Last month, I had the privilege to speak at a national conference of internal auditors.
To prepare for my speech, I interviewed a small number of auditors from a cross-section of organizations and industries. It was a real eye opener as I learned about the leadership challenges they face in their roles.
In those discussions a key theme emerged – it appears that many internal auditors need to do a much better job of holding their own when working with executive teams and Boards. Many it seems, lack executive presence, which in turn undermines their credibility.
As one auditor shared, “we appear like children invited to eat at the grown-up table”.
When I actually spoke to that room of auditors, I felt compelled to share this feedback. It was hard for a lot of them to hear it, but I felt it was very important that we confront this issue head on.
To their credit, the auditors didn’t become defensive. Instead, they willingly joined me in a dialogue to explore the issue further.
Like a lot of leaders, internal auditors bring a highly specialized and technical skill set to their organizations. Historically, it was enough for an internal auditor to be strong technically; almost none of them were asked to demonstrate other leadership skills. But now they are being asked to step up beyond their technical areas of expertise. Why?
Well, it’s simple: the business world has changed a lot and all leaders are being asked do things that are outside their traditional comfort zones. The auditors in particular were finding out the hard way that technical expertise, while important, isn’t enough to earn you respect as a leader.
This isn’t unique to internal auditors. All of us in leadership roles face the challenge to step up and show up with real executive presence. But, what does this really mean?
#1. Present yourself with poise and confidence.
Everyone judges you when you are in a leadership role. Whether it’s in how you speak, dress or even the vibes you project onto others – it’s all being evaluated consciously and unconsciously. This is something I find many leaders underestimate. So you need to learn how to speak with poise and project authentic confidence. A lot of leaders struggle with this. I’ve seen leaders stumble and show insecurity when asked to participate in an executive-level discussion, and it erodes how others view them.
#2. Connect your technical experitise to overall business strategy.
This means being able to connect the projects you are working on to the strategy of the organization in a way that non-technical leaders can understand. Truly great leaders make technical issues accessible and easy for others to understand.
#3. Remain cool and calm in the face of adversity.
When you are in a meeting and being grilled, do you get overly emotional or defensive? I have found individuals who react in an overly emotional manner, lose credibility. In these moments, you need to embrace restraint, maintain a cool head and respond in a mature manner.
What about you – how would you rate your own level of executive presence?
This week’s gut check asks: are you the child at the grown-up table?
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro