Double Standards: Why Women Often Struggle with Their Executive Presence

women-executive-presenceWe hope you enjoyed our blog series on The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle. There was certainly a lot to cover from the book, and in reality, each section covered could have been expanded upon much more. However, there was one section in particular, on power, that is arguably one of the most important sections from the book. Power can either make or break you; power comes first, and everything falls into place afterwards. It is for that reason that this week we will delve further into notions of power and powerlessness, what it means, and how it affects things like your physiology and emotional and mental states.

Dr. Amy Cuddy, a global leader on research around presence and body language, has recently published a book called Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Chapter five in this book is entitled “How Powerlessness Shackles the Self (and How Power Sets It Free), and it examines the differences between personal and social power (which was covered in the Secret Handshake blog series), and the difference between having power and being powerless. Dr. Cuddy begins by explaining that powerlessness can often come about when were are faced with a big change in our lives, and is followed by a self-perceived loss of power, accompanied by feelings of insecurity and anxiety. This depleted state that we experience makes us feel that we cannot cope with the situation at hand. When this happens, opportunities become threats, and therefore we actively avoid them. This is arguably the most important aspect of power versus powerlessness: when you feel powerless, you avoid opportunities, and vice versa. Power activates the behavioural approach system, and powerlessness, the behavioural inhibition system.

Another important aspect of power that is essential to understand is that personal power is uniquely essential (as opposed to social power). As Cuddy states: “Unless we feel personally powerful, we cannot achieve presence, and all the social power in the world won’t compensate for its absence” (114).

Feeling Powerless

  • Feeling powerless impairs thought: powerlessness and the anxiety that results from it undermine what psychologists call executive functions. These executive functions include high-order cognitive tools like reasoning and attention control. It also induces goal neglect, which is the phenomenon of failing to remain focused on a goal
  • Powerlessness makes us feel self-absorbed: the link between anxiety and self-absorption is bidirectional – the more self-focused we are, the more anxious we become
  • Powerlessness prevents presence

Feeling Powerful

  • Power can protect us: power acts as a buffer against negative emotions
  • Power can connect us: feeling powerful can often improve our ability to read and relate to other people. In addition, when we feel powerful we allow ourselves to be more open to others
  • Power can liberate our thinking: power seems to improve our ability to make good decisions under complex conditions
  • Power can synchronize us: feeling powerful can synchronize our thoughts, feelings and behaviours
  • Power can incite action: simply put, feeling powerful makes people proactive
  • Power can make our actions more effective: remember how when we feel powerful, we approach opportunities instead of running away from them?

Clearly, there are so many incredible side-effects of feeling personally powerful. Not only does power positively affect our lives in these ways, but it also affects our physiology. For instance, studies have shown that high-status individuals (i.e. those who possess social power) tend to have high levels of basal testosterone, which is the dominance and assertiveness hormone. Secondly, those who lack feelings of power often exhibit higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. It therefore makes sense that people who have a high sense of personal power cope better in crises. Evidently, the power of power cannot, and should not, go unnoticed.

Ways to increase your personal power can be so simple as to adopt a better body posture. Other ways include adjusting how you speak with and engage with others, as well as actively trying to deter negative thoughts that make you feel powerless. When you do so, you will notice feelings of power slowly encroaching in your day-to-day interactions. Others will notice too!

Works Cited

Cuddy, Amy. Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. Print.

Self-Knowing and Authenticity

Alas! We have finally reached the last blog post on Leadership Presence – self-knowing and authenticity. Over the past few weeks, we’ve discovered what leadership presence means, what it can do for you, and how to attain it. Last week we began to dissect the final piece of the puzzle in the quest to obtaining leadership presence: self-knowing. This week, we continue with this theme but discuss it in terms of authenticity.

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What is authenticity? Well, at its most basic level, it means to be genuine. To be genuine is to be oneself. The ability to connect with others in the business world is of the utmost importance, however the connecting must be done genuinely, or authentically, for it to have any meaning or impact.

According to Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, authors of “Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire”, there are three rules for authenticity. We shall discuss each in detail below.

