Ask, Don’t Tell Leadership

microphone ask

“The wise man doesn’t give us the right answers, he poses the right questions.” Claude Levi-Strauss

For years I’ve been leading a four-session training course, covering communication styles, giving and receiving feedback, time-management and people management, aimed at helping newly appointed leaders in a government agency develop effective leadership skills. 

In one session, participants mentioned how often direct reports come to them in crises wanting to be told what to do. The decisions made are sometimes life and death. So when direct reports came to the new leaders for help, they usually told them what to do and in some cases did it for them. Even though doing so was frustrating and distracting, the new leaders felt that “helping” their direct reports saved time and avoided trouble. But does it really? Or does it create dependent workers who don’t learn to think for themselves and don’t learn to trust their own decisions?

I suggested if they wanted a solid, capable team (and to avoid burn-out), they needed to spend extra time coaching their direct reports by asking them what THEY thought should be done.

The next week, one of the participants reported a huge success. One of her direct reports came to her in a panic. “I thought about what you said last week and I asked her how she thought she should handle things.  It really helped her to calm down. I made her realize that she did have the answers. I couldn’t believe it worked!” When I asked if it took up a lot of time, she said “No!”

Think of the ROI. The time you invest instilling confidence in your direct report will yield amazing returns–confident, self-reliant staff are more efficient, effective, and engaged.

There are definitely going to be times where you need to provide answers BUT next time someone comes to you wanting to be told what to do, try using these –  Ask, Don’t Tell Leadership questions first.

  •  “I understand this is a stressful situation and needs immediate action, how do YOU think we should handle it?”
  •  “It sounds like you’re overwhelmed. I get it. There’s a lot going on. What do you see next steps being?”
  •  In the event you get the answer “I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking you!”  You could try:

o   “What would you say if you did know?”

o   “I’ve seen you handle similarly complicated situations before like when you (give a specific example) I believe you have some idea of next steps.”

Telling your staff or direct reports what to do is not leading, it’s dictating. When teams and organizations feel dictated to, they can develop two mindsets: The Sheep Mindset or the Rebel Mindset–neither of which makes for a thriving, productive, or enjoyable workplace.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” General S. Patton

Here’s to developing a great workforce. If you need help, take a look at my Capability Statement and contact me for information on training sessions.

Analogies: Your Best Friend

best friends

by Narmeen Iqbal & Robyn Hatcher

According to, an analogy is: “a form of reasoning in which one thing is inferred to be similar to another thing in a certain respect, on the basis of the known similarity between the things in other respects”.

They are also your best friend when giving presentations and communicating with people. Analogies help listeners grasp concepts and ideas more easily. They help listeners mentally visualize the connection between one form of reasoning by interpreting it through another form of reasoning.

An excellent example of the use of analogy by a Marketing Professor at Indian Institute of Management (IIM). I compares marketing concepts to meeting a gorgeous girl at a party.  Like many effective analogies, this analogy uses a touch of humor.

  • You see a gorgeous girl at a party. You go up to her and say: “I am very rich. Marry me!” – “That’s Direct Marketing”.
  • One of your friends points at you and says: “He’s very rich. Marry him!” –“That’s advertising”.
  • You go up to her and get her telephone number. The next day, you call and say: “Hi, I’m very rich. Marry me!”-“That’s Telemarketing”.
  • You get up and straighten your tie, you walk up to her and pour her a drink, you open the door of the car for her, pick up her bag after she drops it, offer her ride and then say: “By the way, I’m rich. Will you marry me?” –“That’s Public Relations”.
  • She walks up to you and says: “You are very rich! Can you marry me?” –“That’s Brand Recognition”.
  • You go up to her and say: “I am very rich. Marry me!” She gives you a nice hard slap on your face-“That’s Customer Feedback”.
  • You go up to her and say: “I am very rich. Marry me!” And she introduces you to her husband-“That’s demand and supply gap”.
  • Before you say anything, another person comes and tells her: “I’m rich. Will you marry me?” and she goes with him- “That’s competition eating into your market share”.
  • Before you say: “I’m rich, Marry me!” your wife arrives-“That’s restriction for entering new markets”.

The effect of analogies is long lasting because they force you to form an image in your head and we are conditioned to remember visual information more readily than verbal information. I’m sure many of you reading this will think about these marketing terms the next time you’re at a party or a networking event. “Hmm… is this person using direct marketing or advertising?”

I often use the analogy of baseball pitching to describe “Elevator pitches”(read article) And I love uncovering analogies to help my clients come up with a unique way to describe their business or a  selling point of their product or service. For example; in working with a Whiskey Master Blender who was speaking about an extremely expensive aged scotch whiskey, I replaced an overused and incongruent gimmick he was using with an analogy of a piece of coal (the different raw whiskeys) turning into a gorgeous, luxurious diamond (the finished aged scotch). This analogy was visual, (he incorporated actual coal and diamond props) and conveyed to his audience the rarity and preciousness of his product.

What analogies can you come up with for your business or service? Feel free to test them out here and I’ll let you know my thoughts.

For more information about crafting your content, download a complimentary chapter of my bookStanding Ovation Presentations.

standing ovation book photo

Reach Out and Touch!

hands ready to shake

In my training and coaching, I talk a lot about nonverbal communication: body language, gestures, facial expressions and vocal tone. However, there is one we tend to overlook—physical contact.

In a New York Times article by Benedict Carey, the author notes that researchers have discovered “momentary touches…—whether an exuberant high five, a warm hand on the shoulder, or a creepy touch to the arm— can communicate an even wider range of emotion than gestures or expressions, and sometimes do so more quickly and accurately than words.”

Interesting, huh? The fact is that 40% of the population is most comfortable using a kinesthetic learning channel; which means they communicate more effectively through touch as opposed to sight or sound. Touch, the article explains, is the first language we learn. No wonder it holds so much sway! Messages communicated through touch can immediately affect the way people think and act.

“Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched.”

The Definitive Book of Body Language also notes that just brushing someone’s hand can create rapport and increase positive feelings and a light tap on the elbow has been found to increase a person’s chances of getting what they want by 3 fold.

Of course, in the age of sexual harassment suits, no one’s suggesting you go around caressing and embracing everyone you meet or work with. However, think about adding a light tap on the elbow, a brush on the hand, or a light pat on the back to your communication. It can make a real difference in the way people perceive you, relate to you, and respond to your requests.

Want to improve your body language? Contact me for a coaching session!

7 Ways to Stand Out from the Crowd


What can you do to make sure you’re winning people over in the new year? It can take only 2 seconds to make a first impression. And almost 90% of that impression is made through your nonverbal communication. But did you know that it can take up to 12 visits to undo a negative first impression! Here are 7 tips to make yours a good one.

  1. Start before you open the door – Many of us walk into a room planning to scope out the situation. By then it’s usually too late. Visualize yourself as a shining star before you even leave your house. Our impression is formed on the inside as well as the outside.
  2. Adjust your focus – Focus on how you are going to engage, communicate with, or inspire the people in the room. Do NOT focus on what they are going to think about you! Set the intention of finding people you can help instead of looking for people who can help you.
  3. Be curious! It will make a difference!  At a recent networking event, I was approached by a woman. I was curious about her embossed name tag and commented on it. She launched into an explanation about the tag. She told me some recent accomplishments and promoted something else she was doing. But she walked away without ASKING ME ONE QUESTION! Don’t be that woman!
  4. Dress your strengths – What’s the one quality about you that you just love? Make one style choice that reflects that quality. At a women’s networking group in New York City only 4 women out of 30 wearing color. Instead of dressing for success all the time, dress to Express.
  5. Become a flasher – an EYEBROW flasher. By simply raising your eyebrows quickly upon entering a room, you signal that you are a friendly, positive person who is also excited and exciting.
  6. Stand in your power – Posture speaks volumes. Stand with your feet hip distance apart, a slight bend to your knees, and your weight slightly forward. That gives you a solid base and pitches your body slightly towards the person you’re addressing. Try to keep your torso fully visible. Folding your arms communicates insecurity. Comfortably displaying your torso shows your confident and trustworthy.
  7. Channel your inner Barry White – The voice is the second most important part of an effective first impression. Speak from the diaphragm and lower your pitch, that goes for men and women. Lower pitches automatically sound more authoritative and confident. Avoid up-speaking – making everything sound like a question – and avoid speaking too softly or losing energy at the end of your sentences.

Click to learn more about the Chemistry of Communication!

“Be Authentic” is Bad Advice

authentic product quality label authenticity guaranteed red wax seal stamp

I’m not sure when the word authentic became the ubiquitous adjective it is today. I somehow suspect Oprah had something to do with it. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to read anything or listen to anyone speak about communication, leadership, presentation skills, interview skills, branding, or even relationships without the word authentic being spouted – repeatedly.

When social psychologist Amy Cuddy spoke about her new book Presence with author Susan Cain, they must have used the “a”-word a dozen times. Hearing the two of them use authentic with no clarification (though she does in her book) surprised me.

I’ve been feeling for some time that someone needs to start a conversation about the difference between being “your authentic self” and being “your effective self.” So here goes!

Let’s start with the Webster definition of authentic:

  1. worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact 
  2. conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features
  3. made or done the same way as an original
  4. not false or imitation:  real, actual
  5. true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

Most people, when they use or hear the phrase “be your authentic self,” think of definition #5.

However, there’s a tendency for people to take this too literally. Some people feel that it’s out of “character” for them to dress a certain way or wear their hair a certain way so they don’t. They can assert that it’s their “personality” to use a certain language or tone of voice, to not smile, to keep to themselves, or to push the envelope, regardless of whether it’s effective or not. This gives rise to thoughts and statements like – “I’m being authentic, it’s their problem if they don’t like it.”  But is it really their problem? When you don’t get the job you want, the promotion you may deserve, the work environment you cherish,  the client you need or the second date you crave, who suffers?

