The Language of Business

Do you speak the language of business?

If you’re in a corporate function, there’s an easy way to tell.

  • As a finance manager, are you the last person included in discussions of an upcoming initiative?
  • As a lawyer, do people get careful with details when you’re in a meeting?
  • As a communications director, did you miss the strategy discussion and only felt looped in the week of the all-hands meeting?
  • Or are you the marketing lead who is pulled in to launch a new product after decisions have already been made about the target audience?

Limited exposure happens every day inside of companies, and it’s often because the functional areas don’t speak the language of business. They have deep expertise in their areas, but they don’t easily translate that to business outcomes that are common across operational areas. And unintentionally, that can create an impression of being narrowly focused or missing the bigger picture that a leader needs to resolve.

The finance guy speaks budgets and numbers and forecasting and risks. The lawyer speaks regulations, compliance and contracts. And marketing speaks lead generation, website statistics and clicks and open rates.

In fact, for a subject matter expert, technical knowledge can be so entrenched as a language that others in an organization don’t think they can speak anything else. And that limits influence and visibility in an organization because peers and leaders won’t pull them into conversations until their functional expertise is needed. That means someone else is determining when the functional leader can add value.  And it’s almost always narrower than it could be and later than it should be. And that’s a disservice to the SME and the company.

I first saw the gap in the language of business through executive coaching. At the start of most engagements, I learn about teams and resources that add value to a leader. And as they talk about different resources, you can hear the difference in how they describe people who support them and people who partner with them. It’s a gap that many SMEs don’t understand, and most leaders don’t work around.

And it’s why we developed a program called Influencing Without Authority to shift the language of function areas to the broader language of business outcomes. And we coach to three specific things that can broaden perspectives and align to business language.

  1. The Difference in Perspectives.

This is the most common blind spot in all the coaching we do. People communicate from their own perspective rather than aligning their thoughts to a listener’s perspective. If you’re a subject matter expert, you can assume that no one in the room understands what you understand. So, speaking in your language will always create distance with listeners.

We help all communicators consider a listener’s perspective and align it before they bring their own perspective into a conversation. And as we introduce a model for outlining conversations, it helps many communicators think beyond governing through their lens and get to a more common ground and suggested alternatives for leaders.

  1. The Journey to Value.

In fact, more than just understanding a listener’s perspective, we coach SMEs to attach to what those listeners value. The expertise of many SMEs can be a narrow lane.  Too often, they listen with only that lens and focus more on what a leader shouldn’t do versus aligning to the priorities and outcomes the leader has to deliver.

We call it the journey to value, and we help groups go a step further in perspective to understand the goals and priorities beyond the current conversation. When a communicator can see that, they quickly understand how to fit their discussion into a broader picture.  It changes their input and shifts them to partnering with a leader on options.

When leaders hear a communicator who is trying to solve a challenge or create an opportunity, they hear insights beyond the area of expertise.  And they notice the skill of communicating with the broader business in mind. And the communicator shifts from a subject matter expert to a valued utility player.  That’s someone who has knowledge that can be leveraged in many different ways.

  1. Activities and Outcomes.

Our third area of focus gets specific in helping any expert build messaging that aligns to business outcomes.  And it challenges every SME to think beyond their activities to broader business outcomes. That’s the final step to align to the language of business.  And it may be the hardest because it positions the functional efforts more as a means to an end or a part of a broader outcome.

Here are specific examples:

I’m a finance manager talking to a business unit leader about her budget. She’s requested three additional head count that don’t fit within budget guidelines. My role is to communicate that she can’t add those costs. In this instance, she’s focused on a means rather than an outcome.  And if I understand what she’s trying to accomplish, I can help her consider ways that she could get to an outcome without additional headcount.  If you delay your project launch by four months, you’ll have a better view of first quarter results and could adjust your spend to better align to the project needs.

I’m a lawyer talking to the senior leadership team about compliance training.  The legal team has been very focused on getting people through the training, and we’re pleased that we plan to have half of the organization trained by the end of the year. But that’s the legal team’s activity and not the value to the business.  So, the message to the leadership team should be:  By training half of our employees on compliance risks, we’ve updated awareness of new risks and built confidence in their ability to prevent those risks in the year ahead. 

I’m the marketing director, targeting a specific demographic for a new product. My efforts produced a 15% increase in leads from the targeted group. When I meet with the sales leader to report on that progress, I’m likely to mention the 15% increase in leads as the outcome.  But to the sales leader, it’s one step towards a broader outcome which is to generate product sales from the leads. To attach to the sales leader’s value, I’ll say that: By increasing leads by 15%, we should be able to generate an additional 10% in product sales to this demographic.

Speaking the language of business is a valued skill and a critical skill to help someone in a specialized area continue to gain visibility and advancement in an organization.  If you run a functional area and think your team could improve communication, we’d love to share more about Influencing Without Authority and how we’ve helped teams expand their influence across an organization.

Call us when you need us.


Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

How Do You Learn to Manage People?

We’ve taken an interest in people managers since the beginning of the pandemic. Because as we supported different experiences across companies, we quickly saw the pressure point was people managers. And we wrote and coached about how to handle worry, loss, loneliness…. and inconsistencies in work. That order was the priority during the pandemic as managers were told to “look after people” first.

Then, we saw the “return to work” phase, as managers had to pivot to manage the work versus managing the people. Some stepped in and took it on themselves so they could look after people and look after work when the two were in conflict with each other.

And now with company plans firmly in place, people managers are expected to be firmer in managing people. In the last two years, people managers have come full circle with giving feedback, reviews and sometimes performance ratings that communicate less flexibility and more expectation. And through it all, new pain points for people managers have emerged.
Anecdotally, we set out to learn a few things from both perspectives: the managers themselves and the people being managed. And we came away with interesting insights.

When people managers were asked to rate themselves in terms of effectiveness, (scale of 1-5; 1=poor and 5=outstanding), the average was a 3.5. Some were threes and some were fours, but everyone we talked to considered themselves average or a little above.

But when we asked for the same rating of effectiveness from people who are managed, the swing was much greater. Some employees rated their manager a five, and some rated their manager a one. And the wide discrepancy led to another realization. The people managers who were rated the highest had been managing people for more than 10 years. And those who were rated very low started managing people during the last five years.

Our hypothesis became: your skill set at managing people has a lot to do with when you became a people manager.

People managers with a lot of experience under their belt now say the pandemic chaos was an anomaly. As their companies reset, they reset their management skills to conversation guidelines, feedback processes and team expectations that they learned to do a while ago. They have a toolkit that needs some refinement, but they find the fundamentals of managing people to be the same.

People managers who took on teams in the last five years see their role as inconsistent, and their experience has only been the frenetic shifts described above. Many say they aren’t confident being a people manager, and they don’t feel that they have much of a toolkit to guide them. They’ve been handed a new playbook every year and the guidance swings from “anything goes” to “enforce expectations” with smaller pivots in between.

If you ask the more experienced managers how they developed management skills, they all say their skills evolved over time and they learned by watching others and asking others for guidance.

That wasn’t a model that was sustainable during remote work and high-stress situations. So, it’s little wonder that newer managers feel they didn’t get the same guidance or support. And it’s why we’ve taken an interest in helping these younger managers feel more confident in the tools and their skills in managing people.

Work situations are different today, and both experienced and inexperienced managers told us that they find feedback conversations to be challenging.

Today, they’re managing a false sense of confidence from young employees, a stronger demand for personal preference and exceptions, and a concern that every conversation will be a negotiation. They brace for resistance and feel good when they can avoid conflict.

The seasoned managers have a better perspective on assessing behaviors and showing empathy without trading off work.

So while all managers feel they’re being tested by some of their employees, the more experienced managers have “seen things before” and feel more confident in their ability to work things out and get to resolution.

And interestingly, employees see the difference. When we asked those who rated a manager low what skills the manager needed, they say managers need to set clear goals and hold people accountable. They want constructive feedback, and they want to advance in their careers. But they admit they’re impatient about it and often feel the younger manager is in the way of their advancement rather than supporting their path.

The pain points were easy to identify with young managers and their teams. But as we’ve prioritized this development need, we’ve also talked to HR leaders to be sure we’re aligned on what the gap actually is.

And it has multiple components.

