As an executive coach, I’m often tasked with helping leaders who are candidates for senior level positions make a compelling case for why they should be chosen over other applicants who may be just as well-qualified and suitable.
But often these aspiring leaders can be reluctant to advocate for themselves and say what they want, and instead rely on the assumption that their work will speak for itself.
I worked with one senior manager at the tax division of a global consulting firm who’d twice been denied promotion to director. She’d been given feedback that she needed to “own her accomplishments more” as a leader in her division, and that she needed to articulate them clearly and with confidence. This manager was more comfortable giving credit to her team than spelling out the wins she was directly responsible for.
Fact is, promotions are rarely based solely on the merits of high performance. Executive presence matters too, so candidates who are willing to step up and assert their accomplishments and contributions can often tip the scales in their favor.
I recommend three strategies to get over the reluctance to advocate for yourself and allow your strengths and accomplishments to shine.
1. Change your mindset
We often try to avoid a perception of arrogance by intentionally downplaying our achievements. Plus, humility is such a prized virtue that to assertively talk about your accomplishments can be counterintuitive.
You can reframe this mindset by making it all about your audience. Rather than sharing accomplishments to boost your standing, look at the results you delivered as data that reduces uncertainty in your audience. Our brains crave information that eliminates uncertainty, and promotion decisions are often subject to a great deal of ambiguity, not to mention subjectivity. By clearly articulating your accomplishments and impact, you’re helping key stakeholders make an equitable decision that’s in the best interest of the organization.
2. Create emotional distance
To avoid feeling uncomfortable when detailing your accomplishments, you can use several research-backed emotion regulation strategies. The simple act of leaning back in your chair while articulating your achievements can help create more psychological distance.
Similarly, by imagining your audience far away – something Zoom meetings make even easier – you weaken the emotional intensity of embarrassment or shame you may feel in the process, allowing you to speak with more confidence and conviction.
Another much-cited strategy is to create emotional distance by taking a detached third person perspective when advocating for yourself. It can help to mentally refer to yourself in third person, for instance, “Tom has identified new revenue streams that contribute in excess of $15 million a year.”
3. Tell a story
Weaving your achievements into a brief story of your career can help get your message across without triggering your impulse to pull back. You can start from when you joined the company, proceed through your various roles, and punctuate different moments with your notable contributions and successes.
Transitions will also help stitch your story together. Rather than listing each accomplishment by attaching them to various job titles, you can more seamlessly state: “After making several acquisitions that grew our distributor portfolio by 300 dealers in my role as division leader, I then improved customer retention by 15% in my role as regional VP.”
By putting your accomplishments into the context of a compelling narrative, you’re taking your mind’s focus off the dread of advocating for yourself, while allowing your audience to clearly see your track record of excellence.
At a certain level in top-tier organizations, everyone is exceptional, so the ability to stand out against equally capable colleagues becomes more and more difficult. This is why it’s important for aspiring leaders to not only deliver outstanding results, but also to present them in a meaningful way.
No one ever said it was going to be all smooth sailing. We’ve all been in a boat that’s gotten a little rocky, and some of us have even experienced a full-on capsize. In my experience of weathering the storm, there are one of two things that happen to your company: You either go out of business or you stay in business. If you are leading a team, you need to figure out which of those two positions your company is headed towards. Chances are, it won’t be difficult as a lot has already happened and shaken out in the marketplace. That’s good news for entrepreneurs, and even better news for leaders. The companies that weren’t strong enough to survive have already failed. And while we mourn their loss, we also have to recognize that it’s leveled the playing field. This is also a good time to take stock of where competitors have landed and where you currently rank in the pack.
The difference between those who survive and those who thrive
The companies that will win are those who learn how to leverage market uncertainty for their unique competitive advantages and leapfrog their competition with a period of rapid growth. On the surface, this sounds like a brilliant strategy, but there are thousands of ways it can fail if not executed well. A bad bet could take a company down, just as quickly as a good bet could pull it to the front of the line. This is where we’ll see a second round of companies fail, which will set the stage for the winners to double down once again and secure their seats at the top.
Competition is about to get fierce as companies start to position themselves for market dominance. We can expect market sectors to start to shake up and shake out over the next two to three years as the full market impact of the pandemic unfolds.
At the same time, the potential gains are big. With market sectors in flux, the potential to take on the market leader spot has never been greater. This is the kind of opportunity that only comes around once in a lifetime, so I recommend paying attention to your industry competition, closely. Technology is accelerating faster than Corporate America can adopt it, creating a fertile ground for start-up and mid-sized companies to innovate their way into the top seat. However, all bets are not created equal and entrepreneurs need to understand how to weigh bets and when to push the accelerator.
Creating a framework for success
Framework is important. It should be flexible and allow for rapid failure. The best way to win is to fail faster and in smaller chunks. It should also empower winners to make their way to the top faster. Oftentimes, winners lose because they can’t even see they are there. The framework must prevent that from happening, and should allow for rapid experimentation. We never know which idea is a winner until it has a chance to win. So often our strategies are mired in complexity and complicated execution plans. That isn’t going to fly if you want to take the top seat. Instead, you’ll need a space for ideas to be planted, to grow and to reproduce. In execution, this often looks like an idea lab with a budget and a team who knows how to get stuff done at the helm.
So how can leaders understand the chessboard so they can call checkmate on their competition? They have to settle into discomfort. Prepared leaders will be able to make clear-headed decisions while seeing market opportunities that are invisible to the untrained eye. And they will be prepared to move even when it isn’t comfortable to do so.
The road to the top is rather arduous and requires massive levels of organizational flexibility that can’t be taught overnight. The leadership team must be in sync and know how to make the right decisions that are right for the business and its people, even if they are tough or risky. Employees need to feel appreciated, valued for their contributions, and celebrated every step of the way. Customers also need to feel satisfied and delighted by their entire experience. That’s a tall order for a company of any size, but especially challenging for industry behemoths. That’s why it’s a market ripe for the market leaders to fail and the market innovators to succeed.
Taking advantage of future innovation gaps
These are evolutionary times. We’ve never seen a combination of events with such a broad brush of impact. Every industry is primed for rapid transformation and realignment as the full market impact of 2020 continues to unfold. Technology is accelerating faster than it can be adopted by industry leaders, which is opening the door for innovation gaps. These gaps create an opening for new startups to come through and disrupt entire markets.
There’s no telling what innovations will pop up and be the next market leader, but this market is ready. We’ll get excited about the innovation, and before you know it, it will become the new norm. This won’t be the first time we’ve seen industry leaders fail and get overtaken by an unnamed competitor and it won’t be the last. As markets have it, there’s always a play that can win. Will it be yours?
Harvard professor Ronald Ferguson is author of “The Formula: Unlocking the Secrets to Raising Highly Successful Children.”
After becoming fascinated with what parents did to shape his most talented students, he conducted research and determined that there are eight parental roles that make up the formula for master parenting.
Being an “early learning partner” is the most crucial, he said, which helps kids become excited about gathering new information and succeeding.
Ferguson was fascinated with what parents did to shape his talented students. So he and co-author Tatsha Robertson comprehensively studied how different parenting styles shape children’s success. Test subjects included the youngest statewide elected official in the country and the mother of the CEOs of YouTube and the genetics company 23andMe.
Eight parental roles that Ferguson says make up the formula for master parenting. “It was like a hidden pattern that gradually revealed itself – a set of widely recognized, well-researched qualities that are the basic success foundations.”
Play these eight roles well and you’ll ace parenting.
1. The ‘early learning partner’
This role has parents getting their child interested in learning at a young age, before they start school. Ferguson calls the early learning partner the most important role of the eight. The most successful kids can read basic words by kindergarten, and experience what Ferguson calls “the early lead effect,” where the child responds positively to a teacher’s excitement that they can already read.
2. The ‘flight engineer’
This is the parent monitoring the child’s growth environment, making sure they’re getting what they need and intervening when they’re not.
This isn’t the same as being a helicopter parent, who Ferguson says “are so involved in their children’s lives they don’t create space for them to develop independent relationships, learn how to negotiate for themselves, or identify their own interests.” My wife and I started playing this role when we encountered a teacher that wasn’t giving our daughter a fair shake.
3. The ‘fixer’
In this role, the parent ensures no key opportunity for their child’s betterment is lost — and they don’t let a lack of resources slow them down.
As Ferguson says, “The parents might be living in poverty, but if they see an opportunity they judge to be essential for their child’s success in school or life, they’ll walk through walls to get it.”
4. The ‘revealer’
Revealer parents help their child discover the world by going to museums, libraries, exhibits, etc. — anything to expand their worldview. Again, this happens even with a lack of resources; revealer parents get creative in how to accommodate such outings. My wife and I have given this one extra focus, since we’re fans of experiences over things.
5. The ‘philosopher’
Ferguson says this is the second most important role, because it helps children find purpose. Here, the parents ask and answer deep life questions, never underestimating a child’s capacity to understand life and grasp the idea of meaning. I’ve been astonished at how early my daughter grasped these big ideas.
6. The ‘model’
This is classic role-modeling. Parents who do this well are clear about which values are important to them and work hard to pass those values on to their children, who then aspire to emulate them. My wife and I try to live our core values each day — but that doesn’t mean it comes easy, or that we always succeed.
7. The ‘negotiator’
This role teaches the child to be respectful while standing up for themselves and what they believe in (especially in the face of those with power and authority).
8. The ‘GPS navigational voice’
Ferguson described this as, “The parents’ voice in the child’s head after the child has left home, coaching the young adult through new situations in life.” I can only hope our daughter’s GPS never says “recalculating,” given the work we’ve done to try and keep it on course.
Reassuringly, the Harvard researcher said that the most important quality for parents to exhibit as they wear these different hats is simply the determination to be a great parent. He calls this motivation “the burn,” and says it often comes out of things in the parents’ histories:
It could be something that went wrong in their own childhoods that they didn’t want repeated for their own children. It could be a family legacy of excellence in some domain that they felt a responsibility to pass on to their offspring. Or some commitment that the family had, for example, to civil rights, that they wanted their children to honor. But each of these parents had a vision of the kind of person they wanted their children to become. That vision, along with the burn, guided and inspired their parenting.
So whatever your “burn” is, use it to play these eight roles well. None of the roles are always easy, but all of them are important for giving your child every chance to succeed.
This Inc. story was originally published on Business Insider April 30, 2019.
Carole Zimmer has been a journalist for 30 years and is the host of an award-winning podcast called Now What? which features curated conversations with well-known people, from Jane Fonda and Katie Hill.
During the pandemic, those conversations have moved online, leading to intimate chats from famous living rooms all around the country and lessons about how to handle adversity during challenging times.
Here, she shares parts of her discussions with Jane Fonda, Julie Taymor, Ken Burns, Ann Patchett, Katie Hill, and Oliver Stone.
The pandemic has turned our lives upside down, bringing many unwanted consequences along with it. It’s limited our travel plans, eliminated our dinner parties, and left us missing a warm hug and a friendly kiss. But there is one positive aspect: Many of us now have more time. This has turned out to be a boon for my award-winning “Now What?” podcast. With less to do, many people I’ve always wanted to talk to now agree to a conversation, especially if all they have to do to connect is walk into their living room and click on a Zoom link .
The downside of that ease is that you always lose something special when you’re not in the same room as the person you’re speaking to. I’m so glad that I got the chance to talk to Norman Lear in 2017 in his spacious Beverly Hills office which is filled with photos from the legendary television shows he created over the last half century. I would also have missed the chance to sit in a comfortable chair in Carl Reiner’s living room, the same chair where Reiner’s best friend Mel Brooks used to sink into when he came over for his nightly dinners. Those experiences unfortunately could never be replicated in cyberspace.
But whatever form it takes, getting the chance to talk with Jane Fonda, Ken Burns, Oliver Stone, and others was a treat I treasure. They have stories to tell about what happens when you follow your dreams, overcome failures, and manage to navigate all the bumps in the road during challenging times. Even though we may not meet back up in person, their advice rings even more true during this uncertain year.