Rule #1: Accept yourself and be open to growth (Halpern and Lubar 230)

Many of the greatest leaders feel comfortable and happy with themselves, despite their shortcomings. They know of their weaknesses and work to improve them, however they also accept them. When you’re aware of, and accepting of, your limitations it will allow you to develop the skills you need to overcome them. In addition, a good leader will know if their limitations cannot be overcome, at least in a timely manner, and in that case will delegate the task to someone more appropriately equipped to handle the situation. One of the best ways to accept yourself is to be open to hearing commentary about yourself and your performance, including criticism.

Rule #2: Live your values (Halpern and Lubar 235)

 In the last blog, we discussed values and how important they are to a leader. Well, it’s one thing to have values, however it’s another to put them into practice, especially in a workplace setting. Halpern and Lubar suggest leaders take two related steps in order to make sure their actions are congruent with their values:

  1. Ask others straight up if they believe you are someone who lives your values.
  2. Every time you speak of your values, ask others to tell you when your actions don’t align with your values.

It’s one thing to realize or discover that your actions don’t align with your values. If and when you do realize this, it is imperative you do some soul searching in order to figure out why this discrepancy exists, and then come up with a plan to correct the discrepancy. Remember, when your actions and values don’t align, you risk being perceived as inauthentic.

Rule #3: Create an authentic connection to work (Halpern and Lubar 240)

In order for a leader to be their most inspiring, authentic self, they must connect their values and interior life to the work that they do, similarly to how actors need to create a true connection to the characters they are portraying. At the end of the day, it is simply about creating meaning; if you truly believe in what you do and say, others will recognize that and will want to follow you. Connecting authentically with others allows the leader, as well as the led, to connect with something “bigger than themselves and their own self-interest” (Halpern and Lubar 247).

Being a leader is not about being “the boss”; it is about much more than that. It’s about inspiring, connecting, and motivating others to succeed and reach their highest potential. It is about communication, values, and the ability to make decisions. The steps we’ve outlined over the past few weeks are not necessarily the easiest things to do (opening up to others and becoming vulnerable is typically an anxiety-causing activity for most), however, if put into practice, they will help you achieve the leadership presence you deserve and need to reach the next level.

Works Cited

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

 

Leadership Presence: Reaching Out and Making Connections

As our series of blogs on Leadership Presence continues, our hope is that you take some of these suggestions into practice, in order to foster leadership presence in yourself, not just at work, but in every aspect of your life.

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Last week we discussed reaching out and empathy, and this week we continue on the topic of reaching out, but specifically reaching out and making connections.

According to Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, authors of “Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire”, empathy not only requires seeing and feeling, but also expression. What do they mean by this? It is what you do to communicate and act upon empathy that truly counts.

The focus of this entry is building relationships. The trick to building relationships, which is absolutely necessary if you want to be considered a leader, is to do so with empathy. But how?

 

Rules For Building Empathetic Relationships (Halpern and Lubar 109)

  1. Listen to build relationships
    1. This week again we see the importance of listening. The authors suggest listening for subtext (look for hidden meaning and emotion in the persons words). In addition, they suggest listening for the persons values and strengths, which can be an easy way to connect with someone.
  2. Acknowledge the person
    1. It is important, when listening, to acknowledge feelings, values and strengths that the other person might be trying to get across, but in a not-so-obvious fashion. The idea here is to turn off the “problem-solving” part of the brain when someone comes to you for help, and really listen to what they are saying beneath the words themselves. Another way to do this is to offer positive insights based on what you heard the person say. Remember, “people want to be loves, heard, and made to feel important.”
  3. Share yourself
    1. “Openness is critical for coaching” (119), say Halpern and Lubar in their book. This statement could not be truer, especially in business. It is integral to be vulnerable if you are to be a successful coach. Reveal the chinks in your armor, so to speak, and let others see who you really are; they will be more likely to follow you if you do.

It is important to mention that, although opening up and sharing yourself is necessary if you want to be a successful leader, there is also a limit. The authors suggest doing this in stages (offering bits of information here and there), and seeing how others respond. Don’t tell others your life story the moment you meet them!

The challenge this week is to try to open up and become vulnerable (yes, this will likely be difficult, and possibly even uncomfortable!), and see how others respond to you. Remember, it is all about making connections, and you wont be able to do so if you’re a vault!

Works Cited

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

 

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.