Guidelines for Hybrid Work – All managers need a reset on dealing with the blurred lines created by a new way of work. Every company has a return to work strategy, but in most cases, the strategy is different enough that managing people in a hybrid setting is still a development need.

Manager Network – Young managers can’t evolve over time as their predecessors did. In fact, many of their role models are no longer in the workforce to mentor them. The early retirement and remote work of seasoned managers has created a gap in companies. And managers need a structured network and sounding board to support each other.

Manager Toolkit & Tools – While they may have some tools, they want training that brings all the tools together. They don’t have time to find different pieces. They want the best practices for feedback and crucial conversations and guidance on applying them to their situations.

Brand & Confidence – Open dialogs have led to direct feedback from their teams. Sometimes charged with emotion, and sometimes just deflating. But demanding employees can erode a manager’s confidence, and they want to understand how their brand is perceived and how to hold their own in a tough conversation.

We’ve taken an interest in people managers because we know how critical they are in companies, and we hear the pain as we talk to them in workshops and coaching sessions. While it’s no one’s fault that the gap developed, it will be everyone’s problem if young managers don’t gain confidence in their ability to manage.

And that’s why we’ve developed a program that focuses on the components above. We’re talking to companies about how to leverage it and how to tailor it to the needs of their managers. And if you’re experiencing similar challenges, we’d welcome a chance to talk to you as well.


Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates


Why is it that the best communicators fall flat when put in a studio to produce a video?

The seasoned communicators who’ve tried it will tell you it’s because it’s too scripted. They prefer a more informal and conversational approach. Or they say, it’s too constricted.  They believe their energy comes from movement, and they want to move around like they would on a stage.

And while both the tighter content and the limited movement are concepts that take adjustment, the biggest difference that communicators struggle with is the lack of an audience.

It’s ironic because when you ask communicators in other settings what makes them nervous or throws off their focus, the common issue is the audience. “The group was bigger than I expected, I didn’t know a senior leader would be there, or they weren’t as interested in my topic as I was told.” If you find the audience to be a challenge as a communicator, you’ll find the lack of one makes video production even harder.

Ask anyone who’s produced a lot of videos and they’ll tell you: the hardest part of video is understanding how to lead a one-sided conversation as if it were a two-sided one. And essentially, that’s what changes the most.

For years, we’ve guided our executive coaching clients to get comfortable with video as a medium. But we couldn’t have predicted how quickly it would take hold as different ways of work evolved, and leaders weren’t in front of employees as frequently. Today, more than 50% of internal communications is done via video. And by video, I don’t mean live communication that’s hosted on a virtual platform. I’m referring to taped communication that is produced for sound bites, promotion and engagement on topics.

And it’s not just leaders who are using it. Video has become an easy way to get information out in a short format. Companies are adding studios to their offices, and they’re creating pre-taped messages to support most internal initiatives. The only piece missing are communicators who are effective with the format.

That’s because it’s different enough that skills don’t easily adapt to it. Communicators need some help translating and adapting what they know about energy and engagement to the new format.

In fact, whether you’re the coach or the coachee working on a video format, it’s important to make sure the skill set of the communicator starts with an understanding of intent more than technique.

Too often, people who coach communicators give tips and techniques that mask poor habits rather than working through them.

And when a communicator tries to translate those techniques to a different setting, it seldom works because the old habit is still there.

Across all settings, our focus always begins by talking to a communicator about their toolkit. Every communicator has the same one: their body, their voice and the listener. The tools don’t change across settings; a communicator’s understanding of how to leverage them does.

So how do you coach a communicator to be impactful through video?

First, you talk about scripts. Some communicators have learned to use teleprompters for keynotes and large stage events. In this setting, they can use headlines and short-form bullets as an outline. But when producing video, the content has to be much tighter. Videos have 2-3 minutes to be compelling and succinct. It’s sound bites, it’s phrases – and it’s always scripted. The conversational tone most communicators want to convey comes through in style, not content. Coaching someone to read a script in a conversational way is step one.

Second, you focus on the body. Video requires a more settled presence. Movement is distracting. Some people like to stand to get involved in what they’re saying, but most people do their best seated on a stool. Either way, the goal is to get someone forward toward the camera. Coaching focuses on helping a communicator feel settled and involved at the same time.

