Client Story #2

Owning the Role

In today’s corporate world, change is the new normal and successful professionals are the ones who can adapt and make the most of each opportunity. Often times, organizations bring Smartt Talk in to help employees make the shift from executing their own work to managing and leading teams.

Being a leader isn’t just about making decisions and acting with authority. It’s about being collaborative, supportive, and genuinely empathetic—truly listening to your team. The key is being flexible and present in each situation, so you can respond appropriately and galvanize people.

This year, I was working with a client at CNN Money in New York who had been recently promoted. She was transitioning from managing a social media team of three people to leading a team of twelve. She wanted to project confidence while setting a vision and inspiring her team to success.

Her first step was dealing with the inner critic that lives in all of us. It’s that voice that says, “Wow, that was a stupid thing to say,” or “Who are you kidding, you’re no leader, you don’t have the experience.” For high achievers, this inner voice can be one of the biggest obstacles they face.

I shared my mantra: “Be prepared, not perfect.” If you strive for constant perfection, then you’re not open to what’s actually happening in the room. You’re not present. By worrying about “how I’m doing,” you’re cutting yourself off from the people you’re working to connect with.

Then, pulling from my years as a performer, we worked on physical techniques she could employ to command the room in a new way. We started with effective breathing to stay grounded, then worked on eye contact to assure she connected with her audience authentically. Next was increasing volume when leading large meetings and incorporating vocal variety to avoid the dreaded monotone delivery so prevalent with leaders.

By addressing both the inner voice and practicing the techniques and exercises around external delivery she was able to move beyond self criticism and establish a newfound presence at the front of the room.

The next challenge was how to keep her analytic, data-driven social media team from putting everyone to sleep in meetings. In one case, they were asking the media team to pull video and images on stories they could funnel into their social media campaigns. The media team was overworked and slow in responding, and resented having one more request to have to respond to. What’s the best approach in this situation? 

I made a suggestion that I make to every client: Remember who your audience is. Her team needed to think about their audience — in this case, the media team. Instead of attacking them with rationale about why they needed them to respond more quickly, they started off their meeting by empathizing with the media team’s situation of being overwhelmed and short on time (and promised their meeting would be brief). Then they succinctly explained how their social media channels would boost audience, something both teams wanted. Lastly, they asked the media team for their suggestions on how to most efficiently move forward and be respectful of their limited bandwidth. As a result of this meeting, a more efficient, streamlined process for requesting media was developed, the two teams improved their working relationship, and this new manager had the loyalty and trust of her staff. Oh, and the meeting only took 20 minutes. There were no complaints about that!

Adapting to a new role is no easy feat, but you can make it easier by thinking about your audience. If you stick to that strategy, you’ll be amazed at the new relationships you’ll build. 


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