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When C-suite advisor and image management expert Charmaine McClarie asked Fortune 500 CEOs and other senior-level executives why they were successful, they said it wasn’t because they were smarter than other people. It was because of how they leveraged information. Charmaine distilled their secrets into six “Executive Success Principles” that have helped 98% of her clients move up. She shares them & more great advice in this episode.
This Month’s Guest:
CHARMAINE McCLARIE is a C-suite adviser, keynote speaker, executive coach, and executive presence authority who helps leaders have their best year ever. She has worked with leaders in 27 industries across five continents. Her clients include top executives from Coca-Cola, Gilead Sciences, Humana, Johnson & Johnson, MasterCard, Starbucks, and T-Mobile. For more than two decades, 98 percent of McClarie’s clients are promoted within 18 months. For CEOs, that might mean a promotion to corporate directorship. For other senior leaders, that might mean a promotion from SVP to EVP or even CEO. McClarie works predominately with C-suite leaders and executives with demonstrated readiness to be in the C-suite, coaching them on leadership acumen, communications ability, and executive presence. McClarie and her work have been profiled in People, Forbes, Harvard Management Update, The London Times, and The New York Times. She is on the faculty as a leadership and communications expert at the University of Missouri Kansas City Bloch School of Management, EMBA program, and is a visiting lecturer at the Smith College Executive Education program. @charmainecoach
CELESTE HEADLEE is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Heard Mentality and We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @celesteheadlee
Celeste Headlee: Okay. Go ahead and say your name and title as you want us to use it.
C. McClarie: Charmaine McClarie, keynote. Well actually I have a couple. It’s keynote speaker, C-suite advisor, Image management expert.
Celeste Headlee: So you left out executive coach. And this is something you have talked about before, why you don’t always use that particular descriptor. Why is that?
C. McClarie: Because people can have preconceived notions about a particular title. And the title itself does not distinguish you or articulate your value. And so for example, if I’m on an airplane, I might say to people, I help smart people get promoted and communicate the big picture. I provide executive coaching. But the executive coaching comes at the end. There are a number of people with a shingle that’s executive coach. So that hasn’t identified my value or what it is actually that I accomplish.
C. McClarie: For example, one of my clients would say that she was the senior director of sales and marketing. And I said, “That’s really great. So what do you do?” She says, “I’m a senior director of sales and marketing.” And there are 49,000 people employed in her Fortune 10 company. And there are lots of people that are senior directors of sales and marketing. And it doesn’t distinguish her at all. But if she can speak about the value that she brings and the return on investment for the organization and how she’s engaged, that creates a conversation and a dialogue so that she can really capture the attention of people of influence and also people that are curious about what she does.
Celeste Headlee: So it sounds like you would not recommend anyone to ever introduce themselves as say, executive assistant or assistant producer, or whatever that title may be. You would ask them that they be more specific about duties?
C. McClarie: Less about duties, but about results. So if you’re the executive assistant to, let’s say, a CEO. So what I do is I keep the train running effectively for our CEO so that he can be where he needs to be, or she can be where she needs to be on time and representing our corporation effectively. However she might want to say that, but it’s really about what’s the value she brings as opposed to the title.
Celeste Headlee: And interestingly enough, you mentioned in a presentation you did for the Conference for Women that you use three questions at the beginning. And I think, please correct me if I’m getting this wrong, but you basically asked them, how do people see you? How you see yourself and how do I want to be seen?
C. McClarie: That’s accurate. Yes, those are the three questions and I ask those three questions because many times, again, not only do other people have preconceived notions about us, but we have an idea about how we might see ourselves in the world. That idea may not be accurate. And so we need to get really clear and sort of be introspective and also asking for feedback to see how we are actually seen. And then get clear on how we want to be seen. So if you’re not showing up the way that you want to show up, what changes might you make? What would you do to show up differently so it actually is congruent?
Celeste Headlee: Honest feedback is really hard to come by though. And I wonder if your issue is that you think you’re being seen one way and that’s not the way others see you, how do you find that out? How do you actually get people to be fully frank with you?
C. McClarie: You ask trusted persons and even people that, and I always say include someone or persons that may potentially be critical of you. How do they see you? And then ask them in a very specific way, “What do you see as my top three strengths and what do you see as my greatest opportunity area? And give me specific examples if you would.” And you simply get quiet and listen and let the person know that this is because you want to grow, and it’s important and they are important in your growth. That’s why you’re asking them. And even if they give you, hopefully you will have some critical feedback that you simply listen and thank the person for that. It’s not the time to get an attitude or get defensive, because that information is invaluable.
C. McClarie: If someone is saying that you are very aloof and you see yourself as outgoing, you might want to ask them, “So how do I, how do I exhibit that? How do I exhibit being aloof? What does that look like? And when did I do it last?” So that way you get really granular about how it looks, how other people might interpret that. And then you ask them, what one thing can I do to shift how I’m perceived, or how you see me?
Celeste Headlee: Did you have a time in your life when you realize that the way you saw yourself was out of sync with the way others saw you?
C. McClarie: Absolutely. I was a junior executive in a Global 100 company and I had Dallas newscaster hair, I had big hair. And when I wore it back in a chignon bun, people would say that I looked really austere and that I wasn’t very approachable. And I thought that I was one of the most outgoing people. I’d talk to a poodle if it would respond. And that feedback was really kind of shocking.
C. McClarie: And so I said, “Well, what is the look on my face when you say I look unapproachable?” And a couple of people showed me. And I was again, very shocked and I decided not that I would change who I was, but if my objective was to be in fact approachable, if my objective was to make it easy for people to interface with me, for my success and for the success of the business, what needed to shift? And so one of the things I made a particular point of is that when my hair was back and looked more severe, that I was conscious of having an approachable look on my face. Or if my face didn’t so much change is actually extending myself to someone. Hello. How are you? Inviting them in so that the two were congruent. And it definitely made a difference.
Celeste Headlee: Are there things that you do to get yourself together and get your mind clear?
C. McClarie: Yes, so the things that I do, one is I stop to make sure that I’m breathing because in the midst of calamity or something happening, we tend to stop breathing, at least I know I do. So it’s one, to get quiet, make sure I’m breathing. If I can take just a moment to just quiet myself and take a deep breath, a couple of them, and then put on lipstick, red lipstick, it will solve a lot of things for me.
Celeste Headlee: I’m interested by the red lipstick and I wonder why you think that works for you. Because I would imagine there’s certain pieces of clothing I can wear that just make me feel better. Why do you think that is?
C. McClarie: It probably goes back to my young adulthood, because I would wear red lipstick, and I remember I didn’t have it on one day. My mom said, “God, you look different.” And she said, “The color’s not in your face.” And I went, oh. And I remember I didn’t have on the lipstick and it’s just been a part of me. It makes me feel everything else can not look so great, but the lipstick makes me feel polished, brings color to my face. And it’s just like that symbol of it’s okay. And usually it’s red, almost always.
Celeste Headlee: Did you have a similar routine before you step into an important meeting, before you give a pitch to a client? Are there things that you do that make you fully prepared?
C. McClarie: Yes. So one of the things that I do, and I share this many times with clients, is that if you’re going to have a really important meeting or presentation and you call a friend and say, “I just really need you to send positive vibes, hold me in light,” whatever that might be. And it always feels great when the person tells you, you’re going to knock them dead or leaves you a voicemail message. One of the things that I do is I leave myself a voicemail message. I am a believer that the most powerful affirmation comes from us. To hear it in your voice is so powerful. It means that you have to internalize that because sometimes people will say, “Oh, I can’t listen to myself, or I can’t look at myself,” but when it comes from the inside, when it comes from within and you leave that voicemail message and you hear it, it is powerful beyond measure and it sets me on the course and it affirms what I know is the truth about who I am and how I do and how I need to show up.
C. McClarie: I also tell myself, not on that voicemail, but I get really clear about what do I want as an outcome? What do I want people to think, do, or feel as a result of my presenting or having that meeting? What do I want as an outcome? Because many times what we do is we begin with the facts of the data, but what do you want as an outcome? How do you want people to receive the information? And when you can think what I call as forensically thinking, some might say backward, that I think about what information do I need to bring to the table so that I’m heard? How do I need to dress? Who do I need as an advocate? What pre-work do I need to do to set the stage so that I’m really heard and that I have the results that I’m looking for?
Celeste Headlee: I feel like many of us can understand putting thought into your content, what you’re wearing, etc. Give me a few more details about finding an advocate and having conversations with the advocate about what you want and need from them.
C. McClarie: Yes. So I’m a believer in creating witnesses and I say hard work without a witness is simply hard work, and who the hell needs that? A witness and an advocate are one in the same, and that is the person who many times has your back. So when you’re going to deliver a presentation or enter a meeting, I think it’s always important to ask yourself what are the potential wins, but also what are the barriers? And where might there be pushback? And that advocate is someone who is willing to support and risk their political clout on your behalf in that room. This is the person who’s smiling while you’re speaking or it’s the person who has been able to seed the persons who are critical with positive feedback either about this presentation, the information you’re going to provide. That advocate may not be in the room. That advocate may in fact say, for example, “Celeste, here are three persons that will be in the room that will not support this idea. And let me share with you why.”
C. McClarie: So it could be their presence, it could be them simply smiling, what I call the angel in the room. It could be them asking a question to deflect for your benefit. Again, a person who’s supporting what you do. And it can be the person who is just simply providing you with the intelligence about where the pushback may come so that you are better prepared when you walk in the room to address that.
Celeste Headlee: How does that conversation go with that person? I mean, do you just explicitly say, “Hey, listen, I’m about to give a high stakes presentation. I’m hoping you’ll be my witness, or can you help me?” How do you approach that?
C. McClarie: Well, I think there are a number of different ways to approach it. If it’s a person who is really trusted and really does support what it is that you’re about to do and they’re going to be in the room, you might say to them, I’m going to present this, simply by asking them a question. You think I’m going to get any pushback? They might say, “No, you’re not going to get any pushback at all.” Great. Or I think you’re going to get push back and it’s going to be, this is the pushback. Can you help me to either counter that or would you be willing … I’m going to ask you if you would support my idea in the room if it’s appropriate.
C. McClarie: So it can be direct, it can be indirect, it could simply be a question. Sometimes you can have an advocate in the room that they don’t even know that they’re necessarily your advocate by just asking them some questions in advance before you ever get in the room. They may share information with you that sets you up so that you are successful, but you can be very direct with the person or asking them what would be the benefit for them if this presentation or information were to pass. Because you want to figure out what’s in it for them as well. People want to be our cheerleaders, but we always need to be what I say is in it. Make it really the reciprocity, that there be mutually beneficial. So there are again a number of ways be direct, implicit, simply questions. And you always thank the person if you were very direct with them in your request, even if they say no.
Celeste Headlee: So even if it’s not a presentation, it can be really difficult to get credit for your ideas just in a regular meeting. And that becomes more difficult if you are a person of color or a woman and there’s solid research showing that not only are women of color the least likely to get opportunities to speak, but also what they say isn’t likely to be remembered. It’s very well documented that ideas that women put forward are dismissed until they are rephrased by a man, in which case he takes credit for it. How does one do that? And I wonder, this leads back to the advocate because there are cases that I have seen in which an advocate who becomes aware of this can be the one that says, “I agree with, for me. I agree with Celeste’s idea.” How does one handle that kind of societal systemic dismissal of you as a person?
C. McClarie: It’s interesting you say that because if we go back to one of the debates with Elizabeth Warren, she said something and then it was rephrased I think it was by Biden. Harvard Business Review came with the term he-peating. When a woman says something and then a man says the same thing and people go, “Oh my God, that was brilliant.” It really could put you in a major pissocity because you’re thinking, I just said that. So again, you can have an advocate in the room that says, “Celeste, excellent idea. I absolutely agree with you.” You can also provide an email as a follow-up to the group that you were meeting with to say, “This is”-
Celeste Headlee: Sorry. Go ahead. If you would go back to you can also provide.
C. McClarie: You can also send an email and the email can be a brief highlight of the meeting. And you can say, “Here are three things that we can do to move this particular initiative forward.” So even though somebody else repeated it and may have gotten the credit in the room, that person likely was not thinking about what are the next steps. It’s an excellent idea and if you have any additional questions or want my support in leading this effort, let me know. So that’s another way of being able to ensure that it’s documented because it would not be appropriate and it would seem really defensive to say, “But that was my idea. How dare you.” Then you look like the angry woman in the room. Or you can simply say, “Mark, absolutely, I agree with you. I agree. It’s a brilliant idea. As I was saying,” and then you identify what is the follow-up to that right there in the meeting.
C. McClarie: And then at some time, it might be important for you to actually approach that person because they’re usually what I call regular culprits, people that do it regularly, and you can simply say to them, “Can you share with me what’s going on here?” Yes, in private. Outside.
Celeste Headlee: You mean in private, outside of the meeting.
C. McClarie: Thank you for that clarification. Yes, in private, outside. I’m a little confused here and I’d love to have you clarify this for me.
Celeste Headlee: This is difficult for some people though, right? I mean you must encounter them in your role as a coach. There are some people who feel nervous about taking up space and being assertive.
C. McClarie: Yes, absolutely. I always say that if you are female, you were probably taught to be a good girl, and a good girl is not seen or heard. In fact, that’s me. She’s been really good. You don’t hear a peep out of her. And so we’ve been inculcated for that. And yes it may be difficult, but as anything, if you want to be successful, successful at being heard and being seen and not being invisible, it requires practice. It means that you’ve got to put your foot out there and practice. And practice will lead you to a level of comfort and a level of success. And you can start in small ways and build up, but it requires your input. It requires you to take action. Wishing it away will not make it go away. It requires you to make the choice. I want something different, and what do I need to do to have a different outcome? You can also ask people for help. So if you have an advocate or you have someone who thinks that you’re really sharp, that you have potential. Ask them to support you in your visibility.
Celeste Headlee: And how early do we have to be thinking about this? I mean you coach executives and C-suite denizens, but I imagine many people listening to you right now are not in the C-suite. They are secretaries and they are administrative assistants. They are entry level. Do they have to be worrying about this or do you wait until you’re a manager?
C. McClarie: So one of the things that people say to me, and it just happened last week, they said, “Where were you all in my career? I could have used this 25 years ago.” So there’s not any too early. Your first day in the workforce, this is important. In order to get to the more senior level, if that’s what you aspire to have, it means starting early. I believe that it starts actually before your first day, really profiling who are people that are successful that you admire or that inspire you and creating your own vision board. What does it look like when people are successful? What does it look like when people are heard? What’s their body language? How do they speak? How do they dress? Look at people that are in your community that have been successful and asking them, being very curious and asking them, how did it happen? What was the one challenge you had? How did you overcome that challenge? So it can start before your first day at work.
C. McClarie: Really looking at all of your surroundings, and there is information intelligence just ripe for the picking. And if you are a administrative assistant, a secretary, you have the voice, you have the ear of persons of influence in your organization. And I always say that people have power everywhere so a title is not required. So you can leverage that and leverage it early. Understand when you walk into the corporation, really observe who gets listened to. Why are they listened to? What do they do that’s different than other people? The people that aren’t listened to, how do they show up? How do they speak? Why don’t people listen to them? And also it’s important to let people know of your intention.
C. McClarie: When you’re starting, say, “I’m starting here, but I’m really excited about a really brilliant career. And what I’m looking from you is I’m looking for your partnership and your coaching and your help in my success because that will be essential for me and it’s going to be essential in order for me to be a great contributor on this team and in this organization. And I’m asking you to partner with me in that success.” One of the things that’s also important as you’re speaking about people of color is that people of color and women, but particularly people of color get the least amount of feedback. So if you say, “Can you share with me,” they’ll say, “Well, you were just doing X.” And it’s usually not specific. And they’ll say, “Well, you understand, don’t you?” No, actually I don’t. Can you be specific with me in sharing with me a time when I did X? What does that look like? Because when we make assumptions on what that person is thinking, we’re doing the same thing.
C. McClarie: So, you want to ask people for feedback, let them know that you’re willing to hear feedback without being defensive and you’re asking for examples. And what that does is it creates a mutual level of accountability. And you can say to the person, let’s say you have a particular mannerism and you want to change that mannerism. It’s saying that when I do that, let me know. If you can give me some real time coaching, that would be great. Also I’m asking you is when I’m doing something really great or successful, I want you to let me know that as well so that way I can begin to remember what does that look like and how to do more of it.
Celeste Headlee: So, what have we missed? What is the thing you end up telling everyone, like the piece of advice or the area for improvement that nearly all of your clients end up needing to hear about?
C. McClarie: There are a couple of things. One is I’m a believer that you need to define yourself because others’ definition of you will inevitably be inadequate. So you need to be really clear about who you are because you will get feedback, you will get criticism throughout your career and you’ve got to know who you are, what is the root of that tree. The second is I’m a believer in getting feedback and asking for it because people don’t like to volunteer it. And there are three questions to ask yourself. How do I see myself? How do other people see me. And how do I want to be seen? Then you can identify what’s the gap between that so that you can work to ensure that people see you the way you want to be seen.
C. McClarie: The next … Yes, is I have a process I’ve creating called executive success principles. And what I did some 20 plus years ago was I interviewed CEOs and senior level executives of global 500 companies and I asked them why were they more successful than other people? And they said, “Charmaine, it’s not because I’m smarter than others. It’s because of how I leverage the information that I bring to the table. How I leverage its value.” And the first of those principles is communicate the vision because leaders communicate the vision and not the task. The second is speak in headlines. Yes.
Celeste Headlee: Sorry. Can you give me an example of that? Give me an example of vision versus task.
C. McClarie: So if I ask my assistant, what did she do while I was traveling, and she says, “Well Charmaine, what I did is I filed all those papers you requested.” That’s a task. If she says, “What I’ve done is I’ve streamlined our filing system so that it allows us to have access to clients easier,” that’s value. That’s the outcome of the work you’ve done. So it’s value based as opposed to task based. So if you have a watch, former CEO of Denny’s said, “Charmaine, this is great because I don’t want my team to tell me how the watch is made. I want them to tell me what is the value of that watch. Then you can tell me how it’s made.” So it’s starting with the big picture because when you have vision, you can have engagement. Then you can influence people. You can create a community, you can have transformation, but you’ve got to have a vision first. You have to know where there is.
C. McClarie: The second is by speaking in headlines. A headline seduces the eye and the ear. So how do you need to articulate that so that it captures the attention and the essence of what it is you want to deliver? I’ll use myself as an example. One of the things that happens when people ask you what do you do, many times people say, “I’m an executive coach.” And I don’t say that first because that’s just simply a title. That does not articulate my value. If I say, “I help smart people communicate the big picture and get promoted. I provide executive coaching to CEOs of global 500 companies,” I just articulated my value. In fact, I could even take the executive coaching part out altogether. It’s the value of what I do. Smart people work with me, communicate the big picture and get promoted.
C. McClarie: I have a client who used to say, “I’m senior director of sales and marketing.” I said, “You work for a company that has 49,000 employees worldwide. How many senior directors do you think are in this organization? That does not distinguish you. So what is the value of what you do?” And as we began to talk and pull it apart, she was responsible for the fastest growing market segment of her organization, a campaign that was going for that year. That shifted how she saw herself, how other people saw her, and that was communicating the vision and speaking in headlines.
C. McClarie: The third is the three most make points. Many times what we do is we communicate about what we know and what’s important to us and not what’s important to our audience. So three must make points, three questions. Why should I listen? Why should your audience listen? What’s in it for them? And what do you want them to do about it? And if we begin with those, that shifts the conversation, and it helps us to substantiate our vision.
C. McClarie: The fourth is creating witnesses. I say hard work without a witness is simply hard work and who needs that? You want people to know whether you’ve done it with vision, with strategy. You want people that are supporting you and part of it is you think about what’s the value proposition for them. Why should they be your advocate? Why should they be your witness? But creating witnesses so you are not invisible and you’re not a well kept secret. And the fifth is not auditioning for the part. You’ve been hired because of your insight, because of what you bring to the table. And I say the meeting you need to attend is the meeting that cannot take place without your brilliance or your insight. So, come to the table prepared to share, prepared to contribute, particularly for women and people of color.
C. McClarie: A quick example is one of my clients would come to the executive team meeting and one day the CEO said to her, “When I bring you here to these meetings to attend, I’m bringing you here because you have an insight. But if you remain silent at the meeting, we’re not able to leverage that and you’re impeding progress, innovation, and our success. I want your insight.” So coming to the table to do that. And the sixth is embodying your message, making sure you’re walking, talking and acting the part. You need to be congruent in how you show up. So it really allows people to step into their spotlight because again, you’re defining who you are. It’s your definition of who you are and you’re bringing all that to the table. You will no longer be invisible.
Celeste Headlee: And then you’ll no longer be invisible.
C. McClarie: The other thing about not auditioning for the part is don’t ask for permission. Leaders do not ask for permission. They do it. It’s like the Nike slogan. You simply do it. If you’re asking for permission to share an idea, asking for permission, I expect my leaders to come to the table with a perspective, not asking me if they have permission to do it. And many times women and people of color will say, “Well, do you mind if I say.” Well, I mind if you don’t say. So, those are some of the pieces that are really essential for success, career success, and all of my clients have leveraged each of the things that I’ve spoken about for them to have a clear trajectory to the top.
Celeste Headlee: Charmaine McClarie, thank you so much.
C. McClarie: This has been wonderful.
Celeste Headlee: I really appreciate it.
C. McClarie: I appreciate the time and your interest, and I’m hoping that people will be able to hear this and really make a difference in their career and in their life.
Celeste Headlee: I hope the very same thing.