The opposite of Asshole is not “Weak Person”


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My secret weapon for achieving success

I am preparing to deliver a TED talk at the TEDx Navasink Conference on May 20 in Asbury Park, NJ!
…and it got me thinking about the ideas of Power and Weakness in business.

(By the way, if you want to attend, you can register here.)

My secret weapon…

I’m going to be talking about my secret weapon for achieving unlikely corporate success… having grown up in a small farm town in rural NJ, and (as a woman) ultimately becoming a Silicon Valley CEO. This as you might imagine, was not a direct, well marked path!

At the core of my secret weapon was the willingness to show up at work as my true self, instead of being tempted to put on a facade of a more business like, more impressive, more important-seeming, executive persona. See also Stop trying to be impressive.

I’ll tell stories about how being willing to put my real self out there and to have real, unstructured conversations with others (while it sometimes felt risky or scary) created surprising and remarkable outcomes.

What about the bullies?

When I tell people what I am going to be talking about, some say to me, “You can’t tell people that!!! Corporations are competitive and nasty. You need to be competitive and nasty too if you want to survive.”

The non-asshole route

I used to think so too. But took a different route.

I was very lucky early in my career to have two mentors and role models (both men), who were both very successful and powerful business people, but who were also kind and authentic people who treated everyone with respect no matter what their position.

Their example gave me the confidence to pursue the authentic, respectful route. And it worked for me.

But as I prepared for this talk, it struck me that many people are afraid to show a kind, authentic persona because they fear that they will appear weak at work.

Many people believe that their true self is just not big enough or strong enough somehow, so they feel pressured to put on a more harsh, business-like, persona.

The Narcissists

It can be confusing to watch the narcissist bullies, appearing to be so strong and getting ahead. At times, I too was afraid that I could not compete with them.

But I also realized that that was not a path for me.

I didn’t attempt to be like them, mostly because I did not have the skills to do it!

It takes a certain kind of talent to create and manage a false, impressive, alter-ego, work persona. You need to be a really good actor. And to really commit to the part!

And I didn’t have the stomach to treat others as inferior simply because they were below me in the organization.

So I just decided to be myself with confidence and treat others with respect. And to have real, open, unstructured conversations with them, whether they were employees, peers, stakeholders, or bosses.

Authentic IS powerful

Eventually I realized that being your authentic self is actually the best way to come across as most powerful and credible — because authenticity will always be more powerful than good acting.

I talk to so many leaders who confess to me, “I worry that I’m not am enough of an asshole. I’m not sure I am tough enough on people”. Really, people ask me this.

While you certainly can be a narcissistic, egomaniac, asshole and get ahead in business — it’s not a requirement!

The opposite of asshole is not “weak person”. The opposite of asshole is strong, genuine and respectful.

The more I think about leadership, the more I realize that good, effectively leadership IS hard. It’s not an easy job. It is by no means a job for the weak.

Leadership is hard job that you absolutely can succeed at as a strong, good person.

A good leader will make tough decisions
A good leader will have the difficult conversations
A good leader will resolve conflicts
A good leader will make scary resource tradeoffs
A good leader will face obstacles and overcome them
A good leader will help others get through the difficult and boring parts
A good leader will be accountable for their choices and behaviors

These are not the traits of a weak person.

Even stronger

Good leaders are strong people, probably even stronger than the assholes.

Just because you are not acting like a bully, doesn’t mean you are not strong. Remember the bullies are the ones who are not strong — that’s why they are bullies.

If you want to be a good person, you can still be a strong and effective business leader.
Don’t let the existing examples of asshole behavior we can all see make you feel like you need to be that way too.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.


About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

The Key to Influence: Make your Voice Bigger


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Influence and Difficult People

The topic of how to influence difficult people, comes up in my work all the time. (At all levels.)

One of the most useful tools in the influence tool kit is to make your voice bigger.

What I mean by this is to never get into a situation where it’s your opinion vs. someone else’s opinion.

If you are only arguing with your own voice, your own idea, your own opinion, you are missing a source of power that can change the game entirely.

When you are in the situation where you know you are right and what you are recommending is really important, it can be very frustrating when no one is supporting you.

“Why should we listen to YOU?”

Many years ago, early in my career when I had a job as a product manager, I stumbled into a disagreement with the product development team.

One day I went to the group of product developers who were all sitting a room finishing a meeting and said,

“Do you have a minute to discuss the next product release? I wanted to let you know that we need to make a change to the user interface to say [a different thing], so that customers will not be confused anymore.”

In the grand scheme of things, this was a very small change in terms of scope, effort, and reason for controversy.

However, instead of the expected answer of, “OK”, I was confronted with,

“And who are you, that you think you can tell us what to put into the product?”

Sadly, my answer of “I’m the product manager,” held no weight with them.

They replied instead, “What makes you think you are smarter than we are?”

So my reply was this:

I do not think I am smarter than you are. I certainly hope I am not smarter than you are! Because we’re all counting on you to be brilliant.

But in my role as a product manager, it’s my job to talk to customers. In the past 6 weeks, I’ve talked to 75 customers and 71 of them pretty much insisted that we make this change to the UI, because it was causing so much confusion in their organizations.

What makes you think you are smarter than 71 paying customers?

They made the change.

What if the difficult person is your boss?

Sometimes the person blocking you is your boss. This can be really frustrating.

I have had a saying for a long time:

Never blame your failure on the fact that your boss is stupid

If your boss is blocking you, and your boss is wrong, don’t let your career get damaged by a their bad decision. But also remember that you don’t win against your boss.

If the disagreement is between just you and your boss, and you know in your heart that your career will suffer more if you agree with your boss than if you hold your ground, you need to find a way forward.

But going forward without the support of your boss and hoping they will come to appreciate what you did when it is finished, is a very risky strategy.

By employing the voices of others, you can create much more support for your idea and garner enough influence to help your boss to see the way forward.

Making your voice bigger

Never just use your own voice in an argument.

Find others to strengthen it.

It might be customers. It might be peers of the person. It might be others in the organization. It might be the assistant to the executive or the spouse!

I will tell you that I have employed all of these people at one time or another in my career to help make my voice bigger.

It’s not about being right personally. It’s about getting the right result.

And very often it requires a chorus of people to be saying something to create influence with a difficult person.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.


About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

Meeting your new boss for the first time? Get it right


Close-up picture of the Brooklyn Bridge cables in Brooklyn, New york, 2009.

You have a new boss…how do you make a good impression?

When you get an opportunity to meet your new boss, what should you do? This question comes up frequently in my member coaching hours, so I thought I would address it in a blog.

Your goals:

First think about what you are trying to accomplish.

Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Stand out
  • Don’t be annoying
  • Be helpful
  • Be welcome for the next meeting

Think about how your new boss feels in this moment.

Start by putting yourself in their position.

How would you feel if you were new in this job, meeting dozens if not hundreds of people, trying to learn what you need to learn as fast as possible, and trying to share your point of view in a credible way?

What would be most useful to you, and What would be most annoying to you?

It’s important to remember that your meeting and conversation is one of a gazillion that he or she will be having while coming up to speed. And it’s also important to remember your boss is a human, who is probably tired, stressed and also trying to make a good impression.

DO’s and DONT’s

First, here are some DONT’s:

Don’t: Provide a long anything. Long meetings, long descriptions, long documents. It’s exhausting and not useful. Your story is only important to you in this moment. Don’t share too much.

Don’t: Make urgent requests or demands. They just walked in the door. It’s not the time to ask for stuff.

Don’t: Insist they explain their thoughts or strategies if they are not ready. Let them share as much as they want, but don’t push them for more information in the first meeting.

(By the way, I’ve had people do all of these things when meeting me as their boss for the first time. It was indeed annoying, and not useful.)

Here are some DO’s:

Here are DO’s to help you stand out in a positive way and add some value in that first meeting.

Be well informed

Don’t go to this first meeting without doing some homework.

Never ask your new boss for information about them that is readily available online. That is just wasting their time.

Do your best to learn what is important to your new boss before the meeting and use that as the context for everything you say.

Ask their assistant, ask others who have talked to them. Look online to learn their key accomplishments, and opinions and see if there are common themes they have written about.

Be curious

Now you’ve already got some information from having done your homework, but it’s also good to ask them about their plans and thoughts.

Ask, “What are you thinking is most important right now for moving the business forward? What are the biggest issues you see? What are the most important things that need your team to understand right now?”

