TEDx Alexia Hands in Pockets

PowerPoint Mishaps, Keeping Secrets and other Lessons in Leadership

AlexiaLeadership, Women in Business, Women's Issues

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of hosting Power of the Suit, a fashion show and women’s leadership panel, put on by Global Gaming Women and Cintas. It fell during the tail end of a 6-week period where my own leadership practice has been challenged (and strengthened) by opportunities where I did not know what to say, how to respond, or how to process.

Some of these challenges might seem small from the outside. For example, during TEDxFremontEastWomen, the person running the slide projector was making numerous errors during the speakers’ talks. During one particular talk, he was flipping through a past presenter’s slides on the projector. (And the current speaker was supposed to be slide-free.) Deciding whether the leadership opportunity was to shift my frustration over the situation and “let is be”—or to instead stop the event, announce from the front of the auditorium that this was unacceptable and we needed to start again—was a challenge. I went with the latter. The speaker thanked me. As did at least a dozen audience members. The moment was so much bigger than me. It created waves of positive impact for others—particularly the speaker, who had the opportunity to begin again, have quality speaking footage, and receive the support and thunderous applause of our audience.

The lesson here, take decisive action when situations warrant it. It’s so easy in moments where we are tasked with deciding whether to step up or step back to fail to make the decision, and in doing so, lose an opportunity to improve upon a flawed situation. While sometimes the opportunity is to move on, too often we delude ourselves by thinking that we are choosing grace when really we are just playing small and/or reinforcing status quo.

Here are three other leadership lessons I’ve learned this season that I invite you to incorporate into your life and work.

  1. To return to Power of the Suit, I was struck (okay, somewhat sucker punched) by how many women came up to me and shared that they were held back by the lack of rehearsal opportunities they had to refine their leadership behaviors. When people ask me what makes Influencer Academy special, I can quickly rattle off details about the sequential, skill-based curriculum in presentation skills, coaching, negotiation, persuasion and facilitation. Or the unparalleled opportunities for quality relationship building. But I’m beginning to see that some of the greatest value is in the role-playing exercises I facilitate.

When leaders at any rank seek to develop or refine their skillsets, it’s crucial for them to practice creating and solidifying those skills in an environment that is safe—and in environment that also stretches them. I believe this is particularly important for women. Men are more apt to test their performance repeatedly. (For example, before they need to negotiate their salaries, men have likely been negotiating for discounted hotel rates or free trials of monthly pest control or home cleaning—thereby dynamizing their negotiation skills and their confidence in them.) Many women, unfortunately, have instead mastered the art of ruminating on these skills and don’t test them out until the stakes are high—as in, when face-to-face where their VP or dream client.

  1. Keep the right secrets. It took me a long time to be comfortable with secrets. The first one I remember being asked to keep was about my sexual abuse. And thank goodness, I didn’t keep it. Growing up, while I was never gossipy, I abhorred being asked to keep secrets. When someone told me, “Lex, I’m telling you this but please don’t tell anyone,” my body would go limp like a rag doll, I’d grimace, and I’d usually beg the person not to frame his or her request as a secret I needed to keep.

As I’ve matured, I’ve adjusted. I hold a lot of secrets for my clients. My ability to do so has garnered me their trust, sure, but it has also enabled them to test out their ideas, dreams and difficult conversations so that they can more effectively perform. Not all secrets are created equal, and knowing when and how to keep them is essential for one’s leadership and reputation.

  1. Unhook from others’ developmental outcomes. It’s tricky when we are leading or teaching not to get enmeshed in what our people achieve. Or don’t. It’s equally tricky not to equate their success and failures with our own leadership abilities, or lack thereof.

While having dinner with one of my mentors last week, she was sharing a few of her son’s recent decisions. Some she agreed with. Others she didn’t. Yet, she was clear that in no way did she take on any of her son’s choices, his character, or his life path. She was very clear on her role as a parent, to be a guide for her son’s journey while on the planet.

I’ve recently had a few clients make choices that were not what they said they wanted for themselves, and therefore they were not what I wanted for them either. I’ve sought to remember my best leadership comes from holding space for them to share their disappointments and their learning, not from me stewing over whether or where I went wrong.

What leadership lessons has your life thrown at you to learn over these last few weeks?

And are you really learning them—or are you just bulldozing through situations and missing the lessons?

Whether you report to a company, run your own shop or perhaps consult for a variety of different clients, how can you embrace and reapply these lessons moving forward, so you don’t have to learn them again?

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

In conjunction with building awareness and audience for the next class of Influencer Academy, I’m leading a Master Class on women’s leadership, Play to Your Edge, on Thursday, July 16th from 12:00-1:00pm Pacific. This is the first time I’ve led a mini-Influencer Academy experience like this, and I’m eager to help you:

  •  Discover the top high performing behaviors of successful executive and entrepreneurial women. (Hint: they are NOT what you probably think.)
  •  Compile actionable strategies to make more impact every time you open your mouth to present an idea.
  • Dial-up your ability to address gender bias—overt and unconscious—with your colleagues and clients.
  • Identify and eliminate real and self-imposed barriers getting you in your own way of high-impact leadership.

I’ll also share details regarding Influencer Academy, my hands-on women’s leadership development program that meets one Friday per month in Las Vegas from October 2015-June 2016. (Another hint: I’m giving away something really juicy for anyone who applies to Influencer Academy, and if accepted, enrolls this month.)

Whether you are seeking to power up your own leadership practice (or you are eager to develop the female leaders in your organization), you are going to love this equal parts practical and playful training appropriate for leaders, entrepreneurs and professionals across industries and sectors.

Enroll in Play to Your Edge here.

See you in class!