Taking Your Stage Blog  
  Helping you improve the communication skills of the leaders and teams in your organization.  

5 items categorized "Leadership"


5 Tools to Get Out of a Communication Rut

IStock_000001355840_web2So often our communication in business gets in a rut - we do things the same way day after day.  I recently read a story about an actor who was having a difficult time "getting into the flow" while practicing his scenes for an upcoming rehearsal.  He felt disjointed, uncomfortable, and uninspired.  He was in a rut.  The next day some people were gathered in an adjacent room so he had to change his practice routine so that he would not disturb them.  He went to the opposite side of the room and spoke in a quiet voice.  He found that his mood and demeanor were transformed.

While we are not practicing to perform in an actual play each of us performs on our own "stage" every day, whether it is a team meeting, a one-on-one conversation, a phone call, or a presentation.  How we present and conduct ourselves goes a long way towards our ability to shape and be successfully in the "scene."

Too often we get stuck in a rut where we do things the same way every time.  We lead meetings the same way, we prepare the same way for presentations, we approach someone the same way for a one-on-one discussion.

Instead, if we are serious about becoming a great communicator that is highly proficient at what we do, we need to mix things up and continue to try new things.

Try these 5 simple tools to simply do something different:

1. Stand

If you always sit down to lead a meeting, try standing.  Standing changes your energy level and commands more respect.  In fact, studies have shown that people are more persuaded by people who are standing as opposed to sitting.

2.  Add Emotion

On a phone call or a one-on-one, change the inflection of your voice to add some emotion to it.  Just once.  How does that change the conversation and even your energy level?

3. Use Silence

In your next briefing or presentation, strategically insert silence.  Make a statement to your audience and let it hang out there for a few seconds before speaking again.  Silence is one of those simple but powerful tools to keep your message from getting in a rut.

4. Do Something Unexpected

If you always start the meeting the same way, do something different.  Try an icebreaker.  Tell a (tasteful) joke.  Have your "audience" do something unexpected, such as find one thing they don't know about another person.

5. Tell a Story

One of the single most powerful tools you can use to spice up your communication effectiveness is to inject a story.  Tell a story to start off a meeting, presentation, or even a one-on-one.  Keep it short and concise and tie it into the objective for your conversation.

I find often that our level of confidence in our job is tied to our level of confidence in communicating to others.  Try something new each day and watch how the effectiveness of your "performance" increases.




Is Your Listener's Capacity Overflowing? 7 Questions to Ask Yourself

IStock_000010987814_webLast year while coaching my daughter’s soccer team (she is seven), I realized that I was communicating too much.  The listening capacity of the girls was overflowing.  We covered passing, dribbling, throw-ins, corner kicks, and more.  I was playing the role of the talkative leader and did not have a proper awareness of when their listening “cup” was full.  Contrast that with this last Tuesday when I had one primary focus during practice: triangles (a way to teach passing and moving in soccer).  Most of the girls left practice talking about triangles.  It was far more effective.

While adults have a higher listening capacity than seven year olds, many times we can still take on the role of the overly-talkative leader.  We cause our listener’s capacity to fill up and overflow, either when talking one-on-one or to our business team.  I have had this experience myself when someone is telling me story and after story and making point after point.  All of a sudden I realize that I have glazed over and have not been paying attention, despite my good intention.

Ask yourself these seven questions to determine if you are playing the role of the “overly talkative leader”:

1. Are you asking questions or making statements?

If you are making a lot of statements, this is probably a one-sided conversation.  Start counting how many questions you are asking in a conversation.

2. Are you answering your own questions?

The hardest part about asking a question is to shut up and let the other person answer it.

3. Are you allowing pauses?

For many people, a pause after you have asked a question doesn’t mean that you need to fill it with words.  It means they are collecting their thoughts before answering your question.

4. How many topics did you cover?

Keep it focused and they'll remember it.

5. How many times did you interrupt them?

Once can be excused.  More than once means you are more interested in telling your story.

6. Do you start the conversation with a story or statement without being prompted?

Or do you start by asking a question and listening to the response?

7. Is the body language of the other person changing?

If they start shifting, tapping their fingers, moving eye contact, or a number of other small signs, you are talking too much.  Be aware of these subtle signs.

It is easy to fall into the trap of being an overly talkative leader, especially if your style is more assertive and outgoing.  But that can come across as disrespectful and becomes ineffective with your listeners, just like my daughter's soccer team was not able to soak up my good information.  We can all become more effective communicators and listeners, and raising self-awareness is often the first step.




The Power of a Personal Story

IStock_000035105200_webAfter conducting a great actor-based training session on Motivating through Storytelling for Business last week, I learned something from an unexpected source: my eleven year old son.

One of his classmates shared how she is experiencing a difficult time because her parents are divorcing.  The class was discussing what it's like to go through a difficult time in your life.  This prompted my son to share a personal story about how we had to evacuate our home in California a few years back because of a wildfire that was coming towards our neighborhood.  We could literally see the flames from our window, though the fire was at a far enough distance that our house was not in imminent danger.  He shared how that was tough for him, and how fearful he became of fire over the next few years.