The third coaching area is the voice. Video requires someone to be able to land a point and create energy through effort behind the voice. Foundational skills translate easily to video in terms of articulation and projection. The harder coaching concepts are landing a point and putting emotion behind words and phrases.

And that leads to the missing element: the audience. Communicators leverage energy and engagement back and forth with listeners in other settings and when it isn’t there, their own energy drops quickly. Unfortunately, it’s easy to spot. Someone who doesn’t know how to connect through video will look as if they’re staring. The eyes become hard, and it’s easy to see them reading the script.  That’s less about reading and more about keeping expression active in communication.

If you’ve worked with SW&A on presence and style, you know the answer. Connection is less about looking at someone and more about drawing response from someone. Again, it’s the intent of connecting with someone and less the technique of eye contact.

When we coach someone how to engage with a listener, we illustrate the two-way interaction of connection. And if you understand the essence of connection, you can translate it to video. It is the concept of leading a one-sided conversation as if it were a two-sided one. You have to work for emotion, you have to work for response – even though you won’t get it. What you will get is expression through the communicator’s eyes and face. And that’s what makes video feel as if a communicator is talking directly to a listener.

Video is a powerful medium when it’s done well. And it’s a frustrating one when seasoned communicators don’t know how to execute it.

We can help!

SW&A coaches communicators to connect through video in 1:1 coaching and group workshops. And we can ensure that when the lights and cameras come on, there will be great energy on your side of the lens.

As always, we’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

The Art of Answering Questions

When we work with individuals or teams to prepare for important presentations, our debrief always includes interest in the questions asked throughout the presentation. And the response is varied. Some presenters say they received no questions, others share a few and some presenters can’t remember.

Sometimes, they brush it off and want to talk more about how they did than how the listeners reacted. And yet, questions are arguably the most important part of most communication.  The questions asked by listeners reveal how the information was received and how it’s likely to be used once the meeting wraps up.

When we coach big moments, we talk to presenters about how to impose questions on a group as a way to gauge what they heard and whether they’re aligned before the presentation ends. Questions are the clearest indicator a communicator gets on how well they transferred knowledge.

But answering questions is not a skill that most communicators learn or practice.

And that’s because questions aren’t considered to be critical or challenging early in your career.

In fact, as you begin to present to colleagues, questions may be easy to manage. You know the audience well, and when they ask questions, it’s easy to understand why they’re asking.  They want to know how a topic impacts their work or their role.  And chances are, the questions ask for more detail around something in the presentation.  So, you can go an inch deeper or restate a concept to offer more context.

There may also be a manager in the room who manages the scope of questions for you.  So, when someone asks for more detail or challenges a detail, you may get air cover to shut down a line of questioning or keep the topic in scope.

Early on, communicators rarely say they didn’t understand the reason a question was asked.

And yet, as opportunities expand and audiences become more diverse, that’s the most common complaint we hear from communicators. “I have no idea why they asked me that question.”

In the toolkit of communication skills, the inability to answer questions effectively will become a vulnerability for a communicator. And in fact, it will also become a determining factor of whether they continue to gain visibility to different groups.

As leaders interact with communicators, they always gauge how well someone shows up. Style and presence matters, clarity of messaging matters. But the ability to transfer knowledge through how questions are answered may matter the most. If confidence and clarity got you in a high-stakes meeting, it’s the ability to manage questions well that gets you back to the next one.

In fact, the ability to answer questions well is one of the most universal skills of communication because every manager and leader has to answer questions. Questions transcend across every setting from conference keynotes to media interviews, from investor days to board rooms, and from customer meetings to employee round tables. If you learn to manage questions well, you will leverage it in every step of your career.

It isn’t easy.

Questions are dynamic. They come from listeners, so you prepare for them the same way you prepare your storyline. You can anticipate about 60% of what will be asked if you consider the listeners’ perspective. But questions require real-time, in the moment content that means thinking on your feet and being as clear and focused as you were throughout the presentation.

As your career advances, questions become harder because audiences and listeners get more diverse. You don’t have the understanding that you did when you spoke to colleagues. You don’t always know why someone asks a question or how they’re trying to apply your response. It takes a new skill set and an intentional process to think on your feet and manage questions effectively.

We coach a three-step model for answering questions.

STEP ONE:  Adjust the Question.

On any given topic, presenters have a defined sweet spot. It’s the scope of what they know and the depth of what they can answer. And yet, they rush in to answer things that they may not understand. They stumble when they try to answer anything and everything.

With broader audiences and more senior leaders, questions aren’t as simple or as clear. Leaders ask questions to connect recommendations or challenges to their areas of a business. And often, the communicator won’t know their area or can’t easily transfer their knowledge to it. So, they have to listen to the question and adjust the questions to what they can answer. Confidence in answering questions begins with the ability to adjust the question to your sweet spot.

STEP TWO:  Answer in a Sentence.

Because the presenter often feels that the Q&A section is more informal, they shift from being “on point” to a more casual communication style. They think out loud and often ramble through an answer to get to a point. That makes it hard to follow a response, and it annoys the more seasoned listener. Learning to pause and organize a focused response is a discipline that comes with answering questions well. A one sentence answer signals a definitive response, whether it means a definitive answer or not.

STEP THREE: Illustrate a Response.

Once a listener reacts to a clear response, you can expand on an answer and offer more context or illustration of how your response applies to a function within the company. The more complex questions tend to evolve into a back and forth with a listener, and communicators need to be comfortable with managing questions that don’t have easy answers. They lead to more questions.


Questions with tougher audiences and more seasoned listeners are still a sign of transferring knowledge. But the application of concepts isn’t as clear, and questions often open up more discussion. Communicators become facilitators who can guide a diverse group to common takeaways.

If you’ve reached a point in your career where communication has shifted from informing groups to trying to influence decisions, then answering questions is now a critical skill. And because it’s a common gap and frequent request, we’ve pulled it out of our content programs and developed a workshop focused solely on the art of answering questions and thinking on your feet.

Check out Handling the Q&A as an upcoming Open Program or get a tailored one-day program for your team!

As always, we’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Your Time vs Their Time – The Mystique of Promotions

It’s January 23… and you’ve wrapped up one year and launched headfirst into another one. And buried within the holidays and celebrations is an end-of-the-year touchpoint. In that touchpoint discussion, managers will give feedback, a compensation review and sometimes a promotion.

It’s the “sometimes” that has created tension inside organizations. And while we work with many people to prepare for the end-of-year conversations, we also start coaching with people when they didn’t get what they want.

Promotions, or the lack of them, create tension in organizations, hard feelings between managers and employees – and a lot of misunderstanding with everyone. In fact, the tension around it has increased in recent years.

People managers feel like they get asked about promotions 3x more often than they used to. Most feedback sessions lead to “what’s in it for me,” and many employees want to meet frequently to be sure that their “promotion” and advancement is on track. Managers say that the language has shifted from “What’s my next opportunity?” to “You need to promote me” and “You owe me a promotion.” That’s a pretty demanding employee!

Employees are worried about falling behind. They’re worried about an increased cost of living. They want to hold onto the more flexible lifestyle and work style, and they’re impatient about getting to the next opportunity. They’re trying to shift the timing from when they want it to when the company is ready to do it.

That suggests that some employees don’t really understand how the timing of promotions works.

And the answer is: it depends.

There are some concepts that are universal for all companies.

  • Promotions never happen because an employee asked for it. Promotions happen on a company’s time and when an opening or increased responsibility call for it.
  • Promotions are rarely the sole decision of one leader.
  • Promotions are best impacted by what you do vs. what you ask for.
  • Promotions are more relational than transactional.

The concepts may seem clear. They may also seem rigid as if there’s little you can do to influence them in your favor. It may feel like there’s an invisible playbook inside a company, and some people seem to have one and you don’t. It’s more likely that some employees seek guidance and coaching and developed their own playbook for career advancement.

Here’s how we’d guide you to do the same.

Appreciate Feedback. Act on It.
Even though you aren’t in charge of when promotions happen, pay attention when these touchpoints occur. Even if you weren’t promoted, your career was discussed. Managers are most likely to share their thoughts –and the sound bites of others – as they go through a review.

