Women are better leaders...but we need to be more than that to get promoted

First published on the Women's Agenda website (18th January 2016) by Anneli Blundell. Source: https://womensagenda.com.au/leadership/advice/women-are-better-leaders-but-we-need-to-be-more-than-that-to-get-promoted/


Women are better leaders. Yet the ever-present, pay-gap issue and continued low numbers of women in senior ranks, shows that being better is not enough to get ahead. There will always be a myriad of circumstances that contribute to this complex issue, but one thing is certain: being good at what you do will not guarantee your success; doing a great job and waiting to be noticed is not how you win the game. To get ahead, reach your potential, and make a difference, you must understand the real game you’re playing.

Current state of play

In 2012, Zenger and Folkman surveyed 7,280 leaders and rated them on their overall leadership effectiveness. Women led the way at every level and not just on the ‘soft skills’ but on those traditionally held by men, for example, taking initiative and driving results. Additionally, 11,434 adults surveyed by Gallup showed a 6% higher engagement rate of employees who were led by a female. 

However, this leaderboard serves as a celebration and a warning: a celebration because we can take pride in knowing that women are well equipped to deliver leadership, and a warning because it highlights a challenge for women to put themselves forward—the difference between reputation and results.

Getting ahead at work

Getting ahead at work is as much about being ‘seen’ as a leader as it is about actually leading. Doing a great job, playing by the rules, and working hard is not enough to get ahead. Women are rarely rewarded for being humble achievers. Women can be deemed the greatest leaders in the world by the people they lead but these are not the people who are promoting them. A good leadership reputation needs to be as visible from above as it is palpable from below. Without the ability to manage up, speak up and have a visible leadership brand, women jeopardise their opportunity to play a bigger game.

5 ways to enhance your leadership game

In order to transform great leadership skills into greater leadership roles, women can actively manage their leadership presence so their ability is equal to their visibility.

  1. Quit the questioning tonality: Tonality rises as if you are asking a question, even when you’re not. ‘Hi. My name is Sharon?’ Keep your tonality flat or going down at the end of a sentence.
  2. Stop hedging your language: A reluctance to make declarative statements causes an overreliance on softening language to cover multiple perspectives. Don’t weaken your conviction by diluting your stance. Make a statement then handle pushback if it comes to you.
  3. Speak up: Use your voice. Be heard. Be visible. Speak in a volume that can be heard. Be one of the first to speak in groups and meetings. Speak every 10–15 minutes.
  4. Stand still: Rocking, swaying or resting your weight on one foot projects a casual, relaxed demeanor at best and a lack of confidence, at worst. It does not command authority. Stand still with your weight evenly distributed.
  5. Accept credit: Minimising your achievements and downplaying your contributions belittles your effort and ability. Accept compliments graciously. Look people in the eye, smile and say thank you.

Women transform the work arena. Engagement is higher, profits are stronger and compliance is tighter. We need more female leaders; we need women who can manage their leadership brand just as well as they manage their business results. We need women like you. Now you know the rules of the game, will you play?


Staff management: honesty best policy to bring out full potential

First published on The Australian Business Review (30 Apr 2016)

Great leaders give critical feedback. They tell it like it is. They are heard. They inspire action. Leaders who give targeted, real-time feedback — good and bad — support and challenge their ­people to develop.

Giving critical or corrective feedback can invite negative reactions: denial, hurt, blame and anger are possible responses. Most of us are not eager to upset others, which makes it easy to justify ­delayed responses or missed feedback opportunities. However, avoiding the tough stuff can have major consequences. Leaders must make the effort. They must confront their own comfort and confidence levels when faced with having hard conversations. Withholding critical feedback is like asking someone to complete a crossword without providing all the clues. It is not possible.

Sue (not her real name) worked as a community support manager. She moved through leader­ship roles in various divisions within five years. Sue was liked as a person but not respected in her role. She sat on decisions, was easily overwhelmed and was seen as a bottleneck to progress. She did not deliver.

When June was appointed as division head, she quickly noticed the issue. June gave Sue the feedback no one wanted to give. She respectfully yet firmly laid out the situation. Sue was shocked and distressed by her apparent ­underperformance. Missed feedback opportunities meant Sue was not given the chance to modify her ­behaviour.

After a few months of coaching support, things were looking up. Sue’s projects were on track and she noticed a change in how ­others treated her. Sue thanked June for her candour and willingness to invest in her growth.

Without critical feedback, we do not know what we do not know; we become blind to our potential. The better you are at giving critical feedback, the faster and deeper people will develop. Here’s why:

People need challenge. John Demartini, an American researcher and bestselling author in human behaviour, says: “People grow at the boundary of support and challenge.” We need just enough challenge to keep us growing and developing, and just enough support to feel encouraged and on track. One without the other can lead to boredom and stagnation or burnout and stress.

