5 Strategies to develop leadership presence (hint, remember to breathe).
Posted on April 02, 2020 by Alice Carleton, One of Thousands of Leadership Coaches on Noomii.
As you step into new leadership roles, greater confidence is required, plus a key essential skill—leadership presence.
Your star is rising because of your skills as an individual contributor and reputation for stepping up without a second thought. Work ethic, creative problem-solving, flexibility, and follow-through—these qualities definitely got you this far. As you step into a new or expanded leadership role, however, these are now a given—the new baseline.
Leading a team or vertical for the first time; pitching to clients and senior leadership; advocating for your team; influencing “dotted line” reports, these all require a new kind of confidence and essential skill—leadership presence. Whether you identify as an introvert or an extrovert, leadership presence (also referred to as executive presence) is defined as the ability to “read and command a room” across a variety of settings, convey your point with clarity and concision, and strike a balance between speaking and listening. In other words, a communication style that is empathetic, persuasive, and impactful.
So, how do you develop ‘leadership presence’? And, maintain a new level of confidence no matter what the scenario—new or familiar, high-stakes or day-to-day, large audiences or small groups, formal or casual settings, alike?
1. FIRST AND LAST, BREATHE.
This might seem basic, but it’s no joke. And, it can make all the difference. Take a few deep breaths before you start your day; before you answer your first email or make your first call; en route to your next meeting; and, definitely, before a high-stake conversation or pitch. This simple best practice not only helps you to re-center, it also supports clearer thinking and improved posture, helps regulate heart rate and body temperature, and can even affect your vocal resonance. In turn, setting the tone as a confident (and present) leader.
Being nervous at times as a leader is natural, especially when it comes to public speaking. It gets easier but may never completely go away. Don’t let nerves spiral into negative self-talk, closed body language, or a tentative communication style when confidence matters most.
PRO TIP: If you get thrown off, take a moment to reset. Pause and take a deep breath, remember you’re not alone (you’ve got people rooting for your success), smile, and refocus on what matters most—the point you’re making, the audience in front of you, the common goal or interest you all share.
2. BE YOUR OWN STYLIST.
Organizational cultures vary widely, and for many companies, there isn’t a set dress code. This doesn’t mean what you wear doesn’t matter. It absolutely does. Especially, as a new or emerging leader, when every day brings new opportunities to make a great first—and lasting—impression. The adage “dress for the role you want” still stands true. When in doubt, look to the executive team as far as how casual or formal you should lean, then make it your own.
Whether you are a minimalist, working on a capsule wardrobe, or receive weekly deliveries from Stitch Fix, developing a professional style that makes you feel confident, at ease, and prepared for all occasions, doesn’t require a walk-in closet or an unlimited budget.
If you’re not sure where to start, grab a trusted friend whose sense of style you admire and ask them to be your copilot and “stylist for a day.” Then, shop in your own closet. Try things on. Be strict about great fit and condition. Figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what’s missing. Pull together at least 15-20 or more go-to outfits that when you look in the mirror, you feel like yourself, but also your best self. Be willing to donate, consign, or recycle items that didn’t make the cut, and to invest in a few new pieces, even if it takes time.
Your favorite top or t-shirt paired with jeans and a blazer. A statement dress or suit. Killer boots or your best kicks. Any of these can be the inspiration for a kick@ss professional style that evolves as you do. No matter what your style, know (and love) what you have in your closet, care for it well, and make every day count.
PRO TIP: Take a few minutes at night to lay out what you’re going to wear the next day. This gives you a chance to check the weather (practical), look ahead at your calendar (prepared), get ahead of any wardrobe malfunctions (organized), and trial run how you’ll feel when you walk out the door (self-assured).
3. PREPARATION MATTERS. RESILIENCE MATTERS MORE.
When it comes to pitching anything, preparation, forethought, and attention to detail not only support a well-crafted deck or proposal, these also bolster an added sense of calm.
Equally important? Resilience. An unexpected glitch (the internet connection is spotty); mishap (your pitch partner is stuck in traffic); or challenge (a question you didn’t anticipate); these can throw anyone off their game. When things don’t go as planned, your ability to recover and remain focused on what is most important—conveying your message with energy and authenticity—is what’s remembered by your audience whether it’s a room of 200 people, a brand new client, or your CEO.
If something goes awry, before you apologize profusely, make excuses, or get defensive— maintain perspective, be resourceful, and read the room. If you can discreetly get ahead of the situation without comprising the pitch, this is, of course, ideal. If not, then acknowledging an awkward moment with a sincere, “thank you for your patience” or “I appreciate your question, and I will find out” can go a long way. Well-timed humor can help, too. Whatever allows everyone (including you) to feel at ease and move forward.
PRO TIP: Minimize unknowns by making the unfamiliar, more familiar. Arrive on-site a few minutes early. Check out your client’s LinkedIn profile. Introduce yourself to other panel speakers. Read your new CEO’s latest blog. Taking small steps to familiarize yourself with a person or environment, especially before a pitch or presentation, can help reduce anxiety, increase a sense of connectedness, and eliminate unnecessary surprises.
4. ELIMINATE TENTATIVE LANGUAGE (AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS).
So, let’s recap. You’re remembering to breathe. You look amazing. You’re prepared for anything. Now it’s time to deliver your pitch, woo a major client, advocate for your team. Whatever the scenario, not only what you say, but how you say it matters more and more as your scope of influence and authority expands.
You may not even realize you are doing it, but the most commonly used tentative language and filler words include “just,” “kinda,” “sorta,” and “like,” “umm,” or “you know.” Other examples include saying “sorry,” “maybe,” “or whatever,” as well as, speaking fast, trailing off, or turning a statement into a question.
Other related habits to be aware of that can diminish leadership presence include fidgeting, lack of eye contact, a sarcastic or sullen tone, arriving late, or being preoccupied during a meeting or conversation. Just one of these behaviors can distract from an otherwise formidable leader presence. More than one can, if habitual, can have negative consequences, including being overlooked for new opportunities or career advancement. Becoming more aware of and minimizing your verbal tics* early on as a leader can be a gamechanger.
PRO TIP: Record yourself or ask for feedback from a trusted colleague, coach, or mentor. Identify which habits are most prevalent and prioritize 1 or 2 to practice eliminating from your everyday speech. It can feel awkward at first, but the impact is worth the effort. Once you’ve gotten comfortable minimizing the first couple, including in higher-stake settings, then repeat the exercise, picking 1 or 2 new habits to focus on. *Check out the video link above for additional tips.
5. ALWAYS BE BUILDING: TRUST. EMPATHY. RAPPORT.
As leaders, always be building one or more of these essential interpersonal skills at all times.
A favorite acronym of mine from The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, is DWYSYWD, which stands for “Do What You Say You Will Do.” As simple as this sounds, it is the foundation of integrity and building 360° trust in all directions. And, it forces us as leaders to be more thoughtful about our words and commitments, to prioritize service over comfort, and to be diligent in our follow-through. Establishing a culture of trust, which Daniel Coyle puts forth in his book, The Culture Code, is built from a true sense of belonging, shared vulnerability, and a common purpose. These principles in action will have an immeasurable impact on your effectiveness as a leader, team, and organization.
Empathy and empathetic leadership are referred to more and more every day as the neuroscience and research on emotional intelligence (EQ) as a key barometer of success have become irrefutable. Conveying steady optimism, warmth, and approachability can make the difference in motivating and empowering others through smooth or rough waters, alike.
A great place to start towards practicing more empathy is to ask vs. tell. As managers, we generally become pretty comfortable with “telling” others what we know, what needs to be done, what needs to be fixed, etc. As leaders, it may seem counterintuitive at first, but when we focus on “asking” others for their ideas, perspective, and feedback, this not only builds more in-depth understanding and stronger empathy, it also establishes accessibility, reinforces a culture of trust, and leads to greater unity, accountability, and empowerment.
Building rapport means constantly seeking common ground or “the highest common denominator.” There will always be differences of opinion when leading, persuading, or collaborating with others. Instead of coercing or convincing, think of persuasion as advocating for an idea or opportunity then inviting others to join you and be a part of it.
Accounting for differences is essential, especially when it comes to unconscious bias. Equally important is establishing a clear and compelling intersection between what you are saying and why your audience should care. For example, right before presenting a new, controversial, or big idea for which you are seeking other’s buy-in, tee up your proposal by saying something like “towards our shared objective to streamline processes across the board…” or “in alignment with our value of ‘challenging the status quo’…” You get the gist.
PRO TIP: As a leader, always strive to be clear, concise, and compelling. This is a lifelong adventure. Prepare to fall short, at times. Continue to set your sights high and take micro risks every day. No matter what happens, be thoughtful, sincere, and present. And, most importantly—remember to breathe.