:

  • How do prospective candidates and employees currently perceive the organization… and how well is this perception serving us?
  • How do I contribute to the organization’s reputation?
  • What does my social media footprint say about me and about the organization by extension?
  • What steps am I taking to deliver on the promises we make to prospective and new employees so they’ll stick around, become optimally engaged and be able to share their talents to the greatest extent possible?

Building an effective employment brand -- one that will attract the best and the brightest -- demands attention on the part of all leaders. It begins with cultivating the right impressions in the marketplace, and those impressions must also come to life and create a congruent experience for people who choose to join the organization.

Mindset No. 3: It’s my job to anticipate and understand talent needs and gaps -- not just in my department or group but throughout the organization   

Effective leaders are constantly scanning the environment to understand how changing business conditions will affect the work of their group. They look at economic, environmental, demographic, political and other factors to plan for the future. Highly effective leaders also use this information to anticipate and begin taking early steps toward attracting the talent that will be needed for that new future. They recruit and hire today with tomorrow in mind. But taking care of one’s own part of the business is no longer enough.

In the past, talent was frequently treated as a local or departmental resource. Siloed organizations led to fiefdoms, territoriality and, too often, the loss of key contributors to the competition. Given today’s highly interconnected organizations and competitive employment environment, talent must be recognized as an enterprise-wide resource.

Leaders who think more broadly and abundantly about talent understand that we’re all in this together. They see the value of building awareness of the talent needs, not just in their department or group but across the organization. What’s happening elsewhere may be an indicator of challenges to come.  So they anticipate and monitor their own gaps and needs while also doing the same at an organizational level. In this way, they are better poised to learn, respond, and share insights and resources to benefit the organization as a whole.

Mindset No. 4: I have a responsibility to help continuously improve organizational processes to support the talent pipeline

It’s frequently said that it takes a village to educate a child. It also takes a village to ensure that an organization can attract the retain the talent it needs to thrive. While HR may own some of the processes, leaders can provide the in-the-trenches perspectives, and these perspectives can inform improvements of the organization’s competitive advantage. So, “if you see something, say something.”

  • Are competitors offering new benefits that are luring candidates and employees away?
  • Are unnecessarily protracted verification processes causing your best candidates to accept other offers?
  • Are opportunities for advancement not sufficiently transparent to capture the imagination of prospective employees?

Your visibility to these sorts of things is the first step in addressing issues that may be compromising your organization’s ability to attract the talent it needs.

Regardless the nature of your business, people are the key to driving results. And leaders must play a central role in attracting, recruiting and ultimately hiring the people required to ensure a free-flowing talent pipeline.


Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog atJulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.