People need clarity. We cannot see our behaviours as clearly as others can. Sometimes we are not as good as we think we are and other times our performance ­deserves more credit. Without an outside perspective, we remain blind to our development opportunities and strengths. It is a leader’s role to provide the clarity we cannot see for ourselves.

People have courage. They ­actually want the bad news that their leaders do not want to give them. In 2014, business management consultants Zenger Folkman surveyed 899 individuals globally about their relationship to feedback. They found people wanted corrective feedback more than praise. Of those, 72 per cent said their performance would improve if their manager provided corrective feedback.

Leaders who sit on feedback because they do not have time, do not think it matters or are reluctant to have a hard conversation, stifle the growth of their people.

Anneli Blundell is co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the Guesswork Out of Leading Leaders.

Dynamic People

First published on Nett Magazine (16th Jan 2016)

Melbournite Anneli Blundell has spent the past nine years building her business, and helping leaders learn to engage.

What’s the name of your company, and what do you do?

I’m best known under my own name. You can find me online at AnneliBlundell.com. I work with leaders to help improve their engagement, influence and impact with others. It’s about developing interpersonal intelligence – the ability to understand and navigate the people dynamics in a given situation.

How a leader shows up in the world really matters. What they say, what they do and even what they’re thinking affects people around them. The combined result is an interpersonal impact that works like a magnet; it either draws people to them or pushes people away from them. The difference this makes to a leaders’ engagement, influence and impact is palpable.

The world is getting smaller, the tasks bigger and the time to get them done, shorter. We need to build relationships and trust in record time. We need influence, engagement and impact and we all need to pay attention to our interpersonal footprint.

Essentially, I consider myself like a people whisperer because my work is all about decoding people dynamics and tuning into the below conscious drivers that impact performance and engagement. Have I mentioned yet how much I love my work by the way?

What were you doing before you started this business?

I worked at the ANZ bank. I’ve done everything from manage branches in the Melbourne CBD, to standing on the corner in a bee suit handing out flyers (not a highlight!), to delivering over 1000 presentations about banking benefits to our customers. Before I left I was the Manager for Branch Platforms Australia and New Zealand, responsible for the telling platform across the whole branch network. Essentially it was like being a diplomat with the United Nations (I imagine!). Constantly working with multiple stakeholders from many different departments and working hard to keep everyone happy. Easier said than done but it was great training ground for the work I do now. Reading people, decoding intentions, understanding and aligning motivations, influencing and engaging, managing conflict. All juicy people stuff!

How did the idea for your business come about?

I’d always wanted to do something I was really passionate about. I wanted to come to work with a fire in my belly, a passion to serve and a feeling that I had found my place. I knew my strength was in building relationships, working with people, and helping them get the most out of themselves and others and I knew there was a market for executive coaching and leadership training. So I quit my job and started my own coaching and consulting practice.

With a degree in Business Management and HR, I also realised the area of communication, influence and engagement would always be in demand. As long as people need to work with people, there will always be an opportunity for me to do this work that I love so much. I feel very lucky and am grateful everyday for the clients I get to work with and the impact I get to make.

What has been the most difficult challenge you’ve had to overcome?

Doing everything myself. What a shock! When I first started my own business I was blindsided by how much there was to do outside of my core work helping my clients. I remember the first time I had a computer issue I dialed the ANZ IT hotline! I was so bummed to realise they weren’t there anymore. I had to build a network of great people around me, really quickly – a bookkeeper, graphic designer, editor, a better accountant, an IT support person, a lawyer, a printer and of course Office Works became my secret guilty pleasure! Who’s with me??

Nowadays I’m lucky enough to be supported by my Business Manager and a Virtual Assistant who are both really skilled at doing many of the background activities that take up a lot of time but still need to get done.

What has been the most effective form of advertising for your business?

Word of mouth referrals and speaking gigs. Mine is a trust based business. People don’t buy relationships out of the yellow pages. They want someone they can trust and relate to.

If they can see you in action or get a recommendation from a trusted source then the rest will take care of itself.

How important is social media to you business?

Some forums are more important than others when connecting with my client base. I’ve always been an avid user of LinkedIn (and so too are most of my clients). I’ve only included Facebook and Twitter more recently. LinkedIn is where I get most of my engagement though. People ‘like’ and ‘share’ posts I’ve written or articles I’ve shared and they comment on them too. This often provides a warm introduction to new people and is a great way to expand my network and meet potential clients. I also get a quick read on which topics are hot and which are not! I love the instant feedback from the marketplace.

What are your plans to expand the business?

