Empowerment Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

Starting a new leadership role? 4 ways to gain respect quickly

By | Leadership

I was talking to a leader this week about starting in a new role and how they were winning over their new team. It all sounded like it was going to plan until she explained an exercise where her team were all given a task and a deadline.   The outcome was that only 50% of the team completed the task on time and only one person completed the task successfully and on time. What did you do? I asked. “Oh I just moved the deadline and gave them some extra time to complete the task” she said.  Warning! This is dangerous ground for any leader and especially for a new leader. It speaks volumes about the teams understanding (or lack of) accountability and also could be the beginning of the end, in terms of gaining respect for their leader.

Quickly gaining the respect of a new team is critical to leadership success and very few leaders consistently achieve it through an ultimate desire to please, or reverting to management by fear, or by having unclear boundaries and expectations.

To earn respect and create clear accountability a leader needs to:

  1. Communicate clearly – how have you communicated your requests? Verbally, via email, in a group meeting or one on one? Have you been clear about what the task is, what the outcome looks like and the timeframe you expect? Often employees miss deadlines not because they disrespect their manager, but because the manager has not been clear in communicating the task upfront. A good technique here is to “check back” with your staff – ‘what is your understanding of this request?’. Always walk away being clear that you have the same understanding and agreement about the what, why and when.  This way there can be no excuses or misunderstandings when deadlines aren’t met.
  1. Stick to the original plan – like the new leader I mentioned, how many times have you diverted from an original deadline with your team because it’s just easier to do so? You can’t be bothered having the conversation and hearing the excuses about why they haven’t done what they said they would do. Easier right? Wrong! You are actually making it harder for yourself and creating future problems as you are essentially saying ‘don’t worry, ignore my deadlines as I will just give you an extension and it will be okay”. This response will guarantee that your team won’t ever take your deadlines seriously as they know you won’t hold them to account and are ok for things to slide.
  1. Consequences – are your team clear what happens if they do miss a deadline you have set? What are the consequences? Are there any? You are in very dangerous territory in terms of gaining respect and developing accountability if there isn’t any. Do they need to stay back late, do they miss out on the opportunity to be involved, do you lock the door once a meeting starts? I had a client last month who needed a 1 page contribution from every team member for a presentation. She continued to chase, nag and demand from the one team member who missed the deadline and finally got it the night before, which meant she had to stay up late and collate and modify the presentation to ensure it was included. I challenged her – why did you do this? Why didn’t you just leave his contribution out? She stared at me shocked – I couldn’t do that she said. Why not? Then he would be left out – exactly! A consequence! How would that make him feel I asked? She considered this – embarrassed and left out. Sometimes, people need to feel the consequences and cost of their behavior to change and you as the leader need to be strong enough to enforce it.
  1. Coaching – my preference is to coach people ‘up’ to gain the desired behaviour rather than the big stick approach of when something goes wrong. This means taking the time as a leader to address the situation and behaviour i.e.: deadlines being missed or ignored. Sit down with your employee and really explore, with good intent, the HOW they missed the deadline. This can be a very interesting conversation where you will learn where their system of meeting deadlines is actually ineffective. Did they not understand the original request (a communication check for you)? Did they not know what to do? Did they not have the skills or knowledge to complete the request ie: is it a training issue? Or was it that they aren’t using a to do list to prioritise their workload? In my experience, people don’t miss deadlines on purpose. Ultimately people want to perform and do a good job, so it is an opportunity for you as a leader to help improve their performance and lift the bar of their success. A powerful conversation where you both benefit – they gain a new system to help improve their performance and you are the inspiring leader who is assisting them to get there (added benefit for you is no more nagging!).

There is no easy road to gaining respect – you can’t demand it, and you can’t ask for it.  You can only create it through clear communication, discipline and holding people to account.  This does not make you a nag, nor does it mean you are demanding  – you are simply being clear in your expectations and being consistent with what you say  – a true leader. Don’t miss such a valuable opportunity as when you are starting a new role with a new team – get it right from day one and you will create a team of high achieving and engaged employees who know where they stand.

“Leaders get the team they deserve”

Winning respect – 10 ways to give up wanting to be liked

By | Leadership, Results

I recently read about the upcoming release of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”. As the COO of Facebook, she talks about Mark Zuckerberg (her boss) and the advice he gave re her desire to be liked by everyone and his belief that it would hold her back in her career.

