power

How are you showing up?

640px-Lioness-in-the-Serengeti

“Lioness-in-the-Serengeti” by Charles J Sharp – Cannon EOS with 300mm zoom lens. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5.

If you talk to twenty different people about how to “show up strong” you may get twenty different answers. This is because we all view strength through our own lens. There are, however, many studies that do show some statistically common responses to various behaviors. It’s good data, when interpreted correctly. Unfortunately, many people interpret it to sound as though we all have to be Ringmasters — performers with a booming voice, oozing charisma — to get anyone to follow us. Fortunately, this is not true. There are some great resources out there which suggest alternate paths, such as Quiet Leadership by David Rock, and some of the insights in Good to Great and Built to Last by Jim Collins.

Here, I add my thoughts, based on my experience with leaders over the past 20+ years. If you want to show up with strong leadership presence, I’ll boil it down to four big things:

Clarity of Purpose

The most important thing you can do before going into a situation where you want to show up strong is to clarify your purpose. When you remember why you are on this project, or making this recommendation or believe in this effort, you will feel greater commitment, communicate more clearly and stand stronger in the face of opposition. Bottom line, you will come across as more confident as well as competent. Before any meeting, take a few minutes to center your thoughts and consider:

  • Why am I / are we doing this?
  • What impact can / will it have?

Big Picture Focus

If the batting coach only talks about batting 100% of the time, and never about the team as a whole, he or she will never be seen as someone who can be the head coach.

Remember that the higher up in any organization a person goes, the greater the scope of concerns. If you only focus on small details, the message you are sending is that your scope and understanding is very small. This is unlikely to impress or influence others with larger scope concerns. Always:

  • Take time to understand what the big picture goal is and how your piece of the puzzle connects to it.
  • Reference that big picture any time you are speaking or presenting.

This will reinforce the impression by your audience that you can play at a higher level (or already are.)

Self Awareness

Here is where the external self becomes an even bigger part of the equation. Pay attention to your physical habits. Do they say small, weak and unsure, or strong, open and confident?  Are you like a mouse, with quick, small, nervous-seeming movements? Or are you like a lion with big, deliberate movements?  This does not mean loud = strong. Birds can be loud, squawking all the time. A bunch of loud squawking does not say “powerful”. It says “annoying”. Lions do not roar all the time. But you always know they are there. And when they do vocalize, you listen.

The next time you are in a situation where you want to appear strong (or preferably before that, while you are preparing):

  • Envision a mirror in front of you. What body language do you see?
  • Also, listen to your choice of words and tone of voice. Are you using lots of wiggle words and phrases (maybe, I think, this might be stupid but…)
  • Ask a trusted colleague how you are showing up and what behaviors, words and vocal cues give that impression.

Remember that we are all sending messages of submission, power, understanding, focus, nervousness, confusion, and many other things continuously through our actions and our words. What do yours say about you?

Self Control

Self awareness, if we do nothing with it, is not worth much. Once you identify behaviors that are counter-productive, you must engage in some kind of behavior modification. This may be a quick and easy change or a long, difficult process which takes many, many times to practice until the new behavior feels more natural. Remember how long it took you to learn to walk? No, of course you don’t, but I’ll tell you it wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy. But you did it.

Before you go into a situation where you want to show up differently:

  • Decide and practice in advance what behaviors you will use to replace the behaviors you don’t want.
  • Keep practicing until the new behaviors become ingrained.
  • Just before “performing”, do something physical. Get out the excess energy if you have too much with some jumping jacks or shake it out with your arms and shoulders like a boxer (where no one can see you!) Or, if you feel withdrawn and low energy, do some power poses and power breaths to feel bigger and stronger.
  • Envision success.
  • Only try to control what you can control — you!
  • Remember that you will survive no matter what. Seriously. Framing the situation properly can help to quell that fight or flight response in our brains that can send us back to our old habits.

The great thing about using strong behaviors is that it actually affects your brain chemistry and you feel stronger too, especially over time. Our minds and bodies have a pretty cool thing going on there.

Try these four tips and let me know how they help you to show up strong!

CWC #11

Do you know who the power players are on your team? You know, the people who always seem to get their way, who make things happen. They are often the “emotional leaders” of the team, regardless of the formal position they hold. Perhaps you’re one of them. If not, and you want to be more effective or  influential in your business, consider getting to know them better.

  • They can be fantastic allies. When you need support for your project, see if you can sell them on the idea first. You may set a wave in motion that can carry you forward. Or, find out they have concerns that could stop the project.  Better to find out and address those concerns early.  
  • They can also be fantastic teachers, even without knowing it. Take a good look at these folks. What do they do that works so well to motivate others, above, below or around them? Maybe there is something you can learn and integrate into your mode of operation. (I call people like this “mentors from afar.”)

