Inspire. Influence. Build Rapport.

People don’t always see eye-to-eye with his politics, but when they speak of Bill Clinton, they usually agree on one thing. He has an immense talent for connecting with other people. Those who meet him often say, “He makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room.” And that skill has helped him inspire, influence others, and ultimately lead.

Some say he has “charm or charisma,” others that he’s “approachable,” but I say he knows how to “build rapport” like a champion.

Building rapport is the ability to quickly and meaningfully connect, communicate, and empathize with other people, whether you’re in a one-on-one conversation, meeting, or presentation. And it’s one of the most powerful skills you can master as a leader. It’s essential to building credibility, support, and collaboration. It helps you inspire your team to do their best work, enhance your client’s loyalty and commitment to your vision, perfect your pitch, and sway your investors or board to support your strategy and roadmap.

You may be thinking, “That’s easy. I already do that.” Yet most work interactions are marked by a lack of rapport. Think back to the last ineffective meeting or boring presentation you attended. Did people seem distracted? Did your colleagues talk over or past each other? Was the speaker not engaged with the audience? These are telltale signs of a lack of rapport.

Five Keys to Building Rapport

You can learn how to upgrade your ability to build rapport by practicing the following five key elements when you’re with others. Don’t try them all at once; implementing all five at the same time would be overwhelming. But if you practice them one by one, you’ll eventually be able to combine and master them:

  1. Hold people in positive regard: To connect with someone, or a room of people, think positively of them. For example, if you’re speaking to someone you don’t know, you can imagine, “What if I really liked this person?” See how that inspires you to tune into him, read her signals, and understand how you can have a positive connection.
  1. Don’t cut to the chase: My clients sometimes ask me, “Why should I waste time listening to everyone’s ideas, when I know the right answer?” Even though you might be tempted to jump to the finish line quickly or you know what the final decision “should” be, refrain from “cutting to the chase.” Be patient. You’re having a discussion for a reason, so respectfully involve the other person at his or her pace, not yours. That means walking through it together, not leaving the other person behind.
  1. Mirror your partner: One of the best ways to build rapport with people is to make sure they feel heard. To do this, ask them questions, listen to what they’re saying, and mirror their words back to them. Use your audience’s own language to reflect their point of view. For example, if someone says, “We’re back to the drawing board on the project, and wondering how to proceed,” you can mirror them by asking what’s on that “drawing board” at the moment, and what they feel they need to proceed rapidly.
  1. Show your vulnerability: You can’t connect with a person or group without sharing something of your imperfections, self-effacing humor, or sense of humility—a little humility goes a long way to connect with others. If you want to build a bond with someone, lower your “I’m strong” or “I’ve got this” shields. By showing yourself to have warts and all, you allow people to both empathize with you and accept that you have the capacity to empathize.
  1. Broaden your perspective: Practice spending a part of your attention in every discussion observing yourself with the other(s) in the room — as if you’re a drone hovering over the meeting.  Watch the impact you’re having on them in real time.  Even as you participate, try to assess: How am I coming across? Are people paying attention? Are we getting somewhere important in this conversation? I once coached the head of a large healthcare organization dealing with failing support from its Board and community leaders.  I asked him to try this practice. He told me it wasn’t helping—his executive team meetings were still ineffective. I asked him to try something different: “Whenever you meet with your executive team, tell them to imagine that your Board and community leaders are all in the room with you. How would their presence guide your agenda? What would they want you to talk about today, and why?” By shifting and broadening his perspective, a practice he proudly uses often, the organization was able to regain the support it needed to achieve its goals.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

These five strategies may strike you as a LOT to incorporate, particularly since you also need to cover the content of your conversation, discussion, or presentation. But remember, if you practice, eventually it will become second nature. Think back to when you learned how to drive—initially the steering wheel, instruments, and road all clamored for your attention, but eventually you could do it all without thinking. Just like driving, you’ll become a proficient rapport-builder over time.

Then you’ll notice how much more you’re accomplishing in collaboration with others. When an organizational leader can both build rapport and deliver results, you have an unbeatable leadership combo.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

How to Become the Leader You Wish You Had

“What makes a great leader?”

As an executive coach, this is a question I’m asked constantly. My usual response used to be to answer the question with a question: “Think of a leader you hold in the highest regard — then tell me, what makes them great?”

But these aren’t usual times — and leaders held in the highest regard seem to be in short supply these days. In fact, our media is so saturated with examples of awful acts and statements by “leaders” that there are more examples of how not to lead than there are of how to lead others well.

