Dads: Raise your daughter to be a CEO

Father’s Day is coming up, so in the spirit of honoring the male role models in our lives, I’d like to share a special note with all the dads and other men (and women) out there about how to raise your daughters to be a successful, confident and happy future executive.

Over the years, I’ve spoken in front of myriad professional women’s groups, and coached women at every level and in every industry imaginable, and one factor regularly surfaces as having a major influence on their current levels of confidence and self-efficacy: their relationship with their fathers.

I often get asked how I’ve developed my confidence and sense of self, and more and more I realize how much of the credit goes to my father (and mother) for setting this foundation in me in all these ways and more.

Disclaimer: I am a linguist, not a psychologist, and this post is not intended to overgeneralize women, fathers, or anyone else. My goal is to raise awareness of some patterns of communication behaviors that can have lasting effects, and offer perspective and tools to help you avoid those pitfalls and promote happiness and success at home, in the workplace and beyond.

The most genuinely confident and effective women I work with typically have stories to tell of how their fathers set high standards because they genuinely believed that their daughters were capable and worthy of success at that level.

Their dads co-celebrated success and lamented failures together, and knew when the appropriate response was a consoling hug or a loving “kick in the pants” to stop the pity party, learn a lesson and do better next time. And they knew that there was a time and a place for each.

Here’s the thing: Your daughter may know intellectually that you love her and that your goal is to want the best for her, to reach what you see as her fullest potential. But the way these intentions are communicated often are interpreted in the exact opposite way: that love and approval are conditional, contingent upon perfection and successful attainment of whatever standard they believe you set.

There are so many little moments in life that can individually go unnoticed, but add up over time. Was she the MVP of her field hockey team or did she get the lead in the play, and if not how did you respond? Did you let her know if you believed these were even worthwhile pursuits in the first place? Did you think she went to the right university, got the right degree, got the right job, is dating or married the right person (and at the right age), and even (ugh!) did she feel like you thought she was pretty enough? These may seem like they shouldn’t be relevant, but dad, trust me, they are. More than you’ll ever know.

How do I know?

Dad (a music teacher) encouraged me to audition for all-state band (I played the alto sax), which I did all four years of high school, even though I only made it once. After each audition, we’d talk about what went right and wrong and how to do better next time.

He pushed me to take honors classes but didn’t flinch when I agreed to take AP history and Spanish but not calculus (thank goodness!)

(I’ll probably get flack for this, but I’m going to mention it anyway.) He also always told me I was pretty, even when my ever-fluctuating adolescent weight was on the top end of the yo-yo curve. To a teenage girl’s self-esteem, it mattered. A lot.

I know he hated the idea of me moving to Japan (twice!), and tried to talk me out of it both times, but ultimately supported the decision – and even came to visit once – because he knew it was something I needed to do.

When I decided to go for my PhD in my late 20s instead of getting a “regular job” he asked probing questions so we could discuss the pros and cons and the best way to make it work. And the discussions and interest continued, guilt-free, even when it took twice as long as expected to graduate.

As I went through romantic relationship after relationship, he never once gave me a guilt trip about my biological clock or his (undeniable) desire for grandchildren even though I was 40 before I finally met my husband. I’m sure that time frame was even harder for him to rationalize given that he and my mother met in high school and have been happily married ever since.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we’d have long conversations full of intimate details and unfiltered emotions. He’s definitely not that kind of dad. But he’d show interest and ask how things were going. He’d offer advice when warranted and offer objective counterpoints when he disagreed, but ultimately he let me know that he recognized my efforts and intentions, trusted my judgment and respected my decision, even when we didn’t see eye to eye.

Most importantly, even when I had genuinely messed up, even though he was really upset with me in the moment, he never belittled me or called me names, and he made it clear that he still loved me.

So to all you dads out there, how can you communicate with your daughters in a way that builds her confidence and empowers her with the skills and perspective to be a successful leader?