Don’t challenge your manager’s perspective. Seek to understand it. If you come across as defensive or resistant, you won’t get much more. When you have constructive feedback, act on it. Not by trying to prove a leader wrong, but more by trying to shift an impression.

It doesn’t matter if impressions are accurate. It’s someone else’s perspective. And they have a right to it. You need to change it, not debate it.

In a coaching session, we ask you: what feedback you’ve gotten recently and what you’ve done with the feedback. Everyone answers the first question. Most people say “nothing” on the second one.

Managers vs Coaches.
Everybody has a manager, not everybody has a coach within that manager. And that’s OK. You shouldn’t put your career opportunities in the hands of one person anyway. Most promotions are decided by committee. But you should be savvy about where you stand with the manager you have.

In a coaching session, we ask you: where you stand in a manager’s pecking order. Are you the right-hand person for your manager? If not, are you second? And if not, chances are your manager may not be your best advocate. You have plenty of support in your current role. You just might not have the coach who’s going to help you move beyond it.

If there were an invisible playbook, page two would tell you to build an internal network. Build champions and coaches inside an organization, and they will support your future steps.

Results Speak Loudest.
There is an “I’m owed” mentality that is showing up in touchpoints. And it doesn’t fare well in a corporate setting. Promotions start with company needs, not individual ones. They will align, and promotions are likely. But you do more to promote yourself by your work vs. your words.

In a coaching setting, we talk to you about how you position your work and your brand. And this is often where some employees outshine others. They know how to package themselves more effectively. And instead of talking about what they should get, they talk more about what they’ve done.

Stop By, Say Hi!
We are still adjusting to new ways of working. The advantages of flexibility outweigh the trade-offs for most employees, but promotions are about visibility and relationships. And if they don’t know you…they don’t promote you. That’s not your manager’s responsibility, it’s yours. No matter how you’re working, you need to put added effort into relational time with your leader and others.

While we’ve heard a lot about how much employees need flexibility in their schedules, we’ve also heard what leaders say about adjusted work environments.

“If I’ve seen you in three Zoom meetings with 10 other people, I don’t know you.”

We know that promotions start with relationships. To promote you, I don’t just need to know your work. I need to know you to endorse you within the company.


Promotions are key points across a career, and as a result, they get a lot of attention. But worry less about timing and more about effort. Because there’s a lot you can do to greatly improve your chances.

If your year-end touchpoint didn’t go as you had planned, let’s talk about how you can proactively improve your opportunity.

As always, we’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

The Expectations of Executive Presence

In the last few months, we began our research for an updated release of our first book, The Hidden Factor. Written more than a decade ago, the book defined presence and offered executive-level insights on how presence helps some employees get ahead while the lack of it holds other employees back. Presence was viewed as a collection of attributes and expectations that increased with more visibility and responsibility across a career.

Our first book provided executive-level input on how employees show up in a business setting, and we’ve coached to those impressions and expectations for thirty years. In fact, we would say that the concepts of presence: Confidence, Commitment and Connection, are validated over and over again as we talk to managers and leaders about impact and influence.

But a decade ago now seems like a lifetime ago. And as we continue to provide expertise on presence, we’ve collected new insights to challenge and confirm our direction. And in our recent surveys and interviews, we researched two different perspectives: how employees think about presence in a leader and how leaders observe presence in employees.

As our work continues on our fifth book, here are some preliminary thoughts that may help you consider presence in your work environment today:

A Leader’s Presence – the Employees’ Perspective

Ten years ago, we ranked the attributes of presence. And while most of the original concepts are still there, the order of importance has shifted. While confidence, credibility and professionalism led the pack originally, today’s employees focus more on authenticity, believability and engagement.

It doesn’t mean that confidence and credibility are less important. It means to really influence an employee, a leader has to have more than that.

And leaders got a lot of that feedback and coaching during the pandemic. They were guided to share more about themselves and to start with a human connection before a business concept. It has elevated expectations of a leader to a compelling communicator. And leaders are seeking skills to become memorable and repeatable. It taps into our work on storytelling, and in many cases, the pandemic helped leaders get a jumpstart on this skill.