If they are ready to talk about it, ask good questions but resist the urge to voice any disagreements in this first meeting. Resist the urge to tell them everything that you know.

This first meeting is about building rapport.

If you have concerns about what you are hearing, take notes, then go away and think about how you want to react or respond. But don’t do it in this first meeting, just listen.

Share your information efficiently – Translate

Once you know what is important to them, from your homework and your initial conversation, then you can translate how you talk about your work and your role to connect to something that is important to them.

For example, if you learn that they are driving to improve profit margins in the legacy business in parallel with an innovative new investment, tune everything you say to be part of one of those things.

Whether you are in Marketing, R&D, Supply Chain management, Sales, Finance…

Whatever your function, your story about what your team does should have the frame of the business drivers your new boss cares about.

What you share should not be a list of things in your function, full of your project names, jargon and acronyms. In this example what ever you say about your work should have the frame of improving profit margins on legacy or supporting the new investment.

And make sure to be brief!

Whatever you share, put it on one page. The time it takes to thoughtfully turn a huge pile of information into one page will be very worth it.

Don’t add weight

(Don’t give your new boss problems or questions in the first meeting)

If you have been anxiously waiting for your new boss to arrive to make decisions or resource approvals, don’t use this first meeting to ask.

The goal of this first meeting, like any other first networking meeting is to get invited back for another meeting.

If you start asking for things in the first meeting you are adding weight to the load your new boss is already carrying, which is heavy by definition.

You are much better off to share your plans in an inspiring way, translated and connected to the initiatives they already know about and care about. Then ask if you can have another meeting to discuss key elements of your plan later.

A wise mentor of mine taught me, you need to have the first meeting before you have the second meeting.

Unless your new boss asks you in that first meeting, “Is there anything specific that you need from me?”, don’t start asking in the first meeting.

Be helpful

(take weight away)

Offer to help. You can ask, “As you start this new role is there anything I can do to help you? Is there information I can collect for you? Are there any tasks that I can take off your plate?”

If you make your first impression as someone who is well informed, is already investing energy in the initiatives your new boss cares about because you talked about your work with the right frame, and offer to help, instead of giving them extra work, you will be seen as someone who doesn’t add weight. You’ll be seen as someone who takes weight away.

And as someone who doesn’t add weight, you will be invited back. You will stand out. You will be someone your new boss has time for.

My new book MOVE is about decisively executing strategy

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It’s all in the book! I can’t wait to share it!

Available in Feb: But you can pre-order!

Pre-order MOVE here

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ABOUT PATTY:

patty blog image
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

Don’t volunteer for failure: Always show the cost of success


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When the expectations are bigger than the resources

Recently, I have been getting the same question over and over again from people in many different companies and industries. It takes many different forms, but the basic idea is this:

“What should I do when I am being asked to deliver something without enough resources to do it?”

This challenge becomes a critical point in your career because you need to find a way to deliver the best possible outcome, without setting yourself up to try and do something totally impossible (which by definition you will fail at).

If you go forth and try to make it happen without clarifying expecations and resources up front, you set yourself up for a big risk.

Conversely, if you say, “I don’t have the resources to do that” in an unstructured way, you might also take a credibility hit.

So what do you do?

The three converations you need to lead:

1. Show the scope of the journey out of the hole you are in
2. Highlight the choices of outcomes and costs
3. Share the problem that WE have

1. Show the size and scope of the hole that you are in

The problem is that the executives do not understand the scope of what they are asking. They are entirely focused on the outcome that they want, and they want you to make it happen.

To them it seems straightforward (cheap) to get the improvement, because they don’t fully understand why, or even that they are in a hole. They know they are not performing, but because they do not have your expertise, they can’t see the 37 reasons why.

If you don’t show them the reality, there is a good chance they will believe that only thing between where they are now and best in class performance is YOU, with no additional staff, budget or time to get there.

Don’t let this happen. Act right away.

Create something that looks kind of like this. The left axis is whatever it takes to be competitive in your space.

Status Reality

2. Highlight the choices of outcomes and costs

You need to show the true cost of the big outcome they want.

Then you need to give the management choices for different levels of outcomes that cost different amounts.

OK, if you only increase my budget 10% we can fix these things, and add one item, but we can’t add most of the competitive features. If that’s the funding choice you make, this is what you will get.