This is the second time I have heard about a leaders’ desire to be liked in a matter of weeks.  One of my female coaching clients said to me “I want to be respected, but I still want to be liked a little bit too”.

Is it possible to have respect and be liked as a leader? Will this goal hold you back from being an effective leader long-term?

My first opportunity to lead a team early in my career, presented me with the immediate challenge of winning the respect of a group all older than me.  How was I going to win them over? I started with showing them my results – facts and figures and methodologies that were black and white – I figured they couldn’t argue with achievements! It was the first step in establishing respect.

Since then, I’ve learnt other strategies leaders can use in the race to win respect, while losing the notion of being everyone’s friend:

1.You’ve already got friends– I have challenged leaders in the past who have struggled with this concept that you already have friends and work is not necessarily the place to gather more. Sure you might make friends, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus – avoid blurring the lines.

2. Relationships – I’m not saying don’t be friendly or don’t have social interaction with people. Certainly there is a human element to leadership and part of building relationships is getting to know the personal side of your staff.  BUT leaders need to show consistency, professionalism and not play favourites.

3. Deal with non-performance – a leader who gains respect, will have the courage to deal with non-performance quickly and without fuss.  Focus on the behaviour, not the person.

4. Lead by example – a leader who sits in their office, is always busy and unavailable in meetings, will not gain the respect of their team. Walk the talk, get on the phone where people can hear you, go on client visits, sit in open plan – showing you can do the job wins respect.

5. Hold people to account – being clear on what people are responsible for, give them the knowledge and tools to perform their role and then get out of the way.

6. Be clear on what you stand for – a respectful leader knows their values, is clear on what is expected and consistently inspires through communicating the vision.

7. Intuition –  go with your gut and call behaviours as you see them.  If you have a ‘feeling’ someone is going to resign, or something is up with the person who had his or her arms crossed in the meeting – don’t ignore it. Trust your gut and have a conversation – nip issues in the bud and encourage an open dialogue, don’t let unspoken issues fester.

8. Recognise & reward – catching people doing the right thing and being very specific about what they have done well goes a long way to building respect.

9. Open communication – what’s happening in the company, good, bad or indifferent shouldn’t be a secret.  If you don’t talk, people will make up their own ideas and assume – sure fire way to kill respect.

10. High standards – a respectful leader will push you outside your comfort zone and show belief in you to go further to achieve more than you think possible.  Not many leaders are willing to push hard for fear of losing approval.

During my leadership career, it has been a learning journey to earn respect, some people probably liked me and others probably didn’t. The difference is that it didn’t actually bother me. Great if you do and it doesn’t matter if you don’t. My role as an effective leader is to believe in you, coach you to top performance and support you in that journey.   There is no easy path. That journey will require moments of being uncomfortable and challenged – a respected leader doesn’t apologise for that or seek approval.

The goal as a leader should certainly be more about behaving in ways that create respect and if people to like you too – it’s a bonus, but it definitely shouldn’t be the aim. 

“Popularity is temporary, Respect is timeless”


How is your work/life pie? 6 essential ingredients for your recipe

By | Results, Work Life Balance

Over half of my coaching clients claim they need more time and struggle to find the ‘balance’ to do the things that are important to them.  When I ask the reasons behind their struggle, I hear “I don’t have time”, “I’m exhausted – I don’t have anything left” and “my workload is too much”. I also hear “next year it will be better” and “once this project finishes” and “we’re talking about hiring another staff member to help”.  Guess what? I’ve heard it all before and actually I think I might have used one or two of these lines in the past.  Here are the facts – it won’t change, unless you do.

The first time I really felt my priorities were out of whack, to a point where it wasn’t healthy, was in the first few years of building a business.  The effort, time, brain space, heart and soul that goes in to getting something like that off the ground is significant.  The ironic part is that the wheels can fall off when you take your eyes off the big picture – the whole point of creating something and working so hard in the first place.

There are signs. There always are. Skipping meals, not exercising, declining one too many invitations from friends to catch up, not sleeping (or in my case not being able to go back to sleep once awake), family making comments about your time away or not being ‘present’.  Sometimes it goes beyond this and you see physical symptoms – I had a consultant  who got so worked up before meetings, that she was suffering from anxiety and IBS.