So today, I take a different approach to the question — one that’s actually more empowering. Now, when one of my clients asks how to be a great leader, I’ll respond this way: “Describe the leader you wish you had — then tell me: What would you need to do to become that leader?”

Examples of effective leadership

As much as we may yearn for a magic potion, some kind of ideal, the truth is that there is no “perfect” set of leadership attributes. And there’s no shortage of opinions and research about what those skills and qualities are. Every expert has a model for leadership, and each has its own qualities and charms.

With that in mind, consider the following situations. Which ones look most like the leader you wish you had? And then take it one step further — and consider a list of your own, and how you would model that behavior yourself:

One who…

Remains the same leader as the day you met them — warts and all — no matter what?

Or who…

Solicits and takes feedback to heart — and continuously evolves and develops their own leadership skills?

One who…

Tells you what to do and how to do it — staying involved in every step of your work?

Or who…

Offers you context and a desired outcome — then leaves you alone with the responsibility (and authority) to do it your own way, and succeed … or learn from the experience accordingly?

One who…

Avoids conflict or debate and keeps things “friendly” and “consensus-oriented” right up until things inevitably go wrong as a result?

Or who…

Invites vibrant debate and constructive conflict — and opens the door to all voices, ideas, and views, regardless of “level”?

One who…

Keeps you in the background and takes it upon herself to “be” the face of your work?

Or who…

Highlights your accomplishments, and spotlights you — so you can present and be appreciated for your own work?

One who…

Would say you are lucky to work here — and views excellence as “average”?

Or who…

Notices, recognizes and encourages you — when you do well and when you need feedback, from colleagues, stakeholders, or clients?

One who…

Wants you to stay where you are — and get the most out of you because he knows you’re good at what you do?

Or who…

Encourages you to build supporters and sponsors inside and outside of your organization — and values your career growth and professional mobility?

One who…

Puts “getting stuff done” above all else?

Or who…

Prioritizes the learning and development of her people as equal to any specific task?

One who…

Seeks to assign blame when things go wrong — and transfers culpability to others?

Or who…

Takes personal responsibility for when something goes wrong — owns it and apologizes?

* * *

These are but a few examples — the “homework” for you is to create your own list!

Be the leader you wish you had: Follow the Golden Rule

Does every situation seem this unambiguously cut and dried? Doubtful. But that’s what makes the craft of leadership so important. Judgment, experience and a few bedrock principles.

If you think about it, the best leadership advice is the oldest: the Golden Rule. Work from that principle — of treating others as you wish to be treated — and before you know it, you will find you’re already there: the best leader you wish you had.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

5 Leadership Goal-Setting Tips for Making 2018 a Success

Why set goals in these turbulent times?

You can’t underestimate the importance of organizational goals — especially in turbulent times. Goals set and measured are goals achieved and treasured. And achieving meaningful annual goals requires setting a high bar, well in advance. December is a great time to do that.

I know that after a long year, and during the home stretch to the holidays, it’s easy to get stuck in reactive mode, and to tell yourself you’ll think about goals “later.” Don’t! End-of-year/start-of-new-year goals and resolutions are just what the doctor ordered. They refocus us on the big picture, and reconnect us with our ideals. They energize us.

Case in point: Recently, I completed a series of CEO calls focused on goal-setting, as part of my executive coaching practice. The process was as illuminating as it was invigorating — so I wanted to share the exercises we went through together.

My hope is that they will help you make the most of the season: get out of our default-reactive mode… and raise the bar on your proactive goal-setting mode for 2018. Because, once in place, your short list of business goals and objectives will seriously increase your odds for success by helping you and your team focus on what’s really important — and tune out the rest.

Setting business goals: Make it real and keep it simple — and achievable

No matter what, or whom, you lead, the first rule in setting goals is to assume that your organization’s existence depends on them. (Because, in a very real way, it does.) The goals you pick will focus your department or organization on where to spend the vast majority of energy, attention, and efforts next year.

This exercise recognizes that your organization is a mosaic of people — and that its success and sense of cohesion are intimately tied to the hearts, minds, and actions of the professionals that choose to come to work every day. Your people.

So you’ll want to set aside some undisturbed time to reflect on what’s most important to you and your employees in the year ahead, and periodically, to revisit those goals. Be thorough and clear, and pick a short list — no more than five key goals for the year ahead.

Below you’ll find some tips on how to design your goal shortlist for the new year. As you read through them, keep in mind that some of these can take the form of one-on-one interactions, and some will be more appropriate for executive team discussion once you’ve gotten your initial responses.

5 steps to better business goals for 2018

1) Bottom-up and top-down. No one employee — including no leader — has all the answers. So you should not only identify your business goals, but ask the people reporting to you to do the same — and then ask them to repeat the exercise with their reports, and so on, throughout the organization. This will be essential data for setting goals that are credible and achievable.

2) Clean out your blind spots. Every organization has them — and so does every leader. Here again, you can and should draw on your colleagues and reports for help. The questions below are designed to help you and your employees find the blind spots that can lead your organization or group astray — so you can clean them out and chart a clear course forward:

  • What have we tried to achieve in 2017 that we must accomplish in 2018, and how will that be rewarding to you and your team?
  • In thinking about our outcomes (results, quality, customer engagement, etc.), what targets are we hitting — and which ones are we missing due to our own actions as executives?
  • What am I not hearing or dealing with as a leader that I need to address?
  • Is there anything I can do to get out of the way of — and, indeed, accelerate — our success?

3) Lessons learned this year… to incorporate into next year. The turn of the year offers a perfect opportunity for a business to evaluate its performance, and adjust course. Consider these questions:

  • What new lessons has 2017 taught us — and what lessons from 2017 and prior years have we yet to fully address? Are there endemic issues that need to be looked at?
  • How has our business ecosystem — market, products, customers, providers, partners, costs, competition or regulatory landscape — changed since last year? How well did our strategy track in response — or in leading those changes? And what do we need to adjust in 2018?
  • How have our SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) evolved in 2017 — and what should that mean for our goals in the new year?
  • What are the most relevant metrics for today? What do success, neutral, or failure look like in 2018? What should our measurable goals be going forward?

4) Make them relevant to your bigger picture. Once you’ve settled on your goals for 2018, ask yourself: how aligned are these goals — and our people — with our organization’s business plan and three-year strategic priorities? With its larger mission and vision? This is a good opportunity to check your direction before plunging into the new year.

5) Communicate! Decide the best way to package your goals, and then communicate them throughout your organization. How will you cascade these messages, and ensure everyone is crystal clear on the goals you’ve worked so hard to design?

When it comes to setting business goals, don’t settle for “doable”

The turn of the year offers a perfect opportunity to set your course for the next 12 months — and beyond. So don’t settle on “doable” for 2018. Use these tips to hone down and choose the right 3-5 goals that will have you feeling like you hit it out of the park where it really matters.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Why Great Managers Are Also Great Talent Scouts

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” — Steve Jobs

Imagine if a music label stopped searching the world for the next sensation. Or fast-growing tech executives stopped tapping their networks to find the best engineers and marketers.

It’s pretty easy to see what would happen. Each organization would eventually stagnate and die.

You don’t need to be Sony Music or Steve Jobs to see that the same principle applies. Having a talent acquisition strategy is more important than ever. That’s because in most instances, the quality of the people you hire — particularly in key roles — can make or break a great organization. After all, today’s new recruit is tomorrow’s superstar.

Bottom line? If you manage people — whether you’re an entrepreneur or Fortune 100 executive — you must also be a part-time talent scout. Because the task of future key hires is simply too important, too strategic — and too time-sensitive — to leave fully in the hands of others.

Instill a culture of talent scouting, and maintain a healthy talent pipeline

“I have three open positions; I was close on one, then the candidate said no. So, three months later, I’m back to square one.” — CFO

What you sense is true: employees today are much harder to find and harder to keep. According to 2016 US Bureau of Labor Statistics, average tenures in America have decreased to 4.2 years — while a recent CompData survey shows a 13.5% voluntary exit rate (up sharply from 10.4% only 5 years ago) across all industries.

That means if you’re not scouting for your key roles on an ongoing basis, you’re running the risk of a gap — and a long journey from a cold start — when a key person resigns. Then it’s a matter of hurry-up-and-wait: the process takes too long, promising people get snapped up by rival companies, and everyone ends up frustrated.

That’s why it’s critical to instill a culture of talent scouting within your organization, and to maintain a healthy talent pipeline. After all, the opportunity cost of dealing with talent in a reactive, transactional way — of not having already scouted potential candidates, in collaboration with your search partners or internal recruiters — is probably higher than the incremental cost of making the mind-shift I’m suggesting here.

The best way to recruit employees? Always be scouting.

Just as sales people need to mind their “ABCs” — always be closing — managers and leaders should spend a chunk of their time every week either looking for great talent to hire, or keeping their eyes peeled for talented people on the inside they could cultivate.

The task is not as daunting as you may think. We’re living in an era of unparalleled connectivity and accessibility. Never before has professional talent been easier to scope out and contact. LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media can give you a great idea where to look. And they’re only the tip of the networking iceberg.

Maybe part of the problem is that managers are not compensated for the scouting they’ve done, nor do they get bonuses for being “scout of the year,” or “closing” on candidates that were on scouting lists. Maybe they should.

Be proactive: Take your hiring strategy into your own hands

If you’re scouting consistently for your key current roles and future needs, you should be sending a list of interesting potential candidates to your recruiters or search partners, and getting their feedback — not vice versa. That’s the way to truly maximize the recruiting resources at your disposal.

After all, isn’t it more strategic to tell your recruiter or search partner, “Find out how we can get her in here in the next year or two,” than to say, “Go source me a list of people for VP of Sales”?

And one other note: people sometimes return. So-called “boomerang hires” are increasingly commonplace — those high voluntary turnover rates also mean talent will sometimes fly right back to you. Part of instilling a scouting culture involves welcoming your best people back on their way out. When it comes to onboarding, you’re already halfway there.

The importance of recruitment: Great talent elevates everything

Why is it worth it for managers and executives to incorporate scouting into their mindset and workflow? Because great talent is immeasurably valuable to an organization — a source of competitive advantage whose benefits accrete over time.

Great talent elevates everything — your results, culture, morale, and your ability to lead. Instill in yourself and your team the expectation that scouting out great talent is a top priority. And you will, over time, advance what your organization is able to achieve, in a sustained way.

In that sense, you can look at scouting as a gift that keeps on giving.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

How Good Are You at Giving Feedback?

Earlier in my career, a strong mentor told me, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

Nicely put. Sounds almost easy. But the reality is, giving and receiving feedback effectively — especially giving — is harder than it seems.

Over my many years of executive coaching, and as an operating executive before that, I’ve learned that productive feedback is one of the most difficult, yet most essential, functions of a successful executive, and a healthy organization.

But why is it so hard to come by?

The burden of effective feedback lies with the giver

In an organization’s complex, matrixed, and hierarchical structures, it should be up to the one giving the feedback to learn how to do so in a way that is candid, clear, and actionable.

The reality, however, as feedback experts Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone point out in this excellent article, is that too often people don’t learn to give feedback well. Their messages are so garbled that it shifts responsibility to the receiver to decode the message before being able to understand it, let alone put it into action.

That makes it harder, not easier, to effect the needed change.

On the other hand, executives who know how to give feedback thoughtfully and skillfully are better able to build followership, competency, autonomy. That’s because they know how to get their message across clearly and productively, and help their employee make the positive change.

Giving the right feedback can unlock your people’s potential

But the benefits of effective feedback don’t end there — they actually expand outward. Feedback given intelligently can help unlock your people’s true talent and contributions. It can help build the kind of trust that yields loyalty and long-term results. A tailwind pushing the whole enterprise forward.

Looked at through this lens, it’s easy to see that the way you (and your organization) handle feedback can have a profoundly critical impact on its success. So it’s worth spending the time to get it right.

With that in mind, here are some power tips from my experience coaching executives that can help you turn this necessary-but-often-painful process into a strategic win.

Your 10-step guide to giving constructive employee feedback

1. Praise in public, develop in private. Context is everything. Don’t give feedback at a group level unless you’re giving feedback to the entire group. Single out individuals as needed for special praise. But any developmental individual feedback — no matter how constructive — given in a public forum is more likely to be felt as more humiliating than productive.

2. Don’t triangulate — DIY(!) It’s not helpful to deliver feedback through someone else, yet for conflict-avoidant executives and organizational cultures, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.  In other words, “Sarah said you really missed the mark on that meeting,” is not a helpful approach to offering feedback.  If Sarah shares some feedback with you about Bob, ask Sarah, “when do you plan to give Bob that feedback?” and don’t deliver any version of it yourself.  Triangulated feedback simply causes trust issues.

3. Timing is everything. When someone is unusually anxious, stressed, overwhelmed or otherwise reactive, they are generally far less able to absorb feedback. If at all possible, wait until they are in a state of mind where they can hear and learn. Part of the art of giving constructive feedback is knowing when to offer it.

4. Feedback must be interactive. It should go without saying: Don’t try to deliver feedback by email, text, IM or other electronic means. Not only will you not be able to gauge the ability of the other person to absorb it, it can be perceived as an attack, rather than as an openness to constructive dialogue. Face to face is best, video second best, and phone third best.

5. Be clear. Don’t sugarcoat. Don’t try and serve up the “positive-negative-positive” feedback sandwich. Surrounding the pill in jelly doesn’t make it go down easier — it only muddles the medicine. People leave such conversations hearing what they wanted to hear… rather than what they needed to know.

6. Keep it simple. Sometimes the key to communication and interpersonal skills is simply to be a reductionist — less is more, and simpler is better. Don’t go for long wind-ups and exposition. Your employee is likely to be anxious enough as it is. Keep it short and direct.

7. Use a consistent technique. Here’s the method I like, and frequently offer my clients: “OIS” (Observation > Impact > Suggestion). “Here’s the pattern or what you are doing, here’s how that’s affecting people or conditions, and here’s one suggestion going forward as to how to improve it.” For your suggestion please pick a single specific behavior change that is within their capacity and character to do. (If the problem is much bigger than that, it may not be feedback that’s needed, but the recognition that you need to make a change.)

8. Be balanced, but candid. Feedback can be emotionally hard for the giver, too. Do what you need to do to release emotional charges (such as anger), before delivering the feedback. Similarly, don’t let feelings of guilt or fear of confrontation cloud your message with a false veneer of indirectness. In most cases people you’d want to keep around will appreciate honest much more than friendly.

9. All clear? Don’t end without making sure you both are on the same page. The feedback recipient may be reluctant to ask you clarifying questions, given the nature of the conversation. It’s helpful to ask, “Is there anything I’ve been unclear about?” or “Is there anything you’re scratching your head about?”

10. Remember: Feedback is a process, not a transaction. Offer an opportunity to discuss again. Most people you would classify as “keepers” will react to feedback right away (because they care). Later, after it sinks in, they may think differently, or have useful suggestions or more questions. It’s always good to offer a second discussion after they’ve had a chance to mull over your feedback.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

What’s Your Leadership Impact?

The benefits of leadership impact on organizational performance cannot be overstated

Focus on the ways in which your words and actions affect your people. Create a positive impact — and they’ll move mountains to help you achieve a shared dream.

High-impact leadership — the kind that can fire people up, and inspire them to pull together to achieve a common vision — is something exceptional and rare. It’s the kind that motivates your employees to say, “I would work for her anywhere. I’d follow her over any mountain.”

Far more usual today, as we all know, is power by positional authority — where people simply do their jobs… instead of give their all.

So what separates a true leader from a garden-variety boss? What’s the secret sauce?

That question is a central thread in all the coaching work I do with my executive clients. If I had to answer it with one word, that word would be impact.

Great leaders have impact — the kind that inspires people to do their best

So how do you go about optimizing the impact you have on your people? It’s actually quite straightforward:

Ask, say, and do things that mobilize others to be at their best… and avoid asking, saying and doing things that make them react negatively, or that kill their drive.

Sounds simple, right?

It’s simple to understand. Still, in my experience, making this kind of shift requires practice — and a heightened set of skills around observing yourself with others. That takes effort and vigilance.

The “mental dashboard”: How effective leaders monitor, manage, and self-correct

The key is to monitor and manage your progress by keeping an eye on two things — what you’re saying and doing, and how others are responding to that — in real time. You need to spend, say, 10% of your attention continuously noticing the impact your words and actions are having on those around you. And revising your approach as you do.

That kind of ongoing observation/recalibration of employee engagement is how leaders make their impact felt, in a positive way.

For example, let’s say you want to motivate your people to be more collaborative, more disruptive, more results-focused. You would keep a “mental dashboard” of these three items — a conceptual structure that gives you an effective way to monitor your impact on them relative to those three goals.

When you observe that you are causing others to be more on track — or conversely, to go off course — you adjust your actions and words until you get to the sweet spot that aligns with those goals. That’s the foundation of high-impact leadership.

Get strategic, and realize your true leadership impact: It’s worth it!

Non-leaders are all about the me-zone: I think… I feel… I want. The “me” point of view is fine, of course — if your focus is on forging your life’s journeys as an individual, as opposed to focusing on how you may be impacting the world as you go along.

But if you adopt this kind of stance while in a position of authority over others, employee engagement will suffer, and you’ll miss the opportunity to truly lead. Instead of creating the circumstances for others to be at their best — for that shared dream to be realized — you’ll do the opposite, and people will “perform” despite your oversight, rather than because they’re fired up by your leadership.

Be strategic in your leadership. Wake up to how you are impacting your people, your customers, and the world in general. Monitor that impact in real time. Do this and you can solve any problem and achieve virtually any goal.

The mark of a true leader is one who owns their impact on everyone. Ultimately, that kind of strategic leadership is the X-factor: the difference between achieving a soaring vision and driving it into the ground.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

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