"Julia Goodman at Personal Presentation helped me hone the public-facing skills of the head of our McDonald's franchise in Finland; taking a shy accountant and turning him into a brilliant front man who could own the room in meetings with large numbers of Finnish franchisees. His new-found confidence and energy were, I believe, largely responsible for the turnaround of the Finnish business. When he projected self-assurance, the franchisees picked up on his positivity. They stopped bringing up petty issues and worked together to provide a great customer experience. Confidence is infectious."
A leader can have all the technical brilliance in the world. But it's personality – and the ability to project that personality so that it's experienced positively by people – that is the real litmus test of leadership gravitas and presence.
What the experience of the "shy accountant" illustrates is this:
Communication isn't an attribute of leadership. It's what defines it.
But the craft of excellent leadership communication is full of paradoxes and nuances. Such as ...
Good leadership isn’t a relentless show of strength – at least, not directly. Sure, there are times that call for a clear, determined, authoritative voice to drive home a non-negotiable message. But a defining skill of a great leader is their ability to show their own vulnerability and fallibility. Personal disclosure, done confidently and sensitively, is one of the most powerful tools you can have in getting people to understand themselves through you, engaging in more honest and open dialogue with you and each other, buying into your message with their hearts (not just their heads) and following you – really following you.
Personal disclosure embodies the same paradox as ‘only really strong people express themselves gently’ and ‘only masters make complexity simple’.
Listening and Influence
Another attribute of strong leaders is their ability to listen. How others experience us isn’t a one-way street: it’s a shared experience, where a large part of people’s perception of us is shaped by how they feel we respond to them.
Our level of influence derives from how people feel about themselves in our presence.
A relationship where someone feels genuinely heard, understood and valued is a platform for leadership like no other. But this isn’t about mechanically ticking off the boxes in some ‘active listening’ formula – it’s about showing a genuine interest in other people’s thoughts and feelings.
“Ah, you mean I have to show empathy?”
Well no, not really.
‘Empathy’ is bandied about a lot these days as an essential attribute of a leader. But the truth is that many of us don’t really know how to ‘do’ empathy, so it can leave us feeling silently inadequate. And it often doesn’t serve leadership well anyway: jumping over the side into the sea with someone who’s drowning, rather than staying onboard the ship and throwing them a rope.
That’s why interest – sincere, compassionate and inquisitive interest in someone else – is a great proxy for empathy (better in fact because it allows separation and room for constructive action): and what’s more it is something you can actually do.
Inclusion and Diversity
The diversity of its individuals is the latent power of any organisation. It is the leader’s job to create an environment that includes, values and celebrates it (otherwise it will walk out the door). This is what brings change and growth.
So true leaders are great at relationships with the people who work with them, at listening to them and inspiring them, triggering ideas, passion, innovation and talent, which fuels vision and shapes action.
To do this, leaders need to be emotionally connected and grounded in their own reality. It is this that will tell them whether they’re cut out to be a leader in the first place, and, if they are, it is what will give them their compass and the vision, strength and constancy to do the job.
The knack of a good leader is to make all these qualities and skills appear innate and instinctive. They rarely are! They take work – but the right kind of work. Developing an intellectual understanding doesn’t do it. Leadership requires an alignment of head, heart and body, so that its qualities and behaviour are embedded in how you look, how you sound and what you say, in a transparent performance of you: your You Brand.
“I have seen from the early days of You Brand to today how the work builds personal leadership brands and compelling leadership performance.”