Article Sign Up

Don't miss my articles
on Authoritas.
Find out more here »

About Jacquie

Jacquie Molloy guides senior leaders to develop and display leadership authority (what she calls Authoritas); helps Boards to discover the power (and imperative) of exploring differences of opinion through Debate; and shares the practices for personal authority, high-performing teams and cultural excellence with individuals and organisations so they can be Visible in all the right ways.

More about Jacquie »


Follow me on TwitterConnect with me on LinkedInLike me on Facebook


Preparing for a Critical Conversation

Some people are naturally very good at conversation, no matter what the circumstances. Others appreciate tips – especially when it comes to what I call ‘critical conversations’.
Critical conversations can be short (you get 5 minutes with the Minister or the CEO or the Chair in between appointments) or long (a performance evaluation or a prelude to a negotiation). It could be with someone you don't know or don't know well. Or it could be someone you do know well — one of your direct reports — and you need to deliver some hard feedback or bad news.
Or it could be that you want to discuss some very good news. Don't be surprised that even the good news version can feel 'heightened' or uncomfortable.

A critical conversation, by its nature, means it requires intimacy, tact, sure-footedness — and it will almost certainly be 1:1. These conditions can be present in both positive and negative contexts.

Genuine intimacy — that is, our own vulnerability or the witnessing of someone else’s vulnerability — can make us feel uncomfortable, especially at work. We're uncomfortable because, for these conversations to be effective and productive, we need to bring all of ourselves into them, and sometimes that means feeling and showing some different sides to ourselves than we normally are comfortable sharing.

It's not possible to be intimate without risk. And critical conversations are risky (and human).

No wonder many execs put off asking for the conversation they need or want. Even for 5 minutes, and a potentially game-changing pay-off, the risk and discomfort feels too high.
But when you are a leader, your ability to build genuine intimacy in your important relationships is non-negotiable. You must be willing to create a safe and trustworthy dynamic within these conversations. And you must be willing to be vulnerable in the conversations that you need to have. 

If not, what is the point of having an open-door policy and claiming that you are approachable?

How do you prepare for critical conversations?
When I work with my clients to prepare their approach and messages for critical conversations, I guide them to drill down and define what a successful outcome will be (and what elements will be needed to ensure that), and I draw on a number of tools and practices to get them in the right ‘headspace’ and prepared to ride their, and the other person's, discomfort and emotional behaviours that might show up, including modelling some helpful language.
As we approach the time of year when you will be having many development and opportunity conversations — as well as terminations — how will you prepare yourself and your direct reports to show up in the most healthy, approachable and professional way?

I'd love to know!


Create a culture for men and women to thrive

We need to see more women represented at senior levels of our organisations as well as in fields that have historically been dominated by men. We want this if for no other reason than it will more accurately reflect the make-up and dynamics of the societies we live in. 
We should all have a strong appetite to ‘crack the code’ on this — not because it is politically correct to do so but because when we do we will have created an organisation or industry that attracts all kinds of talented, interesting people and probably attracts the kind of customers and clients and suppliers and contractors you want as well.
Only one thing stands in our way!
(Or at least makes it more difficult than a simple policy change.)
And the medical and social sciences all agree: Men and Women are different.
1. Anatomy, Chemistry and Electronics (nature). We have different hormonal make up. Hormones affect what we do and how we feel (that’s all of us by the way, not just women). And it’s not so much that our brains are wired differently, but that men and women use the neural circuitry in different ways. Plus there are actual anatomical differences between the male brain and the female brain. You can read some of the latest interesting research and findings around all this here and here.

2. Social Conditioning (nurture). Boys and girls are treated differently by our society from the moment they are born. And because of how we treat children while their brains are at their most impressionable, they develop cognitively in different ways.

And the family, society, media, culture — all of it — rewards certain behaviours to perpetuate and embed so that we know how a man (boy) should act and a how a woman (girl) should act.

Thus we have a kind of ‘worms and frogs’ conditioning for boys where we expect and, if not reward, then tolerate risk taking, action, getting dirty, being loud. And a kind of ‘kittens and flowers’ conditioning for girls where we expect and reward quietness, gentleness, stillness, helpfulness, being pretty.

For both genders, this conditioning can be debilitating — see next!
3. Sense of self  (independent belief). How we choose to see ourselves, and our rights and choices, as a result of all of this is what matters the most. We can choose any path, any behaviours, any ethics when we are consciously aware of who are and what we want. Doesn't make it easy though. If we are going against generations of insidious social conditioning there will be resistance and push back (from the outside and on the inside).

To make it harder, a lot of the time we won't even know that we are resisting.

We won't know, for example, that because the person on our team is a lot like someone else we know, we’re going to go out of our way to not engage or limit our exposure to them. (Think what this means if you are that person's leader! True story.) We might not know that the reason we are unable to accept or trust someone else’s experience or perspective is not because it is 'unlikely' or 'illogical' but simply because it is different from our own.  

How do we create an environment where both men and women are encouraged to actively display and demonstrate a range of traits, encompassing what we might refer to as the masculine and the feminine, the hard and the soft, the practical and the creative (even emotionally intuitive and 'available')?
How do we make it both impressive and desirable to continue to grow and develop as well rounded empathetic individuals — including a commitment to a healthy and vibrant personal or family life — instead of making it weak or unnecessary or remedial?
Quotas and incentives and gender-specific policies can certainly ‘push’ more women into each level of the org, but for us to enjoy all the benefits of a truly equal environment and culture we also need to understand how to both 'see' and ‘pull’ qualified and prepared women up into the organisation to senior levels.

We need to create a culture for both men and women to showcase the full range of masculine and feminine traits and capabilities — the full spectrum. When we do, we will give permission for people to belong and trust that there is a place for them — who they are, not who they pretend to be or think they should be based on the dominant gender representation.

And, if we're paying attention to the next generation, to what people under 25 value and desire out of their career, we will also be creating a culture and workplace that will attract and retain a wide assortment of smart and intelligent and creative and fair people.

How are you participating in developing such a culture?

If you'd like to step up, do more or start the bigger conversation in your team or through the organisation, here are some ways I can help you:
  • Invite me to speak — formally or informally — on one of my signature topics: Authoritas, Visible, Debate.  All of these topics can be used to launch a bigger discussion and skills work around permission and dynamics and how we can take responsibility for how we participate and how we influence those around us, explicitly and implicitly. 
  • Have a private conversation with me — explore working with me either in a consultative engagement or through a coaching relationship, structured over a period of time or as a one-off intensive. 
  • Read and learn and discuss! I recommend The Athena Doctrine by John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio*. We can adapt my Executive Book Club program for this purpose — combining it with related resources that I curate for you — and I can facilitate conversations for you so you are able to fast-track how you extract the learning and apply to the org's broader initiatives of leadership and personal effectiveness and responsibility.
* If you've heard me speak on Authoritas, you'll know the significance of Athena, the Greek Goddess of War and Wisdom, for me so I'm inclined to think well of anyone who invokes her in the conversation of leadership ;) But make up your own mind — you can learn more about the book in this 3-minute video.   

Now is the perfect time to set up the way you need 2018 to unfold — for the good of all.




4 questions for Q4

If you could make one shift in this last quarter of 2017 to enhance your leadership ‘footprint’ or reputation, what would it be?
Does this year feel much the same as last year: fires to fight, difficult dynamics to navigate, too much work to be done, not enough time, energy levels waning, conversations you wish you could have over and get right, the promise to yourself that you’ll get ‘on top’ of something that never seems to get done to your satisfaction?
Then here are 4 question sets to help you reflect on where you might need to focus in these last 90 days and what you might need to discover and act on:


  1. What changes must you make to your environment — including beliefs, ideas and practices — to support your current priorities and the next level of growth and challenge? What do you need to let go of? Where do you need to make tweaks and adjustments?
  2. How are your team and reports interacting with you? Do they know what you stand for? Is your messaging and communication crystal clear? Are they able to meet and manage your expectations consistently? 
  3. Are your energy levels: ‘clean’, predictable, easily renewable and high? Do you know how to  power up and power down reliably and well? Do you know how you show up/go missing when you are tired, overwhelmed, crazy-busy, disappointed ...?
  4. Do you know what comes next? Are you clear on your priorities for Q1 2018? What will you do now, this side of the new year, to set up the momentum required to be successful?

It’s a challenging road to go alone.

We all benefit from having the support and counsel to help us remain accountable, clear-headed and — importantly — not isolated.

Conversation is key. Action is critical.

Time to bring your 2017 plans home!



Do you have a split identity?

Too many execs have created rigid barriers around 'work self' and 'home self' in the attempt to gain what is called 'work/life balance'. But to achieve this sense of balance requires integration as much as it does separation and boundaries.

We're more at risk than ever of fostering split identities.

In the plays about Henry IV, as in so many of his histories and tragedies, Shakespeare concerns himself with power and identity. And, as always, it’s instructive. 
In Henry IV Part 1, Shakespeare lets us understand Henry’s internal conflict that comes after the adrenalin rush of a successful takeover and the ‘getting rid’ of Richard II. He has seized power both legitimately and immorally.

'Legitimately and immorally' is a very grey place that is too easy to find yourself in — via what we might call 'slippery slopes'  — when we are dealing with the power dynamics at top leadership levels: in business, in government, between countries ... and even within families.
In the play, Henry tries to just snap himself out of this internal conflict. And we’re all familiar with this ‘I’m over it’ attempt to change something about ourselves or our circumstances. We resort to sheer grit and will power and determination.
White-knuckling is difficult to sustain though — and that’s if the attempt even gets off the ground.
Henry says: from now on, I’m going to be my royal self again. I’m getting back in the game! I’ll be mighty and powerful. I’ve been too soft lately and that weakness has cost me. It’s lost me the respect of powerful people who only respect you when you are as powerful — or more powerful — than they are.

I will from henceforth rather be myself,
Mighty and to be feared, than my condition,
Which hath been smooth as oil, soft as young down,
And therefore lost that title of respect
Which the proud soul ne'er pays but to the proud.

Henry believes that being ‘soft’ gets a king no ‘respect’. 
But through his subsequent behaviour and actions it becomes clear that he’s not at all comfortable, or reconciled, with the manner in which he got the crown and won England.
Sure he brags about being a winner: nothing can seem foul to those that win.
But his guilt and ‘split identity’ ironically render him incapable of making the most out of the position for which he committed the immoral action.
It’s hard for us to keep split behaviour/beliefs up when we can not reconcile our outward show of confidence and our internal second-guessing/imposter syndrome/low-level anxiety.
David Whyte, poet & organisational thinker, says — I’m paraphrasing — that we’re so afraid of losing face and think we have it all under control but if we ask someone who reports to us what our greatest flaw is they’d be able to tell us immediately.
We are seen.
And when we are leaders, we are not only visible, but always modelling to others. That’s part of the role. That’s part of the responsibility.
Come back to the central Authoritas truth-teller questions always: who am I? and who will I allow myself to be?

Please let me know, your thoughts on this. I'd love to hear from you!


9 email rules for execs

Here's a short and useful article with some good advice about — our godsend and nemesis — email.
The best attitude-adjustment about email I have ever heard was this:
When you die, you will have unread email in your inbox.