Storytelling is valued enough to be considered an expected attribute of presence in leaders. If you lead a large division or a function with multiple teams and you haven’t mastered storytelling, you’re behind your peers. It’s the element of presence that brings content and style together by helping a communicator establish lasting impressions and repeatable sound bites.

But if leaders are a little ahead on new expectations, employees themselves may be behind.

An Employee’s Presence – the Leaders’ Perspective:

When you ask leaders to think about how they notice presence in employees, there are some new dynamics to consider. Working remote or hybrid has had an impact on how easy or difficult it is to establish presence with leaders. And in several of our discussion groups, managers called this out directly. They say establishing presence is harder because they just don’t get as many opportunities. And it seems leaders feel the same.

Here are three themes we identified in surveys and conversations with leaders.

First, presence hasn’t changed. Choices have.

Leaders have stayed consistent to impressions and how they describe the impact of presence on someone’s visibility and opportunity. Bottom-line: “Like everyone else, I form an impression of you from how you communicate and how you present yourself in business settings.” But as employees have shifted with flexible hours, flexible settings and flexible everything else, the opportunity for comparison is more obvious.

Leaders would say an employee with presence stands out so much more today because of all the other choices being made around them. From how people show up in meetings to when they show up in the office, from lack of focus to lack of clarity, from being prepared to being unclear. And by extending the boundaries of how we work, we’ve also opened up more opportunities to miss the mark.

Second, in-person presence trumps virtual presence. Every time.

“You can’t confuse the convenience of virtual with the influence of in-person.”

A good analogy is this: You’re sitting in a room with a person and the television is on. You’re watching something together. But as you engage with each other, it’s easy for the show to be drowned out as you take more of an interest in your conversation with each other. You feed on each other’s enthusiasm which is expressed through body language and voice energy. There’s just more to take in and more to influence when you’re with someone.

It doesn’t mean that virtual can’t work. By focusing on the television, you and the other person in the room can choose to make the television the focal point. But it takes agreement and combined focus to make it happen. And in a business setting, a really good facilitator. And that puts your ability to make an impact in the hands of someone else.

Third, leveraging impressions is a lot about relationships. They matter.

If your presence is established as an initial impression, it takes repetition of that impression for people to attach presence to your brand. It’s how people begin to think about you and talk about you when you’re not around. They describe you to others, and they leverage you in different places.

Presence opens the door to new relationships. But leaders are talking a lot about the lack of relationships with newer employees.

In our discussions, one leader said: “If I’ve seen you twice a month in a virtual meeting and you’re one of ten people, I don’t really know you. I don’t think of that as a relationship. I only know you related to the skills you’re discussing in the meeting.” And without the more relaxed opportunity to form a relationship, it’s harder for leaders to assess expanded responsibility and consider promotion. For employees, it’s harder to have a network of champions.


As we head into another year of hybrid working and expanded choices, you should think about how presence shows up in your business setting. From leaders to managers, the expectations of presence have stayed consistent. But a lot about how we establish a presence has changed. And that’s going to take more effort around fewer opportunities. It means learning how to have a presence in the way you’ve been asked to work or the way you’ve chosen to work.

Resetting presence is a priority for us in the year ahead. And we anticipate 2024 will add another book to our resources.

As always, we’re here when you need us and hope you’ll consider how we can help you and your team reset presence in the year ahead.

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Influencing Without Authority

TAKE US WITH YOU! Listen to this article on the go:

There’s a path in career advancement that isn’t always easy to navigate. It’s the spot between individual contributor and seasoned manager. And for some, the path never appears and for others, it’s as if the path was clear all along.

There’s some mystique to who finds the path and runs up it quickly and who turns a different way and misses the path altogether. Maybe some were given specific landmarks and guidance so they wouldn’t miss it. Maybe some knew where to turn and chose not to.

And it begs the question: who picks the path and who guides the turns?

Sometimes an earnest employee does it on their own. They jump in and seek guidance and can find their way. Sometimes it’s circumstances around a project or a big initiative that forces someone into management. But most often, it’s a mentor, a sponsor or a leader who sees something in someone that signals manager potential:

  • Where do they see it? In everyday meetings or quarterly presentations.
  • How do they evaluate it? Group reaction and response.
  • And what do they call it? The ability to influence without authority.

