A trap to avoid when engaging senior leaders

A trap to avoid when engaging senior leaders

When we talk about deeply understanding our audience, what do we really mean?

Is defining our audience as ‘the board’ or ‘the senior leadership team’ sufficient?

If your issue is uncontentious, then likely yes.

However, more often than not, leadership groups not only bring different experiences but different perspectives that we must understand if we are to engage them.

This week I helped a senior group untangle their own engagement strategy for a board paper and an issue emerged that will help you too.

The team had missed an important nuance when thinking about their individual board member's attitudes toward their paper.

They had not thought deeply enough about each person as an individual rather than part of the group.

To learn more specific ideas about how to avoid this problem, register for the Clarity Hub  and visit the Stakeholder Management area.

I hope that helps.


PS – Here are some recent podcast episodes you can find either using the links below or by visiting your favourite podcasting player.

Recent episodes of Cutting Through

  1. Anthony Wilson – Risk Management = Change Management
  2. Richard Medcalf – Making Time for Strategy
  3. Damien Woods – Baking Learning & Growth into BAU
  4. Kerry Bulter – Helping Leaders ‘shift testing left' to derisk projects
  5. Daniel Musson – A Case Study in Digitial Transformation
  6. Carolyn Noumertzis – How to help a senior leader come back from a misstep
  7. Cerise Uden – How to hit the ground running in a big new role
  8. Adam Bennett – Communicating Great Change
  9. Lisa Carlin – TurboCharge your Transformation

Please do tell your friends and colleagues about them too.

Why small steps matter

Why small steps matter

If you could do just one thing to elevate the quality of your communication, what would it be?

This is a variation of a question I was asked last Sunday.

The sentiment is helpful.

Rather than procrastinating about a big hairy audacious goal, what is one concrete step we could take toward that goal?

How to move closer rather than daunted by its very audaciousness and the associated ambiguity?

For some, the idea of being a great communicator is an audacious goal. They know they need to take big steps.

For most, the idea of becoming a better communicator is ambiguous.

Using that C word at work, do we mean …

  • Writing?
  • PowerPointing?
  • Visualising ideas in diagrams?
  • Having challenging conversations?
  • Demonstrating empathy?
  • Telling stories?
  • Getting to the point?
  • Preferencing micro communication, eg chat threads over email?
  • Pitching ideas?
  • Being strategic about messaging?
  • Managing stakeholders?
  • Running meetings?

All of these things, and more, can fall into the communication bucket.

We can all get better at all of them.

But how much better is necessary? How soon?

And, how do we know, given few of us receive genuinely helpful feedback on our communication?

So, what small step will you take this week?

Here are three ideas (two of which are free!):

  1. Complete my free 10-minute email course. It shares the same principles that underpin great papers and presentations, which you can use anywhere.
  2. Untangle a difficult stakeholder situation with this decision tree. Do you understand why your stakeholder is being difficult? Is it your message, your engagement strategy or your proposition that needs to shift for you to make progress?
  3. Sign up for Clarity Hub. Log in and pick one thing to do.
    – Read a post about stakeholder management, engaging boards, or another topic that is relevant to you right now
    – Find an exercise and do it
    – Watch a MasterClass recording. Yes, you can fast-forward through it too. There are half a dozen options in the Past Events area.
    – Try the Pattern Picker. See if it can help you think through your needs and fast-track you to the structure you need for your next communication.
    – Email me with a challenge you face so I can share my thoughts via the weekly email or perhaps a new MasterClass

So, what step will you take this week?

I hope that helps.

More next week.

Warm regards,


How to shorten your communication

How to shorten your communication

Naturally, I want my two new books to be as short as possible, and I've been reflecting on the best way to do that.

It seems to me there are three ways to go about it, one of which is much more effective than the others. Let me explain.

Polish it. I tighten the language and work ‘bottom up' to improve clarity and flow. Shortening comes two ways here. I either tighten the language or improve the synthesis. I have been doing a lot of this, in part with the help of a tool called Hemingway. It's super cheap and I get nothing from sharing it. It's just awesome.

Snip it. Here I go further and cut out chunks that add no value because they repeat or are off topic. This is still a bottom-up strategy, and also one that I have been using with rigour. There comes a point, though, where this isn't enough.

Target it. This is the most effective way to cut. By taking the time at the outset to be hyper clear about the outcome I seek, I change the dynamic three ways.

  • I write less  
  • I know what to cut  
  • I know when to stop iterating and rethink

In working on what I thought was the final version of Elevate, my new book for leaders, I realised that I thought I was at the polish stage. But, I found myself struggling to polish, and frustrated by snipping and moving things around.

This frustration helped me realise I needed to get back on target. The draft wasn't doing what I needed it to do. It wasn't direct enough. It lacked synthesis in some parts and risked losing readers as the flow in one major section wasn't orderly enough.

Although of course disappointing, it is satisfying too. I am pleased to have a clear target to return to.

If you are in the middle of reworking a paper or presentation, where are you at?

Have you thought through what very specific outcome you need? If the draft feels ‘off', what is the best way to fix it? Polish, snip or re-target?

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,

MASTERCLASS – What do Boards want to know?

MASTERCLASS – What do Boards want to know?

Do you ever wonder if Board members are a different breed?

Do they have different needs because they are different people, or because they have a different role?

In my experience it's a bit of both and a bit of neither too.

I shared my thoughts more specifically in a recent MasterClass What Boards Want to Know.

I answered participant questions while also covering a range of topics including
1. What to focus on in your papers and presentations
2. What does it really mean to be more strategic?
3. What bugs Boards about executives and consultants who present to them
4. How to make the most of your time with the Board

The recording of this session is available inside the Clarity Hub.

Our Clarity Hub Members have the opportunity to attend these bi-monthly sessions live or review the content after it has taken place. You can learn more here >>

Kind regards,

PS – You may also be interested in my Board Paper Bootcamp. Learn more here. This will be an intimate group, and from what I know about the early birds, it will be a wonderfully rich series of conversations.

A fast hack for structuring your message

A fast hack for structuring your message

My husband and I were just talking about the new ‘synthesis' capabilities that Adobe is embedding into its software.

This led us to a debate about the extent tools like this could be useful … or perhaps even replace us?

Here's my take.

These tools will both help us and require us to lift our game so we can offer insightful points of view, particularly to senior decision makers. Here are four thoughts to help you do that.

Use tools like this to summarise – ie paraphrase – volumes of data. They can help organise the information and present it clearly, mostly by categorising the material. Be careful, of course, that the ‘machine' has enough of the right material to work with.

Understand that summary alone is not enough. Summary is helpful, but only looks backwards at what has happened already. This is necessary but not sufficient for decision making.

Learn to synthesise powerful points of view. Synthesis is where you connect dots between past experience, case studies, analogies and our own understanding of the present to create a point of view.

Leverage communication patterns. What if you could work through a decision tree to pick which pattern helped you convey your point of view best? You could take the data summary and combine it with your own insights to convey a powerful point of view with compelling clarity.

You might even get it done without multiple late nights iterating the message.

I shared how to do this at last week's MasterClass, along with my revised set of 10 patterns and my new Pattern Picking process.

The edited half-hour recording is inside my (still free) Clarity Hub, along with a fast hack for picking the right pattern for your situation.

>> Access the Clarity Hub here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,