Lead with Influence–Secret of an NFL Rookie Coach

October 28, 2007

Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers held their collective breath as the 2007 season started.  Their new coach, Mike Tomlin, was a surprise pick by the Rooney family, who owns the team.  Pittsburghers like to win, and Tomlin was an unknown rookie.

According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Ron Cook, the Steeler players had concerns too when Tomlin came on board last spring.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reminded the new coach to gain the players’ respect and commitment.  Chances are Roethlisberger didn’t have to remind Tomlin about the players’ fierce loyalty to retired coach Bill Cowher.  Cowher had led the team for 14 years, one of which featured a Super Bowl win.

By the time the 2007 season actually began, the players were solidly impressed with their new coach—Tomlin stepped up to his new position with confidence and authority.  He also, it seems, had a ready knack to lead with influence.The team responded to their new leader’s influence with a blast, decisively winning their first three games.  Exactly how did the rookie coach lead with influence?

One secret, according to Ron Cook, was to follow an expected action with an unexpected one. 

The expected:  Tomlin met with each player during the spring minicamp. 

The unexpected:  He followed those meetings with handwritten letters to many of his players.Tomlin sent his letters via the post office, not e-mail. 

Each letter was personalized and quoted the conversation Tomlin had had with the player.  In sending these letters, Tomlin extended an old-fashioned lead with influence gesture.  It didn’t cost a lot, and it didn’t take a lot of time, especially considering what was at stake. 

Tomlin reported, “I’ve just always been a guy who, if something moves me, I respond to it.  And I’ve always believed a written letter is more meaningful than an e-mail or phone call.”

The results of Tomlin’s leadership gesture are instructive, especially for those of us who hope to build influence and credibility with others.  Hines Ward, the 2005 Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, reported that he carries his letter from Tomlin in his Bible.  How’s that for influence?!

Linebacker Larry Foote explained his reaction, “He [Tomlin] proved to me that he listened and that he thought what I had to say was important.”  Defensive end Aaron Smith said the letters made a huge statement because the coach took time to write them.  Because the letters were personalized rather than mass produced, they meant a lot.  Smith filed his letter.

Based on comments from players and performance so far this season, those handwritten letters played at least some part in gaining influence and commitment for the rookie leader.  Handwritten letters might help you lead with influence as well.  It’s a good time to get out your pen.

Copyright 2007 by inCredible Messages, LP.  Permission to reprint granted with the following attribution:

For more articles on gaining influence and commitment, visit www.IncredibleMessages.com


Avoid This Stupid Mistake #5: Begin Your Speech with an Apology

October 15, 2007

Here’s the situation:  An accomplished physician and researcher from Puerto Rico was presenting at a conference of her peers in the United States.   The physician was uneasy about the fact that English is a second language for her.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  “First,” the doctor began, “I want to apologize for my English.” Sitting in the audience, I felt the energy drain out of the room. Audience members collectively caught their breath, preparing to sit through a problematic presentation.  I wanted to rewind the tape and skip the apology. Apologizing in a speech, especially in the introduction, automatically decreases your effectiveness.

Not only did the doctor’s apology expose a lack of confidence, it diverted attention from her expertise. The apology was entirely unnecessary—the doctor’s skills as a clinician and a researcher had earned her the right to present.

Here’s how to handle this situation:  It is appropriate to acknowledge an obvious difference that might distract audience members from your content, something like a heavy accent or the presence of a wheelchair. The doctor might have begun, “I’ve come from Puerto Rico to report significant findings from my research. These findings may impact your clinical practice in substantial ways. As we work together today, you might notice that English is not my first language. Sometimes my brain goes faster in Spanish than my tongue can translate.

The same is true if you should encounter a problem with the room, with the equipment, or with another speaker failing to arrive on time. If the audience knows about the problem, acknowledge it. Then confidently report how you are going to handle the situation and get on with it. If you appear to take the situation in stride, the audience will as well.

Acknowledge differences and problems that arise, but skip the apology. Your credibility—and often the success of your presentation—depend on it.

To learn ten techniques for a terrific opening for your speech, including examples, go to http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.

Easy Route to Influential Presentation

October 9, 2007

Recently I had the privilege of being a “fly on the wall” while my well-respected mentor worked magic.  I was invited to attend a 3-day seminar, where the featured speaker was Glenna Salsbury. Glenna (as she is known by her friends and clients) is a successful and award-winning speaker. She is Past President of the National Speakers Association, and a member of that organization’s Speaker Hall of fame.  At 70 years old, Glenna is one of the most experienced and decorated speakers on this planet.

During the course of the three-day event, I overheard many positive comments about
Glenna.  This was no surprise, because Glenna is a great speaker who can hold an audience spellbound.  Her stories are powerful, and her sense of humor is infectious.

There was, however, a definite surprise.  The surprise came in which words of praise I overhead most often: “She came to the registration desk before the conference to meet us. I don’t expect that from a speaker. It was really nice.”

Sometimes the simplest gestures have the most profound impact. How simple is it to show up early and introduce yourself?  You don’t need years of experience or oodles of rehearsal to do that.

Next time you face presentation jitters, get a head start on a successful event. Arrive early, bring your smile, and a friendly handshake. If you already know members of the audience, use the time to establish a considerate, positive tone before the presentation begins. Your audience will praise you for this.  What’s more, research shows that a positive connection increases your power to influence others and gain commitment.

Stupid Mistake #4: Introduce Your Speech Offensively

October 2, 2007

This entry is somewhat different from the others in the series. It describes a choice one speaker made for impact–rather than a mistake.  I submit this description respectfully and leave it for you to decide whether the choice is wise or not, and under what circumstances. 

Here’s the situation: At a large conference, Ed Tate, a Toastmasters champion speaker, shared his 8-minute award winning speech at a break-out session on how to tell a great story.  I bought the recording of the session.

Ed Tate opened his winning story with the “N” word.  Perhaps he has earned the right to do this because he has been on the receiving end of this word as taunt. This is not mine to judge. 

During the session, Tate explained that his opening attracts attention, and he doesn’t mind making people uncomfortable.  He has made a strategic choice to open his story in this way. 

Working as a design consultant for a communications course for a graduate program, I suggested Tate’s recording as a resource.  The entire resource was quickly dismissed because the client, an African American, finds the “N” word offensive, no matter who says it or what the context. 

Here’s the stupid mistake:  While it’s not for me to tell persons of color when and how they have the right to use certain words, I can’t help but notice that using a controversial word cost Ed Tate a lot of exposure and potential business. 

By choosing to open his speech in a potentially offensive way, Tate created a situation in which some people will not even listen to his message, let alone fairly judge its value.  The fact that Tate’s story won him the title of Toastmaster Champion is irrelevant to my client.  She will not listen to the story on principle.  The question is, how many people share her view?  What does this mean to Tate, his business, and/or his moral message? 

Here’s the solution:  I am not prepared to criticise Ed Tate or anyone else who makes a conscious choice about how to use words.  We have the right to use words to shock if that’s what we choose.

At the same time, I believe there are plenty of non-offensive ways to attract attention.  It’s safest to have a policy that says, “I will avoid potentially offensive words, racial comments, sexual comments, and ethnic comments at all times.”  The backlash of carelessness just doesn’t seem worth it to me.  I don’t want to be famous with a Don Imus kind of fame, and I don’t want my messages rejected without being heard.

Capture people’s attention with startling statistics, amazing facts, powerful images and verbal pictures.  Use your imagination–the possibilities are endless.

To learn ten techniques to introduce your speech, including examples, go to http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.