Harrison Monarth shares simple but effective approaches to get others to perceive you as a leader.
- Why it’s easier to build executive presence than you think
- The easiest way to improve people’s perception of you
- How to still contribute when you don’t have answers
Harrison Monarth is one of today’s most sought-after leadership development-and executive coaches, helping CEOs, senior executives, managers, and high-potential employees develop critical leadership skills and increase their interpersonal effectiveness and ability to influence others. He has personally coached leaders from major organizations in financial services, technology, medical, legal, hospitality and consumer industries, as well as those in start-ups, nonprofits and politics.
Harrison’s client list covers organizations such as General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, MetLife, AT&T, Northrop Grumman, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte Consulting, Cisco Systems, GE and Standard & Poor’s among others, as well as start-up entrepreneurs, political candidates and Members of Congress.
- Book: Executive Presence, Second Edition: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO
- LinkedIn: Harrison Monarth
- Website: GuruMaker.com
- Study: “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior” by Adam M. Grant and Francesca Gino
- Book: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
Harrison, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.
Hi, there. Thanks for having me.
Well, I’m excited to hear your wisdom about executive presence and more. And I’ve got to hear the story about you proposing marriage on your first date.
Yes, so I had seen my wife over the course of a couple of years. She worked in the same neighborhood where I worked. At the time, I lived in Denver, Colorado, and had seen her from afar, admired her from afar, she was very beautiful, and didn’t know her but circumstances led us to get to know each other through a mutual friend.
And since I had already been in love with her for a couple of years, at our first date, we had a wonderful first date that dragged into the evening, seeing a movie. And it was after the movie that we went back to our café, and after some more conversation and other shenanigans, I proposed, she accepted, and eight months later, we got married.
And, by the way, it’s been almost 20 years, so that was 19 years ago.
Hotdog. Congratulations. Well, we keep the show G-rated but I’m curious what shenanigans we’re referring to that lead to both of you feeling, like, “Yup, feel pretty certain this is going to be just fine”?
I think it’s a bit of a cliché when you say you just know and you click with someone, and everything just really connects in all levels. And, yeah, it was that for us, so it’s just a feeling of knowing. Yeah, we’ve been inseparable since.
Okay. Well, that’s awesome. Congratulations.
There’s no secret to it, actually. It’s just I think we’re lucky, so.
Yeah. Well, I think that here’s where I make a forced segue, I think that a lot feels the same way about executive presence, Harrison, in that it feels like, “Hey, some people have it. They’re lucky. They got it. And some people don’t.” But I’d love to hear your perspective on this. Your book Executive Presence, Second Edition: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO shares some learnable behaviors that anyone can take on.
Maybe, can you kick us off with a particularly surprising or counterintuitive or extra fascinating discovery you’ve made about executive presence from your years of research and work in the field?
Now you said something interesting. I think you said you either have it or you don’t, or people have maybe the perception, “You have it or you don’t.” And I think that is one of those misperceptions about executive presence. It’s often how we describe a nebulous quality-like charisma, somebody has it or they don’t.
Executive presence, I found in my research over the last 20 plus years, and probably unconsciously over many years before that, is a set of behaviors, traits, qualities, characteristics that we can identify and where we can understand that we all have a profile of certain behaviors that serve us, that help us, and others that perhaps get in the way of having an executive presence and having that positive influence.
And so, for me, the big aha was the understanding that, you know what, all these qualities, these behaviors, you don’t have to have all of them, but you need to know where you are on that scale and what you have and what you don’t have, so you have to start somewhere. And then you can create a plan and decide based on your circumstances, based on the company in which you work, the people you work with, the system you’re in, what’s important to develop and what you need to maybe continue doing and what you need to intensify or magnify.
Well, a collection of behaviors. Harrison, could you perhaps segment the lofty concept of executive presence into a manageable set of categories we can get our arms around?
Sure. So, if I were to break it down, and, again, this is the world according to me. This is by no means an exact science, obviously. But executive presence is a combination of communication, behaviors, communication skills such as managing difficult conversations, about engaging others, being the kind of communicator that can easily engage other people.
Telling strategic stories in business and to explain complex topics and subject matter. Being inspiring and persuading. Helping people understand something and come to a decision. So, these are all, say, behaviors under communication. Political savvy is important. Do you have the ability to create alliances to manage up, to generate buy-in and support from people?
Courage. Competence. To me, you have to have competence in something. You have to be able to communicate both develop a level of expertise and intellect, and develop sort of a persona that lets other people know that you can be counted on, that you’re a person of substance and competence in order to be seen as having that presence.
Delivering results is an important part as well under the category of competence. You can’t deliver results if you can’t contribute value to an organization, to a group, to a team. We’re not necessarily seen as having an executive presence, or we will have an executive presence that’s shallow, like a politician, let’s say in cases.
Acting decisively is part of it. Having courage. Being calm under pressure. Those are all some. I’m not going to rattle off the whole, let’s say, 27 or 30, but those are some that I think are very important.
Okay. Well, that’s a whole boatload of things. I’m curious, if that feels overwhelming for folks, could you give us some hope, some inspiration with a story of someone who was kind of low on this collection of behaviors, but then did some things to make a huge upgrade to executive presence and see good results?
Yes, I can. I had a client not too long ago who was at a management level in a company, and networking was something that she found distasteful. She didn’t like it. It was uncomfortable for her, and just generally reaching out to strangers. Considers herself an introvert and, generally, just uncomfortable with engaging people that she had no business reason to engage.
And so, what I helped her with, a couple things, number one is changing her mindset to basically say, “Look, what can I contribute to the person, to the company, to the organization that would be of value?” So, this one important shift in terms of how to even get out of your shell or think about yourself not by way of grabbing or self-promoting, but to actually contribute value.
The other part was what I talked about, helping her create a stakeholder map. So, creating a visual representation of where people are in the company and who has influence, who is someone that could help you get things done, who is somebody that can help you do better at your job, hit the ground running if you’re new in the job, and, basically, contribute value more quickly.
Once you have those people, once you have a map like this, once you have a good overview of who’s who in the organization, then you obviously need to engage and have substantive, hopefully interesting, conversations. And I think this is where a lot of people have shied away. They are worried that they have nothing in common with the person, that they are at too low a level, let’s say, they’re relatively new in their career, new at the company, “What would that person want to talk about with me?”
And so, what I asked her to do in this case is I asked her what she would be genuinely curious about if she were stuck in an elevator with that person for two hours, “What would you talk about? What would you ask that person that you’re genuinely curious about?” And so, it kind of broke it down for her, and she really thought genuinely about, “Okay, I would want to know this. I would want to know what is the person thinking about our division, or my job, my role, how we could most contribute value, what challenges that they have in a similar role or at a different part of the company.”
There were so many questions that she herself generated after a while, and then she felt very confident all of a sudden to there was no status differential, all of a sudden. It was just, “How can I connect with that leader in a way that I show that I’m genuinely interested in them but so I can learn from them as well?” So, that’s one of the ways I helped, and it made a huge difference for her because, obviously, she uses that now to engage with others that she really has no business reason to connect with.
Excellent. So, I’m curious, if we’re going to put forth some effort into developing executive presence, what might you suggest as some top high-leverage starting points in that they need development for a lot of people, and it’s relatively easy to do something about it, in terms of, “Well, just videotape yourself a couple of times, and you’ll stop doing that, bada bing”? Are there any kinds of domains and practices that have a really strong bang for the buck there?
Yes. I’m looking at this as building it from the ground up, because, first of all, again, we’re all a mixed bag. We’re strong in some areas, we’re not so strong in other areas. And so, my recommendation is always to get feedback, first of all. And I ask people two questions. Number one, and to use these questions with others that know them, that can actually make comments, “What do you appreciate about me? How do you perceive me?” number one.
And the second question is, “What would make me even stronger?” And the first question is somewhat open, it’s “How am I perceived? How do you perceive me?” People will generally, because it’s not anonymous, they’re telling you face to face, generally speaking, they’re going to tell you a lot of nice things about you, the things they actually like about you, that they appreciate about you, that make you strong, which is great, but you also need to know what could potentially hold you back.
So, I coach them and ask them the second question in a very specific way, and not, “What are my blind spots?” not “What am I not doing well?” or, “What could I be doing better?” All of these things put the other person in sort of a negative mind space. It puts them into criticizing mode, and nobody wants to criticize you face to face.
And so, what people do like to do, rather than give negative feedback, is they like to give advice, and that’s why I would like to give keep second question, I tell them keep it very positive. Instead of saying, “What are my blind spots? Or, what am I not doing well?” first, I’d tell them, “Thank them for all the nice things they just said about you, because they probably did.” And then you say, “Now, what would make me even stronger?
And the word even is so important because the premise here is that, “Well, you just told me a lot of nice things that I’m strong in these areas. Now, what would make me even stronger?” That will then allow the other person to keep it very positive to actually give you advice. So, for instance, if somebody thinks you’re a micromanager, or that you’re too controlling, had you asked, “What am I not doing well?” chances are they probably wouldn’t have told you the truth, or they might’ve sugarcoated it so much that it would’ve been too vague.
And so, if they do feel though that you’re a little bit of a micromanager, simply by asking the question, “Now, what would make me even stronger?” they could say to you, “Well, if you give people a little bit more autonomy at work, how they arrange their projects, how they set up their time in order to get the results you need and get the work done, that might make them more engaged, and that might increase their productivity, so give them a little more autonomy.” They just told you the exact same thing, and gave you advice rather than criticize you for being a micromanager.
So, I think you start there. You get feedback first. And you said, “Well, what are some quick bang for the buck, basically?” I would say something that anyone can do. So, this will give you an idea of what you need to work on. But I always tell people, whether you’re an introvert, whether you’re shy, whether you’re generally more quiet, these people are typically thinkers, contributing your perspective, your ideas in a meeting is probably the number one thing that could move you up in people’s minds as somebody who’s contributing value and somebody who’s engaged and wants to contribute to solutions and challenges and help solve challenges.
Speaking up, that’s something anyone can do, once we get over the discomfort of doing so, but it’s something that can give you influence almost instantly. And too often, people are just hanging back.
You know, I’m having flashbacks, Harrison, to in high school and college, my Model United Nations days, going to conferences, pretending to represent different countries. And there was a guy, shout out to Robbie Clayber, if he ever listens to the show, who I just got a chapter started in my high school, and he won a lot of awards for being an outstanding representative.
And it’s like, “So, what’s the trick?” He’s like, “Honestly, just keep going up to the microphone and talking.” I was like, “But what if you don’t have anything smart or insightful or worthwhile to say?” And he said, “It doesn’t even matter. Just the more you get up and say stuff at the microphone,” that’s how he won all these best delegate awards.
And I thought that seemed off, but then in my experiences, as I was watching it happen, too, yes, the exact same pattern played out. Now, life is not exactly, or business careers are not exactly a Model United Nations conference for a high school or college student, but I think some of the same principles apply in that just talk more, and, hopefully, it’s value-added so you’re not just wasting everybody’s time.
But, Harrison, if anyone has concerns that, “Oh, I don’t know if what I have to say is that insightful or worthwhile in speaking up,” do you have any pro tips on either overcoming that resistance, or a quick way you can do an internal safety check, like, “Yup, that is a worthwhile contribution” versus, “No, folks will probably roll their eyes internally and wish I would shut up?”
By the way, there are studies, there are a number of studies from the Haas School of Business, for instance, that showed that in small and medium-sized groups, speaking up and contributing your perspective makes other people see you as having leadership, potential leadership qualities, they see you as influential, and then other studies confirm that as well, and even see you as more competent, by the way, even if you don’t always get the answers right. They just see you as more competent to lead because you’re seen as hardworking, as contributing, again, to solutions, as one that could make a difference to the team. So, there are some great qualities.
But, to your point, “So, what if I feel like I just don’t have anything to add?” So, I’m going to give you the light version, and then I’m going to give you the power version. The light version is, think about, “Why are you there? What’s the point of you even being in this meeting?” And, hopefully, you’ve thought about this beforehand.
And if you haven’t, then maybe you learn a lesson that next time you do think about “Why am I there? What questions do I want to ask? What do I need to find out? What’s the objective? What are we trying to accomplish? Are we trying to solve a problem? Are we trying to brainstorm? Are we trying to come to a decision or discuss, get to a consensus?”
There is obviously some sort of objective. And if there isn’t one, or if you don’t know what the objective is, ask other people, “What are we trying to do here?” and then think about why you, why are you there, and then, hopefully, you can connect the dots there. But generally, I say prepare for these meetings even if you feel, maybe you’re new, and you don’t have anything super relevant to add. Well, you could probably ask some good questions. So, think about what those questions are.
And then you might actually be the person, those meetings often go off the rails, people start rambling, they go all over the place, they go down rabbit holes and start talking about things that really had nothing to do with the meeting objective. So, you could be the person that brings everybody back on track, and say, “Hey, weren’t we trying to decide between A and B? We’re really just going way off of that, so here’s what I would like to add to that discussion.”
And so, there are lots of different things if you prepare, ask questions, and make points, and point out maybe some things that others hadn’t thought about. But then the power version, I want to tell you a quick anecdote. So, I’ve done a lot of work for PepsiCo, and worked with some senior leaders on Indra Nooyi’s leadership team.
And an anecdote that I thought was just incredibly inspiring from her was when Indra Nooyi was a consultant for Boston Consulting in the 1980s, from there she was hired to become the head of strategy for Motorola’s automotive electronics division. And in one of her first executive-level staff meetings, she said she was completely out of her depth.
So, they were talking about two things that she didn’t really have much of a clue about: cars and electronics. And so, she said that based on her skill and experience as a consultant, she could’ve asked smart questions and created a framework of understanding for herself and survived, but that she really wanted to make a difference as soon as possible, make a contribution, have an impact on the business.
And so, what she did, in order to be able to contribute, she hired two professors as tutors for herself, on her own. So, she hired an electronics professor who would teach her about electronics from a thick electronics textbook, and then an automotive technology professor, somebody from the automotive technology college, to teach her about the inner workings of a car. And she would do that for an entire year.
So, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, she would have two hours of electronics tutoring from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m., and then the rest of the week, Thursday, Friday, somebody from the automotive college would stop by and help her, for an entire year. And she said it was extremely hard, but think about it, the impact that had on the others around her and her understanding of subject matter and of being able to connect the dots, to me, that’s another level of wanting to make an impact and wanting to contribute value that that’s up to us.
We have to think about where, “What time can I carve out? Where am I willing to make some sacrifices, of tradeoffs to develop my understanding of things, my expertise?”
That’s powerful. And I’ve heard it said here a couple times that if you read the top five relevant books to your field, you’ll be more knowledgeable than 90 plus percent of the people in that domain. And I think that varies by domain, but I think that’s often rather true, that it may not take ten hours of one-on-one professor-tutorial a week for 15 plus weeks to pull it off. It might take 16 hours of reading over a couple of months, and, bam, there you are having some knowledgeable perspective.
Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I think and then you decide how much further you want to go. And you’ll see, “Do you have an impact? Are you making a difference?” And I agree with you that you don’t have to necessarily have the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about becoming an expert at something, or a master at something. I think small steps, like you said, reading a couple of books on the topic, reading insights and papers and articles can make a huge difference already.
All right. Well, Harrison, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?
No, I would say the idea of getting feedback, understanding, having developing your internal self-awareness, external self-awareness, how you show up to the world, and then deciding, “What do I need to work on?” is a great foundation to, then, increase your executive presence.
Okay. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
There’s a quote by George Bernard Shaw who said that, “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
And I think that’s powerful because it puts the control in your hands.
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
Francesca Gino, a few years ago, led a study with Adam Grant on gratitude, the power of gratitude. And they found that, aside from Gallup also found that showing gratitude, managers showing gratitude to employees can boost productivity by 5% to 10%, people feeling appreciated by their managers, being more engaged at work, and being happier at work. So, I love that study because it just reinforces something that we all intuitively know, I think.
Okay. And could you share a favorite book?
As a matter of fact, right in front of me, it’s called Daily Rituals. Daily Rituals by.. oh, Mason Currey. And it just talks about rituals that famous artists, composers, painters, writers, have had, and it’s full of failures.
So, the book is full of how these people tried to get out of work, tried to avoid work, procrastinated, but then found themselves still producing masterpieces and great works. And I think it just sort of humanizes them, and it makes you feel less like a loser if you don’t feel like getting off the couch for a full day.
Alrighty. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
For me, a favorite tool is reframing, so reframing things. I think the power of reframing, looking at things from different perspectives, first, it makes you calmer. Taking different viewpoints on something because there’s so much that stresses us out, but if we’re able to put things in proper perspective, reframe them in not just one different way or look at one different perspective, but look at it from many different perspectives, it makes you calmer and it actually helps you find solutions. It opens your mind to other approaches.
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?
A key nugget. Well, actually, to be honest with you, it’s connected to that, it is this looking at things in a different way. And one thing that people often either cite or remind me of that I’ve talked about at a workshop or in a coaching session is this idea of rather than thinking of yourself, think about others and how you can contribute value to others will make a lot of things easier from speaking up to networking, to increasing visibility, to getting involved with people and things. That just the idea of looking at it from the perspective of “I’d like to make a contribution. I’d like to contribute value” has a huge impact on our willingness, our motivation, to actually go out and do it.
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
LinkedIn is a great way. I’m on LinkedIn. Certainly, we have our website, GuruMaker.com, but LinkedIn, I post on LinkedIn not as often as I’d like but, yeah, messaging on LinkedIn and just connecting that way and staying in touch that way is great.
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
Yes. I would say a challenge would be, and this is often I give challenge in the workshop, I would say pick six people that know you, have worked with you maybe, or working with you, ask them the two questions, “How am I perceived?” Wait for the nice answers and maybe they’ll tell you something interesting. And then the second question, “Now, what would make me even stronger?” and listen, wait for the answers, be grateful for the answers. Probe if you want to have clarity, and then you have something that you can work on, potentially, to make you even more effective and even stronger.
That’s good. Harrison, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much fun and success and executive presence.
Thank you very much. Pleasure talking to you.