Can the “Real Me” Succeed to Lead? – Part 2

Building Blocks

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Five Building Blocks for Closing the Gap Between Personal and Executive Presence

Part 2: Five Building Blocks

By Julie Benezet

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.” –Judy Garland

As described in Part 1 of this blog, executives often struggle with how to be their “real” selves and still succeed as leaders. Images of perfect, self-confident behavior get confused with the actual meaning of executive presence. Executives who succeed come across to their constituents as “real” people who have lived and learned from life. As leaders, they pursue the new, take chances with ideas and behaviors, and gain wisdom from their mistakes. More important, they ground themselves with the values gleaned from their unique life stories. The self-belief they build over time benefits the organizations they lead and the people who follow them.

Five Building Blocks:

Below are five building blocks to help you pursue the new, take appropriate risks, and close the gap between personal and executive presence:

business meeting

Building Block #1. Know why you are in the room: Purpose lies at the core of every successful initiative. If you don’t know why you are doing something, circumstances rather than you will determine the direction of events. While you cannot control people and things, your job is to influence them, pay attention to how matters unfold, and course correct as you go along. That requires establishing a framework in which to work.

Identify what problem are you solving, for whom and why you want to solve it. That last question can have deep philosophical roots or be a political expediency toward a longer-term goal. Knowing the what, for whom, and why lends focus to you and to others. They form the foundation of missions, large or small. Countless studies have shown over the years that when people know what the mission and goals are, their productivity can increase up to 29 percent (Watson Wyatt Work Study).

awkward group meeting

Building Block #2. Embrace awkwardness: New ideas call for a dive into the unknown. Because you do not know whether or how the idea will work, you must enter a period of experimentation, with no guarantee of success. That can lead to discomfort. In the discomfort zone, you have little control over the final result. What you can control is how you travel there.

That’s when life becomes awkward. When pursuing a new idea, you will find yourself interacting with new people, skill sets, and work styles. To succeed, you will have to flex, adapt, and learn different approaches to connect with others on their terms so that they will be willing to connect with yours.

Be transparent about your own process, including when you don’t know something. While that runs against the image of leaders being the kings and queens of corporate cool, in fact, as emotional intelligence research has shown, behaving authentically projects credibility, which is essential to leadership. When you are unsure, try saying, “I don’t know how this is going to go. I do know what steps we need to take to move toward an answer. What I will need is your feedback to help us to adjust things as needed.” Your willingness to confess not knowing gives permission to others to do the same.

two people arguing

Building Block #3. Find outlets to vent and prevent: As much as we like to think of ourselves as virtuous people, we all have those less than virtuous moments when strong feelings take over. Acting on them can feel real in the moment, but may actually be reactivity to something unprocessed from our past. More important, such reactions can hurt vital working relationships.

For example, you might have a colleague who habitually talks in a loud voice and, while full of smart ideas, reminds of you of your reviled Uncle Harry. He was the family nemesis who managed to flatten every holiday dinner, sucking all the air out of the room with his loud, look-at-me voice. He also left you with a life lesson that loud mouths can command all the attention and people who play by the rules can get left in the corner. Or at least that’s how it felt, however irrational.

When confronted by a person evoking something from your past, avoid emotional reactivity. Running for cover or starting to argue with him out of anger driven by old memories will not contribute to a trusted, constructive relationship with your colleague. While your colleague might benefit from feedback on his communication style, when you are in an reactive place is not the time to provide it. Instead, take a deep breath and politely extricate yourself from the room until your blood pressure has lowered.

Find a trusted peer, mentor, or friend with whom you can candidly express your annoyance and surface the core reason for your angry reaction. Separating the past from the present will help you to detach from the past and act appropriately in the present. Your bothersome colleague is not Uncle Harry. It is important to remember that to deal fairly with him.

people learning together

Building Block #4. Learn from everything you do. Because as a leader you live in the world of the new, every new idea has the reward of teaching you something, even in the face of failure. Make sure to take the time to hold personal post mortems with yourself or a trusted advisor. The list of questions can include:

  • What worked with the initiative? What didn’t?
  • What caused the points of resistance?
  • What approaches worked with whom and why? Which didn’t?
  • Who turned out to be the best allies, and why?
  • What talent made the most difference?
  • Did we communicate our progress or lack thereof at the right times?
  • And so on…

As you dig in, allow yourself to feel discomfort. Change evokes many feelings and ignoring them will only hold you back. If you catch yourself resisting uncomfortable places, look harder at what might be getting in your way. A trusted friend or advisor can help you scale emotional walls.

Writing down your thoughts, preferably using an old-fashioned pen and paper (if you can find such museum pieces), will increase the depth of your learning. It will allow you to shift into a slower gear from the go-go-go of the business day, clear your thinking, and focus your insights.

woman taking a coffee break

Building Block #5. Remember to refuel.  Leading change demands an enormous amount of energy. To give to others the support they need to work through the anxiety of change, starts with you having sufficient energy to inspire their evolution.  Recharging is critical, not optional. It gives you the fuel to inspire others. It also prevents burnout, a significant occupational hazard of change making. Spending time relaxing with friends, strolling through compelling environments, or engaging in any other activities that release you from the pressure of performance is not only regenerative but fun, a highly underrated source of positive energy.

Building Self-Belief Is a Lifelong Journey

We are always a work in progress. It is critical to success. In order to make decisions that point toward the future, you have to make peace with growing pains.  Uncomfortable as they can be, they are worth it. They will build self-confidence and, even better, enjoyment in being the “real you.”

© 2018, Julie Benezet. All rights reserved.

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2 Comment

  1. Excellent as always Julie! I think #1 is incredibly important. Asking ourselves “What is my PURPOSE right now?” is incredibly grounding and clarifying. Without that focus, we are more likely to get disoriented and upset. Knowing our purpose as a leader, worker, family member or friends enables us to be thoughtful and strategic in the moment.

  2. Very thoughtful analysis of creating change and leading folks through. Great read Julie!

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