Let’s be honest, there are times when being yourself is not being your best.

The fact is, there are certain visual, vocal and verbal habits that are more positive, receptive, and engaging to the average human brain. To not recognize and take these norms into account is a gamble. Sometimes gamblers win but the odds are against them.

Thought leaders, branding experts, coaches, and the like do a disservice when we tell people just be “authentic,” without explaining what we mean by authentic.

First of all, I think of the word genuine. It IS VERY important for people and brands to be genuine. But if we must use the word authentic, I believe the more accurate definition is definition # 2.

This definition of authentic can mean “reproducing the essential features” of the “original” YOU but turning those features into a You 2.0. This way you can still feel authentic AND be more effective.

I was an incredibly shy child.  Even after pushing through my shyness to be an actress and to teach communication skills like I do now, a huge part of my personality is to not speak up and to avoid the spotlight.  But as a business owner I had to eventually ask myself. “How’s that working for you?” It wasn’t.

When you think of your authentic self, is it working for you? If not, identify the “essential features” that make up YOU, and highlight, polish, and reproduce those features. Then lose or mitigate any features that get in the way of your being effective to create You 2.0.  It doesn’t make you any less authentic. According to Webster’s definition #2, you are still conforming to the original.

An important caveat:  I was sharing my thoughts about this with a colleague. She told me she had a co-worker that she just couldn’t win over with her warm and friendly style which is very authentic to her. It’s important to realize that creating a You 2.0 doesn’t mean everybody will find your presentation or communication style effective. When you find people who don’t respond positively to You 2.0 you have two choices–accept that everyone is not going to like you OR if the relationship is an important one, learn the art of subtly adapting to match their style. Just like you wear different styles in different weather, you need slightly different styles with different people. But that’s a topic for another post. Stay tuned!

Please feel free to share your opinions; I know you have some. And if you want help on how to go from YOU to YOU 2.0, please contact me.

Ditch the Elevator Pitch and Embrace the Intro-mercial!

ditch the pitch woman & trash can

Words are powerful!

When you think of a pitch, you think of someone throwing something at you or selling something to you.

That’s why I coined the phrase Intro-mercial, a cross between an introduction and a commercial.  An Intro-mercial is short, concise description of yourself, your business, product, or service which will ENGAGE a listener and encourage them to take further action.

Five Ingredients for a Tempting Intro-mercial*

  1.  Engage – Get their attention and their interest. DON’T START WITH YOUR NAME
  2. Ask questions, “If you could design the perfect widget, what would it be like?” “Do you ever have trouble finding the perfect widget?”
  3.  State a statistic, “8 out of 10 people who buy widgets replace them within one year.”
  4.  Tell a story “I bought my first widget in college and ever since then I’ve imagined improving their quality.”
  5. Use a relevant quote: “To widget or not to widget, that is the question.”
  6. Inform – Tell them what problem you solve; what need you fill. AND/OR what your mission, goal. or objective is.
  7.  Assure – Tell them your experience/some results you have produced (examples, numbers).
  8.  Seduce  Tell them what’s in it for themHow can you improve people’s bottom line,  save them time, money, or both? AND/ OR How can you make their lives better, easier, more enjoyable, or more successful?
  9.  Invite (optional) – Tell them exactly what you’re looking for and/or need.

Click Here to watch Haiku Deck on Ditching Your Elevator Pitch!

Top Tips for Powerful Communication

  1.   60 to 80% of communication is nonverbal. Your visual and vocal message needs to be consistent with the words you are saying. If they are not, we tend to believe the visual and vocal over the verbal.
  2. It takes two seconds to make a first impression, so you have to grab someone’s attention fast!
  3.  The tone and inflection of your voice is responsible for 38% of your message. Habits like – Up speaking, Drop speaking, and Whatevering weakens your message and make you sound less than confident.
  4.   PAUSE.  Give space in between your powerful points so people have time to absorb.  You can pause for up to four seconds,
  5. Gesturing is essential! Forget that old rule about not moving around.  Gesturing keeps people involved and improves audience retention. Move your hands in upward vs. downward directions.

Remember to think about what’s in it for them. People take action based on logic and emotion. Emotional appeals tend to have the most impact. When trying to engage your listener, connect your appeal to an emotional need your listener may have and think about what you have to offer them. “Logic influences thinking, emotion influences decisions”

Choose words that have power, impact, and imagery and compel the listener to ask you for more. 12 Most Persuasive words according to a YALE study: You, Money, Save, New, Results, Help, Easy, Safety, Love, Proven, Guarantee, Discovery. 

Learn to Speak YOU! – There is no one-size-fits all way. Discover and polish your unique communication style, something I call ActorType*, and cultivate an intro-mercial that is authentic to that style. “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” – Judy Garland

 To take my ActorType assessment quiz, go to my website: