Ep041: How to be an inspirational manager with Isabelle Lord

How to be an inspirational manager with Isabelle Lord on the TalentGrow Show by Halelly Azulay

Isabelle Lord, author, trainer, professional certified coach, and herself a manager, speaks with me about how to be an inspirational manager – with a focus on actionable (rather than esoteric) advice. She shares some of the ways to do that based on her best-selling and newly translated book, The Inspirational Manager: The 10 Rules of Leadership Communication. She provides specific tips, techniques, and examples for very tangible steps you can take to become more inspirational and effective in your communication as a leader. And listen at the end for your two free gifts – one from Isabelle and one from me!

What you’ll learn:

Listen to Stitcher
  • What Isabelle’s book is about and who it’s for? (6:25)
  • What are common mistakes leader make and how to avoid or fix them? (9:27)
  • What is the paradox of communicating for managers and the mindset shift you need to make about it? (10:17)
  • What’s a challenge that is almost universal for people managers? (11:55)
  • Isabelle shares a concrete example of a communication ‘hack’ that managers can use – whether you’re an engineer, a plumber, or an accountant (13:10)
  • What’s a common assumption that trips up most managers and how to avoid it (based on one of the rules in Isabelle’s book)? (15:20)
  • What are questions you can use to create greater clarity in your communication? (16:35)
  • Why should you identify the questions that you DON’T want to hear? (18:30)
  • Isabelle shares a story about a manager she worked with who saw great results and a huge shift by using her suggestion and changing his action-verb for his goal? (20:58)
  • Why it’s not enough to just concentrate on the verbal content of your language but also choosing your approach (23:01)
  • How to move from a ‘control’ orientation to a ‘collaborative’ orientation in your leadership approach and the kind of change it creates in how people work and their performance results (24:12)
  • Isabelle suggests a small addition of an open-ended question that can help you to have a better dialogue (26:02)
  • One actionable final tip that you can use right away to ratchet up your leadership communication effectiveness – it will change how you ask for feedback from your team member(s) (27:50)
  • “Humility is the starting point of excellence” (28:31)
  • Isabelle offers a gift that can help you learn more about your own communication style on her site – be sure to check it out! (30:00)

LEAVE A COMMENT: What have been your experiences with inspirational management or communication?  What are your reactions about this podcast episode? We’d love to know! Please leave a comment below.


About Isabelle Lord

Isabelle is an author, trainer, and professional certified coach (PCC) specializing in management communication. As President of Lord Communication Managériale, she works with leaders who wish to improve their management communications skills. Isabelle has a deep conviction that “inspiring management communications in our organizations improves performance by optimizing our people’s potential.”

The Inspirational Manager, released for the first time in English, is a best seller in its original French version. Over the years, it has become a trademark of sorts for her firm. She has trained more than 35,000 managers and leaders using the effective methods outlined in this book!

Isabelle is a renowned expert and collaborates with recognized management schools, including HEC Montréal and the École d’Entrepreneurship de Beauce. She also writes a blog for the business newspaper Les Affaires about management communication.

Previously, Isabelle was Senior Director of Organizational Communications at National Bank. Known for her pragmatic approach, in-depth knowledge of the business world, and ability to provide constructive feedback, she serves clients from several organizations in both the private and public sectors.


Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Welcome to episode 41 of the TalentGrow Show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist and this is going to be my first episode that features a native French speaker, with a wonderful French accent in her English. This is going to be a conversation with Isabelle Lord, who is an author, trainer and professional certified coach, specializing in management communication. She spoke with me from Montreal, Canada. I love the way she says my name in her accent. Isabelle’s focus is on helping managers become more inspirational and on how to make being inspirational actionable, rather than esoteric. And in our conversation, she describes some of the ways to do that, which are also covered in her newly translated best-selling book, The Inspirational Manager, the 10 Rules of Leadership Communication, which gives the actual rules for being inspirational. And in this episode, she provides actionable advice and examples for very tangible steps that you can take to become more inspirational and more effective in your communication as a leader. And frankly, in your communication in general. Check out at the very end, she offers a free gift and here we go.

I’m happy to be back with another TalentGrow Show episode and this time my guest is coming to us from Montreal. We have Isabelle Lord, who is president of Lord Communication Managériale. This is where I get to practice my French! Isabelle is a trainer and professional coach. She has a PCC designation from the International Coaching Federation, and she helps managers who wish to improve their communication skills in management situations. She’s trained more than 35,000 managers since founding her company. Isabelle, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.

Isabelle: Thank you so much Halelly.

Halelly: You’re welcome. And we always start with a quick trip down memory lane, just so that everybody can get a sense of how you came to this position, to this place, throughout your journey in your career. So can you give us a very quick overview of your professional journey please?

Isabelle: Sure. Well, I describe myself as a manager. This is the career I had for 22 years, mostly in large organizations and I know the drill. I know the job of management. I know what is exciting about it. I know the elements that are less easy to do. Having been working in large organizations, I know everything about how it works, getting new direction, getting resistance from people and how to evolve, innovate and engage employees. So this is my background. I’ve decided to start my company, Halelly, as I told you, nine years ago, and now I teach managers to use their communication skills to be inspirational. Not the Walt Disney term of the inspiration. It’s more the action, inspire action and results that I’m concentrating on. So the book is really along this journey of helping managers to become inspirational through their communication skills.

Halelly: And we’re going to talk more about your book. Isabelle wrote a book that was a best-seller in French called The Inspirational Manager, the 10 Rules of Leadership Communication. This is very exciting and we’re going to talk more about your book. But Isabelle, let’s just go back one more step. You said you were a manager before you started helping other managers. Can you tell us, what industry did you start in? What kind of a career path did you have? Just give us a little bit more.

Isabelle: I come from a sales background. Actually, I’ve been the youngest manager in a large company that was selling trips, so I was a chief of content and I was supervising a team of sellers in that firm. I also worked in the financial market for approximately 15 years. The last job I had prior to starting my company was the head of a large communication, corporate communication of a large bank in Canada called National Bank of Canada. I also was at some point consultant around the notion of engagement. I’m a specialist, a statistician as well, so I know quite a bit about the importance of engagement and the role that a manager plays around the notion of engaging their resources. That’s about what I have and I’m also a mother of two grown up boys that just graduated from universities, so I’m really proud about that as well. I come from Montreal, but I’ve traveled quite around the world and English is not my first language, but I’m really pleased to connect with a larger audience and I hope to inspire people from elsewhere than Canada.

Halelly: That’s great. Thank you for that. And that sounds like a very interesting path. I’m always intrigued by people’s meandering paths. Let’s get to talking about your book, The Inspirational Manager. I loved when you just said something about you didn’t want it to just be sort of esoteric inspiration, but you want it to be actionable inspiration. Everything about this podcast is to try to give people things that they can really take action and implement, so that’s great for us. What inspired you to write a book? It’s a big undertaking. And what is your biggest goal in terms of the impact that you tend to make with this book?

Isabelle: Well, as you know, Halelly, this book was first published in French, and the reason why I’ve decided to create that book was to be able to leave a better trace of the actual rules to be inspirational. In the training that I’ve developed, I had the chance, as you mentioned, to train and meet lots of people and I learned a lot through those trainings. Tons of questions were asked of me. Lots of questions were asked as well about how to, the action-ability of these things that you learn. So the book is really the extension of this training and you know, it’s interesting because I know for sure that it’s an actionable book and someone that doesn’t take training, that wants to invest just some amount of time to reconsider his approach as a communicator, as a manager, he will learn enough to be inspired to take action. So this is how it goes.

The book, maybe I should mention, this thing is already a best-seller in Quebec, in the French market. It’s also sold in Europe for the Francophone market. This is a book that is very pragmatic, but now a reference for the executive MBA programs in Canada, in Quebec. So it’s well-written, it’s short, it’s organized and someone can use this book as an action plan, to actually change things.

Halelly: Great. I love it. Congratulations on your success. It is exciting. So 10 rules. I mean, that’s a very good number. And I know, obviously, we only have a 30-minute podcast here, so we’re not going to be able to describe all 10 rules and go into it, but I will link to the book in the show notes so you can get a copy and read it, because as Isabelle said, it’s an actionable book that’s been really well received. But I know that you can share some great nuggets of actionable ideas here. For example, you and I both help develop leaders to be better leaders. And a lot of people who are in leadership positions make mistakes – naturally, because we’re all human and most of us come into leadership without a rule book like you’ve written. So there are some common mistakes I know you’ve seen. I know that you’re trying to help those people avoid them, who read your book. What do you think are some of those top, top common mistakes that you see leaders making and that you have ideas to help them either avoid making them in the first place, or help fix if they make them?

Isabelle: Yes, it’s a great question. There’s actually two major mistakes that we do as managers, and again, I’ve been myself a manager and to be honest I’ve done some of them.

Halelly: Yes, me too.

Isabelle: One of the chapters of the book talks about the importance of managing communication. What do I mean here is that often, as managers, we think that communicating is something that adds up on our workload. This is a mistake that we do because we don’t consider the time we spend communicating as the investment that deserves to attain our objective. So this is, there is a paradox here because communicating is not losing time. It’s actually investing the time where it counts for us to succeed in our objective.

And it’s extremely important to have that in mind, because it changes our mindset to understand that. Let’s say that when you spend time with your team, for instance, explaining new things that are coming in, etc., etc., I often hear people, “I have to spend time with my people.” Like I’m losing time here. And you know, if you are strategic in how you organize your time, what type of communication activity to you prioritize, what are your top five best communication activities that will help you actually deliver what the objective of your team, for instance. In the book I explain the importance of take a step back and look at things differently. So the mistake here is change the mindset of having the impression of losing time to investing time. Actually get whatever we have to achieve. This is one of the mistakes.

Halelly: That’s a great point. I encounter that a lot, where people think … because unfortunately in our world of work. Very few, if any – I don’t know if there’s really anybody – who is purely a people manager. That their role is to simply manage the work of other people. Most managers are also individual contributors themselves, and on top of that, tacked on, is managing the work of other people. So it almost always feels like a challenge in terms of how much time this takes and so this mindset shift, I completely agree with you. Let’s try to make that a little more concrete and help listeners think about what would be an example of a type of communication that is a great investment? Maybe there’s two or three things that you suggest, that you see frequently help managers shift?

Isabelle: I think, and it’s a good point that you’re bringing, Halelly. You know, when I ask people, I’ve met thousands of them, I always ask if the people in the room, before being manager, what was your job? Were you an expert? Before you became a manager. And you know what? 90 percent of the hands raise up. Everyone, we are all experts. And you know, I’ve worked with doctors, I’ve worked with engineers, I’ve worked with plumbers, I’ve worked with accountants and what you’re saying is really true. So to your question, I’d say that there’s so many things that could be done, but one of the things is to create a space for instance where you are able to align your resources.

A little tip here, typically, we start the week Monday morning. We rush at the office. We ask everyone to come to this room, etc. Everyone is a bit disorganized from the weekend. And we rush orders to our people. Instead of doing that, timing is important. Why don’t you finish the week, to debrief the week with your resources. Instead of pushing orders, why don’t you do a round table around this day. What went well? What went bad? Do you need any help from the team? And how can I support you to accomplish your goal next week? Do you see?

Halelly: So do you suggest doing this with the whole team together?

Isabelle: It depends on the size of the team, of course. But it’s also a good question that you’re bringing, because sometimes we manage people that are from different areas. So maybe having a couple of those meetings with people that have different backgrounds and different responsibilities could help you align your people with much more clarity.

Halelly: So then you start Monday morning with a plan? You already know. I like that, that’s good.

Isabelle: It’s a little, little tip that comes when you are assessing the organization of your time. The actual management of your communication. So this is an example. There’s one more mistake that most managers do that if I have time, I’d like to express here.

Halelly: Please.

Isabelle: Clarity. We all think that we are clear. We make the mistake of thinking that we are clear. We ask people, “Do you have any questions?” People don’t raise their hand because they might be afraid of your reaction or they don’t want to look like people that don’t understand. Are you really clear on what you’re saying? And this is one of the rules that I describe in the book. The importance of the clarity. And clarity comes from the preparation. It’s important when you deliver a message, when you are delivering a new idea, a new responsibility for instance, or a new … let’s say that you are in charge of a division that introduced new processes. Are you clear about the reason why you are changing the process? Are you clear about what you want people to take away with from your presentation? People, what I saw quite a bit, people know what they want to say. But is this the best way to communicate?

It’s very interesting when you are thinking about the clarity notion, to have in mind two things. First of all, what would I want to accomplish? What is my goal? And I like the idea of framing this goal with an action verb. Am I here to reassure? Am I here to rally? Am I here to convince? Am I here to clarify? So this is one step of the clarity. The other one is what do I want people to take away from my briefing? Or from my presentation. Instead of saying, “I want to say this, this, this.” So you change, you shift your approach and you are much more aware of your strategic intention and communication through the action verb, and because you answered the question, “What do I want my people to take away?” you are less tactic. You are less technical. And you are much more inspirational through your communication.