Small steps are the key to turning it around.

1. Perspective – why are you doing this again? What’s the point? Where are you going? What’s the long-term vision? What are you trying to achieve? This is usually always a combination of career goals and life goals.  Yet, when you look at the effort you are putting into those areas it can be very skewed.

2. The “perfect week plan” – if you could create the perfect week, what would it look like? What are the most important tasks that contribute the most to your weekly outcomes? Put them in your diary first.  For example, I had all staff meetings on a Monday, Tuesday was planning, Wednesday and Thursday were client appointments and Friday was staff observation and coaching.  Of course, things come up and you need to shuffle, but having a ‘pre-planned’ plan of attack can ensure that you are focusing on the important things first. Schedule exercise, put in the calendar dinner with parents – whatever it is, if it’s important, you need to make the time and not wait for it ‘to happen’. It won’t.

3. Empowerment – one client was telling me at the start of the meeting how he has no time and is so over-worked and then 30 minutes later he was telling me how he had to re-write an entire email his staff member wrote. Therein lies the problem.  To get more time and reduce the volume of work – you need to delegate, train, coach and support those who work with you. I’ll let you in on a little secret – they actually do want to learn, they do want to do a good job and it might just be you holding them back from being brilliant.

4. Learn to say no – are you a people pleaser? A good friend of mine, has a terrible problem of saying yes to everything. She gets involved in every committee, school project, volunteering gig – you ask her, she just can’t say no. She likes to please.  There’s nothing left – no time for the things she would really like to do because now she has a full calendar of doing things others want her do.  Saying no is a great way to give yourself more time for the important things.

5. Control – one of my Consultants was always tired and complained about all the after hours calls and work she was doing.  No one else seemed to have this problem and I couldn’t work out how she was in this situation – clearly very demanding clients!  After listening and observing her conversations and interactions, I learnt pretty quickly that she was creating the expectation of always being available.  She wasn’t setting boundaries in regards to the process, how she would communicate and when she would communicate.  Creating expectations upfront in any relationship is a powerful way to ensure mutually satisfying behaviours for all involved.

6. Time for yourself – with 2 children under 6, running a business, clients, candidates, committees, speaking gigs, volunteering opportunities, a spouse, wider family and friends – I get it. It’s hard. If it were easy – we’d all be doing it. What do you do just for you? What makes you feel good? Hobbies – remember those things we used to do just for fun? If you’ve forgotten it might be time to sign up for that pottery class!

At a recent function, Professor Barbara Pocock told us that of 1,000 Australians surveyed over 7 years, showed that the work/life strain is very much alive and here to stay. It requires awareness, support, planning and leadership to help resolve these issues. Some of the survey results were alarming with more of us seeing our identity through our occupations than ever before and some people surveyed love their work so much that they said that their boss could “do anything” and they wouldn’t leave! Let’s leave that for another blog topic shall we……

Tell me – how do you achieve a healthy work/life blend? What strategies have been most successful for you?





People leave leaders…..the uncomfortable truth

By | Change, Empowerment, Leadership

Last week I went to a Women in Leadership lunch hosted by CEDA.  One of the speakers (Jane Caro) said, “we only change when it is too uncomfortable to stay the same”.  It really struck a chord with me.  It reminded me of several stages in my career, where this was the final straw and my catalyst for change.

One was a reminder, when this week, 12 months ago, I left my corporate role to start my own business.  The other was highlighted when one of my clients’ celebrated her 5th birthday in business this week.  In our session, I was genuinely excited for her. What a fabulous milestone! As a high achiever, she is still focused on being better and reaching her goals.

In that discussion, she asked me what were the major points for me in growing my last business that turned it from being a good business to that breakthrough moment when things were easier and it “just happens”.

I said there were 4 key things in my experience:

  1. Business Culture
  2. Empowering Leadership
  3. Retaining Key People
  4. Consistency of Service

BUT it was only when things were too uncomfortable to stay the same that things changed.

I remember that point like it was yesterday. I wrote two pages of frustrations (which I still have!) and all the concerns I had in the business at the time.  I felt completely overwhelmed looking at that list thinking where do I start?