Right now I’m focusing on consolidating my practice. I’m further stream lining my products and services so that I continue to offer my specialist expertise to my clients in new and unique ways. I’m not looking to create 100 more Anneli’s in my business. Right now I’m just looking to continue deepening my expertise and doing great work with wonderful clients.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m proud to announce the publication of my latest co-authored book! Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders. It’s been a long time coming so I’m hugely proud that it’s now available for people. I’m also really delighted to give back to a much broader audience rather than limiting my reach to just the clients I have the privilege of working with face to face.

When running a small business, every contribution counts. Owners can’t afford to carry staff members who aren’t pulling their weight or who are generally great but have one or two behaviours that are impacting their performance. Finding the right way to develop team members on the job (and not through an outsourced training program) can be tricky. Often leaders aren’t sure how to do it, let alone do it well.

With this book, small business owners can get a practical resource offering proven strategies for developing leadership in others, whilst on the job. Packed with case studies, leadership theory and on the ground experience this guide helps leaders to close the gap between the potential and actual performance of their direct reports. The book addresses the 12 most common, globally recognised leadership derailers, to assist leaders dramatically impact performance, engagement, and the bottom line.

It’s available for purchase on most online outlets, and accessible from my website: www.anneliblundell.com/books/

7 signs your new team will make it

First published on psnews.com.au (8th Dec 2015)

Relationships drive results—especially in a new team. When new team members form bonds quickly, their results accelerate; when they don’t, their results stall. Building strong relationships that fast track performance is about supporting the ongoing conversations between people when work gets tough, ideas get tested and people get confronted.

The sum of the parts … and all that stuff

Individual contributions are maximised or minimised by the strength of the relationship between team members. It’s a fallacy that smart individuals make smart teams [1] and it’s naïve to think that if people know how to work independently, they’ll know how to work collectively. Just as the magic of an orchestra’s symphony is not defined by the talent of the individual musicians, but rather the way they play together, building a high-performance team is less about individual capability and more about how people work together to support and leverage each other’s unique talents and strengths.

The 7 signs of success

The ability to read team dynamics and fast track high performance comes down to seven essential behaviours:

1. Know when to push and when to pause

The ability to read the moods, intentions and needs of your team members is the ultimate foundation for team performance, [2] and one of the most crucial skills required to create a champion team from a team of champions. What do others need right now? How can you support them? How far can you push them? Are they having a bad day or is something else going on?

2. Challenge the message not the messenger

When you put smart, capable people together they develop wide-ranging ideas—some complementary, some contradictory. The ability to debate ideas passionately without personally attacking others (or feeling attacked by others) is a fine art and one that must be mastered in order for great ideas to get even better.

3. Clear the air, early and often

When people sit on assumptions, judgements and conclusions that don't support healthy team functioning, they become stones in a shoe—at first, mildly irritating and if left unchecked, damaging and debilitating. If someone feels slighted, misheard or misunderstood, it’s important to clear the air as early and often as possible.

4. Turn difference into diversity

Diversity makes for better teams but only if the differences are understood, respected and leveraged. Without understanding the value behind the difference, people are quick to judge others as outsiders to the group, diluting their potential value. They’ll show less empathy, tolerance and appreciation for the different perspective available, shortchanging the individual and the whole team, of value.

5. Be likable

This is not about being popular or changing who you are; it’s about knowing how to put your best foot forward when forming relationships, making it easy for people to get to know you. Strangers are labeled as ‘foes’ before ‘friends’ until some form of similarity or connection has been established. People trust and want to work with accessible personalities. Being liked changes the way others value your contribution. [3] They are also more forgiving, more understanding, and more accommodating.

6. Watch your positive to negative comment ratios

High-performing teams provide positive and constructive (sometimes negative) feedback to each other. The ratio of positive to negative comments for happy marriages is 5:1 [4]—similar to that for healthy teams. [5] People don't want criticism and complaints without a healthy dose of support and validation to balance it out.

7. Know your own hot buttons

As humans we come with baggage. There are behaviours, words and actions that set off our hot buttons and make us respond less than rationally. This is normal, yet not ideal, when working closely with others. The more awareness we have of our trigger points, the more we can keep our own behaviours in check and avoid unnecessary escalation or upset.

Can you read the signs?

Newly formed teams will sink or swim by the degree to which individuals work well together. In the long run, social connections will trump individual contributions because the relationships between team members exert an invisible yet undeniable force in shaping the team’s ability to get real results. To ignore this force is to jeopardise team performance.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/opinion/sunday/why-some-teams-are-smarter-than-others.html 

[2] http://ideas.ted.com/the-secret-ingredient-that-makes-some-teams-better-than-others/

[3] Trunk, P. (2006, July 18) [Online blog post quoting private conversation with the author of the HBR article mentioned here]. Retrieved from http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/07/18/social-skills-matter-more-than-ever-so-heres-how-to-get-them/. Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks," Harvard Business Review, Vol. 83, No. 6, June 2005.

[4] http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/building-a-feedback-rich-culture/

[5] https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism