As we discussed last week, leadership presence and executive presence are two terms that are nearly interchangeable; they both share many of the same characteristics and qualities, and they both can be learned.
This week is the second installation of this blog series, on being present. Being present doesn’t simply mean paying attention, but truly focusing on the task at hand. Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, in their book “Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire”, explain that, similar to actors, a big part of being able to stay focused is to be able to handle pressure. We refer to this as being able to remain calm under pressure.
Being aware to handle pressure
One of the best ways to handle pressure – whether on stage during a performance, or during a performance in the boardroom – is to be completely aware of your surroundings. Who’s in the room with you? Where are you sitting in relation to others? What is the lighting situation in the room? Are there any windows? Knowing as much as possible about your surroundings will help you master them, and in turn, will help you master your performance and keep cool under pressure. This is what we refer to listening at Level 3, listening to the environment. Level 1 is all about me and Level 2 is about the two-way conversation, an exchange of give and take. Never all one sided as in Level 1.
Being present in today’s fast-paced world
We live in a society where time seems to be passing us by at lighting speeds, and where the present moment seems to pass us by almost immediately. From texts to emails to phone calls, we are expected to read right away, respond right away and act right away, while usually doing other things at the same time; it seems we are in a constant state of multi-tasking. People appear to speed walk everywhere they go, or are running to catch a cab or a train to their next destination. So how can we stay present in such a fast-paced environment?
Halpern and Lubar discuss that all this frantic activity “only exacerbates the underlying problem – how we react to our own feelings of fear” (Halpern and Lubar 26). Fear is a crippling emotion that must be overcome if you are to stay present in the moment.
Three guidelines for “getting present” (Halpern and Lubar 28)
- Focus on the physical
- Be in the body: as an exercise, start from your feet and feel them firmly planted on the ground. Work your way up and feel every part of your body, taking note of different sensations and feelings. Truly inhabit your body. This not only relates back to the idea of being aware, but will also help you deal with feeling of fear (because it will help you feel stable and grounded).
- Breathe: breathing is an extremely powerful tool that we do not use to our advantage. Practice deep breathing and diaphragmatic breathing (click here for a quick tutorial). Be sure to inhale with your belly – this will help the brain reduce the release of adrenaline during a stressful situation, helping you to stay present.
- Change your perspective
- As opposed to the physical techniques mentioned above, mentally changing your perspective can help you stay present at well. To put it simply: open your mind; see the bigger picture. Don’t get bogged down in details that shouldn’t matter. Try to see things from a bigger, more significant perspective.
- Let thoughts go, let feelings be
- In order to let go – let go of feelings of fear, doubt, and uncertainty – one must be able to accept what is causing these feelings and embrace them, as opposed to letting them cripple you. “By separating thoughts from fear and letting go, we can free ourselves” (Halpern and Lubar 36).
Being present is the first step needed on the path to obtaining leadership presence. It is the foundation, and without it, the other steps would not be possible. This week, challenge yourself to be present in every moment, and see what a huge difference it can make.
P.S. Check out this great article on “Mindful Meetings” and the benefits to be reaped when when is “present” during a meeting!
Halpern, Belle Linda and Kathy Lubar. Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire. New York: Gotham Books, 2003. Print.