    • Talk to your daughter. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversations, and ask tough and sometimes personal questions to help her think through things, then be prepared to listen. Listen to truly understand her motivations rather than to identify the holes in her argument and formulate your rebuttal.
    • Challenge her to try new things, and set ambitious but attainable goals. Celebrate victories, acknowledge and praise progress and efforts. Reflect on failures together, and recognize the difference between when to say, “it’s okay, you can’t win ‘em all” and “I don’t think you really gave it your best. What happened?”
    • Invite her to initiate difficult conversations with you, and encourage her to express when she needs help, doesn’t understand something, or otherwise disagrees with you, instead of hiding her true feelings.
    • Even when she does make a mistake or otherwise does something you don’t approve of, make it clear that the you think the decision or action was dumb, not that she is stupid. Then – possibly an hour or so later after you’ve cooled off – remind her that you love her and are proud of her no matter what.

If you can fine-tune your objectivity regarding this aspect of your relationship with your daughters now – no matter what their age or family or professional status – that sets a foundation for success that no fancy MBA can match!

Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

Are You Media-Ready?

Nowadays, it’s not enough to be really smart, to be the boss, or to have brilliant ideas. It’s all about your presence, and how well you communicate those brilliant ideas, if you want others to see your vision and get on board.

Specifically, it’s about what I like to call vocal executive presence, and if you have it, you can master the Three Cs, to Command the room, Connect with the audience, and Close the deal, in any context.

Whether on camera, at the microphone or in person, your ability to look and sound like the right kind of leader will make or break the impact and success of your message. To ensure that you come across as confident, natural, relatable, and persuasive, you need to have an expertly crafted message and flawless delivery.

That’s why I’m excited to share with you “Capturing Your Confidence on Camera,” a six-part series of straight-to-the-point, down-and-dirty, DIY mini-videos that show you exactly how to turn any speaking opportunity into a home run performance. (And they’re just as applicable when you’re not on camera!)

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Be The Speaker You’d Want To Listen To

Do You Really Know Your Audience?

One rule of thumb that applies to almost every aspect of life is that just because something is simple, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy.

When I was faculty at the University of Pennsylvania for a decade or so, teaching in a master’s program for educators, one of the rules of thumb I constantly reiterated was, “be the teacher you wish you’d had.”

That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Yet so many of my students seemed to find it surprisingly difficult to apply in practice.

We can all recall boring lectures given by teachers and professors who seemed to be burnt out after years of teaching the same content day in and day out. For many, sadly, this seemed to be the rule rather than the exception.

But we can also recall those instructors who stood out, who made their subjects come to life, and lit a fire of curiosity and genuine interest in us that we never would have imagined possible in that subject.

This dichotomy is no different from what happens in corporate life.

When speaking to a group, whether in front of a camera, on stage or in the conference room, the seemingly simple rule of thumb is: be the speaker you’d actually want to listen to.

So why is it so difficult?

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Calming Your Nerves on Camera

You know the drill.

Your heart starts to race. Your palms start to sweat while your mouth goes dry. You remind yourself to smile and pray you don’t draw a blank at a critical moment.

You’re either about to meet someone on a blind date, or you’re about to speak on camera.

If you’re looking into the eyes of a blind date, sorry; you’re on your own. But if you’re looking into the eye of a camera, there ARE things you can do to calm your nerves, collect your thoughts, and knock it out of the park.

Actually, the more I think about it, some of the solutions to these problems aren’t all that different after all.

For starters, head-games are half the battle. And I’m not even talking about if someone else is playing games with you. (Remember, on a first date those games haven’t started yet.) I’m referring to the internal head-games – some people might call it head trash – that you play with yourself.

Let’s face it: You can be your own worst enemy. And you know I’m right.

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Is Your Voice Camera-Ready?

