I was prompted to write this by a conversation I had with a client this morning. She was between jobs and had some concerns about effectively handling a ‘chat over coffee‘ she was about to have with the head of a leading accountancy firm with a view to finding another COO role. She was concerned because she could see a past pattern of unexploited opportunities caused by not doing the necessary preparation to ensure she would get the best result possible. Instead the disconcerting feminine habit of being self deprecating and vague about her achievements.
For many women, quietly causing things from behind the scenes with no recognition or reward, apart from a sense of satisfaction, is seen in our culture as 'normal'. Less common, rare even, is a woman who has conscious knowledge of who she is, what she does best and how she wants to use it. It's not that it’s a difficult thing to bring to consciousness, it's more that we women are not encouraged do so. In my work with senior women I have developed the Focused Personal Brand to help them proactively manage any interaction, where they want to have an impact.
Focusing your brand
My client’s Intuitive Personal Brand, “An assured operator, uncompromisingly leveraging individual’s capabilities to achieve excellent results”, is what she knows to be true about her. We had created this tag line together previously. When she reads this sentence to herself she experiences a strong sense of affirmation. It feels absolutely right. This is what I call the shiny eye moment! However although her Intuitive Personal Brand makes complete sense to her, it isn’t exactly a pithy message that immediately communicates to her chosen audience. What she wanted was to be able to translate the authenticity and energy of her Intuitive Personal Brand into memorable messaging for her coffee companion.
Above is the Focused Personal Brand structure we produced for this particular coffee conversation. It shows the Intuitive Personal Brand she is working from and the Focused Personal Brand she comes up with. It also includes other aspects of the encounter she is concerned to manage more effectively.
What the customer wants
To communicate effectively in this situation my client needed to think about what was important to her coffee companion. Given that he is running a business, his interest is in results so we distilled down her IPB into a relevant but brief description of what she essentially does. This was: “deliver, get things done, get others to do things”. It still connected with her sense of who she was, so when she said it, she felt confident and she came across that way. Having stated it, to fix it in his memory, all she needed to do was give a relevant example/s (no more than 2) which needed to be prepared beforehand for the most powerful impact.
Taking control of the agenda
As she considered her 'chat', she shared her concern about her tendency, common to women, to allow the other person to control the agenda. To help her maintain the balance she decided it would help, at the beginning of the encounter, to share the fact that she was looking for new opportunities and was there to find out if he could help her with that. This would save time, vital as he had said he only had 20 minutes. Her next move was to continue managing the agenda by asking if it would be helpful if she would tell him about what she had done. She would base her examples on research about the firm and her existing knowledge of what his challenges might be.
Another concern, where she felt she had let herself down in the past, was about demonstrating her executive mindset. To prepare for this she recognised the need to demonstrate her knowledge of the strategic issues he might be facing, using examples drawn from her long experience and sharing with him how she had contributed to their resolution. Thinking it through helped her realise that although she knows she has the capability she doesn’t always make that clear to others. The imposter syndrome was mentioned! Bringing it into conscious awareness helped her take ownership and see the need to proactively demonstrate it’s existence.
Managing the conversation
Finally she shared a previous experience where an employer had brought in a technical expert to ask her highly technical questions more reminiscent of an exam than an interview. We agreed this had more to do with their concerns about not making a mistake, rather than whether she was actually capable of doing the role in question. My client had enough experience to know this was overkill and that if in the unlikely event there was something she couldn’t handle she had plenty of knowledgeable people who would advise her.
On reflection she was able to find a form of words to bring things back on track, “Is there some aspect of this role for which you suspect that my qualifications and experience would be inadequate? If so what?” This takes back control of her part of the dialogue and insists that they take responsibility for theirs. What we forget is that often interviewers are as nervous as we are. At senior level what is required is an ability to be proactive and on top of, what is happening in real time. What better way of demonstrating it?
This focused approach was more likely to produce the new opportunity she is looking for. However, if it doesn’t, it was important to take further steps to ensure that the coffee hadn’t been a waste of time. On this she was quite confident about asking if there was anything they needed help with, maybe a project they would like to take forward and if not was there anyone else she should be talking to and if so could he introduce her.
She left feeling much happier, knowing she had a planned and thought through approach to her meeting that was more proactive and more likely to achieve the result she wanted.