Halelly: I love that. Because it’s like starting with the end in mind, as Stephen Covey said, so famously. And when you know what the end result should be, then it’s much easier for you to plan the agenda for example, to lead to that. Or to think about what questions might people have or what might be some of the objections on my face that will be obstacles for which I can prepare? And you can also gauge whether you’re being successful in achieving that goal, that outcome, because if you know specifically what you want to accomplish at the end, and you’re looking at and seeing how people are reacting or what people are coming away with, it’s easier for you to know, “Am I on the right track, or do I need to change something?”

Isabelle: Yeah, exactly. And I really recommend also under the clarity rule to identify the top three questions that you don’t want to hear. You know, those things that we are not afraid of, but we’re not sure that we have the answer, and it’s very useful to write down those questions. You know what? Sometimes you may not have the answer, but you know what? It’s not that bad. Because at least when you receive the question, you are not defensive. You expect that question and it changes a lot in your attitude and you change a lot in perception of the people you are talking to.

Halelly: That’s a great suggestion. So you’re prepared, rather than surprised.

Isabelle: Exactly.

Halelly: I love it. So one of the things I really like – and again, I really suggest everybody get this book so you can get all 10 rules – but what I like is your book is organized, chapter by chapter, along the 10 rules but then you also have all of these stories that help bring to life the ideas in your book to show how different managers you’ve seen – I’m sure these are hybrids, I don’t know if they’re actual people – and how they dealt with certain challenges and overcame them. So what’s one of your, I’d love for you to share maybe one of your favorite stories from the book?

Isabelle: Thank you for asking that question, and to answer your question – yes, all of those stories are true. There’s some people that inspire me, at the very, very beginning. Those people, I saw them when I was myself in organizations. One of them was actually my boss for three years. A very high, high profile guy. And he was generous enough to let me interview him on different topics – the notion of consistency, for instance. The notion of loyalty, the managerial loyalty. And there’s another girl also that inspired me, Marjorie, was a manager. It’s difficult for me to pick one example, but I’d like to point the idea, because the other stories that I’m telling are people that I had in my room, in my training rooms. You know, I saw these people trying, having difficultly to get whatever results they wanted to achieve and one of these guys, Denny, his name was Dennis, very directive, high profile, extremely extrovert. He was in charge. He wanted to introduce a new policy. And when I asked him to prepare the clarity, what I just told you about the importance of prepare mentally, prepare strategically, and when he had to answer the question, “What do you want to achieve through this communication?” what he said is, I want to – the word in English, in French it’s exigé.

Halelly: “Required”, it says [on Google].

Isabelle: Required, thank you. Exactly, thank you for helping me! His intention through his communication was to require. That’s it. And I said to him, “Well, is there another way? Is there another way for you to get these people … these people are intelligent. You know we are working with people that extremely intelligent, and require doesn’t work that much in our world.” It’s better to have people rally to our idea. Use influence instead of your strength. So his objective, first of all, was to demand, to require. Then came up to mind the idea of persuade. Again, it was quite strong as an intention. You know what he did? Instead of that he chose mobilize. And it changed, totally, and he was thriving. I saw him and I still see him, you know, working with is paper, preparing his clarity and trying to find that action verb. When he wrote down mobilize, it became clear for him what he had to put in terms of content. How to address the thing, what he should put emphasis on, and we’ve done a little practice and it’s interesting to see how his nonverbal approach changed totally. Because instead of requiring, which was a bit pushy, mentioning mobilizing, he was using words such as “we.” He was looking at the people, very good eye contact with the group, extremely enthusiastic, and at the very, very right place. And you know what? I got an email the week after and he said, “Isabelle, I must tell you something. I actually was able to have my people on board and I really want to thank you.” People, there’s a guy who asked him, “What happened to you?” He changed totally his approach.

We concentrate on our content. We want to say things this way and this way and this way. But we know the nonverbal counts, but how does it become actionable and tangible? It’s through what you choose as an approach. Choosing the approach is defined in that action verb.

