The usual leadership team dynamic before team coaching is that the CEO or senior leader does most of the talking and decision-making, and several brave souls engage while the rest of the team stays quiet (especially in a virtual environment). There is inconsistent individual participation except perhaps during separate, smaller side conversations. 

Speaking Up Changes Team Dynamics

Sound familiar? A team cannot reach high performance until every member practices real talk (candid, real dialogue) and real listening (open, curious listening). It is the first step towards building a high-performing team and eventually, organization.     

Because of this dynamic, my partners and I hear comments such as the ones below in every team coaching and BOLD session we lead:

  • “I want you to speak up and bring your voice fully into the team because you add value every time you do.” 
  • “I want to find my voice, especially with leadership.”
  • I need to make bold requests of others in the leadership team and start saying ‘no’.” 

A Common Challenge for Leaders

The most common challenge for leaders is speaking up in team meetings. Most leaders feel safer and engage more directly when in one-to-one conversations or smaller group meetings. 

In our BOLD research:

  • 53% of participants feel their communication could be bolder
  • 62% of participants claim they could be bolder as leaders
  • 70% of participants feel their executive presence could be stronger

It is typical for leaders to speak up and engage boldly with their direct teams, and then tell us they want to “find their voice” with their peers or with senior executives. This is a misnomer: they choose whether or not to use their voice depending on the audience. The breakthrough is in identifying the obstacles to using their voice consistently, and then practicing and overcoming those obstacles.

Create a Breakthrough in Speaking Up

The key to creating a breakthrough begins with the desire to do so. Many people say they want to though they are, in reality, not truly committed. It’s easy for some; for others, it requires them to step wildly out of their comfort zone.   

Step 1: Focus on Mindset. When you manage your mindset, you can uncover a new “story” that enables you to actively engage. In other words, you can shift the narrative in your head from something bad, where there is a cost, to something good, where there is a payoff. Without the work on mindset, there is little likelihood of behavior change. 

Client Examples: FROM speaking up is a career-limiting move TO not speaking up is a career-limiting move; FROM I don’t have the right to participate in topics in which I am not an expert TO as a high-performing team member, I engage in all topics, even those outside my functional area; FROM I’m the newest / youngest person on the team and need to learn TO I bring value

Step 2 Choose 1-2 behaviors. Once the breakthrough occurs, the key is to choose 1-2 simple behaviors. 

Client Examples: Don’t “save” input for after the meeting. Ask questions – don’t assume it’s a dumb question or that everyone else knows the answer. Letting people know you are engaged can also occur non-verbally (head nods, ‘reaction’ buttons virtually, use of Zoom chat feature, etc.).

Step 3: Include Others. Tell someone: the team, a peer, your coach. Anyone. Research shows the more you tell others your plan, the more likely you will be to actually execute it. Especially if you have to share with them how it went or better yet, have them give you feedback on what they observed. 

Client Example: A leader was withholding feedback and a decision to change a direct report’s role for over a year. She told her BOLD coaching circle of 5 peers she would talk to the direct report within 30 days. She spoke to him, and both she AND the direct report felt relief and excitement about the role change.

A Leader’s Example

One leader (“Larry”) is considered by the CEO to be a high performer. He is a rockstar leading his organization, a developer of talent with a strong functional leadership team, highly intelligent and a creative problem-solver. 

Larry’s challenge was to engage in the leadership team (LT) as boldly as he did with his functional team. In the LT, he acted as a quiet spectator versus a seasoned player. The team requested that Larry start being vocal, push back, make requests, and stop accepting others’ requirements without dialogue.

In coaching, Larry said he is an introvert and we did some work on his stories. Examples of some of his story shifts included:

  • FROM less speaking is better and safer TO they want to hear from me and I can be vulnerable and imperfect with this team
  • FROM I don’t want to hurt people TO they prefer to hear the honest truth
  • FROM I’m protecting my reputation by playing it safe TO I’m demonstrating my competence and supporting the team when I speak
  • FROM I can only fully engage on areas in my domain TO I can add value even when I’m not an expert
  • FROM the LT is the CEO’s meeting TO the LT is MY meeting and it is my responsibility to take care of it

Once Larry identified the new stories, he was then able to choose his key behaviors:

  • Just say it!
  • Use chat to engage
  • Be present by staying off email
  • Let people know I’m OOO even when we are working virtually
  • Be a facilitator with questions and comments on all topics

Larry met with his peer coach for 15 minutes following each leadership team meeting to debrief and give each other feedback (she shared her behavioral practices, too). 

Ask Yourself

  • Are you more committed to speaking up than to keeping things as is? (Hint – You have to be more committed to change than to the comfort of keeping things as is.) 
  • What is the biggest “story shift” you need to make in order to engage? (Hint – You might need to talk to someone to uncover your FROM / TO.)
  • What would it look like for you to fully engage? (Hint – Identify the simple practices.)

Please feel free to reach out to me and my team if you’d like to connect about how to apply these ideas, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenges you are facing today.

Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.

Remember to find resources to inspire you here.

Yours in practice,



If you are interested in exploring how to unlock the potential of yourself, your team or the women in your organization, contact us for a complimentary discovery conversation.