LeadHERship: Position Yourself for Pay Raises, Projects and Promotions

“Anyone who waits for recognition is criminally naïve.” – Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

Years ago, I had an opportunity to speak for the women’s leadership program for a well-known Silicon Valley company. My session was on Personal Branding, in particular how the women in this male-dominated company and industry could be more pro-active about fulfilling their potential; earning the respect they want, need and deserve; and positioning themselves for pay raises, promotions, projects and positions.

I had an opportunity to interview one of their senior executives to get his input on what I could cover in my presentation to make it maximally timely, relevant and useful. He shared an insightful story about how some women sabotage themselves when it comes to maintaining the visibility necessary to be considered for career advancement.

He said, “Sam, I try to be a champion for women, but sometimes they don’t help themselves.”

I asked, “What’s an example?”

He said, “Last year, we opened an office in Paris. A woman in my department had lived in France as a foreign exchange student and speaks French fluently. I thought she would be a real addition to our team there so I threw her hat in the ring when we were discussing possible staff selections.

The other executives at the table just looked at me with puzzled expressions. No one knew who she was. I went to bat for her and tried to explain why I thought she could help us ramp up this new location.

One of my colleagues finally recognized her name. He said, “Okay, I know who you’re talking about now. She’s sat in on some of my meetings. But she never says anything.’

She ended up NOT getting that position, and it wasn’t because she didn’t deserve it or wouldn’t have done a good job. It was because those decision-makers hadn’t witnessed her adding value and weren’t willing to take a risk on someone they didn’t know.”

I asked, “Did you talk to her about this missed opportunity?”

“I did. And when I asked why she didn’t speak up in those meetings, she said, ‘I tried to, but everyone just talked over me. I suggested a way to streamline some of our procedures, but no one listened. In fact, a few minutes later one of the men said pretty much the same thing and everyone went, ‘Great idea!’ I finally just gave up.’

I told her, ‘Don’t you realize, if you don’t say anything at meetings, you make no mark? The people there conclude you don’t have anything to contribute.”

I shared his input during my presentation and suggested several ways women could speak up at meetings so participants experience them adding value and have first-hand evidence of their LeadHership ability. Here are those six tips.

Six Ways to Add Value at Meetings so People Experience your LeadHership

1. Promise yourself you’ll contribute at least one ACTION-oriented suggestion at every meeting. Notice, I did not say an opinion, I said an action. Instead of simply sharing what you think or feel, contribute specific options of what can be done to move a project forward, turn an idea into reality, or achieve a company objective.

2. Never point about what’s not working – unless you immediately follow up with how this could be replaced with something more efficient and effective. In other words, instead of focusing on a problem and what’s wrong, focus on a solution and how this can be done right.

3. Do not defer compliments, graciously honor them. If someone praises you, instead of saying, “It was nothing.” or “My team deserves the credit.” say “Thank you. Your feedback means a lot.” Then, add a detail, e.g., “Our goal was to exceed our sales quota this quarter, so we identified three high-profile clients, reached out to them, and we’re pleased to land three new major accounts.” Then, talk about your next goal or upcoming initiative so people are aware of how you’re continuing to add value.

4. Keep your comments to two minutes or less. No one likes a windbag. Richard Branson said, “Time is the new money.” In today’s rush-rush, impatient world of INFObesity, time is the new TRUST. By keeping your remarks succinct, purposeful, pro-active and to the point, people will always want to hear what you say because you’re always a good use of their time and mind.

5. If someone interrupts, speak up instead of suffering in silence as they talk over you. Look at the person, use his or her name, and say, “Mark, let me finish” or “Elizabeth, I want to hear what you have to say right after I wrap up my report,” or “Bev, one more minute and then it’s your turn.” Then, be brief, but conclude your remarks. You’re not being rude, just clear and confident that you have the right to speak.

6. SIT TALL. If you slouch, tuck your chin in, or use a tentative, high-pitched voice, people will doubt your clout. Instead, roll your shoulders up and back and sit up straight. Think “Tower, don’t cower.” Speak with a warm, firm, lower-pitched voice of authority that projects so every single person can hear every single word.

A program participant chased me down in the parking lot after that Silicon Valley talk to thank me.

She said, “Sam, I was on the verge of quitting this company. I wasn’t getting credit for all my hard work and overtime, and I’d become really resentful. I’ve been putting out fires, saving the day, and no one seemed to notice or care. You helped me realize that I can’t blame my boss for not giving me the recognition I think I deserve if I’m not giving him evidence of all the ways I’m making a difference for our clients and company.”

Her feedback made my day because it reinforced the premise of my LeadHership program. It is idealistic and unrealistic to expect organizational decision-makers to know all the ways we’re contributing and to initiate on our behalf. They’ve got enough on their plate without taking responsibility for our career advancement.

It’s up to us to, diplomatically, give organizational decision-makers evidence of how we’re contributing so they experience our LeadHership first-hand. Only then will they be motivated to give us the promotions, positions, projects and pay raises we deserve. Only then will they know we’re “up to the task” and can be trusted to add tangible, real-world value because they’ve personally experienced us doing just that.

The career ball is in your court. How will you be a LeadHer at your next meeting?

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Sam Horn, Founder/CEO of the Intrigue Agency, is the author of Tongue Fu!, What’s Holding You Back? and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? Her work has been featured in New York Times, Forbes, INC, NPR and MSNBC. Want Sam to inspire your group? Contact Cheri@IntrigueAgency.com to discuss your goals and ask how Sam can contribute to the success of your professional women’s group or event.

Down with Elevator Speeches

“Enough about me.  What do you think about me?” – Bette Midler in the movie Beaches

While speaking at an INC 500 event, I introduced a new approach for replacing elevator SPEECHES with elevator CONNECTIONS.

sam tedx image

An entrepreneur named Colleen raised her hand and said, “I can’t figure out how to do this for my business.”

I asked what she normally said when meeting people. She started explaining her job, using technical terms like magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography. None of us had any idea what she did.

I asked, “Want to brainstorm a better way to answer the ‘What do you do?’ question.”  She said a heartfelt “YES.”

“Okay, from now on, instead of EXPLAINING what you do (which is kind of like trying to explain electricity), focus on the real-world results of what you do that people can see or may have experienced.  What are those?“

She said, “Hmm.  Well, I run medical facilities that offer MRI’s and CT scans.”

“That’s better already because we can mentally picture what you’re talking about. It’s no longer conceptual or highly technical.  Plus, we probably know someone who has had an MRI or CT scan so now we can relate to it.

But don’t stop there. If you TELL people what you do, they’ll go, ‘Oh,’ and that’ll be the end of the conversation. We don’t want to CLOSE conversations, we want to OPEN conversations. You can do by asking a three-person question.”

“What’s this about a three-person question?”

“If you ask, ‘Have YOU ever had an MRI?’ and this person hasn’t, the conversation comes to an awkward dead-end. If you ask, ‘‘Have you, a friend, or a family member ever had an MRI?’ you just increased the likelihood they’ll know someone who is familiar with what you and your organization offers.”

“Okay, what next?” 

“You LISTEN.  Imagine the person says, ‘Yeah, my daughter hurt her knee playing soccer. She had an MRI.’ Just link what you do to what they just said. ‘Oh, I run the medical facilities that offer MRI’s … like the one your daughter had when she hurt her knee playing soccer.’

They’ll probably say an intrigued “Aaahh.” which is a lot better than an apathetic “Oh” or a confused “huh?” It means they GET what you do which means they’re more likely to remember you. As a bonus, if they ever need what you do, they’re more likely to contact you because people like to do business with people they know and like.”

She said, “Why is it so important to use the same words they used? I don’t want to parrot them.”

“Good point. I’m not suggesting we repeat what they said word for word. I’m suggesting we use a few of the same words because common language is what connects two strangers who, a moment ago, didn’t know if they had anything in common.”

She thanked me, sighed and said, “I wish someone had taught me this years ago.  I can’t wait to get back to work and share this with my staff.”

How about you?  What do YOU say when people ask, “What do you do?” What do your employees and team members say?

Think about it. Whether we like it or not, wherever we go, the people we meet will ask “What do you do?” And what we say MATTERS.  

That CEO’s inability to answer that question at the INC 500 conference could have meant millions of dollars in lost opportunity costs. She was surrounded by highly successful entrepreneurs, all in a position to partner with her, refer business to her or use her services. But that wasn’t going to happen because they didn’t know what she did – which meant they didn’t value it and wouldn’t remember it. 

Many people tell me they hate this question, for a variety of reasons. They don’t know how to answer it. They feel it pigeon-holes them and they don’t want to be defined by their job. They’re out of work. Or, they don’t have a position or profession people respect. Some tell me they dread “networking” because it means being subjected to a series of long-winded, boring, confusing elevator speeches.

I tell them, it can be helpful to realize that when people ask “What do you do?”, they’re not really trying to find out what you do; they’re trying to connect. They’re trying to identify what you have in common you both care about so they have a hook on which to hang a mutually-interesting conversation.

Which is why it’s so important to stop TELLING people what you do. An elevator speech is a monologue delivered in the presence of witnesses. A scripted, rehearsed-to-death elevator speech borders on being offensive because it’s a one-way lecture.

Elevator Speech

Instead, next time someone asks what you do, you might want to say, “I’d be happy to talk about what I do, and first may I find out more about you?” By giving other people an opportunity to go first, you’ve not only set a precedent that you’re genuinely interested in them and it’s not going to be “me, me, me;”  you’re sure to discover something relevant you can use to customize your opening so it reflects and integrates what you already know about them.  

When it’s your turn, remember, instead of launching into an explanation, ASK a three-person question that gives the other person an opportunity to share how they – or someone they know – have experienced or benefitted from what you do.

Truly listen to their response, and then link what you do to what they just said.

Voila.  You’ve just created a two-way conversation (dialogue vs. a monologue) that is a lot more likely to lead to a mutually-meaningful CONNECTION.  Furthermore, you’re also acting as an eloquent ambassador for your profession because the people you meet will have new-found appreciation for the work you do and the positive difference it makes for so many.

Want to see how this is done?  Watch this TEDx talk and share it at your next staff meeting. Be sure to have paper and pen or your laptop ready so you can take notes on how to adapt this approach to upcoming, real-life situations.

The first example in the TEDx talk shows how to introduce your idea or organization in a business setting where you’re trying to win buy-in, support, a green light or funding from decision-makers. The difference is,  by ASKING (a dialogue) instead of TELLING or SELLING (a monologue); you’re genuinely engaging people instead of lecturing them with INFObesity.

The second example in the TEDx talk shows how to introduce yourself at networking events or conferences when you’re meeting people for the first time.

Hope you find this approach and short video useful, and they help you genuinely enjoy meeting people and create more mutually-rewarding connections that benefit all involved. 

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Sam Horn, Founder/CEO of the Intrigue Agency, helps people create intriguing respectful, collaborative communications and projects that scale their influence – for good. Her work – including POP!, Tongue Fu! ConZentrate and Sam Horn’s Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? How to Create Intrigue and Connect with Anyone – has been featured in New York Times, Fast Company, Forbes and on NPR.  Her inspiring, interactive presentations receive raves from Intel, Cisco, NASA, National Geographic and Capital One. Contact Cheri Grimm at 805 528-4351if you’d like to arrange for Sam to speak at your convention or train your team.