Banking & Finance

Women in Finance speaker examines credibility

Leadership development and executive coaching consultant shares three tips for enhancing trustworthiness.

June 28, 2019
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A local consultant recently shared three steps to building credibility, one of the top attributes of an effective leader.

Jennifer Maxson, president of Rockford-based Jennifer Maxson & Associates, was the featured speaker at the June 20 Women in Finance luncheon hosted by the Association for Corporate Growth Western Michigan, a nonprofit membership organization for business and finance professionals.

The event was held at the University Club, 111 Lyon St. NW, Suite 1025, in downtown Grand Rapids.

Maxson’s firm specializes in “enhancing the credibility of leaders” and focuses on the areas of networking, communication, leadership development and public speaking. She provides consulting services to U.S. and international clients, delivering customized individual, executive and group coaching sessions.

“Our purpose is really to propel individuals and organizations forward so you can lead the business, lead change and lead people along the way,” she said.

Her talk at the Women in Finance event was titled “Enhancing Your Credibility as a Leader” and was part lecture, part interactive group dialogue.

“Whether you’re the individual contributor doing your work, if you’re managing others or if you’re leading, (these tips are) fit for all three,” she said.

The three tips included communicating effectively with others, projecting a confident presence and building a network of support.


Maxson asked the audience, “Why is it difficult for us to communicate today? It should be easy. We have technology, we have all these things in place, you’re all here at tables, but still, why is it difficult for us to communicate today?”

Audience members cited obstacles such as fear of the unknown; fear of judgment; media and technology oversaturation/overstimulation, including phone calls, emails, texts, chatting and face-to-face communication and the struggle to figure out which method your audience needs; and gender differences, among other factors.

In the past several weeks, Maxson has been contacted by top-level executives who say they are finally building a pipeline of leaders for the next generation, but they are struggling with the communication piece in getting those young leaders where they need to be.

She asked the executives what they want, and by and large, the answer was “keep it high level” — trust that your audience will have read the presentation material or the white paper beforehand — and “focus on the delivery of the message.”

Maxson said the first task for a presenter should be to set a clear communication objective — what do I want to happen after I deliver this message? What do I think will be different afterward? — and to acknowledge that 50 things can’t be different, maybe only one can, so go for the one.

The second piece is to analyze the audience, so you know who is in the room and how to tailor your message.

Use the rule of three — three points is the maximum your listeners will remember from your talk — to help create an organized, focused, concise message, she said.

Additionally, do not exceed the allotted time for the presentation. 

“The No. 1 way audiences rate us is, did you deliver the message that you needed to deliver in the timeframe that you had?” Maxson said. “So, if you have five minutes on the agenda and you go seven, you just took two minutes from someone else. You know how it feels when you’re at the bottom of the agenda, and someone who was only supposed to take five minutes has now taken 20 and now you either you get to share or maybe you don’t, or now you have to take your message and really pare it down.”

Maxson said personal appearance and body language also are important to audiences, as is storytelling, as long as the story has a point and the teller is not always the hero of his or her own story.


Presence is made up of three elements, Maxson said — communication, which was already discussed, confidence and emotional maturity.

She said confidence is created through preparation — know the message you are delivering; eye contact with audience members — not too much, not too little, just enough to create a sense of connection; the way you enter a room — organized and present vs. jumbled and withdrawn; calm body language — no fidgeting or pen-clicking and using meaningful hand gestures vs. wringing or rubbing the hands or playing with jewelry; and using purposeful pauses instead of filler words and qualifiers.

The final piece of presence is emotional maturity, which she said is about how you will handle yourself when things get heated by knowing your triggers in advance.

“We all have them. You know when a certain individual starts their question with a certain word or phrase, and you immediately get defensive,” Maxson said.

“We need to do a much better job of listening to really hear what the question is or what someone is asking versus listening to quickly respond and not even hearing what that question is. So, we have to have some self-regulation and self-control and know when you’re starting to feel that energy go from positive to negative, so you can pause, breathe, assume positive intent and hold yourself to whatever standard that is for you in that professionalism piece, to always enhance your credibility.”

If a leader does fail in the emotional maturity department, Maxson advised them to take the opportunity to reflect and grow afterward.


Maxson said when it comes to networking — which she also calls “netweaving” — a purposeful approach is essential.

“We all need a network of support, not just early in our career, but we need it throughout our entire career,” she said. “And many times, that gets missed. We figure, ‘OK, I got the job. I’m good. I don’t need mentors.’ You need mentors throughout your entire career, not just at the start.”

In the business world, Maxson said we use words like mentor, sponsor and advocate without always knowing the definitions.

She defines a mentor as someone who provides career guidance who is not a coach or advocate or even necessarily within your organization. They are an “informal counselor, that person you can go to to get ideas and insights, and they can help you make you make your own decisions.”

A sponsor or an advocate, which are interchangeable terms, is someone at a higher level of seniority in your organization who can help you gain new responsibilities and can help promote you.

“They are the ones who are actively championing on your behalf, and you may not even know that they are,” Maxson said. “We need both (mentors and sponsors).”

Maxson said in addition to making supportive friends outside of work, it’s important to build your network of support over time across departments within your organization.

“You have no idea when you’re going to need your network. You have no idea who’s going to champion for you, advocate for you as we’re looking at who’s that next person to take this next key role or that stretch assignment,” she said.

“And more than likely, someone’s going to ask you to be a mentor for them, as well. And as your career grows, you’ll have that opportunity to advocate for others. … And that’s the fun part of it.”

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