Raise your hand if you hate the sound of your voice when you hear it on a video… I bet if we were in a room asking that question everyone would have their hand raised. But here’s the thing: It’s not actually your voice that’s the problem: it’s what you do with your voice that makes it hard to listen to, and undermines your authority and charisma.

Now that we’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, let’s look at why it happens, and what you can do about it.

One common goal of any appearance on camera is to come across as a confident and charismatic leader, representing your organization, company, or industry. You want to draw people in and connect with the audience… all of which is much easier said than done.

With all that pressure, knowing your performance will be immortalized on video, most people get nervous on camera; that’s totally normal, even when you’re comfortable with your content. And we all know about putting on a “poker face,” i.e. not letting your facial expressions show your true feelings to the world. But your face isn’t the only thing that can put our feelings on display.

Your voice will tattle on you faster than a kindergartener.

So let’s look at some ways to project a strong, clear, compelling vocal delivery. (You can jump to the end and click the photo with the video link if you want to hear demonstrations of these concepts.)

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Giving Back

Sometimes the most powerful messages are communicated not by what you say, but by what you do. Especially when you do it for others, with no expectation for anything in return.

Recently I had the privilege of speaking with Rob Lowe, host of the “Giving Back Podcast,” where we shared some stories about how we, you guessed it, give back to the community and the world.

Most importantly, I had the opportunity to get out of the spotlight myself, and turn it on to the Hope Partnership for Education, an AMAZING educational organization — far more than a plain ol’ “school,” whose motto is “breaking the cycle of poverty through education.”

It’s not just about working with high-needs populations. They’re transforming the community.

For example, in an area with a >50% high school dropout rate, their students — all high needs, often entering school several grade levels behind, academically — have a 95% graduation rate!

How do they do it, and how can you help, no matter where you’re located or what your current abilities are? Tune in to this inspiring podcast to find out.

You can go directly to the podcast episode here:

Or listen on iTunes here (Episode 12: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty).

Thank you for making a difference in our our world! Please share this and help others take action on what they feel passionate about.

Here’s to a world of success,



Featured! 8 Public Speaking Tips From The Best TEDx Speakers

I don’t know about you but I love quick and easy tips with links on the ones you want to explore further.

Jonathan Li, founder of, has compiled a list of 8 Public Speaking Tips From The Best TEDx Speakers. Each tip is summarized in a simple quote from its TEDx talk, with links to the original videos. How great is that?

I might have a slight bias in favor of #6, but I think they’re all pretty terrific and I know you’ll have some major “a-ha moments” too.

Enjoy, and feel free to drop me a line and let me know your big take-away ideas (even if it’s not #6!) Love to know what speaks to you.

“A Game of Inches”: Leadership on Any Given Monday

“A Game of Inches”: Leadership on Any Given Monday

Recently, my family decided to watch Any Given Sunday, the 1999 iconic football movie starring Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Fox and a slew of other stars and unexpected cameos ranging from LL Cool J to Lawrence Taylor (of 1980s NY Giants fame), who comprised the fictional Miami Sharks, an extremely dysfunctional pro football team/franchise.

It looks at everything from money and egos to injury and politics surrounding the NFL. Not my typical first round draft pick for Sunday evening family time, but I was outvoted… and I’m glad.

While my husband eagerly took every opportunity to point out plays, dangers of concussions and other “teachable moments” to our 13-year-old son (who, unsurprisingly, was far more interested in the movie than the lessons), I was drawn in to the way the characters talked to each other, and when efforts at leadership succeeded and failed.

Most importantly, I couldn’t help but notice how much the challenges on the football field, in the locker room, and in the board room all have in common. For example:

  • Seemingly incompatible priorities held by ownership/management and the players/employees
  • Executives who viewed the players as property rather than as people
  • Star players driven by their egos
  • A young female president/co-owner trying to prove herself in an industry that is historically and undeniably a “man’s world”
  • Work-life (im)balance and resentment
  • Life-or-death (money or safety) choices
  • And of course, the coach who had to navigate among all these groups while trying to do his own job and keep it all together if they were going to have a winning season, which was what everyone wanted.

But what really “scored points” with me was the inspirational locker room talk coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) gave to the players toward the end. (You can watch it here.) Talk about someone whose delivery is credible and authentic. His verbal, vocal, and visual (physical) communication are in perfect alignment, all conveying exactly the same message, and that’s what makes his team – and the viewers – buy into it… because they buy into him.

He describes football as “a game of inches,” and how those inches are everywhere. He drills into them that the difference between winning and losing is being willing to fight and die for that inch, and a crucial component in that motivation is knowing that the guy next to them is working for the same inch, working together to reach team goals that are bigger than themselves as individuals.

As he tells it, it’s “the six inches in front of your face,” that make all the difference.

While that summary may sound cliché, (watch the original clip, it was great, as was the rest of the movie), I started to think about the professional “inches” that are all around us. So often we get tunnel vision, focusing on the total yardage we need to score the big points in signing new clients, completing big projects, meeting sales goals, delivering killer presentations, or nailing the interview to land next big promotion, but lose sight of the inches in between.

The kicker is, your reputation drives much of your ability to score, even the likelihood of getting opportunities to score. But your reputation is built in the moments in which you are not typically trying to impress. Your reputation is built in the everyday patterns, interactions and experiences people have with you when there isn’t a formal audience, and you’re not officially performing. In other words, your reputation is built in the inches.

At work, those inches might be the way you give or receive negative feedback, your attitude (contributions, body language, or tone of voice) during the drudgery of the weekly Monday morning meetings, or the balance of confidence and humility you demonstrate in speaking with others above, below and beside you.

You gain or lose inches based on how proactive you are in getting to know other people in the office, offering to help others because it’s the right thing to do even if it’s not officially in your job description, and peacefully but diligently working through conflict rather than letting disagreements fester in silence and become toxic.

Those “six inches in front of your face” show whether or not you’re in the moment: during an important discussion, are you listening to someone so you can formulate your rebuttal, or are you truly listening to understand? Trust me, they’ll know the difference. And it will reflect on your reputation for integrity. And over time, it’s integrity that scores points.

So ask yourself: On any given Monday, are you mindful of how you choose to navigate the inches of the day? Because the person who is, is the one who will lead the team into the end zone, and to victory for all.

Trump-ing the Language of Leadership

Trump-ing the Language of Leadership

Nowadays everyone seems to be talking about the bilateral race for nomination as the Republican and Democratic candidates for president. Personally, I’m a little tired of the redundancy of the arguments on both sides at this point, but I am intrigued by the language chosen and the delivery styles that are making and breaking campaigns, especially Donald Trump’s.

Love him or hate him (and most people do tend to embrace one extreme opinion or the other,) Donald Trump has stolen the spotlight since announcing his candidacy. Platform stance aside, let’s take a look at some of his communication patterns that made him a force to be reckoned with, and lessons we can learn, if perhaps with a grain (or spoonful?) of salt, about establishing our image and reputation as a leader.

First, Mr. Trump consistently demonstrates unwavering conviction and confidence in his views. Of course, he often takes it to the extreme, and to the best of my knowledge has never once apologized for any comment, even when launching patently personal insults at seemingly everyone who, well, disagrees with him. This is certainly the opposite of another bad habit that many people have, especially women, as I discussed in previous posts, of over-apologizing and diminishing the value of their own contributions and reputation. While he may voluntarily sacrifice diplomacy on a regular basis, what is undeniable is that he believes 100% in the validity, importance and value of his own perspective. And in a world of uncertainty, people find that reassuring.

Second, as part of that confidence, his voice is always clear and declarative in tone. He never falls into the common vocal pitfalls of vocal fry, monotony or up-speak. (And while that is something more commonly associated with young women, men do it just as much, don’t fool yourselves.) There is nothing hesitant or uncertain in the sound of any statement he makes. Granted, all of the candidates have been strong this way; I’m sure many (all?) of them have been explicitly and repeatedly coached on it. When the level of conviction in the voice matches the conviction in the word choice, credibility is reinforced.