The chart looks something like this:

Budget Options

This way you are still building credibility by showing that you can do the complete job, but you are not shooting yourself in the foot by signing up for the impossible.

3. Share the problem that WE have

The impossible is stressful!

Don’t put all the pressure on yourself to try to do the impossible without the necessary resources, becasue you will feel like you are personally failing when it can’t be done, when in reality this is not your problem alone.

This is a choice that the company needs to make.

Your job is to shine the spotlight on clearly defined choices.

Do yourself a favor and make sure you paint the reality clearly as soon as you can, and only sign up for as much as you can get funded.

1. Share the knowledge of the scope of the journey
2. Share the decision about the level of investment and expected outcomes with the management team
3. Make sure everyone has the same definition of success. It’s not just you who should feel the pressure

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

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Don’t try so hard to be impressive


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When you need to Impress…

If you are in a situation where you need to be impressive, a job interview, a sales call, a negotiation, a presentation — one of the worst things you can do is to try, on purpose to be impressive.

When you think about trying to be impressive you immediately put yourself in a defensive mode, and you immediately put yourself in mode that is not-authentic.
Trying to be impressive makes you behave in a way that you are “trying” vs. “being”.

You are always better off starting from an authentic place because you are never actually more impressive when you are trying to be impressive!

Think Useful vs. Impressive

At one point I learned to stop being afraid of not being good enough, and to just give up on ever trying to be impressive on purpose. Instead I focused on trying to be genuinely useful.

The first step in actually impressing someone is to give them something useful or valuable. The value is what creates the impression. So before you walk into the siutation, put some thought into what the person or audience will truly value and prepare to deliver that.

Think “Helping a Friend”

When you prepare for a communication of any kind, if you think about being impressive, it will weigh on your nerves. Your heart rate goes up, your voice gets higher and your whole demeanor betrays, “I’m really not confident but I’m trying to impress you!”

I needed to figure out a way to manage my nerves. The way I ultimately solved this problem was instead of trying to be impressive, I would get myself in the mindset of:

“What would I be saying and doing if I were trying to help my best friend?”

Instead of thinking of positioning and selling and marketing and convincing, I would think, “What would I say if this executive, client, hiring manager or prospect sitting across the table from me was actually my best friend?”

More comfortable, more useful

First and foremost I would be much more comfortable and less nervous. I would be thinking, hello friend…1. How are you? I’m actually interested. What’s important to you? And 2. How can I help?

And if what I have to present is not genuinely interesting or helpful to them, then I wouldn’t drag them through my presentation! I wouldn’t do that to my best friend. I’d talk about whatever would actually help them.

This doesn’t mean you cannot have the intention to persuade or to sell, it just means you’ll actually do a better job persuading and selling because you put yourself in the mode of genuinely trying to be helpful!

I can tell you that I’ve spent 52 minutes of a 1 hour meeting discussing their problems with teen-agers, their boss, a challenging project or colleague…and in that conversation have found an authentic hook to offer something of value to get to the next meeting or the next step in the last 8 minutes. And I can tell you that this was a much more successful outcome than I would have achieved if I had tried to be impressive with my presentation starting in minute 1.

Drop the Business Speak

Another hazard of trying too hard to be impressive is focusing on sounding smart instead of focusing on really communicating.

I tend see these big-word, business-speak, smart-sounding people coming across as arrogant and contrived — which, by the way is also not impressive. It puts people off. And it’s not the way you would talk to your best friend.

It always amazes me how some people actively insist that talking in big words will make others think they are more impressive. It doesn’t work. Because clarity is more useful than simply sounding smart.

Never confuse being clear for not being smart.

Start with what is true for you

We all have situations that make us nervous where we need to make a good impression.

The good news is you have the secret formula already — Be yourself. You will never be more credible than when you are being authentic.

When you get scared, find something that is true for you. When you do this it has wonderful way of increasing your confidence and settling your nerves. I am always the most nervous when I am pushed to do or talk about something where I have not yet found the base thing that is true for me. That’s where I start.

Identify something that you truly care about or that you are genuinely enthusiastic about, and then start your preparation or presentation from there.

You’ll be so much more impressive!

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

Was this useful?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.


About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

Rise_CVR_3D_300

Free eBook Download