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An authentic approach to leadership presence
on July 4, 2013
Increasingly I find myself coaching executives for whom the development need identified, either by them or their superiors, is executive or leadership presence. While a number of books have been written on the subject most offer suggestions on managing the "window dressing" aspects of presence i.e. posture, clothing and use of voice.
Own the Room: Discover your Signature Voice to Master your Leadership Presence by Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins offers something different. The authors define leadership presence as the ability to consistently and clearly articulate your value proposition while influencing and connecting with others. They believe that leaders with an effective presence have developed a `signature voice' which they define as a leadership presence that is confident, authentic and effective across a variety of situations and with diverse audiences.
The book begins by addressing three myths (or to my mind three excuses for not taking action): "You are who you are"; "One size fits all" and; "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". The authors point out, quite rightly, that the skills and ways of being that got you to this level in your career may not be those needed at the next level.
Myths dispensed with, the authors go on to introduce a four-quadrant model (they are consultants after all) to enable you to assess your current effectiveness, including which quadrant you are currently most comfortable in, and guide the development of your signature voice. They follow this up with what they term as ACE conditioning which stands for assumptions, communication and energy - the three areas which need to be addressed in order to build a signature voice.
While the book hangs off these two models, the suggestions and examples are both accessible and practical. Each chapter includes drills and action steps and ends with a `What to Remember' section which is amongst the best of its kind that I've seen. The book also follows the journey of two composite characters John and Terri who are used throughout the book to illustrate various points along with a cast of other characters. The stories of these two characters bring the model to life, so much so that one client after reading the book phoned up and introduced himself as `John'.
The Appendix offers a Signature Voice Toolkit to enable you to develop a customized action plan to help address generic issues of presence or to prepare for specific situations.
The book also approaches the issue of our `book cover' i.e. what others see on the outside including the messages our body, clothing and energy give off, thoughtfully presenting it in the context of executive endurance rather than simply dressing for the part.
This book doesn't dilly-dally with the window dressing of executive presence although it doesn't ignore this either. Rather, it talks about building a signature presence from the ground up, starting with who you are, what you value and what your strengths are and then layering on how you communicate and the impression you give to ensure they align.
The book is well written, practical and grounded in leadership presence being first and foremost an expression of your authentic self. Although as another client pointed out sometimes the four quadrant model and the ACE conditioning method don't always hang together as neatly as the they might, the ideas presented in the book offer a sound road map for any leader wishing to develop their leadership presence.