It can be as subtle as someone who gains alignment with conflicting perspectives or as bold as someone who knows how to set options and impose action. It’s a skill that, once learned, will follow you throughout your career. And it’s a differentiator between an individual contributor and a management candidate.

The most common feedback employees get as they begin to gain visibility is: “You’re in the weeds. You’re sharing too much detail.” It’s feedback that means we’re asking you to recognize the difference in what you’re actually doing and how we’re asking you to communicate about it.

Let’s take two employees and consider what they missed.

First, John, a product supervisor. John has responsibility for upgrading a product and getting it back in the market in six months. John scoped the project in order to get buy-in and financing. And now, every day, he leads a huddle with the five developers working on it. He has a project manager who works with him to manage the flow of changes and incremental sets. Most days, John’s time is spent problem-solving with one of those developers.

John’s Mindset: John is in the weeds. He understands where he started on the project and he understands the end game of what he’s trying to deliver. He was a part of the conversations when the decision was made to invest in upgrading this product and why it matters to customers.

How John Communicates: If you ask John to attend a meeting and report on this project, you’re going to hear the play-by-play steps of what they’re changing, how they’re changing it, where they’ve gotten stuck, and what they’ve done to solve it.

Your experience of Emily will be similar.

Emily runs a lead gen process for a B:B sales team. She sits within the marketing organization, but her customer is sales. She runs weekly campaigns based on targeted personas, implied needs, and new verticals. She has a team of four, and they are deep in the weeds of watching website activity, tracking outbound mailings, and making real-time changes to adjust to activity.

Emily’s Mindset: She meets with her team daily, and she works with each individual on the specific campaigns they manage. Emily is deep in the weeds and close to the adjustments made on each activity or data point.

How Emily Communicates: If you ask Emily for an update, you’re going to get the play-by-play of each campaign’s activity and adjustments.

So, let’s go into meetings and see how others respond to them.

Assume you’re the VP Product and, quarterly, you meet with the VP Sales to let her know how things are progressing, so that her team can communicate what’s coming to customers. You invite John to give an update on the product upgrade and within five minutes, the VP Sales is shaking her head. After the meeting she says to you, “I didn’t understand any of that. What am I supposed to do with that information?”

John provided an update on the workflow and progress behind the update. He didn’t provide the strategic message that the VP Sales hoped to hear. She wanted to know how the update would impact the company’s customers, not how it was literally taking place. John was not effective in that meeting.

Now assume that you’re the VP of Sales and you have your regional directors coming in for a meeting. You’ve asked Emily to provide an overview of lead generation. At the end of Emily’s presentation, your district leaders were confused by the amount of data and didn’t understand what to plan for next quarter.

Just like John, Emily approached this visibility moment as an opportunity to showcase the work of her team. Her audience wanted to align her actions to their opportunities. Emily was not effective in her meeting.

In both meetings, the listeners’ impressions were:

  • Too in the weeds…
  • Misses the point…
  • Unclear on the takeaway…

We describe it as the difference in talking about what you’re doing versus talking about the outcome you’ll deliver. But if you’re John or Emily, they would say that’s oversimplifying their biggest challenge. And the challenge is they don’t always see the difference in doing the work and communicating about the work. And it’s a skill that our team calls communicating and influencing without authority.

It’s communicating from the listener’s perspective and thinking about the value your listeners will take away from your insights. It’s worrying less about reporting on what you’re doing and putting in the context of a strategic mindset. This is the skill that allows some people to climb the manager path early. They’ve learned to speak someone else’s language so that communication aligns to what someone else is trying to accomplish.

Employees like John and Emily need help understanding the difference in supporting outcomes versus partnering on outcomes. It’s a shift from communicating activity to communicating outcomes.

When we coach that skill, it changes an employee’s momentum within a company. It improves their ability to influence conversations today, and it increases high-visibility moments, which leads to the next steps in their career faster.

And as we continue to see companies ask managers to step up quickly, we know this skill belongs in their toolkit. And that’s why we’ve packaged it as a new program for 2024. If you’d like to help one person step up for a promotion or your entire team partner more effectively with internal groups, give us a call. We’ve got the solution you need.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates