Leadership Presence: Reaching Out and Empathy

This week we continue our series on leadership presence – what it is and how we can attain it. Last week we looked at the first aspect of leadership presence, and arguably it’s foundation, being present.

For this next instalment, we will discuss the next step on the path to attaining leadership presence: reaching out with empathy. According to Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, authors of “Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire”, reaching out means “the ability to build relationships with others through empathy, listening, and authentic connection” (77).

This may sounds easy or obvious, but in fact is it not. A true leader is someone who reaches out first, and does not wait for opportunities to cross them by. In addition, it is one thing to reach out to others, to seek out opportunities, but if one does so without empathy and compassion, the effect will be lackluster. Both of these characteristics compliment each other and work together to foster leadership.

How Can I Learn to Reach Out and be Empathetic?

There is a saying: “people want to be loved, heard, and made to feel important.” This statement is true in every aspect of life, and especially in business. A true leader will make their colleagues feel heard, and their actions and ideas integral to any business situation. This includes, for example, active listening, as opposed to passive listening, and sensitivity in dealing with potentially awkward situations (such as someone’s terrible idea for a proposal to a potential client). Halpern and Lubar state: “When you know and acknowledge your people and their feelings, they feel more motivated, work more productively, and they’re more likely to stay, even if the going gets though” (89). If you can learn to reach out and be empathetic with your employees, they will be loyal to you and will work harder for you.

If empathy and the ability to reach out doesn’t exactly come natural to you, there are certain actions you can take to encourage this behavior in yourself.

Know What Makes People Tick

Being empathetic does not mean having warm and fuzzy feelings of happiness for the entire population; it simply means understanding someone’s thoughts and feelings. To do this adequately, it is important to get to know the person, and find out what makes them tick, so that you may better understand them in any situation.

Make The Link to Your Own Feelings

 In opposition to sympathy, empathy involves feeling with someone, as opposed to for someone. Therefore, empathy requires you to connect with your own feelings and inner self. Many leaders have the “bad habit” of leaving all their feelings at home before coming to the office. If you do this, your ability to empathize will be gravely affected. We often see this be the case for some in our 360 with clients. Categories of respondents differ in their opinions of the subject. Friends and family will rate their empathy high while colleagues, direct reports and bosses rate it low.

You Can Empathize With Anyone

Naturally, it is easier to empathize with people we like. Empathizing and connecting with others that you may not like or respect can be a challenge, but it is certainly not impossible. Halpern and Lubar suggest thinking about the person with whom you cannot connect with, and trying to find at least one thing (however, the more the better) that you admire about that person, and connecting with them surrounding that. The authors state: “In the end, though, empathy doesn’t involve finding what you like in someone else. It involves finding the humanity in someone else, even in their weakness, and connecting that humanity to your own” (98).

A study of over 38,000 leaders and their organizations (conducted by Hay/McBer), found that “leadership styles that rely heavily on empathy tended to create a more positive company climate {…}” (99), and as we can imagine, a more positive company climate will lead to positive company results.

This week, challenge yourself to connect with others, and especially to those whom you may know you’ll have trouble connecting with. See what a difference empathy can make on your path to developing your leadership presence.

Works Cited

Halpern, Belle Linda and Kathy Lubar. Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire. New York: Gotham Books, 2003. Print.

Is it time to rebrand?

Many companies choose to rebrand from time to time in order to stay relevant and up-to-date, or to establish a new direction for their organization. This does not mean changing the core foundations of a company, but rather refreshing its look or brand imagery, repositioning its strengths, or changing its marketing tactics for a new target audience.

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Just as rebranding occurs on a corporate level, it is also a good idea to consider whether your personal brand needs a refresh. Here are three tips to re-positioning your brand so it best reflects you and your professional goals.

  • Before You Begin: Self-Reflection
    Before you even think about what kind of changes you will implement to your brand, first consider high-level questions about how you see yourself as a professional. Where do you want to be in five years? What are your key strengths that could help you reach your goal? Who are important contacts that you should connect with?

    Revising a personal brand is not a decision to be made on a whim – it should be viewed as a long-term strategy in helping you establish your name, accomplishments, skills, and ideas to get you where you want to be now and in the future. Once you consider big questions about your professional path, it will be easier to think of how to position your brand.

  • Refreshing Your Brand Image
    Even if you are not planning for major career changes in the near future, it is still advisable to keep your personal brand image current.

