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The POWER of PRESENCEUnlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others
By KRISTI HEDGES
AMACOMCopyright © 2012 Kristi Hedges
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Are You Thinking?
Executive presence begins in your head. It resides in how you think about yourself, your abilities, your environment, and your potential.
Nearly everyone has an excellent presence; it may simply manifest itself in another part of your life. Perhaps you are charismatic and confident as your son's baseball coach, or you are empathetic and inspiring to your best friend. You give a bang-up speech at your college friend's 40th birthday party, or have just the right words to encourage your sister.
Most of what you need is right there in you, waiting to be tapped for your professional life.
If you are concerned that having executive presence means faking it, consider yourself reassured. The kind of presence that attracts other people to you, makes your team want to move mountains for you, and propels you ahead is the opposite of fake. It is pure authenticity—being more of the person you already are, without the mental subterfuge that gets in the way.
I-Presence starts with "intentional" presence, because it is the driver. There are no tips or tricks that will make up for a lack of intentionality. In fact, sometimes tips can make things worse. Many executives, fresh from tip-laden training in public speaking, find themselves even more nervous and less authentic than before because it feels forced. They have all the same feelings and anxieties about speech giving, but now they are also trying to remember to stand this way or gesticulate that way. You can buy an expensive car with all the latest features and a GPS, but if you don't know the address of your destination, you won't get where you want to go.
You need to pick up the right intentions and let go of what's in the way.
Intentional Is as Intentional Is Perceived
You may be thinking, "Isn't every functioning professional intentional? If I weren't, I couldn't keep my job." Well, yes, you're right. And I bet you can point to many times in your day when you aren't as thoughtful about your actions as you could be—especially as it relates to your presence. And we can easily call out this tendency in other people, too.
Let me take a moment to describe what I mean by being intentional: I define having an intentional presence as understanding how you want to be perceived and subsequently communicating in a manner so that you will be perceived the way you want. It means aligning your thoughts with your words and actions. And it requires a keen understanding of your true, authentic self, as well as your impact on others.
There are different kinds of intentions. Some are broad and relatively stable, such as when you declare, "I want to be a visionary leader." Other intentions are situational, such as, "In this strategy session, I must be the catalyst for change." We'll discuss various types of intentions in the chapters in Part 1, and how to put them into practice in your life.
Trust that intentions change your presence. I see it every day. You will, too.
You Are What You Think, Even When You're Not Paying Attention
In January 2001, Harvard Business Review featured an article by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz labeling today's executives as corporate athletes. The article addressed how to bring an athletic training methodology to the development of leaders. This approach makes tremendous sense on a number of levels, and especially in terms of mental conditioning.
Anyone who follows sports knows the importance of an athlete's focus. We all admired Michael Phelps at the Beijing 2008 Olympics as he listened to his iPod stone-faced, concentrating, before he dove into the water. We respect an athlete's ability to use positive visualization and intention, and readily acknowledge its benefit.
Somehow, though, outside of athletics such rituals seem unnecessary or even silly. It reminds us of Al Franken's famous Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smalley saying to himself in the mirror, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." Taking the time to have the discussion with yourself about what you want to accomplish with your presence may seem more like pop psychology/self-help than hard-core executive training.
Guess again. Taking the time to figure out what you want your presence to convey is a critical and powerful first step. That is the image of yourself you want to keep in mind as you do your own dive into the water. It's your mental aim.
The Wrong Internal Conversation: Why I'm a Disaster at Golf (and You Might Be, Too)
As you develop your mental aim, you also need to determine what conversation is currently in your head and how it may need to change. Even when you aren't paying attention, your internal conversation is always happening.
Scott Eblin, author of The Next Level, convincingly describes intention as a "swing thought," likening it to the last thing golfers think before their club strikes the ball. (Eblin is a coaching colleague from Georgetown, and I have to thank him for the original comparison of intention to athletic focus—a common reference that's helpful for so many people to think about.)
For anyone who has played golf, you readily get the swing-thought idea. And even if you haven't, you can probably understand how hitting that tiny ball dead-solid perfect requires a whole lot of mental focus. It's the make-or-break factor.
When I was in my early thirties, I decided to learn golf. I took lessons, got the right clubs, and practiced diligently. At the driving range with the pro, I wasn't half bad. However, I was terrible when I got on the course. Competitive and averse to failure, I was self-conscious about how I played compared to others around me. I'd choke when I got to the tee and have an all-around miserable game. When I was paired with other golfers, it got even worse. Still I kept trying, remaining furious at myself for hitting well in practice and then falling apart on the course. After a few years with no improvement, I gave it up.
My golf-playing days were before I was a coach. At the time, I didn't have the ability to fully understand what was happening. When I got up to the tee, my swing thought was literally, "Don't embarrass yourself." Is it any wonder that I was such a disaster?
Negative swing thoughts are alive and well off the golf course. I hear them from clients all the time, either stated or unstated. They include:
— I can't speak in public.
— I'm not a people person.
— I'll appear self-promoting.
— I'm an introvert and can't network well.
— I'm just not good in these situations.
— I don't have what it takes to play the office politics game.
Any of these pretexts sound familiar? If this is where you are placing your mental focus, you can bet it's showing up in your presence, and maybe even screaming.
Neuroleadership is discussed in-depth in Chapter 9. One of the main findings of those studying in this field is that our intentions actually shape how the human brain functions. The intentions that we hold in our head, either positive or negative, create mental shortcuts that become a veritable path of least resistance. The more we think something, the easier it is for our mind to process it. That's why it's critical to be fully aware of any negative thoughts blocking your progress. I've included an exercise (see sidebar) to help you "uncover your negative thoughts."
Knowing what our limiting thoughts are, and replacing them intentionally, is the only way to create a different possibility. Eventually, the possibility becomes the new and improved shortcut.
How Intention Plays in the Course of Work
A few years ago, I was coaching Alan S., a senior executive at a Fortune 500 finance company. He was frustrated because he felt that with his experience and background, he should be perceived as a high-performer with the C-suite in his grasp. Yet he was passed over for a promotion. Believing his communication style might be to blame, Alan hired me as his executive coach to work on it.
As I do with most engagements, I started out by speaking with Alan's colleagues to get an accurate picture of how he was perceived by other people. (See Chapter 4 for how to conduct your own presence audit.) Their take was that Alan was rarely positive about other people's suggestions. They felt that since he was overly critical, it was best to avoid him. He had great skills, they said, but it was easier to stay clear of him than to solicit his help. Who had the time in a busy day to be dragged down?
At first, Alan bristled at this feedback. He thought of himself as a pragmatist, but overall a positive person. After we delved into his thinking patterns, it became clear that more often than not, his pragmatism caused him to look for what could go wrong in a situation. Only after debunking every negative would he entertain any positive. We also assessed situations where he had face time with his colleagues and corporate officers: executive team meetings. Because there were so many voices competing during meetings, he tended to hang in the back of the room because he didn't see his contribution as additive (pragmatism again). When I asked what his thoughts were in the meetings, he realized his internal dialogue was, "Don't say anything stupid." Sometimes he even scowled without knowing it, either in reaction to a comment or his own thoughts.
Not surprisingly, Alan was unintentionally making an impression, even though he believed that being in the background would keep him from making one. As I came to learn, he was actually a very caring person, but most of his colleagues didn't venture close enough to learn that about him.
After diagnosing what wasn't working, we began to create some new intentions that felt right to Alan. To develop them, we looked at leaders he respected and wanted to emulate, both inside the company and in his personal life. He stated a personal intention that he wanted to be seen as capable, positive, and helpful—someone his colleagues actively sought out. Next, we began determining when his stated intention counteracted his actions. One was obvious: He needed to smile more. He also made a conscious decision to hold back reservations when others brought ideas to him; in fact, he would even encourage what was good about their suggestions. He began to drop by people's offices, just to talk or offer help. And he completely changed his role in executive team meetings by sitting near the middle of the room and making a point to contribute something encouraging in every session.
We used the exercise shown in Figure 1-1 to recognize and change Alan's intentions. This may be a good starting point for you as well to begin noticing how intention plays in your life.
Great Intentions Create Great Reactions
Executive presence at its core is about creating an impression on others. You want your presence to propel you ahead in your work life by getting your desired reaction. Every day is a bombardment of opportunities to persuade, influence, motivate, attract, or inspire others.
Being intentional about your presence means that you must play in the realm of emotions. Humans are emotional beings, and we process information on emotional terms. Think about how you take in the presence of other people. They create an emotional reaction in you. It could be comfort, disdain, fear, excitement, or curiosity. If you think of your favorite boss or leader, you are very likely to conjure up emotional terms to describe that person.
With your presence, you are trying to marry your intent with another person's perception. This is where authenticity plays a big role. It's nearly impossible to make another person feel excitement, for example, if you aren't excited; likewise, you won't bring out someone else's confidence if you aren't confident. (Many of us have endured enough halfhearted corporate pep rallies to know how inauthentic they are.)
The Story of Steve and Stan: An Internet Sensation
Macworld 2007, the huge conference for Apple computer and electronics devotees, provides a perfect example and an unexpected cautionary tale of a missed intention.
Each year, Macworld draws about 20,000 attendees fiercely devoted to all things Apple and immersed in its unique culture set by CEO Steve Jobs. It's also where Jobs delivers the keynote debuting new Apple products and creating multimillion-dollar buzz overnight. Jobs is known for his electric presenting style. He takes the stage with a mix of humor, excitement, authenticity, and just the right touch of mischief. I've seen him onstage. In his trademark black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers, he looks casual and relaxed. He talks to the audience as if they are old friends swapping stories. You can sense the energy in the room lift when he walks in. The audience can't wait to be inspired by the visionary Steve Jobs. (As of the writing of this book, Jobs is out on medical leave battling serious illness. Despite that, he took the stage to announce the latest iCloud® offering, as the demand for his presence is that strong.)
Often, Jobs has other CEOs from partner companies join him onstage. They know what the audience expects. They match his enthusiastic tone and casual dress and understand that it's their job to keep up the energy level. After all, part of Macworld is the experience of being caught up in—and identifying with—the excitement of the Apple brand. Apple equals cutting edge, and you're cutting edge for being there.
A funny thing happened in 2007, the year Jobs revealed the first-generation iPhone with Apple's distribution partner AT&T. As usual, Jobs was magnetic. Unveiling the iPhone to a hushed crowd, he garnered cheers as he described the functionality. The crowd was ripe for more. Jobs introduced Stan Sigman, then CEO of Cingular, AT&T's wireless division. When Sigman came onstage, it was apparent that he looked different: He was dressed in a polished suit more appropriate for a boardroom than this conference hall with a rowdy crowd at Macworld. Still, the audience gave him the benefit of the doubt as he spoke enthusiastically, from the heart, about the first time he saw the iPhone prototypes.
Then it all fell apart. Sigman reached in his pocket, brought out cue cards, and proceeded to read for seven of the longest minutes in the history of Macworld. His comments were disconnected and uninspired, sounding as though they came straight from the boilerplate of an AT&T press release. He looked physically stiff and uncomfortable. While we can't be sure that he didn't have an intention for his talk, he certainly didn't convey one. He overlooked the emotional reaction his presence should have had on the audience, and instead left everyone feeling bored, at best, and at worst, disappointed that Apple had picked such a dull partner.
The Stan Sigman experience became an Internet sensation immediately. Bloggers wrote about it, audience members posted comments, and journalists picked it up. YouTube videos went viral. He became the poster child for poor executive presence.
I show this video frequently in workshops where people are stunned that someone at Stan Sigman's level would present so badly. But it is about more than presentation skills. Sigman rose through the ranks of telecommunications and built a hugely successful company. He knows how to present. He failed to determine the emotion he wanted to impart and then set the intention that would inspire that emotion in others. His presence should have conveyed excitement, creativity, and innovation. If he had succeeded, 20,000 people would have been a lot happier. It was an anemic beginning, unbefitting a culture-changing product.
Build a Strong Intention (or How to Be More Steve than Stan)
Intention has the power to work for us or against us, so why not cultivate it for good? In this book I discuss cultivating two types of intention:
— Your personal presence brand
— Situational intentions
Excerpted from The POWER of PRESENCE by KRISTI HEDGES Copyright © 2012 by Kristi Hedges . Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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