Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader
Dianna Booher (Author)
Publication date: 10/03/2011
Bestseller over 65,000+ copies sold
Lydia (not her real name) told a different story from what I'd heard from the senior partner in her Washington D.C. law firm. “I feel as though I'm pushing against that proverbial glass ceiling,” she said. “I just don't get the plum assignments. I put in the hours. On performance reviews, my director has given me the highest marks for attitude, legal competence, that sort of thing. But I'm just not getting the opportunities to network and deal with clients to bring in the business. Sure, I'm on the ‘team,' but I'm never the lead counsel. That's what you have to do to make partner—bring in the business. And if I don't make partner in the next year or two, I'm out.”
She paused reflectively before concluding, “Most all the partners in the firm are male. Whether intentional or not, I really think there's a bias there that's keeping me from getting in front of clients. It just has to be the gender thing.”
It was not the gender thing.
The senior partner of the law firm had called a week earlier with his feedback on Lydia and his goals for our coaching session together. The upshot of his call was this: “Lydia's very competent legally. And she's very willing to put in the hours. But to date, we've been hesitant to put her in front of our clients or in the courtroom. I can't put my finger on what it is exactly, but she just lacks presence and polish. That's what I'm hoping you can accomplish with her.”
He proceeded to describe several symptoms, including this particular comment that stands out in my memory: “Even the way she introduces herself when she and the team meet clients or prospects for the first time minimizes her experience and our expertise as a firm. I've tried to give her a few pointers myself, but she doesn't take feedback well.”
Although dressed in a business suit as typical for her profession, Lydia arrived looking at least a decade out of step. In addition to the cold-fish handshake, her energy level seemed no higher than thirty watts. Her voice, too, lacked intensity. A permanent furrow seemed etched across her forehead. As I introduced her to others on my staff, she had difficulty chatting with them as they gathered for morning coffee. When I asked about interactions with clients and other executives in the firm, she rambled and lacked a strategic focus about the organization's goals. To most of my suggestions, her responses were “yes, but …” followed by a justification.
The first few minutes into our coaching session, I arrived at the same conclusion as her boss: Lydia lacked presence, and unfortunately for her future with the firm, she didn't take feedback well. Typically when clients leave a coaching session, they comment on how they plan to put the new skills and ideas into practice and promise to call back with the results.
I never heard from Lydia again.
On the other hand, Jon, CEO of a major aerospace defense contractor, profited handsomely from feedback. At the end of one of our coaching sessions, Jon said to me, “Okay, so tell me how to dress. I'm an engineer and I don't usually pay attention to that sort of thing. I'm divorced. Don't have a wife to give me opinions anymore. But I know it's important. And Kathryn, our VP of Communications, told me I need to get your opinion on dress for my first all-hands meeting and my speech for the conference in Germany. Colors? Button jacket or leave it open?”
We worked on his opening, a personal anecdote, for the all-hands speech for almost two hours, because his goal was to set the tone for the new direction for the company and inspire confidence in his ability to chart that new course.
Seemingly small things can make a big impact.
The “little” things can make a big difference in landing a job, getting a promotion, winning a contract, or leading an organization through change—as Jon, the new CEO, understood in successfully leading his organization to regain its position as industry leader. He won the hearts and minds of his organization with his first “state of the organization” speech to employees after assuming his office.
For the next six months as I was in and out of the organization, other executives commented on Jon as if he'd become a celebrity after his debut address. He had developed presence, and it had a huge impact—on him and his organization.
Personal presence may be difficult to define, but we all know it when we see it. Someone walks into the room and people step aside. Heads turn. Conversation opens up to include them. When they speak, people applaud or chime in. When they ask, people answer. When they lead, people follow. When they leave, things wind down.
People with presence look confident and comfortable, speak clearly and persuasively, think clearly even under pressure. They act with intention. People with presence reflect on their emotions, attitudes, and situations and then adapt. They accept responsibility for themselves and the results they achieve. People with presence are real. They present their genuine character authentically. What they say and do matches who they are.
Mother Teresa was as welcome and comfortable in the world's boardrooms as the most articulate CEO, the best-dressed movie star, or high-earning sports celebrity. At just five feet tall, dressed in her traditional habit, with few earthly possessions to call her own, Mother Teresa had at least one secret that many imitators lack. And unfortunately, this one—or its absence—takes a while to surface: character.
For forty-five years, armed with little but her integrity, her tongue, and her ability to make CEOs feel the plight of the poor, Mother Teresa persuaded them to finance her goals: orphanages, hospices, leper houses, hospitals, and soup kitchens. By the time of her death, 123 countries on six continents had felt her personal presence.
Presence can help you get a date, a mate, or a sale. Presence can help you lead a meeting, a movement, a revolution, or a nation. Presence appears in all segments of society and all levels of an organization.
Presence may be used for noble purposes or selfish goals. When politicians, athletes, movie stars, or managers slip into crass or manipulative behavior, we boycott their events, bad-mouth their leadership, and say they have no class.
Wherever you are and wherever you want to go, presence can help you get there.
I'm convinced that Mother Teresa had studied Aristotle. Back in the fourth century, he identified three essentials of persuasive communication—another big component of personal presence:
—logical argument (the ability to articulate your points clearly)
—emotion (the ability to create or control emotion in your listeners)
—character (the ability to convey integrity and goodwill)
Times haven't changed all that much. Being a skilled communicator—a huge part of personal presence—still grants social status and influence. In fact, communication makes leadership possible—in politics, in the community, in the workplace, in the family. Think how often pundits and voters alike point out a candidate's speaking ability and social skills—or lack thereof. Not only do we expect our presidents and celebrities to speak well, but also that has become the expected norm for CEOs, system analysts, sales professionals, and soccer moms.
As I mentioned in the Preface, you can never measure presence in the same sense that you can measure someone's heart rate or their running speed. Measuring someone's presence falls more along the lines of measuring their health. Generally, physicians can check reflexes, do an EKG, give a stress test, check cholesterol levels, do a blood and urine analysis, give a vision and hearing exam, and then certify that someone is free of disease and physically fit or unfit. Beyond that baseline of health, subjectivity comes into play. Individuals compete among themselves and against their own personal standards for healthy living according to the energy levels they want and lifestyles they want to lead.
But there are substantive core concepts involved at some point as well as subjectivity.
The same holds true for personal presence. This book aims to capture these core concepts about presence. Beyond these, what you see and hear comes down to others' perception of your presence. The book will also delve into the subjective realm—what affects others' subjective perceptions about your presence and credibility.
At work, the limiting label generally comes down to some supervisor's statement on a performance appraisal or around a conference room table that the person under discussion lacks “polish.”
Often we hear entire groups of rising superstars in an organization categorized and set aside for special mentoring or training this way: “These are the high potentials. We've identified them early on for key projects and high-visibility assignments in front of the executive team. We need you to help them add the finishing touches.”
Although they are technically competent, someone at the top has decided that they need more presence to make the next career jump. Certain commonalities always surface—common traits and attitudes among the candidates, as well as similar remarks from the executives sending them for the coaching.
—“Brilliant. But not well liked. Just doesn't connect with people.”
—“Doesn't always use the appropriate language—too flippant, too laid back.”
—“Too stiff, always looks a little nervous, with that deer-in-the-headlights look.”
—“Comes on too strong. Needs to dial it back.”
—“Doesn't dress appropriately. Just not what I call classy.”
—“Rambles. Knows her stuff, but gets off track and down in the weeds too easily.”
—“Tentative. Needs confidence.”
—“Has difficulty facilitating a meeting with a lot of strong personalities in the room.”
Whatever the comment, the superstar has hit a wall for a reason, and he or she has no idea what it is or how to “fix it.” Most people are aware, however, of the advantages increased presence brings them. They understand that influence demands personal presence.
This special categorization of “high potential” and help has been offered, not because this group of individuals ranks low on the continuum of personal presence. Exactly the opposite. They get tagged for “polish” because they already rank high on that continuum of presence and have shown excellent skills, potential, commitment, and interest in increasing their influence and impact to an even greater degree in the organization.
Presence is not an all-or-nothing commodity. Consider a continuum or a funnel such as you see in the chart below, with your physical attributes, natural talents, communication skills, and character traits plotted along the way somewhere from one end to the other between “low presence/low impact” and “high presence/ high impact.” All of us can inch a little closer to the high end every day as we present ourselves with awareness and intention.
Booher Consultants surveyed more than two hundred professionals across multiple industries to ask respondents their reasons for wanting to increase their personal presence. Forty-eight percent responded that their reason was either to “increase credibility in the organization” or “sell my ideas and projects.” Our consultants have been hearing the same reasons for the past thirty years as they've coached individual clients.
Our survey asked this question: “In general, how much does someone's personal presence affect how much credibility they have with you?” “A great deal” was the response from 74.5 percent of the survey participants.
So how do you make sure that you develop that certain mystique of personal presence?
Understand that there really is no mystery after all. This book picks up the baton where Aristotle left it: Becoming a persuasive communicator leads to credibility and influence. And you can develop those skills and attributes. You can have the same effect as CEOs, celebrities, civic leaders, and any influential individual if you develop your personal presence to its greatest impact.
The following chapters will provide practical tips and techniques that will help you connect with others and communicate with credibility, power, and significance. You've heard it said that someone has “the presence of mind” to do X. Likewise, this book covers the mental, physical, and emotional aspects of presence. To put it simply, your personal presence involves how you:
—look (your body language, handshake, movement, dress, surroundings)
—talk (the words you choose, the physical qualities of your voice, how you use your voice)
—think and communicate your thoughts (how you organize ideas and information, what you decide to pass on or withhold, how you frame issues)
—act (the attitudes, values, and competence your actions reveal)
As you increase your personal presence, you will strengthen your credibility and expand your influence. With that stronger impact, you'll increase your chances of achieving your personal and career goals and the mission and goals of your organization.
Your character serves as the foundation of the funnel. But your appearance is typically what others observe first about you. As you develop your presence in all four areas, you will increase your impact.
Specifically, you'll learn to:
• Think on your feet under pressure as you state opinions and answer questions.
• Cut through the clutter and communicate issues clearly in ways that engage others both intellectually and emotionally.
• Win others' trust by identifying specific steps to demonstrate your integrity and goodwill.
• Use your body language to build rapport and connect with an audience, an executive team, your staff, a prospective employer, and your clients.
• Eliminate body language that undermines your credibility and sabotages your success.
• Use your voice and language to demonstrate competence and calm rather than incompetence and stress.
• Position yourself as a thought leader with a strategic perspective.
No matter where each of us is on the continuum of personal presence, we can all improve. Personal presence is about developing your communication skills, thinking skills, and character to influence others for good and help you achieve your goals in life.
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