Think about it: What power players do you admire and what can you learn from them?

The calculus of power

When I was in college, I took Calculus for the first time.  Math was never my strongest subject and in Calculus I was completely lost. Now, I realize I just didn’t have the context I needed to understand what it really meant.

Recently, I was reading a book on women and power.  It included advice on behaviors women should incorporate more into their own modus operandi in order to appear more powerful — behaviors which send unconscious messages about relative power.  One such behavior is interrupting.  Once you start looking for it, it’s easy to see: people who come across as powerful often do interrupt others, and no one seems to mind (even though we were all taught as children not to interrupt.)  So, one can generalize that if you interrupt more, you will be perceived as more powerful.   As specific advice, though, this is tricky isn’t it?

Which brings us back to Calculus. 

As I was considering this advice about interrupting and how that would translate for one of the young business leaders I coach, I realized the complexity of the equation. You cannot simply tell someone to interrupt more. So many factors play into the situation that can completely change the output — the difference in organizational level between the two parties, the setting, the organizational culture, and more.  Imagine an intern interrupting the company president in a board meeting within a stiffly hierarchical organization.  Career suicide, right?  Okay, I know that is an extreme example.  But the point is, this is a very careful science, the wielding of power. 

In Calculus, a derivative is the measure of how a function changes as the inputs change.  In wielding power also, the function, i.e. the behavior, must change as the inputs change.  These changes may be so minute it is hard to put into words.  This is why the best teacher is experience.  Through experience, one can detect and adjust to changes so small they can’t even be articulated well.  However, there is a certain amount of benefit in providing some construct, some theory, some advice as a foundation.  For those of us who guide others, we can at least describe some limits.  In Calculus, limits capture and describe small scale change.  As coaches, we can describe certain small changes and their likely effect.  After that, the individual must rely on experience to learn the balance. 

Boy, who knew 20 years later, that subject would finally start making sense!

What’s your IQ (influence quotient)?

In most of the leadership coaching I’ve done, the theme of influence stands out.  People who want to improve their leadership skills almost always understand that they need to expand their ability to influence others.  But their efforts translate into simply trying harder at using the same old skills, often to little incremental effect.

A number of years ago, I took a fantastic course on Consulting Skills through PDI (Personnel Decisions International).  Included in the course material was some intriguing information on influence tactics, based on the research by Yukl & Falbe.  We did a fun little exercise in which the participants guessed what the effectiveness of various tactics would be in gaining commitment vs. compliance vs. resistance of those we were trying to influence (the targets).  What I and others in the course came to realize was that we each heavily relied on one or two tactics and wielded them consistently regardless of their actual effectivness.  I rated rational persuasion at the top of my list.  Why wouldn’t it be?  That’s what typically works on me!   Isn’t everyone like me?  Ahh…the short answer is “no”.  

Rational persuasion is not the top tactic in terms of effectiveness.  Negotiation?  Huh-uh.  Ingratiation?  Pressure?  No and no.  Inspirational appeal is number one in gaining commitment from others.  This was an ah-ha, and made a lot of sense once I thought about it.  But inspirational appeal does not work in all cases.  The real ah-ha here is this:  all tactics work in some cases.  Therefore, the key to increasing influence is to learn to wield a number of tactics and recognize when and with whom they work.  In this manner you can really increase your influence quotient. 

Try it.  Invest 30 minutes to google and read up on the various influence tactics (search Yukl & Falbe to start).  Then, start paying attention to the tactics you use.  Observe others using different tactics.  Try some new ones out on your own.  Give yourself some room to stumble, but keep on going.   Soon, you’ll find you have an increased IQ!

Tough Love

When I ask others for feedback, I often frame it by saying, “Give me tough love,”

This really is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my career. That tough love is the best kind. Sometimes it’s rough. Sometimes it’s not in the form we want to hear. But to those who are bold enough to say what we need to hear, rather than what we want to hear, we owe a debt of gratitude. Feedback truly is a gift. Because if someone doesn’t think you are effective, or thinks you made a mistake, even if they don’t say it, they are still thinking it. And it is still affecting your relationship with them, and possibly your performance on a larger scale. Once they share this thought with you, though, you have suddenly gained power. You now have the power to do something about it.

Often we don’t want to “do something about it”. Because it requires work. Sometimes hard work. And that’s no fun. So, we stick our head in the sand, we disinvite feedback: we ignore it, we deny it, we downplay it, we rationalize it. And when we do, that’s when our growth is stunted.

The next time someone offers you feedback, or just plain criticism, say “thank you” and mean it.
Sir Francis Bacon said “Knowledge is power.” Claim your power. It’s there waiting for you wrapped in a package called tough love.