One of the biggest issues that were causing emotional and financial pain was the turnover of staff. I have mentioned this before in previous posts, that in the recruitment industry this can be up to 45% and new Recruiters only last 8 months on average! I was certainly experiencing my fair share of turnover in the first few years and it was agonizing.

The impact to the bottom line is significant in terms of re-recruitment, re-training, lost revenue etc, but for me it was also the emotional cost. I remember sitting down with the owner and he said to me “Nicole, people leave leaders, not jobs”.  It was cutting.  It hurt my ego more than anything. My internal story went something like I’m a good leader, I believe in my people, I want the best for them – I just have high expectations.”  So, I decided to put together a spreadsheet of all the people who had left and look at the reasons they gave.  Now of course, some people never tell you the REAL reason for leaving so I decided to be really honest with myself and acknowledge what deep down I already knew to be true.  There was a combination of culture and leadership reasons – that was consistent.

It was at that point, I realised it was too uncomfortable to continue as things were.  Things needed to change, and fast.

Business culture – to change a culture overnight is impossible.  To move from a traditional recruitment culture of “client is king”, “core hours are 8am – 6pm”, “you are available 24/7”, “you always eat lunch at your desk (if at all)” and “taking calls before and after work is normal” was going be a big shift.  It required small steps starting from the top including a shift in mindset.  I remember when I first started coming in late on Friday morning so I could attend a pilates class, how uncomfortable it felt. I would creep back in the office hoping no one would notice.  Ridiculous in hindsight – I should have been promoting it.  This was my in-built belief that hours = work ethic.  I learnt to accept that my commitment and dedication wouldn’t be any less just because my actual number of hours were less. This was a big mindset shift that had to start at the top and was slowly filtered through. (I will be presenting at the RCSA conference in Fiji in 2 weeks on how I implemented this).

Empowering leadership – the statistics prove the theory that people leave leaders.  Not all the time, but it is certainly a contributing factor in a lot of cases and it was in mine.  I engaged a business coach and learnt that people’s perception of my leadership style and their experience of working for me was reality, not what I thought I was doing.  I had to embrace their reality and move to an empowering leadership style where my fundamental values and principles were still the same around performance, expectations and outcomes, but my delivery become more cohesive, consultative and empowering.

These two changes had significant positive impact on bottom line results and other performance indicators. But just as importantly (or more importantly) the effect on my job satisfaction, the enjoyment for the team, the transparency of our communication and a re-invigorated approach.  This allowed us to achieve two things that I often find companies struggle to accomplish.  We achieved employee’s desire for flexibility, work/life blend and career satisfaction with the company’s objective of a high performing team, revenue results and profitability.

We proved that flexible arrangements and productivity can co-exist and don’t have to be at the cost of the other. It was one of the biggest lessons in becoming a high performing and profitable firm where people wanted to work and stayed long-term.

To achieve this requires being uncomfortable and only then are we truly learning and becoming better than we currently are.

*My next post will discuss the other two areas of retaining key people and consistency of service. 

Learning from mistakes….7 tips to making amends

By | Empowerment, Leadership

A few months ago, one of my staff members rang me in a panic.  She had stuffed up. Big time.  She had accidentally hit reply to an email instead of forward to an internal colleague.  The content of the message was…well let’s say, pretty direct and used a few “internal” jargons referring to the sender of the email and instead it went to the sender! Oh dear. A mistake. An embarrassing mistake that she felt terrible about. What to do?

One of my biggest motto’s in running a business has been you have to make mistakes to learn and if you aren’t making mistakes you’re not making anything. I read this philosophy in 2001 reading Richard Branson’s “losing my virginity”. It’s an attitude that I have adopted and put into practice many many times.

The advice and steps we took to deal with it were:

  1. Empathy – let the person de-brief, cry, whinge, discuss the issue – being heard is really important. Being able to de-brief and just talk about a stuff up without judgment or problem solving is really important so people know you care. On this occasion, the Consultant was mortified….she had referred to the candidate in a way that could have been perceived as ‘judgmental’ and perhaps a little unprofessional, so letting her vent was therapeutic, as she wasn’t ready to solve the problem yet.
  2. Step back from the emotion and really look at the facts of what’s happened.  Looking a raw data, sequence of events and timelines can help get clear on what’s important and distinguish how did this happen? (as opposed to the why – which will drive excuses).
  3. How can we solve this – what are all our options here? There is never only one option so it’s important to brainstorm every possible solution, even if you don’t like them or you think that others will disagree.
  4. Execute – decide on the best plan of attack to the solve the problem. The Consultant just jumped on the phone to the “sender” and apologised. Being honest and upfront and using verbal communication was the best option. They actually ended up having a good laugh and she came in for an interview the next day!  Phew!
  5. Learning – what have we learnt? Whenever there is a mistake, there is an opportunity to learn.  This is a good thing! I know one of the biggest lessons I learnt early in my career was not to gossip about other clients … Adelaide is a small market and this is sure-fire way to discredit your reputation.  It was a painful mistake, but an invaluable learning.
  6. System – let’s put a system in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
  7. Move on – don’t dwell on it and go over and over and over it again. Being able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off speaks volumes about who you are.

What happened that day for this Consultant is pretty minor in the scheme of things, as most mistakes on a day-to-day basis can be fixed by following the steps above.  Over the years when I think about mistakes that were made in the business, they tend to be incremental ones such as charging an incorrect rate on a temp margin, sending a group email with all the address of the recipients visible, sending a courier to a wrong address, forgetting to send an important document in the mail, not returning a call the same day…. I think sometimes we need to remember that we are all human and mistakes happen. It’s the way that we deal with it that, see the learning opportunity and of course make sure it doesn’t happen again!

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Staff mojo… how to plant the seeds of motivation

By | Empowerment, Results

This week one of my top performers was having a downday….she’d lost her mojo, was feeling ‘flat’ and told me she was struggling with motivation. “How do you keep motivated and inspired?” she asked me. As a leader, my stomach sank.  There is nothing scarier than a top performer who is feeling worn out…..as Leaders we get scared that if we don’t quickly ‘motivate’ them, they might drop their performance, burn out or dare I say it….leave. The pressure! I wanted to give her an answer, not any answer, a great answer that would make her feel valued, inspired,motivated and happy.  But the fact is there isn’t just ‘an answer’.

Can you really motivate someone? Especially in a 30 minute weekly meeting! Truth is it can’t be done. You can’t physically motivate another person. It is not something I can give to someone else to make them feel good again to conquer the world.  However, I can certainly influence them, share my experiences and ask them questions that may help them find their own internal motivation.

Firstly, what’s not working? What is it specifically that is making them feel disheartened, disinterested or demotivated? Is it just a once-off incident of something going wrong with a client, an internal disagreement or something bigger? Or is it an accumulation of things that have been niggling at them, with something that has made them snap that perhaps in isolation would not have been a big deal but now seems huge. Getting to the crux of their de-motivation is really important because once this is solved; that can often be the end of their bad patch and they return to a positive frame of mind.

In this circumstance, nothing was specifically going wrong with my Consultant. There wasn’t anything in particular that she was unhappy about. So it comes down to desire…..

Whatever job you do, you need to be clear on why you are doing it. What’s in it for you? What are the goals you are aiming for and the benefits you receive from doing what you do? I’ve always been a visual person and it might sound corny, but really having something in front of me to focus on gives me inspiration on days that perhaps aren’t perfect or going 100% my way.  Early in my career, working as a Recruitment Consultant, I had picture of a convertible at my desk – I was determined to have a sports car.  Those days when I didn’t want to pick up the phone and make a cold call or tell a candidate they didn’t get the job or it was 7pm at night and I was screening even more CV’s, I would look at that picture and find my inspiration and that extra mojo I needed to achieve success. As years went on the visuals changed – but there has always been pictures of something (holidays, houses, travel) or someone (family) to inspire me. And it works. I got that silver MG convertible at age 21 – the insurance was a killer! The moment you take your eyes off the goal, you can lose focus, ambition and drive.

So with a demotivated staff member – be clear on what their goals are. What is this person motivated by? Do they have visuals around them? Everybody aspires to something – as the leader we need to show the connection between what they do and how they can go about achieving it in their day to day work.

