Keeping Your Cool

“Everyone says self-awareness is essential to effective leadership. It is, but there is another aspect to awareness that may be equally compelling and sadly overlooked. It’s self-management.”

 – John Baldoni, author and internationally recognized executive coach

Everyone looses his or her cool from time to time – after all, we’re only human, right? But what happens when we do it repeatedly?

Our reputation, our influence, our ability to both lead and succeed is diminished.

You can manage a budget, manage a supply chain, manage innovation, even manage aScreen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.22.11 PM team well but if you cannot manage your own reactions to people, obstacles or temper-triggers, it can derail your company or your career.

Failure to manage oneself well is essentially a failure to maintain self-control and a focus on the ultimate end-goal of healthy, ethical success as a team.

What does failure to manage oneself look like? You’ve seen it. It can manifest as temper outbursts, impatience, ingratitude, detachment, sarcasm or hubris. You’ve seen it displayed in some form, and you’ve displayed it yourself in one of these forms – we all have at some point.

None of this is fatal if it happens infrequently – acknowledgement and apologies smooth over the occasional slip up. What can be fatal is a failure to commit to managing yourself and your reactions.

We each need to be self-aware of what our typical “triggers” are. For instance:

  • If you are high on the impatience spectrum – either naturally or adapting – your trigger might be when you perceive that others are “dragging their feet” or when deadlines are missed.
  • If you are high on the dominance spectrum – either naturally or adapting – your trigger could be when you perceive others aren’t making or sticking to clear decisions.
  • If you are high on the conformity spectrum – either naturally or adapting – you might start to loose it when the numbers don’t add up, or you perceive a lack of clear instructions or respect of protocol.

Self-awareness of your triggers is key – but it must be followed by a controlled response. It is not enough to know what sets you off, if you don’t find strategies for avoiding exploding.

Sometimes that can be a simple as taking a ten-minute break from the situation in order to calm down and switch trains of thought.

Pages 8 and 9 of your Forte Communication Profile can help you see your current potential triggers and help you respond to them in a healthy, effective manner.

Do you know which interactions, behaviors, or situations tend to set you off? Think back over the last year. Chances are, you can identify patterns. If not, ask a trusted close co-worker – chances are they can identify your patterns.

We each need to release the expectation that the rest of the world needs to change and stop setting us off. Instead, we must own our own triggers and manage how we react to them.

It’s not uncommon for “strong personalities” to rise to leadership positions. However, your very strengths can become liabilities when not managed well.

The good news is, you are totally in control of you.

The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Rachel is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. Call at The Forté Institute at 910-452-5152.

Handling Q&A Sessions

Leadership always comes with a microphone. Whether casting vision, explaining strategy, or motivating your team, you’ll find yourself speaking before a group.

And if you speak before groups, you’ll likely also find yourself fielding questions either informally or in an official question and answer session.

Here are some tips for managing a Q&A session successfully.


Don’t fear silence.

Sometimes when the floor is first opened for questions the room becomes awkwardly silent.  It takes people some time to form their questions in their mind before standing up or taking a mic to ask them.

It may take others – introverts perhaps – additional time to get up the courage to ask their question publicly. Remain clam and welcoming – smiling at the group a bit during the silence.

You can solicit comments as well as questions, and then respond to the comments offered.

If a while passes at the start with no questions asked, I will essentially ask myself a question and then answer it.  I’ll say something like, “A question I frequently get asked on this subject is _____ and I always tell them ….” This serves to break the ice.  Alternatively, you can pre-arrange for someone present to ask a specific question at the start of the Q&A session to get the ball rolling.

After a flurry of questions, the room may fall silent again. If time allows, don’t automatically close out the session at this point. Tell the group you have time to take a couple more questions or respond to a couple more thoughts. Introverts can take a while to formulate and voice their thoughts, but they often have insightful ones. So get comfortable handling a little silence while a group is looking at you.

Repeat the question before answering.

This is especially key when the size of the audience or the room itself is large.  Repeating the question ensures that everyone hears and knows the context for the answer you are giving.

It also provides a chance to ensure that you did in fact understand the question being asked, before launching into a lengthy potentially off-topic response. Look at the questioner as you repeat the question.

Plus, it gives your mind a moment to begin formulating the answer you want to give. But never fear taking a quiet moment to collect your thoughts before answering a question if you need to.

Answer to the entire group.

Don’t focus solely on the person who asked the question with your answer. Direct your answer to the entire group, spreading out your eye contact and projecting your voice across the crowd just as you would while giving a presentation.

This keeps the whole audience engaged. Plus, it is likely that someone else in the room was wondering the same thing as the person who asked the question.

When you are done answering a question, you can bring your gaze back to rest on the person who asked the question, perhaps with a nod of your head or a “Thanks for asking that.”

Don’t pretend to know it all.

If you are asked a question you do not know the answer to, simply state that rather than feigning your way through an answer. Most audiences can detect “BS.” And someone in the audience may know the correct answer.

I like to praise the questioner in these cases. For example: “That is such a good question. I can’t say that I know the answer to it. I would need to do some more thinking/research before I could fully answer that one. It’s a great question though, and one I will look into.”  This helps the asker feel some satisfaction despite not receiving an answer to their question.

Research shows that the Q&A session following a speech can have as much or more impact on the audience’s impressions of you and your message as your speech itself. So train yourself to relax and allow time for questions to arise, repeat the question before answering, and deliver honest answers the same way you would your speech -engaging the entire audience.

The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Rachel is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. Call at The Forté Institute at 910-452-5152.

Sneakers, Status & NonConformity

90_1396654483A friend of mine tells the story of his first Friday working for an insurance company – no one told him Fridays were “casual day.”  He showed up to work in a pressed shirt and bow tie, and was teased about it.

Every Friday for years since he has bucked the corporate culture and worn a bow tie. Interestingly, he also rapidly became one of the company’s top sellers.

What Does Your Attire Communicate?

In a new twist on “the clothes make the man,” recent research finds that under certain circumstances, people wearing unexpected attire are perceived as having higher status and greater competence.

“Our studies found that nonconformity leads to positive inferences of status and competence when it is associated with deliberateness and intentionality,” writes Bellezza, Gino and Keinan in “The Surprising Benefits of Nonconformity,” from the Spring 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.

While it was long thought expensive shoes and custom suits signaled power, competence and success, that idea has been turned on its head in the 21st century – at least by the elite.

One of the most visible examples is Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO. Whether being interviewed by the media or meeting with Wall Street bankers, Zuckerberg shows up wearing jeans and a hoodie.

The point is not how formal or causal you dress – it’s how unconventional your  choice is perceived to be from the occasion or the norm.

While the most traditional-minded among us may chaff at Zuckerberg’s wardrobe choices, many are impressed by them – deducing that Zuckerberg has earned the right to wear whatever he pleases, and has the courage to do so.

“From a psychological standpoint, intentional deviance from a norm can project heightened status and competence by signaling that one has the autonomy to act according to one’s own inclinations,” write the study’s authors.

Should You Replace Your Suits with Hoodies?

Can I show up to teach at the university in yoga pants, flip-flops and my favorite concert t-shirt from my college days and impress others with that choice? Perhaps some students would applaud me; I suspect many of my fellow faculty would not. I might get away with it, however, if I have the highest teaching evaluation scores on campus and/or bring in millions in grant money with my research.

There is a cost/benefit analysis to be done when choosing to deliberately buck convention with your non-conformity.

Research reveals that onlookers attribute heightened status and competence to a nonconforming individual when they think he or she is both aware of the accepted norm and able to conform to it, but deliberately decides not to.

When nonconforming behavior or attire appears to be prompted by lack of means, lack of better alternatives, or lack of awareness of the code, it does not lead to positive inferences from others. Think of my clueless friend on his first Friday at work.

To benefit from deviance from the norm, we should make sure that others perceive our nonconforming practices to be intentional choices. Think of my friend each Friday since.

Managing Impressions

“Conformity to rules and social norms in both professional and nonprofessional settings tends to generate social acceptance and avoids negative sanctions such as social disapproval, ridicule and exclusion. Signaling through nonconformity comes at the cost of abandoning this comfort zone and the benefits of following the crowd.” write the researchers.

Nonetheless, it might work to your advantage to make a bold choice from time to time … especially if you are in the company of other non-conformists.

In an experiment, one of the authors taught a class to executives at Harvard Business School wearing nonconforming red Converse sneakers. Many of the executives deducted that the professor teaching the class was a well-published scholar, high ranking in her field. And the positive inference of competence and status was particularly strong for executives who themselves owned an unusual pair of shoes.

This experiment shows it can pay to know the tendency towards conformity or nonconformity of those you interact with – The Forte Institutue can help you discover this.

Clearly, nonconformity is seen in a positive light in certain scenarios. However, in other scenarios deviation from the norm can result in disapproval rather than increased status.

As you contemplate wing tips vs. sneakers, consider whom you are aiming to impress and whether you are confident enough to withstand any potential costs of nonconformity. As this research shows, if you go with the Converse, go boldly in them rather than treading lightly.


The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Rachel is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. Call at The Forté Institute at 910-452-5152.

Keys for Helpful Feedback

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Years ago – before the rise of webinars with comment boxes – I gave seminars via a conference call line. Eighty or so participants would call in, I would put everyone on mute, and then “present” for the next 30 minutes.

I’m an experienced speaker, and I had notes in front of me, but I would sweat my way through these calls, feeling exhausted afterward. It felt stressful and hard because I had no feedback – visual or verbal – from the group so I had no sense of how I was doing.

I could’ve adjusted or clarified, and improved on the fly if only I had some information to go on. Instead it was like speaking into a black hole.

Sometimes our jobs can feel that way if we aren’t getting feedback from our leaders, clients or co-workers.

Feedback is absolutely essential for improving performance, increasing accountability, establishing desired goals, recognizing strengths and achieving wanted results.

Here are three keys to the art of giving good feedback.

1) Positivity 

In addition to direction on what or how you’d like to see someone change or improve, also provide information on what they are doing well.

Aim to give them a “feedback sandwich” – a positive praise, followed by the points where they could improve and suggestions for improvement, followed at the end by another positive praise or your vote of confidence.

Positive feedback stimulates the reward center in the brain, leaving the person happy and open to taking new direction. Negative feedback, on the other hand, tends to trigger the threat response and defensiveness can set in.

You can be tough as a leader without being negative or mean. Stay positive.

2) Specificity

People generally operate best when given specific direction. Rather than saying, “I want you to be more talkative in meetings,” try, “You’re a careful thinker, which I apprecaite, so I’d like to hear at least one idea or opinion from you in each meeting.”

If you are too vague in your communication with others, it forces them to guess what you want. If they don’t know what they should do – or how you what it done – they may not ask for clarification for fear of looking ignorant or inattentive. Considering asking them if you have provided enough specific information about the goal, process, procedure, desired behavior or deadline at hand.

When giving feedback, give specific examples of when/how they have not met expectations, and offer what they can specifically do to improve. The need for specificity on feedback and direction is going to be especially high for systematic thinkers like conformists on the Forte scale. While non-conformists may not crave as much specificity on the how-to part, they too need clear information about what you want to see improved.

3) Immediacy 

The adult brain learns best when feedback is given at, or shortly after, the time of performance. If you wait weeks or months to tell someone their performance on something was average or sub-par, they likely won’t fully grasp the changes you’re wanting to see as they won’t adequately recall the details of their performance.

Immediate and frequent feedback provides more opportunities for adjustment, allowing employees to accelerate their growth on the performance learning curve. Immediate feedback allows adjustments “on the fly” before ineffective habits are created. When employees do not get feedback they will assume what they are doing is working, or at least is acceptable, and likely will continue the behavior.

Like positivity, immediacy in feedback also increases people’s motivation for improvement – particularly on tasks they will be repeating either soon or often.

