How’s Your Executive Presence?

One of my passions is reading about research on women who are taking on leadership roles., whether in large corporations, small businesses, or as entrepreneurs. So as part of my interest in supporting daughters like you,  from time to time I’m going to share with you some of the ideas that I’ve been reading about in the hopes that you’ll find them interesting and applicable to you.

This week, instead of my usual Ask Amy column, I’d like to share a few ideas from a recent book on a topic you may be hearing about: Executive Presence.  It’s certainly not a precise phrase, but I think most of us can think about men and women who “have it.”  They are people who seem comfortable in their own skin, who can raise a question or argue a point with confidence, but not arrogance. We trust them, we admire them, and often, we follow them.

One of the benefits of research is that it forces the researcher to be precise about his/her terms. In her recent book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist, describes her research on the topic. Hewlett says that executive presence is comprised of three elements:  appearance, communication, and a quality she calls “gravitas.”  In her research, “gravitas” was the most important facet of executive presence.  

Gravitas is “how you act,” and it refers to the kind of steely self-confidence that allows you to take on any situation in a way that conveys depth and understanding.  People with gravitas “know their stuff”, and that leads others to respect them.

One finding about gravitas–a finding that Hewlett calls “surprising”–is that eye contact with an audience or a group can be “transformative.”

Thinking about Hewlett’s research, and thinking about daughters in family businesses (for a change!) I wonder if the simple act of making eye contact–turning off your phone, looking away from your computer and toward a family member who’s speaking with you–may actually transform your relationships at work.  Family members are often casual with each other, and may be less attentive than they would be to people in a non-family business.  Perhaps, just by intentionally using eye contact, you’ll begin to develop the kind of “presence” that will help the people you work with see you in a new way.

Amy KatzI’ll be curious about your thoughts about executive presence, about the ways you’re trying to develop it….and how it’s working for you.

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Ask Amy: What can I do when Dad won’t let go?

Thanks to those of you who completed the brief survey I sent out last week. If you haven’t had a chance yet, please take the time soon to answer three questions (just three!) about what ‘s ahead for you in 2015 and how Daughters in Charge can be your best resource for information and support. Click here to access the survey. Thanks!

I know that many of you are eager to take on more responsibility. So here’s a question that you may feel you could have written:

Dear Amy,

I worked for my parents over summers in high school, got a college degree with a business major and then an MBA, learned from some great internships, and returned to my family’s business 10 years ago. But I’m still stuck in the same job. I know I’m ready for more, but my dad just won’t let go. And in our business, if he doesn’t let go, we will really struggle when he eventually retires. I don’t know how to convince him that I want more to do. By the way, my siblings don’t work in the business and don’t want to. I’m it.

~ Libby

Amy KatzDear Libby,

Some nextgens are unwilling to step up, and some founders and CEO’s are unwilling to let go. The process of sharing and eventually shifting responsibilities from one generation to another is a major transition, as you well know.

I recently read a blog post by Meghan Juday that directly addresses this issue. Meghan grew up in a large and successful family business and is now an advisor to family businesses (click here to listen to my podcast with her).

In her article, Meghan talks about the importance of encouraging leaders and family council members to take the time to engage the next generation in planning for the future. That way, next generation members become involved in creating their own future. They provide useful information about changing trends in their own generation that can help prepare the business to adapt to changing times. Meghan describes a process that can help to set the stage for the next generation to “step up”, and the current leaders to “step down”. You can read Meghan’s full blog post here.

It sounds like you’re from a small business, Libby, so your approach may be a little different, but Meghan’s ideas about strategic planning still apply. Think about the future of the business, market trends, and the roles that are likely to be important over time. As an example, many daughters are introducing social media strategies – something many family businesses probably have never had to think about before. I’m not suggesting you take on that role, but I am suggesting that you engage your dad in a series of conversations about the future of the business.

There’s a lot to talk about. What new technology may be needed? What products or services may become obsolete, and what unmet needs can your business uncover and focus on? In other words, use your knowledge and experience and “talk business.” That kind of dialogue can open the door to discussions about the way the business is structured – staffing, roles, etc.

After a series of conversations about the business, you may both learn a lot and jointly discover some new opportunities for you. Talk about what you can do and how you can learn from him.

For now, just focus on the year ahead and not the rest of your career – or his, for that matter. You may be surprised at what your dad will let you take on when he sees how concerned you are about the business’ future – he may even be relieved!

Happy New Year,

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Ask Amy: What Do We Owe Our Parents?

Dear Amy,

My mother took over from my dad’s business about 15 years ago (when he died unexpectedly). My husband and I bought the company from my mother, and I became CEO. My husband is Director of Marketing. Mom is very comfortable financially.

When she sold the company to us, she said she’d like to have an office at the business, and I made sure she we made a place for her (thankfully, she didn’t want to keep her own office). She still comes in every day. The employees love her….some of them have worked for us for many years, and are very loyal.

Here’s the problem: There is no real role for my mom now. She walks around and asks people about their families-which is nice and helps preserve our “family” culture. But she also gives her opinions and sometimes criticizes the changes I’ve made. She’s never direct about it; she just says things like “I still don’t understand why Rachel thought we needed those new computers.” It’s hard for me to feel like a CEO when my mom is still running the show!

My parents have given me a wonderful career and financial security…I never take that for granted. But what do I owe my mom? Giving her an office seemed like a perfectly fine idea…but now I’m finding that she’s really interfering in ways that are not helpful to the business or to me.

~ Rachel

Amy Katz Dear Rachel,

What a profound question! What DO we owe our parents? I’m not sure there is one answer. For some daughters, the question arises around the financial arrangements for their parents after they retire from the business. For you, the question seems more related to the responsibility you feel for your mom’s emotional well-being. Either way, it’s a tough question, rooted in the relationships we have with our parents, with our spouses, our financial resources, and our values.

Your willingness to give your mom an office tells me that you are sensitive to the transition she’s going though and that you want her to feel she has a place there. But what is her place? It sounds like your mother needs to feel valued and also needs to feel a connection with people. If she took over when your dad died, I imagine she was extremely busy, focused on work, and had little time to cultivate friendships and other activities (as you probably can understand, now that you’re the CEO). So work probably fulfilled a lot of her social needs, too.

Here are a few thoughts:

1). You might consider asking your mom to be your “trusted advisor”. Include her in your thinking about the business, let her know why you’ve made or are planning to make certain decisions, etc. She will be more likely to support any changes you make if she understands them and has helped you think them through.

2). Your mom does need a role of some kind but she may not know what that is. Take the time to brainstorm with her. She may have some ideas, but you should have a few, too. As an example, can she be involved in your community, representing your business in some way? This may allow her to meet other people, build some friendships, etc. She probably has had a lot of experience that others can benefit and learn from, just as you have.

3). Your employees may adore your mom, but they may also feel uncomfortable when she engages them in long conversations that interfere with their work. This may be something you have to confront head on – that you love the family culture she created and want to continue it, but that you feel her “walking around” is not helpful. This kind of conversation is not easy, but it may be necessary. CEO’s–and ex-CEOs-are sometimes unaware of how their presence affects employees. Remind her of that.

Keep in mind that your mom is still experiencing a transition. I have the feeling you can help your mom through this transition, in part by honoring the role she has played, and also by helping her develop a new one. It will take some thought and care, no doubt. But the investment you make now in figuring out how to manage your feelings and your mom’s will likely pay off in the long run.

Rachel, there are many daughters (and sons) struggling with the question you’re raising, both in family and non-family businesses, and I’m glad you wrote to me about it. I suppose that ultimately, what we owe our parents is a question we all have to answer for ourselves.

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Have you ever felt like Rachel? Please share how you handled the situation.

Ask Amy: What I’m Hearing

Dear Reader,

As you know, I’ve been offering complimentary consultations over the past few weeks to any daughter who signs up. Since I’ve heard that many of you feel a bit isolated at times and question whether your experience is unique, I decided to use this particular Ask Amy column to share with you some of what I’ve been learning from other daughters.

Dear Amy,

Amy Katz What are daughters talking about in your conversations with them?

This is what I’m hearing:

Some of you are really struggling to define your roles. For a few of you, siblings – particularly brothers – are the problem. Others say that their parents act as if they’re just not sure what to do with them. In each situation, we’ve talked about what they could do to build a case for the roles they want to play.

Returning to the business after years in another career has been a big topic as well. When you’ve had a highly visible professional role but have now returned to your family business, the learning curve can be steep. So we’ve focused on how to build relationships with employees who know a lot more than these daughters do.  And I’ve encouraged the daughters not to feel embarrassed about their questions.

A few daughters have mentioned that they are uncomfortable speaking up in meetings because they don’t want to come on too strong. Others are uncomfortable because they feel they have nothing to say. Either way, getting clear about how to behave in meetings is important.

I had the privilege of speaking with two sisters who took over when their father died and they said their big issue was that they were nervous about selling to male customers… and just about all of their customers are men. So we strategized a bit about what to do and what not to do (I did not advise flirting).

One daughter called to tell me that after she listened to a few of my podcasts, she decided to leave her family business. Which led me to wonder… are there others of you feeling this way?

Thanks to all of you who signed up and if you haven’t yet, I hope you will take advantage of this special opportunity too.

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Ask Amy: Showing Gratitude

Amy KatzMy Dear Readers,

At times I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for those of you who support my passion here at Daughters in Charge through your questions, comments, referrals and readership. Today, I’m giving back to show my great appreciation for you.

I’m encouraged and inspired by the way women like you are becoming involved in your family’s business and I hope that Daughters in Charge has been a bright guiding light for you and that I can continue to support you along the way.

To show my appreciation, instead of my usual weekly “Ask Amy” column where I share a question I’ve received along with my guidance on dealing with the particular challenge, I’d like to extend a special gift to you…

The Invitation:
I invite you to join me me for a complimentary and confidential 50-minute consultation – no strings attached. During your consultation, we can talk about an issue or challenge you’re facing right now as a daughter in a family business.

It could be that…

  • you feel stuck in your career,
  • you are struggling with family relationships,
  • you are ready to develop your leadership skills,
  • you have concerns about how to manage the financial side of the business
  • or, you’re not exactly sure what “it” is, but something doesn’t feel right

In your session, I’ll share my thoughts and ideas with you including 1-2 action steps you can take right now to better deal with the situation so it’s not standing in your way.

What’s in it for you?

  • The opportunity to talk with someone who is totally focused on you and your success in your family’s business.
  • The opportunity to understand how your personal style can work for you and against you with parents, siblings, spouses, and employees.
  • The opportunity to receive advice that will help you move on to the next challenge with greater confidence.

There’s no catch or downside – it’s my gift to say thanks for supporting Daughters In Charge.

There are a limited number of spots available, so click here to register for one now and I’ll be in touch to schedule a time that works well for you.

I hope to speak with you soon!

Warmly,

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Ask Amy: Stuck in the Sandwich Generation

I know many of you are trying to figure out how to balance work with your personal life. But those of you who are caring for your kids AND your parents are probably feeling overwhelmed. I hope my advice to Kathy is helpful to you.

Dear Amy,

I am smack in the middle of the sandwich generation. That’s my biggest challenge.

– Kathy

Amy Katz Dear Kathy,

Well, you probably don’t have the energy or time to give me any specifics!

Without knowing whether you’re caring for young children, older children, your parents, your husband’s parents, etc., and without knowing if you’re working full-time or part-time in your family’s business (or not at all), and without knowing whether or not your siblings are involved in the business or in caring for your relatives, I can still say with complete confidence you’re now in one of the most difficult phases of adult life. I know you know that, but you may not realize just how stressed you are.

Looking back, I realize now that during the time I was caring for my then 8 year old daughter and for my ailing parents and also working close to full-time, I was not myself. Some alien had taken over – an alien who was short-tempered, sleep-deprived, and impatient. Only years later did my friends comment on how angry I had been during those years. I had no idea how much my frustration was showing.

Even if your kids are perfect angels, and your parents are in good health but just want to spend every minute with you (well, with their grandchildren!), feeling pulled in many directions can exhausting.

So my advice to you is to reclaim some part of you that you’ve lost amidst all the responsibilities you’re handling right now. You may not even realize that you’ve lost something — your sense of humor (no surprise), your interest in a craft or hobby, the ego boost you used to get when you accomplished a project at work, or simply the time you enjoyed walking around the block with a friend.

Perhaps most importantly, you may have lost the very thing that means the most to you – the fun of being with the people you love, and who most depend on you right now – your parents and your children.

There are some real advantages to working in a family business, and I hope you’re able to enjoy them now. You undoubtedly need extra time, and that may mean that you don’t show up at work as often as your siblings do. Hopefully, they will understand. See if you can renegotiate your role for a while. Or, maybe you can work a few days from home. Don’t feel guilty about this. As you are able to get more time to feel like yourself again (and less like an alien), I suspect you’ll be more energized. You may even influence your family to adopt flexible work arrangements for people in your situation. After all, short-tempered, sleep-deprived, and impatient employees are typically not very productive.

I hope you’ll take the time to reclaim and rediscover a part of yourself that’s been missing. It’s there… just buried under deadlines, carpools, and doctors’ appointments.

Take care,

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Kathy’s situation may be one that you’ve experienced, too. Please share any ways that you’ve found to cope in the comments section below.