If this doesn’t work, the flip side is cost. I don’t like to use this method as much – it doesn’t have a nice warm and fuzzy attached to it like the benefit method does.  For example, I have had Consultants tell me in the past they aren’t motivated by money or they don’t aspire to a new house or an overseas holiday. They are happy as they are. Great. Really, that is great.  But you’re telling me you’re de-motivated, you have lost inspiration and are feeling flat – what is the cost to you, your career and your results if you continue this way? Perhaps things won’t be that great anymore.  It is getting them very clear that if they don’t make the calls, see the clients, fill the jobs, generate the results, then actually you won’t be in top performance and then they may not be in such a great place. The ultimate cost here is their job.  This can be the make or break conversation that either gets them back on track or a realisation that change is on the horizon.

Day to day, I have found several things that work as quick “motivation injections”:

  1. Have a conversation with someone who makes you feel good
  2. Read an inspiring article, quote or surf social media for new ideas and excitement
  3. Write down at least 1 new quantifiable goal that you really want to achieve
  4. Take 30 minutes to write a dream list – anything you ever wanted to achieve/have/own and there is no restrictions (dream big!)
  5. Put up a new visual for inspiration – photo/screen saver/picture
  6. Take action – do something that makes you feel uncomfortable (as this often generates big results eg: a new client)
  7. Write a love & loathe list (to re-focus on what you are good at)
  8. Plan a holiday & enjoy the research
  9. Buy a new book on-line
  10. Have a coffee, go shopping or plan a day off to “re-charge”

So for me – how do I keep motivated and inspired? My husband laughs as I’m telling him what I’m writing about – he says it’s the mortgage and my love for shopping that keeps me motivated! There is of course some truth to this – visual goals remember! But I do believe inspiration comes from around us as well as finding inspiration from within ourselves – it is not something someone else can give us or make us feel. I am certainly inspired by other people’s success or by a conversation or a presentation, movie or book.  But real inspiration, the type of inspiration that drives me to succeed and achieve, comes from within.

What tips and tricks do you use to stay motivated and re-focus when feeling flat?

How I let my inner “control freak”go

By | Leadership, Results

You could say I’m a control freak….ahhh I mean, was a control freak. Typical Type A personality, my way is best, do it like this, do it now, faster, better and have you finished yet? Okay don’t worry, I’ll do it myself.

Funny right? The results were not so funny. After running a business with this way of thinking, things piled up and suddenly I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. Being interrupted 100 times a day, phone calls, long hours, always correcting things, meetings, performance issues and resignations.  I was at the end of my tether and knew things had to change or I was headed to burn out.

I was drowning and did not want to reach out to anyone fearing it was as a sign of weakness. It’s very easy to whinge about circumstances and not do anything to change it – but I’m a big believer in ongoing learning and improving performance so I got a business coach.

The first session I remember being asked to write down all the things that were worrying me, causing stress and anything I was downright unhappy about. I got two and half pages worth and thought oh dear….I’m in big trouble here, can I turn this around?

Looking in the mirror at my situation and largely my leadership (gulp!) I realised that perhaps I wasn’t all that much fun and probably 25% of the time I was a pain to work for.  In fact, I’m sure some of my staff at that time might have used stronger words than that! All in all, I was pretty hard to please.

The ultimate principles that I learnt and still use today are simple:

  1. People want to perform – they come to work with the intention of doing a good job
  2. Give people the tools to do their job and then get out of the way
  3. Give feedback immediately and be specific about what they did or didn’t do and the subsequent results
  4. High expectations are needed for high performance (just don’t demand it!)
  5. Communication delivery is the difference between a delighted and disappointed staff member
  6. Listen to your gut – if I feel a situation isn’t resolved, the chances are extremely high that the other person feels it isn’t either – go back, regroup and resolve it
  7. Don’t hang on to issues – make decisions
  8. Give people opportunities to take on greater responsibility and coach along the way
  9. Mistakes are essential in learning – that’s part of the journey
  10. Take time to think about situations, don’t react immediately

The change was fundamental. I learnt that controlling everything was detrimental to me, the business and the team.  The results were my team thinking for themselves, making decisions and experiencing increased job satisfaction.  Staff turnover diminished, I learnt to love my job again and work/life balance was achieved.

The best advice I have for control freaks? Empower others, let go, live a little and lose control. Go on, I dare you!