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Worldwide – Executive Leadership development is a top priority


Leslie Dickson


Posted by Leslie Dickson


leadership developmentAs the economy begins its recovery, we’ve seen some refocusing among VoicePro® clients on leadership development. According to research by Deloitte, the international consulting firm, the same trends are appearing on a global scale. Their research study with some 300 global executives shows leadership development coming up again and again. Let me share some key findings from “Talent Edge 2020: Blueprints for the New Normal.”

More and more, organizations feel challenged to develop their next generation of leaders.

In fact, a full 56% told Deloitte they believe there will be a moderate or severe shortage of executive leadership. The cause? The retirement of Baby Boomers. They feel a need for strong leadership development programs and processes to be ready. Says the report, “developing leaders and succession planning is currently both a top concern and a top talent priority.”

There’s a focus on fundamentals of talent development as a priority.

A return to training programs was named by more than a third of all research respondents. In addition, companies that consider themselves “world-class” in talent development are investing in talent programs, including making sure there are challenging opportunities and clear career paths for their up-and-comers. 

High-potential leaders will get special attention.

Over 70% of respondents said so. Fast-tracking their high performers is part of the plan, with accelerated leadership programs named by almost 2/3 of executives.

World-class companies are investing in people.

Respondents who identified their talent management programs as “world class” foresee investing in their employees. They’re making recruiting of critical skills a top priority and giving training increasing prominence. 42% of the world-class firms named it as a top priority. Even among companies that don’t rate themselves as world-class in talent development, a third named training as their most pressing concern.

Engaging current employees is also a priority.

That’s the word from world-class organizations. At the top of the list – clear career paths and job challenges for employees. Next came top-quality communication programs.

Talent programs pay in recruitment.

Executives who rate their talent programs as world-class told Deloitte that their organizations are excellent at recruiting talent. More than 70% say they plan to boost their efforts in accelerated leadership programs.

Retention plans include developing leaders.

The majority of research respondents still express concern over retaining top talent. Still, the companies with a retention plan in place feel more confident about the future. A key factor in those retention plans? A focus on emerging leaders, followed by strengthening senior leadership.

What are your plans for 2011? How will you step into an improving economy to build your organization? At VoicePro®, we couldn’t agree with Deloitte more: success depends on talent – and a strong development plan can help you attract it, build it, and retain it.


Image by Lars Plougmann



What Every Leader Should Know about Leadership-stress


Carolyn Dickson


Posted by Carolyn Dickson


Leadership skillsStress is killing your people. All around you is evidence of the pressures of modern life, experienced in troubled relationships with superiors, subordinates, colleagues and family. Overweight employees, absenteeism, workplace conflict—these are just a few of the symptoms of the stressful American way of life.

Even with announcements that the economy is beginning to right itself, many individuals view the workplace as an unsettled environment where they must be vigilant in looking out for their own interests. They see conflict around every corner and operate with a hair-trigger mentality, ready to explode at any minute.

The stress response, commonly called fight or flight, serves a valuable purpose, both now and in the days of our earliest ancestors. It’s hardwired into us, and it’s designed to keep us out of danger. When you experience a threat, your body stiffens, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises, and your breath comes in short bursts, ready to propel you into action. Even your digestion shuts down. As Robert M. Sapolsky, Professor of Biological Sciences and Neurology at Stanford University, says, “There’s no reason to digest your lunch when you’re about to be lunch.”

But, unlike the rest of the animal world, problems come when humans remain in that high state of arousal for a long period of time. When a zebra senses an attacking lion, its fight-or-flight response kicks in, and the zebra either outruns the lion or is consumed by it. When the attack is over, and if the zebra has survived, its system immediately returns to normal, and the zebra grazes away as if nothing had happened. Its stress hormones spike, then disappear as fast as they appeared.

When it comes to stress we humans aren’t that lucky.

It seems that we respond to stressful events today in the same way our ancestors did when they faced life-threatening situations thousands and thousands of years ago. But, unlike our ancient relatives (or the zebra), the pressure of modern life keeps us from sinking back into a normal, relaxed state. We just get over one pressure-packed incident and another comes along, then another, and another, the nonstop stress keeping us in a constant state of arousal that interferes with sleep, with our health, with clear thinking, and with our over all peace of mind. What once helped us survive has become our biggest enemy.

We experience stress at different levels.

The first level is short-term stress. This is the stress one feels when they’re giving a presentation, facing a sudden emergency, or doing anything else where they feel their well-being is at stake. VoicePro® programs are designed to help individuals deal with the consequences of short-term stress. Relaxation and breathing exercises contribute to smooth sailing during those times when all eyes are on you and you’re under pressure to succeed. These methods, when practiced consistently over time can keep short-term stress at bay.

A second level of stress occurs at the organizational level. It’s at this level that leaders can—and should—be making a difference. Dr. Sapolsky’s research with primates, conducted over thirty years, shows that in a hierarchy those at the top can all too easily dump their stress on their subordinates. The “dumpees,” in turn dump on those at the next lower level, and on down the line. At each level, the “dumpees” experience significant amounts of stress, with those who feel absolutely powerless to withstand the onslaught suffering the most. The consequences are significant, showing up in illness, accidents on the job, conflict, and sometimes even violence.

“Corporate hierarchy is built on displacement,”

Dr. Sapolsky cautions.

“Don’t displace your stress onto your subordinates. Don’t avoid an ulcer by giving it to someone else.”

As a leader, you have a responsibility to recognize the effects of stressful conditions in your organization and take steps to communicate in more effective ways.

For more information . . .


Image by rafa2010



Leadership Means Thinking Outside the Box—More on The King’s Speech

Carolyn Dickson
Posted by Carolyn Dickson



Leadership SkillIn my last article, I spoke of the unusual teaching methods Lionel Logue employed to help King George VI overcome his debilitating stammer. These methods were featured in the current, magnificent film, The King’s Speech.

In today’s business lingo...

we hear one phrase over and over: out-of-the-box. It’s used so often, it’s become almost a cliché. Sooner or later, in almost every business meeting, someone will say, “Come on, guys, let’s think out of the box.” And everyone nods wisely, then falls back into the same old thought patterns, with the same language, the same arguments, and eventually the same, predictable results. Out of the box? Not really.

So what, exactly do we mean by thinking and working out of the box?

It means looking at a topic or an issue from a different perspective and then trying a novel approach based upon that different perspective.

For example,  in a PBS documentary, This Emotional Life, J. Richard Hackman, Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University, says this about the problem of conflict and how to deal with it: “One of the biggest lessons to be learned is to go toward the conflict rather than run away from it. If we do what we instinctively want to do, which is try to suppress it, run away from it, or smooth it over, the conflict will seethe underneath, and we risk its coming out later in destructive ways.”

King George VI fought with his therapist. He balked at doing the exercises. They were new and different. They were innovative. They were scary. They weren’t “Kingly.” And yet—they worked. Once Bertie (the King’s family name) relented and went along with what he believed were outlandish instructions, he began to make progress and his life began to change.

Out-of-the-box thinking stretches us to see things from a unconventional angle.

It lets us see that success can come from an entirely different direction and change us in ways we never dreamed possible.

In 1984, I was winding down a career as an opera singer and an actor. On the side, I had been teaching singing for years and had begun to work with actors who wanted to improve their projection and vocal tone. I took those methods that had made me a better singer and adapted them for application to the speaking voice. I didn’t recognize it then, but clearly I had been thinking out of the box.

One day a young actor rushed into my studio. He was bubbling with excitement. “Carolyn,” he said, “I just heard about a woman in New York teaching men on the New York Stock Exchange how to shout all day long without losing their voices. You could do that!”

Here was an exciting, out-of-the-box idea.

I could do that. So, I took the idea and ran with it, supplementing my unique methods of voice projection with other innovative techniques culled from my singing and theater experience. And VoicePro® was born.

Today, in 2011, we at VoicePro® continue to use out-of-the-box thinking in our workshops and executive coaching. We help our clients see there is another, easier, more authentic, doable approach to communication, presentation, and leadership development—completely different from the standard approach of content, content, content.

Lionel Logue, the King’s speech therapist, compelled Bertie to face his fears and move through them to a better place of being.

Dr. Hackman advises us to “go toward our conflict rather than away from it.”

At VoicePro®, we lead our clients to new possibilities through questions and experiences that help them move to a new awareness and ultimately view their situation and their world through a different lens.

Out of the box—all the way.

For more information . . .


Image by Martin LaBar



The King’s Speech! We are all under pressure to present well.


Carolyn Dickson


Posted by Carolyn Dickson


presentation skillsIf you haven’t yet caught the movie, The King’s Speech, hurry to your neighborhood theater and see it right away. The King’s Speech tells of the relationship between England’s King George VI (known to his family as Bertie) and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, an Australian with unusual methods for helping people with speech defects. It’s an amusing, poignant, uplifting true story of one man struggling to conquer the demons ruling him from the inside and another, equally determined man battling with and for him on the outside.

On the afternoon I was there, the audience broke into spontaneous applause at the film’s end. I’ve not seen this happen before and was surprised that such a sophisticated and, yes, jaded audience would be so moved by this simple story. No special effects, no pyrotechnics, no blood and guts violence. Just a king and a commoner facing a formidable obstacle, sometimes together and sometimes in witty opposition, and in doing so forging a relationship that eventually turned into a lasting friendship. The film is, quite simply, outstanding.

At VoicePro® we don’t work with people with physiological speech defects. But we do encounter many of the same concerns in clients who come to us wanting to become better speakers. Here are three concepts important to Lionel Logue, the king’s speech therapist in the 1930’s and to VoicePro®, here and now, in 2011.


Tension is the enemy of good speaking. In the film, we watch Bertie trying to force words out through a locked jaw—his entire body rigid with the effort. This can happen to any of us when we sense danger. We stiffen, our muscles tighten, and we clench our teeth in an attempt to evade a threat. And many people, our clients among them, feel extremely threatened when faced with having to speak before a group of people.

It’s one thing to tell folks to relax. It’s quite another to show them how. In VoicePro® workshops, Speak! Present! Influence!® and Executive Presence™, we give our clients tools they can use to relax under the pressure of performance and other tension-building events. Being able to sense tension in your jaw and shoulders and releasing it is the first big step.


Those of you who have attended our workshops or who read this blog on a regular basis know that breathing is a hallmark of VoicePro® coaching. In the King’s very first therapy session, Lionel taps him lightly in the gut and says, “You’re a bit flabby there, Bertie. We’ll have to strengthen your diaphragm.”

Diaphragmatic breathing is a core competency for anyone who must speak before groups, negotiate contracts, be interviewed, or engage in other activities that require poise under pressure. It’s a capability that once came naturally and should come naturally, but it’s one that for reasons associated with the hectic pace of modern life has been lost to many. Fortunately, diaphragmatic breathing can also be relearned and, with practice, can become the natural phenomenon it once was.


Many factors came together resulting in the King’s debilitating stammer. Pressure on the part of his father, the taunting of his siblings, and traumatic events as far back as the nursery—each played their part in his inability to get the words out.

Likewise, we carry our own baggage around with us, and it’s apt to rear its ugly head when we can least afford it. Thoughts like this intrude: I can’t do this . . . They won’t like me . . . I’ll be embarrassed . . . Someone will laugh . . . I’M GOING TO FAIL!

Much of a speaker’s practice involves learning to get past this demoralizing self talk and to focus entirely on the job at hand. Actors call it staying in the moment, and this moment, right now, is exactly where the effective speaker needs to live.

Relax . . . Breathe . . . Focus . . .. These are the core presentation skills that, when you have mastered them, will make you speak—okay, I’m going to say it—like a King.

For more information . . .


Image by kerstinskeri
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