    Replace your headshot at least every ten years to ensure that you are recognizable to new and existing contacts on your website and LinkedIn profile. For personalized stationery, business cards, and digital platforms like your website, ensure that visual elements such as colour scheme and typeface still represent you properly and do not appear outdated.

    If you choose to change up colours, fonts, or your professional headshot, make sure that the visual elements align on all platforms associated with your brand. This includes your resume, stationery, business cards, email signature, blog, website, and social media accounts. A mixture of old and new branding can appear sloppy.

  • Rethinking Self-Marketing Strategies
    How you present yourself to new contacts, on both digital platforms and face-to-face contexts, is an essential part of your personal brand.

    For meeting new professionals, it is helpful to have a clear and concise “elevator pitch” about yourself, including your interests and experience. Developing a self-summary will enable you to introduce yourself consistently to different people and will assist you in considering your objectives.

    Ensure that your self-introduction on digital platforms serves the same purpose. Your LinkedIn summary and profile should highlight the same elements of your verbal self-introduction. Further, the content you create on digital platforms, such as LinkedIn updates, blog posts, and tweets, should at least indirectly align with your brand identity.

Do not take a personal rebrand lightly: it should set the tone for your personal brand in years to come. Yet when done properly, a personal rebrand can set you on the right path to reach your professional goals.

For more on this topic, see our previous blog post, “Building Your Personal Brand.”

Your Selfie, Your Professional Self

How much information do you share about yourself online? On your personal Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts, how large of a window do you let into your life?

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Posting personal photos and updates on social media is nothing new or unusual. If you do it, you are among millions of other users worldwide who share some elements of their private lives on a public platform. When this becomes an issue, however, is if the presentation of yourself on social media – whether through group photos, self-taken images or “selfies,” or written posts – is vastly different from the image you try to cultivate in the workplace.

“But this is my personal profile,” many have argued. “I have a separate profile for my work-related tweets and Facebook posts.” This may be the case, but lines become blurred between personal and professional on social media. A boss, client, or potential employer could have access to both – and it may not work to your advantage.

  • Be Careful What You Selfie For
    In some cases, the selfie and its subjects have acquired a connotation of being self-centred, overly indulgent, and simply unnecessary. Aside from this annoyance that some people feel when viewing the selfies of others, such images can harm the photographer if they reveal him or her participating in inappropriate behaviour.

    Although selfies have become normalized and encouraged – there is now even a professional camera designed for taking selfies – be wary of your own selfie-image and how often you post them. Before posting a selfie to social media, ask yourself if it aligns with the image you present in the office. One useful tip is to think of an actual person in your professional circle – whether an employer, client, or otherwise – and ask yourself whether you would mind if that individual saw the selfie you were about to post.

  • Don’t Compromise Your Reputation
    Reputation is an indispensible component of Executive Presence. However, even if you have worked for years to build up a flawless reputation in the boardroom, inappropriate online posts or images on personal accounts can shatter that reputation in an instant. Although you can heal a bruised reputation, it takes much more time and effort than maintaining a good reputation in the first place.

    Not only can questionable images hinder your reputation, but also hateful or negative written posts can do damage as well. Even something that seems like a harmless complaint can have a massive effect, especially if it is related to your company or line of work.

  • First Impressions Are Not Always in Person
    First impressions do not always occur face-to-face. In fact, an increasing number of employers admit to reviewing job candidates’ social media accounts before hiring. According to a 2014 Jobvite poll, some employers not only factor in appropriate images and posts, but also details such as spelling and grammar.

    If you are concerned about your online first impression, take steps to improve its quality – or limit its accessibility. If others tag you in images you would not like to be widely available, remove the tag and ask friends not to tag you in the future. Increase the privacy settings on your Facebook account and consider making your Twitter private as well.

Remember that if your social media accounts are widely accessible, there is no difference between your professional and personal image – anyone can see both. For more on social media and professionalism, see our previous posts “Dining Etiquette in the Age of Food Selfies” and “Spring Cleaning for Your LinkedIn Profile.”

 

Tips for Maintaining Grace Under Fire

Gravitas, one of the three core pillars of Executive Presence, is not a single trait but a combination of many characteristics. Among them, confidence, decisiveness, reputation and vision are key. Another indispensible element of gravitas? The ability to maintain calm and collected under intense pressure – otherwise known as “grace under fire.”

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Like any feature of Executive Presence, the ability to demonstrate grace under fire is not a given trait. It must be learned and practiced. Staying focused and maintaining a cool head under pressure is certainly not easy – and those such as politicians, athletes, CEOs or other individuals whose jobs require them to be constantly on the spot must train in order to excel in their fields.

That said, nearly everyone has faced intense pressure in the workplace at some point – no matter what their job. And if you want to enhance your own Executive Presence, you too must find and practice strategies that work for you to remain calm during heated moments. Here are some tips that may help you to demonstrate “grace under fire.”

  • The first step: breathe. If you are faced with a stressful situation or if a colleague or client is demanding an immediate answer, you must remember that minimal time will be lost if you pause for a moment to breathe. Inhale, exhale, and then proceed with addressing the situation. Oxygen intake will force you to calm down, and taking even a couple of extra seconds to respond will help you refrain from blurting the first response that pops in your head.
  • Try not to take the stress of others personally. If a colleague, boss or client addresses you rudely or is very demanding, remind yourself that they likely are not trying to attack you, but rather are projecting their own stress. Though it is difficult to do so, try to detach some emotion from stressful situations in the workplace. This will help you to view the conflict through an objective, rational lens.
  • When responding to questions or demands while under pressure, avoid making up answers or excuses that you do not support or believe in. It’s not worth it to respond to a situation right away with a quick answer that is not genuine or well thought-out. Try to take time to consider an answer that you will not regret or want to change later.
  • Filter out demands that are top priority and address minor concerns later. Intense pressure on the job often comes from not one source, but from many demands all piling down on you at once. Instead of trying to fix everything immediately, prioritize what is most essential. This will allow you to focus, which is essential for staying calm in critical moments.

What tips work for you when you are under pressure? How do you maintain “grace under fire” on the job and elsewhere?

Silence Speaks Volumes

Recently I read an anecdote about the power of silence. It described an event with thousands of people crowded into one room, with everyone chatting at once and no one paying attention to the individuals speaking at the front of the room. Three speakers failed to get the attention of the crowd – until, at last, one speaker simply stood in silence in front of the microphone. Soon after, all eyes were on him and you could hear a pin drop in the room. He achieved this using no words at all.

This story inspired me to think of the great value of silence in business, and what using silence can accomplish: not only to capture the attention of a crowd, but also to demonstrate respect, speak using other forms of non-verbal communication, and help you be the most articulate you can be. In this post, we talk about a few of the many ways that silence matters in business.

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Stay Silent – and Listen Up
In a conversation, sometimes the most important thing you can contribute is simply listening. To remain silent and listen may seem like no contribution at all, but it takes effort to be fully present in a conversation – and the rewards pay off.

 

  • What can you expect to learn from another individual, whether a mentor, colleague, superior, or friend, if you constantly feel the need to assert your own opinion? Especially in a professional setting with new or unfamiliar information, keep your ears open constantly. By taking in the most knowledge as possible from others, you will continue to learn and grow – which will lead to upward mobility in your career.
  • Show the utmost respect to the person you are conversing with by silencing your other conversations. Unless absolutely necessary, take your cell phone off the table during meetings. When someone comes to your office to talk, darken your computer screen or close your laptop. This will help you focus on the individual and will make your meetings more efficient, too.
  • For more on the importance of listening, check out or blog post on Why Engaged Listening Matters in Business.

Choosing Words Carefully
Never be afraid letting a conversation hang in brief silence before answering a question or responding to a comment. In fact, you should get used to it!

  • Before immediately jumping to respond to a question or comment, take a moment to reflect on your words. Not only will this help you to craft a more articulate response, it will also incite the attention of others. People will begin to notice that you take time, energy, and thought into answering a question – and that you are not simply blurting out the first thing that pops into your mind.
  • This is an especially important tip during a job interview or a first-time meeting with a client. It creates a positive first impression that you are a thoughtful, conscious individual. This first impression will inform your professional relationships and will work to your advantage.

Silence Speaks for Itself
When you are silent, in no way does it mean you are not communicating. The next time you are not talking, pay close attention to how you may be speaking without words.

  • Body language, even when standing still, says a lot about you and your attitude. Are you standing with slouched shoulders, arms crossed, or fidgeting? If so, others may perceive you as bored or apathetic. Or, is your posture aligned, your shoulders back, and hands on your hips or at your sides? This suggests you are confident, prepared, and alert.
  • When listening to someone, eye contact is key to let that person know that you are interested in and engaged with what they are saying. If you are truly listening but your eyes are wandering around the room, the speaker might suspect your indifference.

Your professional image speaks volumes about you. If you do not take the time to polish your image by paying attention to dress codes, fit and cut of clothing, age-appropriate attire, and grooming, your image can silently override anything you have to say – no matter how articulate you are.