Halelly: That’s really great, because it’s such a small change, right? Just changing the word. But it really stems from changing your intention, which changes your approach, which changes your results. Thank you for sharing that, that’s a great story. It’s funny, because I actually find myself talking to people about that so much, where you want to help people move from a control orientation – which is very out molded, the command and control style or authoritarian style of leadership – to a more inspirational, to a more inclusive, to a more collaborative style of leadership. Which means you let go of some of the control, because you can’t make people do things. But once a leader realizes that if your goal is to force people to do something, how are they actually going to do it? If you think about how you do something that you don’t really want to do, but somebody is forcing, requiring, mandating, you probably just do it the minimum needed, right? Whatever gets them off your back. You don’t do it with passion. You don’t do it with commitment. You don’t do it with excitement. And is this how you want people to work? You will have control over people doing everything in the most mediocre way. This is what you want? And if you change your approach, like you helped inspire Dennis to do, then you’ve got people who are personally interested in achieving that outcome, because they’ve chosen it of their own free will. You’ve mobilized them, you’ve influenced them. Then they are going to do it in a way that is self-directed, and usually when we go after doing something we believe in, we do it the best we can rather than just to do the minimum.

Isabelle: Exactly. I totally agree. If you are able, for a manager to add the good question, a good open-ended question like for instance to your point, “How would you do that? How would you implement this with your team? How will you do that next week?” with the silence following the question, of course. This is a little extra piece that could help you to dialogue and not be only a one-way manager.

Halelly: Excellent. I love it. Well, time is ticking and I always want there to be at least 30 more minutes at this point. But we need to start wrapping up. We always close with how people can get in touch with you and also an actionable tip. But before that, real quick, what’s new and exciting for you? What’s really got your attention these days?

Isabelle: Halelly, I’m so happy and thrilled to have my message translated to English. This is something that really makes me happy. I really, really hope that this book will help people and this is something that I find extremely new and exciting.

Halelly: I bet. That is a big endeavor to write a book and then it’s probably such a huge endeavor to translate it in a way that still carries the message you really wanted to carry, so congratulations. I look forward to having more people learn from you in that way. And what’s one specific actionable – you’ve actually given several actionable things already in this short conversation – but what would you say is something that people listening right now can do immediately? Today, tomorrow, this week, to ratchet up their effectiveness in terms of their leadership communication?

Isabelle: I have a great tip. Typically when we deliver a message, we might ask someone in the room, “How did you find that?” What is the answer we always get? “Oh, it was good.” Instead of asking that, I like you guys to push it a little bit with this question. Identify someone that was in the room – maybe you are delivering a big presentation to your management executive team, and there’s a lot of money that is attached to this and etc. Instead of asking how was it, I would like you to be more specific in the feedback that you will ask for. Because humility is the starting point of excellence. I’ll ask you to ask, “As you know I’ve presented this and that. I’d like you to provide me with your feedback on what did you take away from my presentation? And what was lacking, from your point of view, to have more impact?”

Halelly: So help focus them in terms of what did you like? What can I do to make it even more impactful?

Isabelle: Around the notion of impact, exactly.

Halelly: Great, I love that. And anyone can implement this, almost immediately, with almost every conversation, with almost anything. Doesn’t even have to be saved for a big presentation, although it absolutely would help with that. So, Isabelle, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your time with us, with the listeners of the TalentGrow Show. We really appreciate you and I know that people are going to be intrigued. I will share links to everything we mentioned in the show notes, and how can people stay in touch with you or follow what you do or learn more from you?

Isabelle: I think the easiest way would be to take down TheInspirationalManager.com. This is a little site that will conduct you directly to me. And you will have the details about the book and it will conduct you directly to Amazon.com to be able for you to get access to the book. And on top of that, using this address, TheInspirationalManager.com will also offer you a little gift, which is a test that you can take for you to know a little bit more about your communication style. I will offer that free through using TheInspirationalManager.com link.

Halelly: Oh great, so when they go to the website, they’ll see the test? It’ll be easy to find?

Isabelle: Exactly. Yes. There’s a little box that will be there. You click down, you click there, you give us your email address and we’ll send this quiz to you. And it’s going to be a great way for us to be in contact around the notion of the inspiration.

Halelly: Excellent. I will of course add that to the show notes and I hope people will take action. Isabelle, thank you so much again. I appreciate you and everyone listening. Thank you for tuning in.

Isabelle: Thanks to you Halelly.

Halelly: My pleasure. I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you’ll take action to become a more inspirational manager. Don’t forget to check out the show notes and get the links to Isabelle’s book which was just released in English, as well as her website where you can get that free gift that she offered. All of this is on www.talentgrow.com/podcast/episode41. Share this episode with others who might also enjoy it and don’t forget to grab my free gift. Download the free tool I’ve created just for listeners of the TalentGrow Show called The 10 mistakes that leaders make, and leave me a comment, a rating, a review, a question, a request – I’m doing all of this for you. Thank you for sticking around and for listening to the TalentGrow Show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist. Until the next time, make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.

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