Additionally, and this may be an uncommon way to look at it, but to use one of the popular phrases in the current discourse on executive presence, Mr. Trump is always willing to speak truth to power. While you may feel like he is at the top and thus has all the power and nothing to be afraid of, the reality is that he knows the voters have the real power in the end. He is not trying to please everyone by mincing words. He is willing to say what he believes needs to be said even though it may make some people unhappy in the moment, in the hopes of winning others over long-term, for greater ultimate gains. This degree of risk can make others shake in their shoes.

For example, when trying to “manage up” and present information to senior leadership, many people balk at the idea of contradicting the boss in a meeting or presenting financial projections or other news that may not be as positive as they’d like, which runs the risk of being met with angry challenges, public chastisement or worse. But here’s the thing: if you believe that your data is correct, and your job is to present all facts to senior leadership so that they can make informed decisions, then you have to be able to stand strong in these moments, say what you believe to be true, and be willing and able to defend your stance, showing grace under fire. Whether Mr. Trump displays anything that could be categorized as “grace” is perhaps debatable, but you get the point. This ability is widely recognized as a necessary quality in a leader.

Finally, there is absolutely no question that Mr. Trump knows his audience, and follows a key rule of thumb in sales: if his gives them what they want, in return he will get what he wants. This is something most people forget. We go into meetings, presentations and conference calls thinking about how we can make people see things our way, instead of framing things in terms of letting them know that we can (or at least want to) see things from their perspective, and start from that point as common ground.

In fact, outside of those who may genuinely understand and agree with his actual policies, I would argue that he has two primary audiences, and luckily for him he can kill both birds with one verbal stone, giving both exactly what they want while still following his own strategic interests:

The first target audience is the media themselves. He knows what they want: for viewers to tune in and not change the channel or bounce off the page, so he hands them full buckets of drama to chum the waters on a daily basis. Let’s face it, whether or not you think he is a good candidate for president, there is no question that the man makes for great television. For all his money, he hasn’t had to purchase any advertisements because the media voluntarily give him all the airtime he could ever want, for free. And he knows that in this race, airtime is the equivalent of gold bullion.

The other target audience is voters who are disenfranchised with politics-as-usual and, driven at least in part by emotions, are looking for someone to blame. Mr. Trump very smartly knows that people often make big decisions based on emotions, either in conjunction with or in lieu of other empirical data. So he frequently and explicitly identifies new villains, ranging from his individual opponents, to entire nations such as Mexico and China, to the media themselves, for some inherent evil that has befallen the US. His approach gives his target audience a uniquely combined feeling of validation, absolution and/or moral superiority through victimization. He ensures them that they are right.

To accomplish this, he incorporates emotionally charged, subjective language such as, “it was a disaster,” “he was horrible,” “they were unfair,” and “it’s an embarrassment.” Whether or not there is validity to his claims is immaterial here. He masterfully leads people to believe that he is the only person who understands the root cause of their problems, knows who is to blame, and will see that justice is served. It makes the audience feel better about themselves and their future, and who doesn’t like and want to support someone who can make them feel like that?

Ultimately, Mr. Trump has mastered the art of communicating with his target audience in a way that is both authentic to who he is, and simultaneously resonates with them in a way that opens them up to his message and makes them eager to hear more. Whether you are heading a billion-dollar enterprise, leading a team of a dozen, or doing routine inspections or sales calls, these are lessons to learn which, if applied tactfully, are virtually guaranteed to help us all enhance our leadership image in a most positive way.

And for that, Mr. Trump, we thank you… whether or not we vote for you.

Giving a “Talk” vs. a “Speech”: Top 5 Talk Tips for 2016

Giving a “Talk” vs. a “Speech”: Top 5 Talk Tips for 2016

Recently I had the opportunity to share some public speaking tips with a group of high school students who are part of a local church group and were preparing for an open-house event to welcome new students. A few of the members would have the chance to give a talk to the visitors to share their story, the value the group had played in their lives, and invite the new students to join. In the end, it all boiled down to one big question: How can you share something you’re passionate about in a way that persuades others to get on board?

Maybe you’re opening an annual executive retreat. Maybe you want to address your team at the holiday party. Or maybe you promised your kid’s teacher that you’d participate in “career day.” Regardless of the setting, two things are universally true:

First, your goal is always the same: to persuade and influence. You have something important to say, and you want others to understand why it’s important and join in your vision.

Second, one cultural change has become “the new normal.” It’s rare that we are called to make a formal speech in the traditional sense: in some public forum, on a stage, with a podium and microphone, under the heat of a spotlight. Nowadays, it’s more likely that instead of giving a speech, we will find ourselves with an opportunity to “give a talk” to a group. (Think about it: have you ever watched a “TED Speech” on YouTube?)

One way or another, at the end of your talk, you want to know that you got through to your audience, and that your words landed with the desired impact. Here are five tips for giving a top talk:

    1. A “talk” is different than a “speech.” A talk is conversational, engaging the audience; a speech is formal, talking to (and sometimes at) the audience. If you want to recruit someone to join your vision, team or idea during these less formal scenarios, give a talk.

  1. Rule of thumb: It’s not about you! Of course it’s your story, and you do want to include personal examples or experiences where possible, so it is about you, technically, but the objective is to get the audience to see themselves in your story. To make them think, “I want to feel/experience/be part of that.” Were you ever in their shoes? How did you feel, what made you nervous or excited, and once you made the shift what were the benefits or lessons learned? How does it impact you now? They need to know.
  2. Know your audience, and speak to their desires as well as their doubts. (See the previous post about different kinds of audience members.) Remember: Your audience usually includes a variety of people with different perspectives on your topic; you can’t assume they all feel the way you do from the start, but you do need to connect with them all, whether they are:
    • Enthusiasts — your low-hanging fruit, easy to bring them in; build on their optimism and interest
    • Skeptics – They may be curious with various degrees of questions or concerns. Acknowledge, reassure, encourage and welcome them.
    • There under protest – Some people are there in body, but not in spirit. They attend out of obligation, have preconceived notions of what you’re going to say, may stare at their smart phone the entire time, ask “gloom and doom” questions or try to shoot holes in your idea. Try to acknowledge with where some of their misconceptions may come from and do some “myth-busting” where possible.
  3. Heartfelt is better than perfect. Be honest, be human, allow for mistakes in your delivery. Allow yourself to emote (but not totally lose control.) Even laugh at yourself when possible. It makes you relatable. When you start to feel nervous about delivering your talk or making mistakes, remind yourself, “this isn’t about me, it’s about them.”
  4. Outline and rehearse – but don’t read or memorize! Try not to write out your whole script. Don’t worry about writing the perfect essay (which is also not the same as a speech OR a talk) and memorizing every word. If you read it word for word, it will sound mechanical, like someone reading their “what I did on my summer vacation” essay. That doesn’t feel relatable to an audience. Just put down key points, and practice a few times with a video camera so you make sure you don’t ramble and speak for 10 minutes when you only have 5, fidget too much, or say “um” or “like” all the time. Make adjustments to your outline, or notes to yourself (e.g. “don’t forget to smile!”) etc. Again, you don’t have to rehearse until it’s perfect, just until it flows comfortably, even if a little different each time. Remember: imperfect is relatable, and relatable sells.

So next time you get nervous about speaking in front of a group, check yourself: “Nope, I’m not going to speak to them, I’m just going to talk.” Use these guidelines to organize your thoughts and prepare, then go out and be the best “you” you can be. If they buy into you, the rest is easy.