Sarasota leadership consultant Lauren Henry went into over-preparation mode recently when asked to introduce a speaker at a local event for entrepreneurs. One of several people doing intros, Henry memorized and relentlessly practiced, even knowing she was only going to be at the podium for, at most, a few minutes.
The effort paid off. While others were underprepared or basically winged it, Henry caught the attention of many in the audience that day — even some of the more renowned speakers. “People ended up coming up to me after it, wanting to talk to me,” Henry says. “It really opened a lot of doors.”
The mantra to be at your best whatever the task is drives Henry, who, with her older sister, Candice Henry, form the Sarasota-based company Aretios. From the Greek word arete, which signifies bravery, excellence and the act of living up to one’s potential, the company offers a menu of leadership products and services, including social media and video content; leadership seminars and courses for nonprofits and for-profit businesses; and a goal-setting journaling guidebook called The Daily. The sisters also teach a class on personal and professional leadership at Southeastern University, a Christian-based liberal arts college based in Lakeland.
While the clients and companies the Henrys work with are of varying ages, one of their missions with the business is to connect with a younger crowd. These are people who might not be in leadership roles by title at their companies or organizations, but have a lot to offer in that area — with some guidance. “There are a lot of discussions around these topics, but often it’s for an older set,” says Candice Henry.
The sisters’ latest go in helping to shape and develop young leaders was a webinar in mid-June entitled “How to be a standout: mastering the practices that set top leaders apart.”
The pair — Lauren is 28, Candice is 32 — broke the class down into three sections: standards of excellence; strengthening your skills; and mastering the mental.
Stand and deliver
The standards of excellence section revolved around how you “look, act and feel,” says Candice. Some key points include:
Make a good first impression isn’t just an empty cliche, the sisters say. “Like it or not, people really are heavily influenced by what they see,” says Lauren. “Studies show us we only have seven seconds, which is like almost nothing, to make a first impression and so what this means is that for you and I before we even open our mouth, our appearance, our body language and our level of professionalism have actually already started speaking for us.”
That’s not about spending a lot of money on clothes, Candice adds, but wearing something that’s a “proper representation of you and who you are. People who are standouts and leaders — they look like it, right? It’s that little bit extra.”
Lauren stresses a point many overlook when starting out a career, in time management and prioritizing tasks. “People won’t value or respect our time, if we don’t value and respect it for ourselves,” she says. “If you are willing to say yes to everything, people will run right over you so you have to be able to have those boundaries set around what is important to you. That way you can then make sure you are able to show up and deliver, because the goal here is to make sure that we invest our time in the best way possible.”
She adds that boundaries doesn’t mean you are not committed or willing to go the extra step. “A lot of people end up burning out through overcommitment, they just say yes to too many things. All good things, but too many things, until they end up getting maybe 20% to 50% effort at 25 things instead of what we all want to do, which is 100% effort at maybe five things.”
Candice calls it consistency of character — like the best restaurants, the best athletes. “When we do less, we can actually do better,” she says. “For us as leaders, we are going to be known by the consistency of our follow-through.”
The feel side isn’t touchy-feely, but instead a reminder that behavior, like first impressions, can be memorable — for good or bad. For instance, Candice says when you ask someone for advice, take notes. “That way we can go back and refer to that insight,” she says. “It shows we respect the person enough to want to remember it first of all, and second of all, apply it.”
The second part of the session focused on improving skills people need to be well-rounded leaders, including:
One skill the sisters believe is crucial to being a better leader, and person, is the art of having a two-way conversation and not allowing it to become a “monologue.” Lauren compares it to a volley in tennis, “where the ball goes back-and-forth and it gives both parties a chance to be involved.” If not, the conversation is one-sided, with one person, usually the boss, just talking at the other person. “We make a point to periodically check in during a conversation,” Lauren says, by saying things like “what do you think about that” or does “that make sense?”
Feedback is something nearly every leader has to provide, yet many leaders, the Henrys say, avoid doing it — mostly out of fear of what the other person will think or do in response to it. But even before feedback, Lauren points out an important component of leadership: never assume the other side knows what you know or are thinking. (That’s a lesson I learn many times over.)
“Make sure that there is first clarity around the objectives,” Lauren says. “If you have expectations that your client doesn’t know about or a team member doesn’t know about, they’re going to fail to meet them probably 99% of the time. Maybe they’re living in our head, or maybe we assume that they know. But they don’t see things from the same perspective. We want to start with everybody on the same page.”
A key part of feedback, says Lauren, particularly when providing it to people on your team, is to eliminate the word “but,” especially if it comes after saying how he or she did something great. “What that does is it automatically negates everything you just said,” she says. “Instead we want to say ‘and.’ So you can say ‘here’s what was super-great AND here’s what you do to make it even better.”
The third part of the webinar focused on how to overcome four mental roadblocks: perfectionism; looping, where, says Lauren “you rerun fears or maybe negative scenarios in your mind” again and again; overthinking; and imposter syndrome.
“We are who we choose to be, and our thoughts are one of the most influential forces in this process,” Candice says. “Everything begins in our mind first, before it becomes an action that we take.”
Enemy of good
The accomplished sisters say they have, and occasionally continue to, struggle with being perfectionists. But they also realize that in doing so they have sometimes blocked themselves from new triumphs, in life and in business. “If we avoid failure because we’re waiting for everything to be perfect,” Candice says, “we’re actually also avoiding success.”
Reverse the curse
Running negative scenarios and situations in your mind, or putting difficult conversations on repeat in your head, says Lauren, is a futile exercise. “Staying in this loop will sabotage our very best efforts,” she adds. “How do we stop it? We have to intercept the loop.”
The way to do that, Lauren says, is to catch and switch. First you need to recognize (or catch) the loop, that you are going into a negative spiral. Then there are three ways to switch. One is to follow a method from Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyota, which is to ask yourself why five times, going deep into why one thing leads to another and another to get to the root cause of the negative thoughts. The second way is to ask a question like “will I care about this in a year?” That provides a broader, deeper perspective, Lauren says.
The third technique Lauren suggests to switch the negative narrative is to have a replacement statement. It can be a quote, a statement or a bible verse that’s important to you. Something, Lauren says, like a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.