Leaders who command attention and inspire confidence and loyalty are those who “embody” leadership – here’s how to build leadership presence.
Just as the best actors are those who’re able to delve deep into their psyches, tapping into their knowledge and insights to find that which is true and to communicate it to the audience, the same thing applies to business leaders, says Annette K Saramer, writing for Strategy+Business:
“When you are comfortable in your own skin and capable of projecting a sincere and valuable message, people will tend to give you and your organisation their trust.”
Here are Annette’s ten tips to help you transform your leadership style.
1) Be present. People see you as a whole, “evaluating your integrity and veracity as they take in your posture, tone of voice and mood”. Practise emotional-intelligence techniques that help you notice your own biases and impulses and avoid acting on them. Also identify “feedback loops” in the way you think, behave, stand and move. Recognising your habits and working to minimise and improve on your limitations is a great step towards a more honest relationship with yourself and will help you to project a more authentic sense of self.
2) Focus on what matters. If you want people to pay attention, talk about the things that matter to you and which they also care about. Always begin with what’s important to you in the context of what you’re trying to achieve – when it’s clear to listeners that the place you’re coming from is one of authenticity, it shows you’re worth engaging with in a positive, open way.
3) Talk to people. “Real leadership is relational… Use every opportunity to engage with people rather than broadcasting to rooms or groups.” Instead of leading by dictum, lead by discussion. Outline key goals, then open a discussion about how best to achieve them. Be prepared with all the background and technical data you might need, but only draw on it in the context of the ensuing conversation.
4) Work on your body language. “How you move affects the way you feel, and how you feel affects the way you move, and it all changes the way you think and communicate.” Borrow an exercise from the world of theatre: adopt different postures – learn how pushing your chest out makes you feel confident, and that leading with your hands “makes you feel expansive and engaged”.
Get fit. When you’re in reasonable shape you feel more comfortable in your body, a message that communicates confidence to others. Work on “breathing style, gestures and movement so you’re in sync with yourself: physically, emotionally, and intellectually”. Practise breath work to control stress and regulate your moods.
5) Be open and curious. “Leaders with a strong presence are open to the world. They cultivate sustainable curiosity: They are continually drawn to the unexpected and unfamiliar.” What past experiences made you excited and curious? Look for ways to find the same engagement in your current work and be ready to feel that sense of enthusiasm return.
6) Stand still. Giving a talk? Stand still. Even better, try pausing for five seconds before you begin to speak. This gives you the opportunity to centre yourself before you begin your presentation and also develops a sense of anticipation among the audience, who’ll be much more likely to listen to what you say.
7) Tell stories. “Stories create relationships between listeners and leaders through empathy with characters and connection with personal experience.” Data isn’t enough to get your message across – in the absence of story, figures remain abstract concepts. Story gives your message meaning.
A story is a sequence of answers to the most important questions. Ditch your PowerPoint presentations and instead ask: “When did we begin to care about this?” Then, “What happened next?” Then, “What did it all lead to?” And then, “Why do we care about it now?” Always use plain English to tell your story: “Everything you say should make people listen to the next thing you say.”
8) Stop talking. If you’re tempted to have the last word, stop talking or risk “substituting [your] own experience for the progress of the group’s learning”. Your job as leader is to empower others. “This requires showing respect for… colleagues – not just as professionals but as human beings.” Leaving some of your thoughts unspoken gives your teams the opportunity to participate in discussions and shows you trust them to reach a sensible conclusion without your input.
9) Self evaluate. How does your leadership affect others? Do you understand the impact you’re having? Are you seen as a positive or a negative force? Measure your performance in terms of your overall presence. Tech can get you so far in identifying and quantifying your relationships, but you’ll also need to talk to people and run independent surveys too. Find out what people really think of you.
10) Practise. Leadership is improvisation, but experience, training, and insight inform your decisions. The more you work on yourself, the better your leadership qualities will become – a form of muscle memory.
Real leadership presence is built on strong foundations made up of skills and competencies. But becoming and remaining a skilled, competent, compassionate leader with the ability to project yourself in a strong and positive way while remaining authentic takes constant work. It’s a practice.