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Book Brief - Leadership Presence

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

Elevate your leadership presence with these three points from the book, Leadership Presence.

I discovered Leadership Presence by The Ariel Group when I worked at Capital One in the mid-2000s, likely participating in a leadership training class. I've slept a few nights since then, so those details are fuzzy. But I've leveraged the book for leadership development programs since.

What I appreciate about The Ariel Group's approach in Leadership Presence is how they incorporate the concept of authenticity into communicating and motivating as a leader. In my leadership development journey, I've found that authenticity is at the heart of great leadership. While great leaders may share similar traits, each one leads differently and with nuances that are authentic to his or her particular style. Helping leaders tap into their own authenticity is one of the most helpful components of leadership development that we can provide.

In this Talent Folks' Book Brief, we'll touch on three points that will elevate your leadership presence as highlighted by authors, Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar. As a refresher, Book Briefs offer talent development-specific application from business, leadership and sundry books. Not a review. Not a synopsis. A few bullets that you can apply to your daily talent development work.

In Leadership Presence, The Ariel Group defines presence as "the ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others." They then add the leadership component: "…in order to motivate and inspire them toward a desired outcome." (p 3, 8). I really like this definition of leadership presence. We, as Talent Professionals, are also working to connect authentically with our customers to motivate them towards a desired outcome. We are leaders in our space, and therefore, also need to consider our own leadership presence.

In fact, just this weekend a friend shared with me about the HR executive for his team. As he was trying to recall the few times he'd interacted with this person, his face screwed up with disgust. He couldn't recall one topic from the few meetings s/he'd held or how s/he had supported the organization - not one helpful thing. More, he immediately dismissed this person when s/he kicked off his/her shoes after joining a meeting, sat down, folded up his/her legs and proceeded with the presentation. Now, that's a fine style if you know folks well, have cultivated their buy-in and it's the culture of the organization. It clearly wasn't for my friend's business. And all he could see was unprofessional behavior. Until influence is intact, a light dab of leadership presence will ensure you have folks' attention before you engage.

The Leadership Presence model outlined in the book includes four abilities:

  • P - Being Present

  • R - Reaching Out

  • E - Expressiveness

  • S - Self-Knowing

You'll have to pick up a copy of the book to learn more about each ability. I know, such a tease. The authors, Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar provide guidance based on their background in the performing arts. The abilities they share are not just for leaders of people, but also for those in positions to lead with influence and be a leader among peers. I think you'll find that Leadership Presence has helpful concepts you can leverage for yourself, your customers and your programs. Here are three that stood out to me:

1. Name the emotions, values and strengths you hear when engaging with others

If you've read many of my articles, you likely sense that I'm a big fan of emotional intelligence, and find that it's a game changer - whether in the professional field or connecting in personal relationships. Leadership Presence reinforces the importance of emotional intelligence and suggests a way to heighten it when interacting with others. One tactic they share is to identify, or name, the emotions, values and strengths you hear when talking with someone, rather than moving straight into problem-solving mode (p 114). For example, say you receive a desperate request for training to fix [insert issue here]. (You never get those requests, right?) But [insert issue here] is a performance problem. It's not a training one. Instead of agreeing to a training solution right away, what if we asked a few more questions to dig a little deeper. Likely, we'd be able to identify the emotions, values or strengths we're hearing as the leader shares her dilemma. I like the idea of identifying what our customers are feeling or what tripped a value trigger with them. It's an opportunity to get at the heart of a situation and make recommendations to support. I'm imagining a similar scenario for those of you who offer performance coaching - listening for the emotions or values you're hearing conveyed in a situation gone wrong with a client. Taking a moment in the conversation to acknowledge that feeling or value might help the other party move beyond the emotion to partner with you on problem-solving. It's an opportunity to get to the root issue, rather than addressing symptoms.

2. Generate authentic excitement

I feel that in general, our jobs are to build authentic excitement in or for talent programs. Sometimes we're generating excitement with leaders as they sit down for a several-hour succession planning discussion. Other times we're generating excitement as a mandatory training class kicks-off. To do that, authors Halpern and Lubar call us to express authentic emotions to generate emotions. They go on to share that we are responsible for the energy level, ie, the level of authentic excitement in our teams, programs, etc. As the leader in the room, it's our job to convey that excitement to build buy-in and attention (p 140). They go on to encourage the use of what they call passionate purpose. Figure out the purpose of the class, talent discussion, coaching session, etc. with questions like "What's the real purpose to what we're doing?" and "How will this change business?" Then pick a creative, interesting verb to identify the intention behind a message you need to communicate. Verbs like dazzle, implore, tantalize, rather than less energetic verbs like demonstrate, ask or inform (p 150 - 152).

3. Be a storyteller

Storytelling is such a powerful tool. I love this concept from the authors: storytelling gives you permission to take on roles and show heightened emotions and expressions. It's expected with a good story, yes? Stories also give the audience permission to respond with emotions in kind. (p 176). Plus, we typically relate to and remember the stories so much better than facts shared. They bring us into a kindred relationship with the speaker and we tend to buy-in more easily. Permission granted to get a little dramatic to drive a point home or entice your audience to pay attention.

I can't pass up this opportunity to share another great storyteller with you. A colleague and friend in ATD Dallas, Rance Greene, has recently published a book called Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories that Train, where he helps us build storytelling right into the design of learning programs. He shares the importance of storytelling in changing behaviors - when a participant is back on the job, it's not the bullet points they remember from the presentation, it's the story. They remember the story and a better way to accomplish a task. They change their behavior. Bingo! Score for you, the participant and the business.

Let me practice what I write. I hope I've incited you to 1) tune into your empathy with active listening, 2) drum up authentic passion for your talent projects… yes, even those boring ones… and 3) bust out your inner storyteller. I'd love to hear your perspective. Leave a comment!

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Halpern, Belle Linda and Kathy Lubar. Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach out, Motivate and Inspire. Penguin Group. 2003.

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