1. Actress and activist Jane Fonda on feeling bad and finding meaning
During her long career, Jane Fonda has emerged as the kind of person who not only talks about the problems we face on the planet, but tries to do something about them too.
Jane’s father Henry was Hollywood royalty, one of the country’s most successful and well-known actors. At 23, Jane made her acting debut on Broadway, and has since appeared in more than 45 movies and won two Academy Awards. Jane was in her 30s when she began protesting the Vietnam War and made a trip to the war-torn Asian country that earned her the name of Hanoi Jane.
Now at 82, Fonda has been leading a movement against the ravages of climate change that have resulted in five arrests for civil disobedience. Her book “What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action” tells the story about her involvement in the social causes that changed the course of her life.
“I spent the first 30 years of my life totally uninvolved, unaware, hedonistic, and miserable. I didn’t know why I was put on earth. My life had no meaning, and I was not very happy,” Fonda said in our October 2020 interview when I asked her why she chooses to speak out publicly about controversial political issues. “Because of the Vietnam War, because of what US soldiers told me about what was really happening in Vietnam, I decided to leave that life of mine and become an activist, and when that happened the depression lifted and I felt that my life had meaning and I’ve been trying to get better at it for 60 years. I’m a work in progress.”
Taymor has also found success on the big screen with films like “Frida” about the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her tempestuous relationship with Diego Rivera. Taymor’s current film, “The Two Glorias,” explores the life of feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
But looming large in Taymor’s career is a controversial Broadway production of “Spiderman: Turn off The Dark. The blockbuster musical has the distinction of being the most expensive show ever mounted on Broadway. In 2011, Taymor was fired from Spiderman after a preview period marked by technical mishaps and negative reviews. Taymor says it was her experience with Spiderman that helped her to come to terms with failure.
“I went to India right after the ‘Spiderman’ debacle, if you want to call it that,” she said, adding the incident caused her to reevaluate where she wanted to go with her career. “It is true that going into dark places makes you see light in a different way… people get proud of scars for a reason; it shows you’ve lived.”
3. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns on the lessons of history in hard times
When I spoke with Ken Burns he was in his New Hampshire home in May 2020, he was thinking about how the pandemic has changed his life. Burns, who is probably the best-known documentary filmmaker in this country, says the global health crisis has made him appreciate every moment he gets to spend with his four daughters. And he’s cooking more, having become a master of the grill with his special recipe for chicken with maple syrup.
Burns is working on multiple projects at one time juggling subject matter that ranges from Ernest Hemingway to the Revolutionary War. One of his best-known documentaries is about the Vietnam War; he also created the documentary series “The Civil War” and traces his own lineage back to Colonial Americans who were Loyalists during the American Revolution.
Burns says he’s always been drawn to history rather than fiction and spent a lot of time reading the encyclopedia when he was growing up.
“It is the ultimate cliché to say that history repeats itself. It has never, ever repeated itself. There has never been an event that was exactly an event from before. Nor are we condemned to repeat what we don’t remember,” he said. “We understand the hopeful impulse of that, but it’s just not true. almost everything is rhyming in the present. I remain kind of optimistic because history gives you a little bit of perspective and perspective in the end is all you really need. Each event provides itself with certain antecedents that provide you with some kind of perspective.”
4. Writer Ann Patchett on getting stuck and powering through
Ann Patchett is the best-selling author of eight novels including “Bel Canto” and “Commonwealth.” Her latest book, “The Dutch House” was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Patchett’s love of writing is rivaled by her love of reading and her support of independent bookstores. She co-owns the famous Parnassus bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, and says the store continues to do a brisk online business during the pandemic and is “part of our community as never before.”
Throughout the pandemic, Patchett has appeared on the Parnassus Books Instagram account where she offers recommendations about what to read. She often wears a ball gown or a cocktail dress for the occasion because “the alternative was staying in yoga pants for the rest of my life.” Patchett points out that since many us now have more uncluttered time, it’s a great opportunity to take a deep dive into books like “War and Peace” and “David Copperfield.”
Patchett hasn’t decided what her next writing project will be but she knows she’ll have to jump through hoops to see it through. “I spend a long time thinking about a book before I sit down and start to write it,” she said when she spoke to me in April 2020 from a closet in her Nashville home.
“And then when I finally do sit down, which is the most miserable part, so I get the book all worked out in my head and then I sit down. I’ll maybe sit down for 15 minutes a day. It’s like sitting on a hot stove. It’s just miserable. By the time I’m writing the end of the book, I can sit at my desk for 12 or 14 hours a day, so there’s no rhyme or reason… I actually don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe that there are problems that are very hard and maybe some problems that are not solvable, but if you sit down and you can’t write and you say, ‘Well, I’m blocked’ that means that there is something external that’s happening to you. My husband is a doctor and he doesn’t get doctor’s block… he doesn’t ever get to say, ‘Oh, I can’t solve that problem because I’m blocked,’ so I just don’t ever say that.”
5. Former Congresswoman Katie Hill on overcoming scandal and the everlasting exposure of nude photos
Katie Hill was 31 when she was elected to Congress from a district in California that had been Republican for many years. It was the 2018 midterm elections that brought Hill to Washington along with other young women like Lauren Anderson and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Hill was thrilled to be in the company of a revitalized House of Representatives. Hill’s freshman class chose her to represent it at regular meetings with the Democratic leadership and Speaker Nancy Pelosi became a kind of mentor to Hill.
But after just nine months in office, Hill’s Congressional career ended abruptly when nude photos of her began circulating online. They showed Hill and a young woman who had worked on Hill’s campaign in intimate moments together.
Pelosi and Hill’s other friends in Congress urged her to fight on but in November 2019, Hill announced she was stepping down. Faced with the title “disgraced Congresswoman,” Hill said she was a victim of revenge porn from her estranged husband. She wrote a book about the perils of public shaming called “She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality.”
I asked Katie Hill in August 2020 what it was like to live her life in the middle of a scandal that left her exposed in so many ways before the world.
“The physical exposure is something that a lot of people have nightmares about. It’s one of the most recurring nightmares that you’re trapped in the nude, and you’re trying to escape, but for me that was every single day. I felt like such a failure. I felt so much guilt around the situation. I felt like it would be better for me to just go away entirely for so many people,” Hill said. “But then, I was getting closer and closer to that moment of truth, I guess. I thought, ‘You know what? Maybe the worst thing that I could do would be to disappear entirely,’ and I felt like I couldn’t do it to my family. And that I needed to show other people that you can recover from something like this.”
6. Director Oliver Stone on feeling like a failure when he made the film “The Hand”
Oliver Stone gained a reputation as the baddest of Hollywood bad boys, the ultimate risk taker. In his younger years, Stone spent a lot of time in a drug-induced haze. He spouted conspiracy theories and sometimes acted crazy.
Stone also gained a reputation as one of the great directors of his generation who has made films like “Midnight Express” and “Platoon,” a gritty film about the Vietnam War that earned him Academy awards for Best Director and Best Writer. And he went on to make other acclaimed features like “Salvador,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Wall Street. ”
Stone’ book “Chasing the Light” recounts the most tumultuous years of his life including the pain he felt when one of his early films called “The Hand” was torn apart by critics.
Stone told me, “I was a first-time director in Hollywood terms. My failure felt like I was in a magnifying glass and that everybody was seeing it in a fishbowl business. I took it hard. I took it very hard. I was ashamed of myself, and I was shamed by others and I allowed myself to be shamed. You understand that? And it’s easy for a person who had very low self-esteem to begin with. I was just a G.I. and a cab driver; I didn’t have any claims to celebrity.”
“I guess you have to be optimistic. It’s a setback. You lose two years of your life. A project you work on doesn’t happen. I’ve gotten used to it. Plus, on top of it, my sensibilities are divorced from very much of the Hollywood scene as I see things in a world sense. I’ve met many of the leaders and I see things in a different way than the American way. There is an American optics on everything. We see the world from our point of view. Our values dominate.”