Better Your Employees’ Performance by Bettering Your Feedback

According to Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner at the NeuroLeadership Summit in Boston, people who receive feedback only apply it about 30% of the time. So be prepared to address the issue again if progress is not made – but remain positive and specific and give feedback as immediately as possible.

Staying mindful of these three keys will increase the odds your feedback will lead to improved performance.

The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Rachel is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. Call at The Forté Institute at 910-452-5152.

What Matters to Millennials

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Think you know what matters most to Millennial generation employees?

You might need to think again after recent research.

Recently Futurestep, the Recruitment Process Outsourcing arm of Korn Ferry, released a study outlining the current attitudes of Millennials. For the purposes of their study, the company defined Millennials as everyone born after 1980, which includes the as-yet-officially-unnamed next generation into their category.

Below are the highlights of their report. Note that these were the executive’s responses about the Millennials they hired and work with – the Millennials themselves were not interviewed.

What Matters Most to Millennials?

The study sought to nail down the top considerations for attracting and retaining Millennial employees. When asked what matters most to employees born after 1980 the greatest number of respondents said, “the ability to make an impact on the business” (23%) followed closely by “a clear path for advancement” (20%), and “development and ongoing feedback” (16%).

Income came in fourth place at only 13%.

What Influences their Employment Decisions?

When executives were asked what makes Millennials choose one job over another, 38% said, “visibility and buy-in to the vision of the organization,” while 28% said, “a clear path for advancement.”

Job title and pay came in third place at 18%.

How to Recruit Millennials?

The survey revealed that 42% of respondents believe social media is the best tactic for reaching and recruiting Millennials, followed by “word-of-mouth and networking” (28%) and online talent communities (19%).

What do these Results Mean for Employers?

Trish Healy, Futurestep vice president of RPO Operations in North America said, “This research demonstrates the changing priorities of today’s young workforce.”

While previous research determined Millennials value pay over other aspects of employment, this research suggests now Millennials are “placing greater value on understanding what a company stands for and how, as employees, they can play a role in growing the organization into a better, stronger brand.”

Taking this research to heart, ensure you are recruiting on social and mobile platforms. Ensure you are communicating clearly your company’s vision and value. And ensure you are communicating any opportunities available for development and advancement.

With Millennials’ increasingly important contributions to today’s companies, it is worth the effort to keep your finger on the pulse of what is motivating them.

The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. Reach us at the Forte Institute 910-452-5152.


Your Management Style

Every leader has an individual management style that is a blend of their innate personality traits, communication style strengths, work history, and life experience. The question is, do you know yours? And, is it always effective?

Effective leaders know their strengths, and they build a team around them that can compensate for their limitations. They know how to lead from their strengths, without turning a blind eye to their weaknesses.

Here’s six things you can do to ensure that your personal management style will help your company achieve its objectives:

  1. Know your specific management style: Step one is to find out how you are hardwired to lead. What are your strengths? What management style do you default to? An assessment can help you see this objectively in black and white. For instance, you can take the Forte Communication Style Survey to learn both your communication style and your management style.
  2. Know how you’re being perceived: The second step is to discover how you are coming across to those you work with. The adapting portion of the Forte Communication Style Survey also shows you this in black and white. Or you can ask some trusted peers or direct reports for honest feedback. For an even more thorough evaluation, use a 360 leadership assessment to see the full picture.
  3. Understand that your biggest strength can hold you back: It’s common for professionals to figure out what they’re good at and then run with it. In fact, when problems arise, we often pour on more of the same, only stronger. A planning style manager may bog the team down in plans and details, while an influencing manager may talk past the point of helpfulness and slow the team down. Sometimes, less is more – even of strengths. Remember that those around you have different defaults and needs. Your goal is to adapt. So first know your strengths, and then recognize when to throttle them back. 
Forte Adapting updates can help.
  4. Don’t hire in your own likeness: We tend to gravitate towards people who are similar to us. In fact, studies show that managers often rate more highly employees they perceive as “like” them. This birds-of-a-feather phenomena may help you build enjoyable friendships, but always hiring employees with traits like yours will build a lopsided work team. Hire, and then value, a diversity of opinions and strengths, matching each person’s strengths to the role they fill.
  5. Know those you hire: Each person on your team has a way that they like to lead and be led. There are specific ways you can communicate with each of them to best reach them and motivate them. Sound like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be. Effective leadership is not just about knowing and using your style, but also about adapting your style as needed to best lead the team. Give your team members the Forte Communication Style Profile to learn how to communicate and motivate the individuals around you.
  6. Get a wingman that is opposite of you: One smart thing you can do for your company and your growth as a leader is to build a relationship with a peer who complements rather than mirrors your management style. They can help you see your strengths and your blind spots. They can suggest alternative approaches you might not think of. And they can tell you how you really come across to the world.

To lead at optimum levels you need – chances are – information that you don’t currently have … like how you tend to lead, how each of your employees prefer to be led, and how you are currently coming across to them. The Forte Institute tool suite can easily put that information in your hands.

If you are in senior management, you’ve already seen time and again that people skills are key to effective leadership. Yet strategy and market positioning tend to occupy the thoughts of most C-level leaders. If you will take the extra step of understanding your own leadership style, then use it and also compensate for it, you will not only help your company excel, but your career as well.

For more information on how leadership assessments can help you hone your leadership style, see this article at or give us a call at the Forte Institute: 910-452-5152.

The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in the Communication Studies department. She is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. 

Powerful Protocol

Would you like the ability to keep your team engaged with their work?

Knowing and consistently doing what is needed, expected or desired of you can increase your power as a leader and your team’s engagement on the job.

Here’s some advice from one of our partners Don Brown on developing and following a leader’s protocol.

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Power in Protocol

One can define “protocol” as:

  1. an accepted code of behavior
  2. a prescribed approach for correct conduct or action
  3. a set of conventional principles and expectations.

A living example would be a physician’s protocol. When interacting with patients with compromised immune systems the protocol calls for disinfectant, gloves and masks before any contact with a patient. These actions are universally expected and accepted in preventing or avoiding infection.

What then are the accepted actions, principles and expectations for a leader’s conduct?

Our study of employees from Singapore to Syracuse reveals a triad of expectations. Your followers want three things from leadership: Communication, Feedback and Autonomy. Make these your “Leader’s Protocol.”

Following this protocol is key to preventing disengagement in your team.


Your first consideration when someone knocks on your office door and asks, “Got a minute?” lies in understanding and responding to the communication need that exists in that moment with that person.

Two questions might help you master the communication protocol:

  1. What is the purpose of your communication? There are really only three reasons we communicate; to relate (to establish or maintain association), to influence (to sway or have a desired effect), or to inform (to transfer knowledge or provoke awareness). Try determining or setting the purpose of your communication before you speak.
  2. What style of communication would be most effective? The easiest taxonomy to use is that of extrovert versus introvert. If you’re talking to an introvert, try being a little quieter yourself – a little less talkative. If that person is an extrovert, try to open up just a bit.

The rules of engagement are simple: Understand your purpose, and adapt to their style.


They want to know how they’re doing! They want to know what you think. They want feedback, and they want it from you.

Feedback can take on two forms – process and praise – and they’re both important.

Process – When you’re addressing process, three words are relevant in the moment: quality, quantity and time. Quality means, are they meeting your specification as to how well it needs to be done?

Quantity invokes a number, a metric. Are their numbers made or missed? Also, time as a reflection of performance with respect to deadline. Are they first or last, early or late?

Praise – When offering praise, three words are also relevant: effort, contribution, and growth.  Effort is about energy, intensity, and exertion. Contribution is about either personal output or impact on others. Growth is about discernible improvement.

Try communicating how they’re doing with regards to their effort, contribution or growth.


This last element in a leader’s protocol is autonomy. Look for places to grant it. Followers care about independence. They want responsibility, and the freedom to make decisions (and even mistakes).

Indicators of autonomy weigh heavily on the minds of your team members. They think about it a lot. In response, you should be thinking about ownership and exit.

Ownership – The central question is, should their efforts be self-directed or directed by you? And, what is your own degree of reluctance to let go? Key to making this call is clarity around the nature of the task involved, and the authority to act. Strangely enough, their autonomy is in your hands. Remember that.

Exit – the second consideration in letting go is having a conscious exit strategy to get you out of their work. To do this, understand two concepts: data and delta.

Data has to do with facts, statistics or information used as your basis for decision-making. What data do you need to see to be able to let go? The word “delta” signifies change. Look for changes in their performance that demonstrate a new level of mastery. We can almost always spot growth – but only if we’re looking for it. Let your exit strategy accelerate along the curve of their competence.

There is power in protocol. Let your leadership wisely and consistently provide helpful communication, timely feedback and a generous amount of autonomy. Our challenge in leading in a no-normal world will be adopting – and practicing – this powerful leader’s protocol.


*To better your interpersonal communication and adapt to the extroverts and the introverts on your team, try an Interaction Report. To provide truly robust feedback, try an i360 Report.  To accelerate competence and autonomy, try Performance Coaching.

Don Brown dedicates his career to leadership, sales and service effectiveness. Learn more about Don, his services, and his books at


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Pitching Your Ideas


Are you trying to convince your boss to develop a new product or implement your strategies for growth, but can’t get him or her to listen?

Would you like to introduce a new system to your team – one you are certain would bring many benefits – but you can’t get their buy-in?

Do you come into contact with prospective buyers/clients but aren’t sure how to effectively sell to them without coming across as pushy?


No matter where we sit in the company structure, we all share ideas with someone else with the aim of being persuasive and well received. We have a goal, but we need someone else’s receptivity or action to achieve it.

No matter how great our idea, how needed our improvement, or how much of a deal our product is, we must successfully overcome the communication challenge known as “the pitch.”


Facilitating Your “Pitch”

Here are a few guidelines to follow when pitching a product or idea:

  • Get really clear on what you’re offering, and why.  – If you can’t explain it clearly and concisely, odds are they won’t get it. Distill your idea into a singular, “sticky” statement that covers what it is, and what its benefits are.  Use that statement towards the beginning of your pitch.
  • Be conversational. – You want to connect with your audience, so even if you are standing in a boardroom with PowerPoint slides behind you, your pitch should feel more like a conversation than a presentation. Consider telling a story as you explain your idea – stories are memorable and hook into our emotions. 
  • Ask questions. – Interacting with your audience is key to keeping them engaged, and questions involve them in your pitch.  If you meet with someone individually, like a client or your boss, be sure to listen as much as you speak. If you’re presenting to a group, invite questions at key stages during the presentation.  Ask about their initial reaction or hesitations, ask if they’ve had experience with something similar. Make them feel heard. And realize what you hear can help you tailor your pitch on the fly.
  • Focus on helping rather than selling. – Make it your goal to serve your audience. Identify what your audience needs (be that your boss, team or clients) and seek to show them how you or your idea can meet their needs. Don’t assume they have the same needs or goals you have. Don’t assume they have a felt need for what you’re pitching – some needs we feel, others we are blind to. Even if this pitch isn’t green-lighted, if you’re perceived as helpful, you’ll have future opportunities to pitch.
  • Be contagious. – Remember that emotion can be contagious, so let your passion or your conviction shine through as you pitch. Present with energy and humble confidence. If you don’t appear to “feel it,” your audience isn’t likely to either.

If we sincerely seek to be helpful, present a clear and compelling case, and engage the audience and listen to them, our pitch will be much more likely to land on receptive ears. Plus, we’ll open the door to dialogue about our idea – effectively turning our audience into our collaborative partners.



Here’s a terrific video on how to pitch anything in 15 seconds by Carmine Gallon at

If you’d like to discover how to specifically communicate so that your boss or employees will listen, have your team take the Forte Communication Profile Survey. This can show you each person’s individual preferences for how they like to receive information and make decisions. Call us at 910-452-5152.

Forte Institute member Rachel Olsen is on faculty in the Communication Studies department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach.