Go Rogue as a Leader Or You Won’t Survive

Oct 25

A leader who clings to conventional wisdom is relying on a model that just doesn’t work anymore. A new generation of employees has redefined their expectations for top leaders and global organizations. And I’m going to tell you something your employees won’t: if you aren’t meeting their needs, they’ve already decided to jump ship and find a new team or company that will.

You’ve got to grow or lose them. It’s a struggle for every leader — but you can’t afford not to go rouge. It’s the only way to give your team the chance to thrive.

Here are a few ways you can go rogue:

Hire Up

Everyone you add to the team should raise the bar for everyone else. That includes you. Only hire people you could see yourself working for one day. The goal is to constantly boost the talent pool, create ongoing intellectual diversity, and learn from each team member’s knowledge and expertise.

Give Up “Kitchen Sink” Meetings

Stop holding catch-all weekly team meetings. Instead, switch to meetings driven by subject matter. For example: Mondays are project meetings, Wednesdays are budget meetings, and so on. Invite only the key players to keep things simple. A focused meeting makes for quicker and better decision-making.

Think Big and Let Them Call the Cadence

As the leader, paint the big picture for your team. Share with them where you’re heading, tell them that you expect them to get there the quickest way possible, and assure them that you’ll clear the speed bumps if need be. Then step back and let your trusted team members call the cadence, approach, and path they’re going to take to get there.

Kill the Annual Review

Only one thing matters when it comes to connecting with your people: putting them first. Spend more time focused on them and less time worrying about technical aspects of the business. Don’t wait for an annual review to share what you’re thinking; coach and develop them in real time.  Your investment in them will pay big dividends over the long term.

Isn’t it time you threw out conventional practices to go a bit rogue as a leader?

5 Things To Do to Outsmart the Unexpected

Sep 23

Carefully plan and you’ll avoid the unexpected, right? But, life doesn’t work that way. Don’t underestimate life’s ability to surprise you, the unexpected happens every day.

You can’t possibly know what unknowns tomorrow will bring. Increasing your ability to cope demands that you make decisions quickly and with limited information.

Here are 5 things you need to do each day to outsmart the unexpected.

1. Practice Purposeful Distraction

Physical and mental exercise alter your body’s responses to heightened stress. Spend 5 to 10 minutes a day practicing things like deep breathing, acupressure and “purposeful” distraction techniques like doodling or thinking of words that start with the letter “a”. Practiced daily these become habits that you intuitively call upon in a crisis to calm you enough to decide, act, focus and survive.

2. Go Toward Problems

Think counterintuitively – don’t retreat, go directly toward solving problems. Break things down – solve smaller problems within the larger ones first. Savor the small wins and use them to formulate your plan B.

3. Add Humor to the Mix

Give yourself the fuel and tenacity you need to get back in the zone of optimal performance – find humor in the situation. Levity lessens the tension and anxiety so you can reframe the situation and win the contest of determination over fear.

4. Don’t Be a Risk Denier

Don’t be blindly in denial about the risk of failure – it guarantees you’ll take unnecessary risks and make failure a certainty. Create solutions that you can test against what is real versus what you feel is real in the moment. Even if these experiments aren’t successful you’ll learn what you need to keep moving forward. 

5. Get Out of the Tunnel

Get out of the tunnel where you’re susceptible to being blindsided by the biases that won’t serve you in an unexpected situation. Find, outside your sphere of interests, people who are trusted advisors, mentors, and resources willing to share their knowledge and expertise with you. Reaching outside your inner circle increases the resources you have to draw upon outside of your own knowledge base when unfamiliar situations arise.

Avoid the all-consuming anxiety that comes from the unexpected and see opportunity in the world of the unforeseen by being ready for the unexpected before it comes.

My Summer Short List: 5 Books That Will Change How You Think

Jul 25



Amazon offers over a million books — so I thought I’d help make choosing one a tad bit easier. Here’s my summer reading shortlist, five books that will change how you think:

  1. Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely reveals intriguing new insights into motivation – showing that the subject is far more complex than we ever imagined.

  1. Invisible Influence by Josh Berger

Josh Berger explores the subtle, secret influences that affect the decisions we make—from what we buy, to the careers we choose, to what we eat—in this fascinating and groundbreaking work.

  1. Listful Thinking: Using Lists To Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed by Paula Rizzo

Listful Thinking is the book that will give readers their lives back with indispensable tips on saving time, getting organized, improving productivity, saving money, and reducing stress.

  1. Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins by Annette Simmons

Stories have tremendous power. They can persuade, promote empathy, and provoke action. Better than any other communication tool, stories explain who you are, what you want…and why it matters. In presentations, department meetings, over lunch–any place you make a case for new customers, more business, or your next big idea–you’ll have greater impact if you have a compelling story to relate.

  1. The Little Things: Why You Should Really Sweat The Small Stuff by Andy Andrews

Andy shows how people succeed by actually going against the modern adage, “don’t sweat the small stuff”. By contrast, Andy proves that it is in concentrating on the smaller things that we add value and margin.


I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.


3 Simple Steps to Squash Vacation Guilt

Jul 11

As a kid, you longed for summer vacation, counting the days until it arrived and making plans for every precious week.  But now, summer’s arrival sneaks up on you. You fail to carve out any downtime and watch your vacation days vanish unused. You curse the overbooked calendar, the full inbox, and all those work emergencies that forced you to miss out on a much-needed break.

Don’t shoot me for saying this, but your workload isn’t to blame here.  The real culprit is you! Guilt and fear lie at the heart of the matter. You worry that work will pile up, and dread the thought of colleagues seeing you as a slacker.

Not taking a break may seem like the “right thing to do,” but it isn’t. Your body and your mind need to escape the bombardment you experience each day. A recharge makes you more productive in the long term. So, if you haven’t yet carved out some time off from work this summer, do it. And before you pack your bags, take some precautions to keep the fear and guilt at bay.

  1. Turn Things Down to a Simmer

Reschedule deadlines and critical decision points so that they won’t occur while you are away. Then, choose a person who is intimately familiar with the work to act in your stead in case an emergency comes up.  Share your high-level musts and concerns, and trust that person to make decisions. A stand-in who has your full confidence will keep the work on an even keel, and won’t disturb you.

  1. Email Rules Are Magical

Don’t answer any emails while you are away—it only confuses your correspondents. Set up your email program to send important items to those covering for you, and all others to a folder labeled “upon my return.” That way you won’t be faced with 800-plus emails in your inbox on your first day back, and will avoid a panic attack that destroys your post-vacation serenity. Once you’re back in the groove, scan the collected email at your own pace. In all likelihood, you’ll find that most of it can be deleted wholesale—either because it’s been handled or because it’s no longer relevant.

  1. Go Cold Turkey

When you reach your vacation destination, leave your phone and other devices in airplane mode, turn off all notifications, and disconnect from technology. If this causes major withdrawal symptoms, then wean yourself slowly. Try checking your email just once a day, and only for 30 minutes. Schedule an activity for the end of that timeframe. And do your email peeking in the late afternoon, not in the morning—that’s too much like the way you start your workday. The familiarity will trigger your existing patterns of behavior and rope you into work mode.

Enjoy your break from the daily grind.

3 Ways to Defeat Decision Fatigue

Jun 20

Starbucks offers 80,000 drink combinations, making the simple act of ordering a cup of coffee a maze of multiple decisions.

Much as we like having lots of choices, the hundreds of small and large decisions we must make every single day do nothing to improve our decision-making skills. Just the opposite, in fact. The more choices we have to make —almond milk or cream; whether or not to close a million-dollar deal — the more susceptible we are to the dangers of decision fatigue.

Decision-making takes a biological toll on us. It taxes the part of the brain that controls our thoughts and impulses. As a consequence, the prefrontal cortex — our “inner CEO” —  looks for shortcuts to conserve its energy. Researchers call this type of mental depletion “decision fatigue.”

In response to decision fatigue, your brain may push you into quick and irresponsible action, just to avoid expending energy on the painstaking act of choosing. Or it may try to reserve its energy with analysis paralysis, and agonize over options to sidestep making any decision at all. Fend off decision fatigue so that your brain can focus on your most crucial choices.

Sidestep Unnecessary Decisions

Consciously choose to use your decision-making energy. Consider the decisions you make each day — even the simple things, like what to have for breakfast or prioritizing your inbox. Use technology to make things easier, or delegate tasks to others. Remember, it’s okay not to make a decision — even when others want you to. You can offer perspective or advice, but if you have no clear preference or choice to make, opt to let other people choose. Next time someone asks where you want to go to lunch, for example, simply say, “You decide.”

Go It Alone When Possible

Begin the decision-making process with the end in mind. It’s great to get feedback from others, but we can’t accommodate everyone’s point of view. Streamline the process to conserve your energy. Separate input sessions from your actual decision-making process to give yourself time to absorb and consolidate all the information. Sketch out your considerations and all salient points, and know your own mind. When it’s time to make the final choice, do so on your own.

Don’t Hedge

Indecision is exhausting; a massive drain on your resources and energy. Decision-making isn’t always linear; you can move forward and then retreat. But each time you waver, it takes more energy to move forward again. Vacillation spikes your fear of the unknown and builds resistance to making a definitive choice. As you tax your brain to evaluate endless options, you’re also straining it to regulate your emotions. Uncertainty leaves you subject to manipulation by outside forces. Make your toughest or most emotionally challenging decisions first, or carve out time to consider them when you’re mentally and emotionally fresh.

It’s great to have options. Use your decision-making skills wisely to stay in control of your energy and your choices. In fact, I just downloaded the apps for my two go-to coffee chains and set them up with my regular drinks. Now when I want to place an order, I just hit favorite. One decision down … a few dozen more to go.

Let me know your techniques for reducing your daily decisions in the comments field below.

3 Foolproof Steps to Banish Stress

Jun 06

You’re juggling an endless series of escalating demands, struggling to keep up—and blaming everyone and everything for your stress. But blame is an energy-wasting trap: you can’t purge these tasks and people from your life. Where does your stress really come from?

The answer is, you. Consciously or not, you’re choosing to get overwhelmed by conflicting emotions as you grapple with competing demands, deadlines, and pressure to deliver.

Stress is a choice, and that’s powerful knowledge. It means that stress is not inevitable. Defuse the building blocks of stress — worry, agonizing, and ruminating – to gain perspective and make room for optimism.

Stop Chewing Things Over

Instead, list the tasks that are weighing you down and brainstorm outrageous ways to resolve them. Try the “Fairy Godmother” approach: if I had a magic wand, how would I wish away this problem?  Write your “wishes” down, no matter how impossible. Once you have some ideas, focus on one or two of the most practical and ponder how to make them work. Free your imagination to open the door for ingenious new strategies.

Exchange Certainty (It’s a Myth) for Curiosity

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” as Helmuth von Moltke astutely noted. Replace your need for certainty with a sense of curiosity. This requires acceptance of three basic truths: a) absolute certainty can’t ever happen b) setbacks are only temporary c) your curious mind gives you the tools to emerge from your stressed-out rut. Use your natural sense of curiosity to flex your mental maps, and you won’t feel destined to experience disaster if things don’t go as planned.

Test Feared Outcomes and Potential Solutions

Design experiments to confront your concerns. Test for the veracity of the feared outcome and try out a possible solution simultaneously in a low-risk situation. You’ll learn what you need to know without risking much if things go dramatically wrong.

When the inevitable failure happens, and we know it will (after all, no plan survives the enemy), avoid suspecting yourself as the culprit. Self-blame is a counterproductive thought that only stresses you out. Instead, examine all the plausible alternatives that may have taken you off course. Seek out objective evidence to guide your next steps. Put the brakes on negative thoughts by writing them down as they happen. Set a time to deal with them later, or even the next day. At that later point, they won’t carry the emotions of the moment with them, and you can more easily discern whether they remain relevant.

Take An Artist’s Approach And Redraw Your Life With Passion

May 16

My very first and only work of art, loosely speaking, was created in Mrs. Levine’s 5th grade class: a vase filled with springs flowers. I clearly remember sitting down at my desk, with the art book opened to the page with the picture, sharpened pencil in my hand, drawing what I saw in the book. I had no idea what I was doing, nor what I was supposed to do — after all, I was only 10 years old. I just looked at the vase filled with flowers and tried my best to draw what I saw in the book on the paper. If a line went astray I didn’t panic. I just made it into something that worked — a leaf maybe, or I just erased and started again. I just kept going, and when I was done no one was more shocked than I to see a vase and flowers on the page. Perhaps the flowers weren’t perfect bluebells or roses, and I wasn’t going to be the next Monet, but I was thrilled with what I’d done, and for the next few days that picture infused me with a passion to draw things and be an artist — at least until something new caught my eye.

As kids, we find passion and inspiration in so many things, and we don’t tie ourselves down to believing there is one and only one plan for how things are supposed to work out in our lives. Yet I watch so many adults struggle each day to discover passion in a life that doesn’t look like the one they planned. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone get ensnared in the world of “what should have been,” “could have,” and “was supposed to have been.” Gloomily, for many people, that struggle is something that dominates their adult life.

Why is it that as adults we find it so difficult to infuse our lives with passion when it doesn’t look like the life we originally planned?

For a lot of us it’s because as adults we believe that we know precisely how best to execute the strategy that will assure our happiness, success, and aspirations. In the end, it’s a simple exchange: we swap experimentation and learning for comfort and control. We falsely believe that if we don’t deviate from the strategy, then the conclusion is a certainty. And that all we have to do is play it safe, follow the strategy, and problem solve our way back to certainty when something goes awry and therein lies the trap.

Playing it safe is really like throwing an adult version of a temper tantrum, and trying to problem solve your way back to what you want by blaming outside forces — for not attaining what you wanted, other people for screwing it up, or even forces beyond your control for interceding — does no good for anyone. Whatever the justification, it keeps you trapped in guilt and uncertainty, never being able to let go of the past to see your way to the future. Playing the superhero and riding the adrenaline high of being the expert-problem-solver only leaves you temporarily feeling like you’re making forward progress. Problem solving and looking at what should have and could have been and what went wide of the mark will exhaust you and leave you chasing a false reality — that you can have what that strategy was supposed to deliver. The hard truth is that it doesn’t matter, it won’t ever matter again, and maybe it really never mattered at all in the first place.

Our plans were never meant to be a pledge of a certain ending — only the artist’s first drawing or a first pass at what we thought the picture might be. Infusing your life with zeal and passion, especially when it doesn’t look like the life you planned starts when you embrace the deviations and follow the lines that go awry with a sense of improvisation and openness. Seeing where the future takes you opens doors to prospects and passions that you never contemplated before. There is power and freedom in knowing you can always erase the sketch and dream grander. Or a sense of newfound excitement when what you see on the page inspires you to explore something, which at first might seem a bit abstract but ultimately ignites a new passion in you. As you do this, you should only care what could be because it is the only thing you have, and perhaps is what was intended for you all along.

Are you ready to take out your sketchbook and begin drawing a new plan for what comes next? You might be wondering what happened to the picture I drew. It still hangs framed in my home as a reminder that sometimes not knowing what you’re “supposed” to do in life may surprise you.

Happy Drawing!

An Ambitious Plan To Be A Leader Others Want To Follow

May 02

You’re an outstanding solo contributor and your reward, a promotion that makes you the new rising star leader guiding a team of passionate former colleagues. It’s going to take more than solo talent and enthusiasm to make the shift from colleague to a leader others want to follow.  It’s going to take an ambitious plan to get you there but you’ve got no other choice.

Being the leader others want to follow starts with throwing out the playbook that got you where you are today, and swapping that for a new one – one that is going to take nothing less than your letting go of seeing everything through the prism of  “what’s in it for me”.

Navigating the new organizational obstacle course means learning how to overcome competing interests, uncertainty, and coalescing a diverse group of individual contributors around a common purpose.  It means shifting from the “me” mindset of a solo contributor to a “we” mindset of a leader who inspires those around him or her to reach their highest potential.

Here are the strategies that will shake up your current mindset and get you moving on an altogether different level::

Believe In The Leader Within

New leaders can sometimes feel a bit like imposters — believing that everyone expects them to know everything, and yet they feel as if they know nothing at all about what it takes to lead others. Believing in your ability to transcend being a solo contributor and start becoming a transcendent leader begins when you make the commitment to connect with who you are rather than what you think others want you to be. Finding your stride starts when you remember that you earned the right to be where you are, you have the capacity to master everything you need to know to succeed, and you have the humility to know that you can’t do that without the help of those you now lead. Living up to your new role isn’t about being a superhero on day one—it’s about stepping up your game each and every day by challenging yourself to risk, be clear in your intentions, and learn as you go. You can start connecting with the leader within by emulating other leaders you think highly of and avoiding the behavior of those you don’t. As you become more comfortable in your own skin, your confidence will grow. The time of doing what they did will be replaced with a period of trial and error as you search for that unique mix and leadership formula that works for you. Over time, you’ll find out what reflects who you are through your own experiences and unique perspective, and the leader within will emerge.

Actions Matter And So Do Your Words

Being intentional about everything as a leader is critical, and so much about leadership is tied to your central values and core beliefs. We signal what they are to those we lead in both word and action by telling them what matters, where we won’t waver, and what we’re passionate about. Something as simple as using the word “we” instead of “I” can communicate that all of our interests are intrinsically linked. Clarity in word and action is what enables those you lead to understand how you’ll make decisions and determine what is important. It helps them know where they stand and what is expected of them.

Believe In People Whose Subject Matter Expertise Exceeds Yours

Your secret formula for success has shifted from being weighted toward your technical skills toward your new secret formula for success — the brilliance and creativity of the people on your team. It isn’t about you making a difference on your own anymore, so knowing everything isn’t even a possibility. Your wins come with building trust and making possible relationships among team members that get everyone working toward a common purpose with a respect for each other’s diverse talents and abilities. Trading in the title of “subject matter expert” for “exceptional leader” opens the door to stepping back and seeing what drives each person to excel and deciding how best to both challenge and reward them. Retaining the brilliant folks on your team is only part of the task — truly remarkable leaders are judged by how many generations of leaders follow in their footsteps.

Clear The Roadblocks Instead Of Becoming One

As a high-performing individual contributor, resisting the urge to intervene is overwhelming — after all, what got you to where you are is your propensity to get things done. Yet the fastest way to de-motivate the creative and capable people that work for you, and get bogged down and off track from your own leadership journey is to intervene when you’re not really needed. Developing the wisdom to know when to clear roadblocks and not become one is a necessary mind shift you have to make early on.  Empowering the enthusiastic and high-performing individual contributors on your team comes from engaging them in ways that support their approach, tempo, and need for independence. Share lessons when invited, but always emphasize your confidence in their ability to decide how best to resolve the situation. Underscore learning, experimentation, and collaboration. Draw upon what you know about everyone to design the overall structure, and then give them license to cross boundaries and specialties when needed to achieve what none could do on their own.

Embrace The Unknown

Leadership, in essence, changes who you are and where your focus lies. It alters your relationship with those around you and with yourself. Your chief obligation and charge is to set the vision and make sense of this for everyone along the way: to be the first to challenge your own predisposed ways of thinking, what you or others should know — or what you think you know — and assumptions about what is and how it should be resolved. Creating the space for new ways of thinking and doing things can only come from your modeling humility and embracing the unknown. Improvisation, questioning, and experimentation will help you and others gain insight from not knowing rather than fearing the unknown.

Turning out to be a leader as outstanding as you were a solo contributor encompasses figuring out how you fit into the bigger picture in an organization, team, and societal level, and then ambitiously pursuing the goals needed to get you there.

Let me know what you’re planning on doing to become that leader others want to follow.

These Habits Can Help You Squeeze The Most From Your Day

Apr 18

Even the most industrious among us have only 24 hours in each day, and only 10 or so hours available to us to do everything we want to get done. If you’re like most people, you start each day with the best intentions and a long, prioritized list of things that you want to get done. Having a list is a noble and a solid first step, but as with most things in life, it isn’t in the planning stage where things go awry—it’s in the execution.

Life’s distractions can easily derail even the most skilled task achiever and leave them feeling drained, frustrated, and with an even longer list tomorrow. Squeezing the most out of every day doesn’t mean burning the midnight oil or burning the candle at both ends. It means figuring out the habits that work best for you and developing a ritual around it.

Creating habits and rituals is exceptionally powerful because it helps our brains create the neurological cravings that lead us to anticipate a reward for engaging in a certain routine or set of behaviors. The habits and rituals that eventually become the plan to make the most of the time you have each day are based on what you’ve learned that make the most sense and work best for your lifestyle and the reward you give yourself for getting things done. This is critical to your being able to follow through on your plan without fail and deliberately—no matter what comes your way to distract you.

Ritualizing some of the routine things you do each day is what helps your brain to go on autopilot so that things that you do habitually become automatic and don’t require your focus, energy, and advanced decision making skills. Reacting automatically to routine tasks can help you really squeeze the most out of your day.

Here’s an example of a simple habit that you can experiment with and perhaps turn into a ritual that works for you.

Multi-Task In Bursts And Only With Certain Tasks

Choose tasks that can be done with little thought and work well together. For example, perhaps experiment with your morning routine and give something like this a try: while you make coffee and your breakfast, scan your emails and prioritize them, leaving only the most important ones, those requiring immediate action when you sit down at your desk, in the inbox. Move others to folders and delete the junk. While driving to work, listen to a book that you’ve been dying to read or even record key notes for a meeting and play them back so that you’re listening to them while you commute. Don’t forget to reward yourself with something for doing this each and every day: perhaps getting in a quick exercise session before you start work at the office, or spending a few minutes chatting with a friend before starting your day.

The key is to figure out what routines, tasks, and rituals work best for you, and then practice them until they become automatic and you can do them with speed and dexterity. Once you have your routines in place, you’ll also want to keep the following strategies in mind so that when your actively thinking about what comes next, you can continue to make wise decisions:

  • Focus is key: make sure that you keep it throughout the day and have in your bag of tricks some ways that you can bring it back if you lose it.
  • Learn the power of “No” and “I’ll get back to you,” and use them often.
  • Only get involved at the solutions level: don’t waste time focused on rehashing the problem.
  • Spend part of each day pausing and reflecting on what you’ve accomplished so far, and decide what is most significant remaining on the list to do with the time you have. Remember that what is most significant isn’t always the highest priority item in an objective sense – it is the highest priority item given the time you have remaining to accomplish something in your day.
  • Know that nothing that happens is really the end of the world.
  • Make sure that whatever you do is worthwhile and will make a positive difference.

Our habits and rituals guide how we live our lives and shape our priorities. If we create powerful habits that act as the underpinnings for what we set out to do each day, over time they will become the starting point for how we shape our lives. What habits and rituals will you put in place to squeeze the most from your day?

Let me know in the comments field below.


Simple Strategies To Fine-Tune Your Pitch And Change People’s Minds

Apr 04

Whether you’re pitching your new business idea to the CEO or pitching buying a new car to your spouse, crafting a winning argument, once you’ve passed the feasibility hurdle, is highly dependent on the tactics and strategies you use to sway the decision maker. We’ve all been on both sides of the equation—delivering and receiving successful and unsuccessful pitches. I’d be willing to bet that when you’ve been the person on the receiving end of an awful pitch you know exactly why the pitch failed. Awful pitches are horrible for many different reasons: sometimes the person is unprepared, sometimes they’re condescending, and sometimes the person believes that all it takes to win the day is including all the relevant information in the pitch, and letting the collective weight of the data convince the person to decide in his or her favor.

However, I’d also be willing to bet that when you’re on the delivery end of an awful or unsuccessful pitch you rarely know the exact reason why the pitch didn’t sway or persuade. And the truth is, we’re rarely given the opportunity to query the decision maker once we’ve pitched and failed to zero in on why exactly they weren’t convinced to decide in our favor. Often this leads people to go down a rabbit hole of wrong explanations, wondering if they weren’t specific enough or left out a critical piece of information, when in truth the answer is far more clear-cut. Setting aside being unprepared or condescending as reasons for a pitch not succeeding, most pitches fail simply because the person making the pitch shares everything they know about the matter at hand, rather than everything the decision maker needs to know to make their decision.

It’s no wonder the pitch was an epic failure—it was crafted from the perspective of the pitcher and not from the vantage point of the decision maker. An exceptionally subtle yet influential distinction that spells the difference between winning over a decision maker and a failing pitch. Avoiding your next disastrous pitch starts with making some smart and meaningful changes in the process that you use to craft your pitch that make a meaningful difference in how the pitch will be perceived by the person you need to make the decision.

These simple yet powerful tweaks will help pare down your pitch, focus it on the decision maker, and therefore substantially increase your ability to successfully win over any decision maker you face.

Be Sure That You’re Presenting To The Ultimate Decision Maker

It might seem a bit simplistic to say this, but be sure that when you’re pitching someone on an idea that you’ve targeted the presentation to the decision maker with the authority to ultimately make the choice. This is critical especially when pitching to a group where multiple players may hear the pitch but not have the authority to make the decision, or be the person you want to work with on a deal. Failing to target the pitch to your audience, even if it is only to one person in the room, can sometimes alienate the true decision maker you want to sway. Persuasion, no matter how effectively done, directed to a person who has no authority to make the decision is never going to yield the desired effect.

Know Your Decision Maker

Learn as much as you possibly can in advance about the person making the decision. The most important information to understand concerns their patterns around what motivates them to make decisions and draw conclusions. How are they motivated to do something or not do something? Is it to avoid problems or achieve goals? Are they convinced to take action when they know within themselves that something is right? Or do they use facts and figures to help them decide? And lastly, are they proactive or reactive: do they like to initiate change or wait until a situation is right to act?

The best place to get answers to these questions is directly from this person. Observe how this person has made decisions in the past, note how they present information, listen to their words, and notice their body language in certain situations. You could even sit in when someone else is pitching them and watch what happens, what they ask, and what works and what doesn’t. Look for little peculiarities that you might want to take advantage of: think “royalty deal” and Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary.

Know The Question And Know The Recommended Action You Want Them To Take

Have you ever tried making a decision when you didn’t really have a clear idea about what you were really being asked to decide and/or the person doing the asking didn’t know a hill of beans about what they were asking you for? You can’t expect someone to give you a decision when they can’t clearly identify the question they’re being asked to decide, or the action they’re being asked to take. Your first and foremost responsibility is to know the question that needs to be answered and to define what action you think would best works to solve/answer it. Without this level of clarity, you can’t ever hope to make a successful pitch. At this stage you’re really working to figure out your best guesstimate of what would work best and why the decision maker would want to take the action you’re proposing. Write both your question and answer down, keep clarifying it to make sure that there is no ambiguity and that your recommended action is the only action that will bring about the desired resolution to the question, and perhaps most importantly, that you can state why convincingly.

Carefully Lay Out And Select Your Best Points: Concentrate Your Ideas

Your very next step is to begin laying out the facts, information, and arguments that are central to your pitch and form the basis for your core action/recommendation. Laying out and structuring the information and arguments in a logical manner will help you spot gaps in your knowledge of the facts, understand where challenges to your recommendation might come from, and help you counter potential objections with real counter points. Pay careful attention as you go through this process to keep the information tight and concise, making sure to only include only the most compelling and salient points in your outline so that your ideas are concentrated and therefore have the most influence and impact on the decision maker. Select your best and strongest reasons why this action should take place—preferably no more than 3 or 4—and develop them fully. This is not to say that each of the 3 or 4 cannot have a few smaller points within them. However, loading up a pitch with everything but the kitchen sink and taking a scattershot approach is ineffective. It gives the impression that you don’t come from a position of strength and that you don’t have strong points that can stand on their own. Your criteria for including a point should be:

  • That it is essential to the core of your pitch
  • It is scrupulously accurate
  • It is presented from the vantage point of the decision maker

If it doesn’t fit these criteria, it isn’t going to help, and will most likely become a straw man that can sidetrack your pitch.

Create A Story

Now that you’ve worked long and hard on your outline and you believe that you’ve created a compelling pitch for the recommended action you want the decision maker to take, you’re ready to translate your outline into the story that will take the person(s) step by step through your pitch to its conclusion. Make sure that the story proceeds methodically through the information, starting with a statement of the question you want answered or solved so that the decision maker knows from the start the very decision they are being asked to make. Once the decision maker knows what they’ll be deciding, they’ll be more attune to the evidence needed to support the decision you want them to make, as you spotlight the most important merits for your core action or recommendation being adopted. This step guarantees that they’ll be better able to tie the facts back to the core action or recommendation and understand how the facts either support or disprove the course of action being sought. Make sure that part of your appeal is to the person’s common sense and not only the facts and evidence. Sometimes decision makers will make decisions on what their gut sense tells them and then look for facts to support it, so it is wise to appeal to both in your story. Avoid hyperbole and phrases that contain absolute negatives like “There will never be another…” or “No one has ever seen…” since these can result in a loss of credibility in your presentation, as negatives are always difficult to prove. Always make sure to begin the story with your strongest points because as they say: first impressions are enduring. Make sure that the story starts out in a positive vein, and if you have to address or refute something that you do it in the middle and not at the beginning or end. Close powerfully and explicitly tell the decision maker what it is you need them to do. Your closing should move the decider to action with a recap of the principal reasons they should take the action and why your recommendation is the only response.

Give Your Story A Test Drive

Practice makes perfect, and sharing your story with others before the actual pitch can help you hone your pitch and give you the needed practice so that you’re comfortable with giving the pitch seamlessly. Choose a group of people to practice your pitch with and ask to track your story against your outline and to give you feedback on areas that you might have missed or might be overkill. Then incorporate their suggestions and refine the pitch until you think you have it in its final form. Choose one person whose decision-making style mirrors that of the person you’re pitching and pitch for them as if you were doing it for the intended decision maker. Debrief them on what worked and what didn’t, and if they’d have made the decision in your favor. Hone your presentation again until you’ve got it where you think it needs to be. You might even want to video this session so that you can watch not only your presentation but also their reactions to what you were saying at certain points in the pitch.

Decide What Final Form The Presentation Will Take

At this point you already know a lot about the person you’re pitching and you’ve spent a great deal of time honing your pitch to match their style. You’re at the point where all that’s left to do is help them understand what you need them to do, and the key to doing that effectively is selecting the right format the final presentation will take. Deciding what the final form is may not always be under your control and that could go either way. It might be that the decision maker has preset the format to be what he/she prefers, and so understanding the best way to utilize the features of that format to showcase your pitch means making sure that you know and understand how best to showcase your information in a variety of ways. If you get to select the final form, be sure to choose one that you know makes it easiest for the decision maker to best understand and be presented with the information. Knowing in advance if they prefer reports, executive summaries, slides, or even an email with key decision and data points, followed by a face-to-face meeting or an in-person pitch, will go a long way to helping you showcase your idea in the most favorable light. No matter the presentation method—or if you’ve chosen it or not—as long as you’ve structured and crafted the pitch with the strategies above and ensure that you’ve placed what they are being asked to decide on early in the presentation, the presentation is pared down to include only the most salient points, your closing moves them to action, and you’ve told them everything that they need to know to make a decision, then you’ll be better positioned to be successful.

Remember that no matter what, you have to know your stuff, stand your ground, and do so as equals. When you step before the audience next time you pitch, have this clearly in your mind and know that you are there to help the decision maker understand what the circumstances demand of them, what they need to know to make the decision, and in doing this effectively, you’ll show them that you knew what you needed to know about the matter at hand too.

Let me know how your next pitch goes in the comments below.