That had a positive impact on his classmate, to the point that she went home and told her Dad, and her Dad mentioned it to the teacher a few days later (who in turn mentioned it to us).

I found it fascinating because it is hard for me to equate a kid going through divorce with an evacuation.  After all, we got to go back home and all was well.  And yet it did have an impact.

I believe it was because:

  • He was authentic and sincere.
  • It was a personal story - not an anecdote or someone else's story.
  • He was willing to share it in a vulnerable setting.

In a business setting, do we need to be wise about telling personal stories?  Sure.  But personal stories can be a powerful way to come alongside a team member, motivate a team, build trust, and have a positive impact on the lives of those around you.  Too often we separate our personal "selves" from our work "selves", but when we are vulnerable and sincere, we become better leaders and influencers.

"But I can't think of any personal stories!"  That is a statement I often told myself, but in reality we have many stories we could tell if we would stop coming up with excuses as to why we shouldn't tell them.  Our stories do not have to be unique or compelling or even emotional - just personal to us.  That's the power.  Here are some ideas to help you prime the pump:

  • What happened to you today?  This week?  This month?  Last year?  In the past?
  • What happened to you at home?  At work?  Someplace else?
  • What is something on which you worked (i.e. a project)?
  • What is something a team experienced on which you worked?
  • What is an adventure you took (i.e. vacation, team building, hobby, fun event)?
  • What is an event or story that really gripped you?

Perhaps we could learn something from a pair of eleven-year olds.  I know I did.




What it Takes to be a Great NFL Head Coach (or Business Leader)

IStock_000011199130_webSince I grew up in Wisconsin, I have been an avid Green Bay Packers fan my whole life.  So naturally I am excited to watch the Packers vs. 49ers playoff game on Sunday, especially after the roller coaster ride with the Aaron Rodgers story over the last 2 months.

I often think about the tremendous communication skills needed to be an NFL head coach.  You have to deal with players, assistant coaches, the media, a general manager, your owner, etc.  It's a tall order.  I recently read an interesting article by Joe Bussell on what it takes to be a great NFL coach and why many coaches fail.  He referred to the Peter principle: people are promoted based on how they performed at their current position, without regard to whether their skills are appropriate for the higher position (I'm sure you've never seen that played out in your career ;) ).

Joe goes on to list the skills that he believes are required of a head coach.  Interestingly, they closely align with skills that we believe business leaders need (and everyone is a leader):

  • Respected by coaches and players
  • High IQ in managing the high-level (as opposed to the details)
  • Process information intuitively and correctly
  • Communicate directions closely
  • A "mover of men"
  • Understand how personalities and egos come into play
  • Motivate everyone around him to make sure to get the best out of every person
  • Adapt his scheme to the personnel and roster.

These are great skills for you to proactively develop in yourself.  Not only will they help you immensely in your current position, but you will be ready when that leadership position is available.




Tips from Netflix

Have you seen the Slideshare on the HR practices that Netflix put in place a while back (you may have since it received 6 million views!)?  If you have not, or have forgotten, here is the link and a summary of the key points below.  We are especially interested in the importance of managers and colleagues communicating clear expectations while being honest, candid, and communicating with both their words and behaviors.  Enjoy!



  • A great workplace = stunning colleagues.
  • High performers would rather work by themselves than with subpar performers.  So spend your energy on surrounding them with high performers.
  • Focus on increasing the % of high performing employees rather than increasing complex processes (process does have its place, but limits long-term).
  • The “Keeper Test”: which of my people, if they told me they were leaving for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep?
  • Give people more freedom and responsibility, not control, but responsible people thrive on freedom and are worthy of it.
  • For example, an informal vacation policy – let people take whatever time they feel is appropriate (the focus and accountability is on high performance).
  • Managers own the job of creating great teams.  Imagine what you want your team to accomplish six months from now.  What specific results?  How is the work different from today?  What skills are needed to make that image a reality?  Then, what skills are currently on the team?  Do you need to shift people to better suited positions / what skills do you need to hire for?
  • Leaders own the job of creating the company culture – match talk with behavior, make sure everyone knows how the company makes money, etc.
  • Conduct conversations about performance as an organic part of work (far more effective than formal performance reviews) – for example, ask people to identify things that colleagues should stop, start, or continue.
  • Groups should be highly aligned with the corporate goals, but loosely coupled to allow for speed and flexibility.
  • Great colleagues and managers trump everything else.
  • Hire people that put the company’s interests first (instead of spending great effort on managing those that don’t).
  • Hire and expect adult like behavior (honesty, communicating with candor, communicating openly and professionally, etc.).
  • HR should focus on what’s good for the company, how that is communicated to employees, and how every worker can understand what is meant by high performance.