When there are communication issues, leaders should step up. Are you sure that you are leading with impact and influence throughout your organization? It’s time to drive change and make a massive difference because everyone could benefit from that. Join Elizabeth Bachman as she talks with Carla Miller on dealing with difficult situations. Carla dives deep into developing the confidence you need to increase impact and influence. Carla Miller is a leadership coach and board-level facilitator who works with women in management and leadership roles to develop their careers. Tune in to unleash the inner leader within you.
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Leading With Impact And Influence: Unleashing The Leader Within With Carla Miller
This is the show where we interview experts from around the world on such subjects as leadership, visibility, presentation skills and communication challenges. Before I begin this episode, I want to invite you to test how your presentation skills are by going to our free four-minute assessment at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where a little support might get you the results and the recognition that you need.
My guest is Carla Miller, who is a United Kingdom-based leadership coach. She has very interesting things to say about image, impact, how you present yourself, how you manage and give feedback to the people on your team and how you could also manage up and manage sideways. She is a leadership coach and board-level facilitator who works with women in management and leadership roles to develop their careers and confidence.
Hundreds of female leaders have taken part in her Influence & Impact Programme from companies including British Telecom, Channel 4, Muller and Deloitte and UK national charities, such as The National Health Service and the Civil Service. Her own leadership experience includes raising £20 million for good causes and leading the fundraising at Samaritans and many other UK national charities.
She was the CEO of Tiny Tickers and then Managing Director of Charity People, which is a leading charity recruitment consultancy, alongside founding her own coaching business. Her work is inspired by the challenges she had to overcome to succeed. She’s on a mission to empower 10,000 women in their careers. She hosts a chart-topping podcast, Influence & Impact for Female Leaders. She’s featured in national media, such as The Guardian and Psychologies magazine, and she regularly works as a chairman for conference panels on leadership. Without further ado, onto the conversation with Carla Miller.
Carla Miller, I’m so happy to have you as a guest on the show.
Thank you. I’m delighted to be here. It’s great that we finally made time to talk to each other.
We’ve had several reschedules, so I’m glad that we made it happen. Before we dive into the part about leadership and all of that, let me ask you the question I ask all my guests, which is if you were to have a dream interview with someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them and who should be listening?
I had to think about this because as a women’s leadership coach, I was like, “It has to be a woman.” I couldn’t think of a huge number of female role models that aren’t around surrounding me. I went for a lady called Anita Roddick, who was a big inspiration for me when I was growing up as a teenager wanting to make a difference. She was the founder of The Body Shop. The Body Shop did make it beyond the UK then, did it?
It’s all over America. I’ve seen The Body Shop all over the world. I’ve seen it in many places.
She was so ahead of her time in terms of having this real vision for doing things differently. That’s what I’d love to ask her about.
For our international audiences, can you say a little bit about The Body Shop? Especially for people who didn’t ever go buy lotion there, hand lotion, soap or whatever.
The Body Shop was the first brand and retailer here in the UK that had a real environmental focus. They were the first to start using organic products, the first to encourage recycling. Everything was as natural as possible and very different from what the big brands were doing at the time. She wrote a couple of books about it as well. Me and every teenager I knew had the same perfume. We all had The Body Shop perfume when we were 14, 15, 16. She was hugely successful.
What would you ask her and who should be listening?
I would ask her about how she got the balance between going with her vision and her intuition and convincing stakeholders, who were probably mainly male, to get on board with that vision. How does she mix that logic and numbers with inspiring people? The idea of giving back, doing good and getting that on the agenda. For me, it’s about how does she communicate and how does she get others on board with her? I would love all the women that I work with to be able to hear that because I think that it’s much easier to start to do that yourself when you can see that other people have done it successfully when you can see that it has been done.
How much do you want to bet that once it started seriously making money, there were guys who came in and said, “Thank you, little girl. We’ll take over now?” I am sure that happened at some point. “We’ll let a man be in charge now that you’ve built it.” I always loved what The Body Shop said in terms of having organic ingredients and doing it environmentally.
Many years ago, I had a German friend visiting. He was a microbiologist who created the original formulas for shampoos and such. In Germany, it’s very strictly regulated. We had to stop at the drug store. I had to pick up some shampoo or something. He went down the aisle and he looked at the ingredients and said, “They’d never allowed that in Germany.” He looked at the next one’s ingredients, “Look at all this nothing. None of this is necessary.” That was a real eye-opener for me. I think that was about the time that The Body Shop was coming along and I remembered that. I would love to be in that conversation.
Carla, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because you teach leadership mostly to women. You have a thriving programme called Influence & Impact. You have a framework for that and it has grown during the COVID lockdown instead of closing down. I want to know, what happened to you when the lockdown came along?
Initially, there was a bit of panic. I had already been doing some coaching virtually because I’d moved out of London to the countryside. It’s easier to work virtually when you’re a solo mom to a three-year-old. I already dipped a toe in the virtual world, but I was still very much running workshops in person. I had started to gather women together and realize how much power and magic there was in bringing women together and creating this safe space.
Initially, I was like, “How am I going to pay my bills? Everyone is going to stop investing in training. This is going to be a nightmare.” We went into full-on lockdown pretty quickly here in the UK. Actually, it turned out to be a huge opportunity for me because people still craved that connection. They still had issues. In fact, their communication issues and their influencing issues were exacerbated by having to do them virtually.
Leaders in particular suddenly had a much bigger duty of care because they were having phone calls with people who were isolated because they were working alone or they had their children climbing all over them whilst they were trying to work because our schools were shut. There was a lot of need for it. It met a few of those needs in terms of connection and the skills that they needed. Also, I have found, I don’t know if you’ve found this with your clients, but impostor feelings and self-doubt seem to have been increasing through working virtually as well, because you don’t have those same reassuring touchpoints, do you?
Having a community is so important and realizing that it’s okay to do it virtually. You get so much more information in person but if you have to do it virtually, you have to do it virtually. I totally understand that. We both talked about how you walk the tight rope between a female leader, being considered bossy and being respected. You’ve talked about how to lead and still be likable. Should we be likable as a leader? Is that possible?
I believe that we can be likable and respected. That doesn’t mean that people are going to like every decision that we make. It’s absolutely possible. Should we be likable as a leader? I think we’re likable as people because we want to bring our authentic selves to work. Personally, I think there is space for those leaders who are inspiring, who are engaging, who can resonate, who have empathy and compassion and all these skills that women have brought to the table for years and have been undervalued. Even big companies like Deloitte are starting to recognize that these are the skills that leaders need to have.
I work with a lot of middle and senior managers. I see, particularly in the newer and middle managers, what I call being a Likable Lucy. These are the managers who, in their past, had a line manager who wasn’t nice to them at all, who probably made them cry. I certainly had a few of those managers earlier on in my career. They want to be the opposite of that. They want to be as nice as possible. I don’t think that nice is something we should aim for, but they want to be as nice as possible.
They don’t feel very comfortable claiming the authority that goes with their role. As women, we are trained young to take responsibility and to take responsibility for other people’s feelings and emotions. We often don’t claim the authority that goes with the job title. We’re sat there with the weight on our shoulders, trying to keep our line manager happy, not put too much on our team, making sure that everyone likes us and not asking too much of them, and not setting clear deadlines, boundaries, and expectations.
We wonder why we’re overwhelmed, overworked, stressed out and people aren’t listening to us. I try and help people move from being Unlikable Lucy and into being what I call an Impactful Izzy. Somebody who can have those clear conversations, but you can have them with kindness. I think nice is, “I don’t like conflict. I don’t want to have that difficult conversation. They might not like me. They might get upset.”
Kindness is about being honest. You’re not helping someone if you’re letting them fail in their job. Eventually, you’re going to have to manage them out because you didn’t want to have a difficult conversation about how they approach things or the fact that they’re not meeting deadlines. We can be kind and have compassion, but also be clear and be honest at the same time.
That happens with men and women, the not wanting to have the difficult conversation. If you don’t tell somebody that they’re doing a bad job or why they’re doing a bad job, they might get fired and go off and do the same bad job at the next company. I’ve certainly seen that many times where if you didn’t have the courage to have that tricky conversation. I should ask you, as likable, kind people, how can we have a difficult conversation? What tools can we use, if we’re a manager, to be clear? It’s so easy to burble along and not say anything. What kind of tools can we use to deal with a difficult conversation?
I’ve got two favorite tools that I like to use. The first is what I call your cloak of authority. I came up with this concept a few years ago when the Harry Potter films were popular. Harry Potter had a cloak of invisibility. He puts it on and no one could see him. I had to go into conversations that Carla, the person did not want to have. I want to be liked as much as anybody else. I want to be kind. I definitely don’t want to upset anyone, but it was my job to have these conversations. Carla, the Director, needed to have them.
I imagined that my job title was almost like this cloak of authority. When I put it on, that gave me the courage and the authority to step into that role fully and have those difficult conversations. That’s my first tool. People seem to love using that. You can use that in interviews. You can use that when you have to performance manage people when you go into some difficult, intimidating situation. Remember, I earned my way here and I have the authority, even if you don’t always want to hear what I have to say.
The second tool is a simple one. This isn’t mine. I’m afraid I don’t know where it originally came from. If you’re giving feedback to someone that you’re line managing, in particular, behavior, consequences, action. This is the behavior you’re exhibiting. Being as specific as possible, these are the consequences. This is why it’s a bad thing. This is why it’s not helping us. Finally, this is the action I’d like you to take differently. Often, when we’re giving feedback, we forget at least one of those crucial areas and people go away feeling a bit shamed and confused because they don’t know what to do better. That de-motivates them rather than actually giving them specific feedback that they can then use to improve.
Telling someone, “I want you to do this action,” without telling them why. That’s another version of that. What if it’s your manager or your boss who’s being difficult? How can we manage up or manage sideways and still retain the leadership, the likeability and the kindness that we want to keep?
This is where my whole Influence & Impact framework came from. That’s what it’s about. It’s not necessarily about managing downwards. It’s about how we lead ourselves and how we manage sideways and upwards. First of all, there’s the framework, which are the three areas where I saw a lot of women struggling with. The first was about strengthening your inner leader. If you doubt yourself, then you’re operating from a place of fear and it’s hard to then have those conversations. We work on impostor feelings, self-doubt, setting boundaries and saying no.
The second is around increasing your impact. This is obviously a lot of the area that you work on as well, Elizabeth. How to get your voice heard, how to speak so that others will actually listen and take action, being intentional about how you’re perceived by others, working on your personal brand and influencing for success. Speaking the language of senior stakeholders.
Whilst I wish I could sum it up in one sentence for you in terms of what your readers could do, I can’t do that, but I can say those are the three areas to work on. I do have a feedback tool, which is the equivalent of that behavior consequences action but for when you’re feeding back sideways and upwards. You have to be more delicate with that. You can’t tell the line manager, “This is what I need you to do differently.”
My suggestion is that we depersonalize it. Instead of, “This is your behavior,” we talk about, “This is the situation that is causing issues,” and then the consequences, “These are the issues it’s causing,” and then you create a vision of how it could be different. Your solution is, “This is what I suggest we,” and then the outcome, “This is how things could be better once we’ve done that.”
For example, if I’m having this conversation as a Director of Marketing with someone who’s a Director of IT and there are ongoing tensions between our team, I would say, “This situation is causing tension between our teams. There are lots of tensions. They’re around information on our side. They’re around pressure on your side. The consequences of that are that you and I are getting drawn into discussions that we shouldn’t be in at our level.
Together, let’s sit down and agree to a framework for working together so that in the future, we don’t have to get involved in those discussions and our teams are clear on boundaries and expectations.” That’s an example of it. It depersonalizes it and makes it feel like you’re working on it together rather than giving them negative feedback.
It’s so useful to have ideas on how to have these difficult conversations. As we’re talking about this, one of the things I’m always very interested in is international business. I’m wondering how you have noticed cultural differences as a manager or as someone who’s being managed with people who have different assumptions about how the world works.
I’m starting to work more in that area. For me, it’s about the need to have honest conversations and not to make huge generalizations. I’ve been working, for example, within the Influence & Impact Programme, there are 170 women at the moment. I would say the majority are UK-based because that’s where my audiences are, that’s where my background is, but we have been welcoming more international members. They talk about the different cultures that they’re experiencing.
There are some cultures where, for example, women are not as well regarded as men within the workplace openly. I work with quite a few Eastern European women where the culture is quite brisk in terms of communication. There’s not a lot of softening going on when you’re talking to someone. When you do that to someone in the UK, we’re like, “What’s going on?” We’re all about what we consider to be politeness and manners. It’s important to have those honest conversations one-to-one because everyone’s individual about how do we work well together.
As a line manager and a leader, I always think it’s good to have a conversation with the people who report to you saying, “How am I helping you and how am I making things harder for you? Tell me. Let’s be honest so that I can improve at what I’m doing as well.” There is a two-way conversation, but also not making assumptions that everybody has the same experience. That obviously comes when you’re talking about diversity and inclusion generally. Our eyes are being opened to the fact that everybody’s experience with work is different. Some of us have been very privileged in our experience of work and others have had a lot of barriers to face. Generally, we need to have more conversations where we don’t make assumptions about other people.
One of the things I have done with my trusted friends, who are especially African-American and Asian, is I say, “Please, if I say something insensitive, call me on it. Tell me so that I can catch myself.” My whole life long, the thing that has mostly gotten me in trouble is my big mouth when I say something without thinking about it. That’s been a lifelong challenge.
“If I say something, how can we do this best? If I say something, tell me later please, not in front of everybody, but say that was not a great thing to do,” because I might’ve gotten lazy and said something that I thought was funny and it wasn’t. As you are working on leading with kindness, when we’ve spoken about this before, you mentioned the word gravitas. Can you talk a little bit about gravitas, leading with gravitas and where can we buy some gravitas to put on?
It’s interesting. When I first started in the world of work many years ago, to be a leader, you needed to have gravitas. I’m using that dictionary definition of being solemn of nature. That was a default for managing and leading all the time. You just told people what to do in those days. Things have evolved since then. I feel quite strongly that being able to have gravitas is something that we need to pull on at a particular time.
In times when we need to be solid with nature, perhaps we are restructuring and performance managing. Perhaps we’re going into a room full of older men. This has happened to me a lot in my career, a lot of old men in gray suits and I’m the person who looks ten years younger than she is struggling to be taken seriously. There are times when we need gravitas, but I don’t think that to be taken seriously as a leader, we should have to be solemn of nature all the time.
I think we should be able to bring our personalities to work. In terms of how we do it, it is harder for women because the things that traditionally give you gravitas are things like having a bigger physical stature and having a lower tone of voice. I’m sure you know a huge amount about this. There are things that we can do. We don’t want to try and become like men. We can, for example, make sure that we are slowing down when we’re speaking and that we’re not letting our voices get all high-pitched when we get stressed out or nervous.
I certainly do that. It’s awareness of what you do. When I used to get questions, and then be under pressure, I would find my voice getting high-pitched. I was taking this seriously. What I had to do was go back and reframe how I looked at difficult questions and objections and realized that wasn’t about me, that wasn’t judging me at all. They just needed more information in a different way.
There are also some things you can do to realize that the way you’re generally communicating and how you’re responding to difficult situations takes away from your gravitas, body language. I’m a big fan of the power pose. Amy Cuddy’s idea of standing like Wonder Woman, obviously not in the meeting but lots of my clients go and power pose in the toilet cubicle.
Doing it at the toilet before you speak is a great way to do it.
Amy Cuddy also talks about how as women, we tend to curl in on ourselves and fiddle. Again, I’m terrible for that. Just making sure that we’re not curling in on ourselves and that we’re taking up space in every sense of the word, taking up physical space. I like to imagine there’s a net that I’m casting. When I need to have gravitas and authority, I imagine the net of my authority going into the room with me and it does. It changes your presence because this is all about presence, getting people to take what you’re saying seriously. I think it’s a mixture of those practical tools. When you become good at influencing and when you work with your inner leader and on your personal brand, you will have more gravitas, you will believe in yourself and people will be listening to what you have to say.
So much of it is about being grounded and not sabotaging ourselves, which is something that women are particularly good at, is sabotaging the way we speak or starting out with, “Sorry but could I please maybe say something,” instead of saying it with your authority.
Often we use those caveating. We use those caveats that basically say, “You probably don’t have to listen to me on this because I might not be right.” It all reflects back to you. You’d be like, “No, that’s not what I want to say,” but actually, that is how so many of us caveat or at the end we shrug. We want the attention, rather than sitting with that attention for a little bit longer to finish strong.
Do you have any suggestions for how to catch yourself when you’re doing these little unconscious sabotages?
I have a list. What I suggest people do is notice. I do this exercise with my Influence & Impact members. First of all, notice. You will have one or two stock phrases for when you are about to raise a difficult point in a busy room and you feel uncomfortable. You will also have your stock way of finishing. Maybe it’s, “That’s it from me.” First of all, recognize them, and secondly, have some phrases you can use instead.
Instead of saying, “That’s it for me. I might be wrong,” you can say, “What are your thoughts?” Quite often people say, “Is that okay?” at the end of their sentence. Instead, say, “What are your thoughts” or, “What are our next steps here? Do you have any input on that?” I have a free PDF, which is about increasing your impact as a leader. If your readers want to get that, it’s at CarlaMillerTraining.com/maximise. In that, I share some tips and give a list of some useful phrases that people can use to replace those less helpful phrases that we use.
Carla, I’m so happy we finally made this work. I’m delighted to have you on the show. I was going to ask you what the one thing you would suggest is, but I would say go to CarlaMillerTraining.com/maximise and get that free PDF. Carla, thank you so much for joining us. I’m so glad we met and I’m sure I will circle around and ask you questions again. I’m sure I would come up with more things I would have forgotten to ask you.
Thank you so much for having me.
If you’re interested in seeing more of what we do, please go over to YouTube and find our channel on YouTube and subscribe. It’s the under Elizabeth Bachman. If you’re curious about how your presentation skills are going, you can take our free assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. In four minutes, you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support would get you the results and the recognition that you’re looking for. I’ll see you on the next one.
- Influence & Impact Programme
- Tiny Tickers
- Charity People
- Influence & Impact for Female Leaders
- Carla Miller
- The Body Shop
- Elizabeth Bachman – YouTube