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Do You Have Leadership Presence?

If you think being in charge makes you a leader, then think again. True leaders rely more on emotion and authenticity than authority or power.

By Clare Fitzgerald

When American Express identified a need for company leaders to better engage staff teams, it didn’t beef up managers’ titles or increase their authority. Neither did Deloitte & Touche when it witnessed managers who had been promoted based on technical skills failing to connect with employees.

But both companies did enlist the help of the Ariel Group, an Arlington, Mass.-based leadership consultancy that uses theater techniques to help managers enhance their leadership skills. What both of these firms realized—and what many other organizations and executive leaders could benefit from learning—is that commanding presence and leading a group of people to achieve results isn’t about personal power. In fact, it’s more about connecting with and empowering others.

Sean Kavanagh, CEO of the Ariel Group, defines it as, “The ability to connect with the thoughts and feelings of others, in order to motivate and inspire them to achieve a desired outcome.” Good leaders bring out the best in people—and businesses benefit in the process.

But while it sounds simple enough, the misconceptions abound. Read on to see if you truly have leadership presence.

Present and accounted for The dynamic, charismatic leader who rallies the troops is more myth than reality when it comes to motivating and inspiring followers within an organization. Rather, how executives communicate and interact with the people they lead may be the biggest determining factor when measuring leadership success.

Leadership coaches and experts tend to agree that the foundation of a strong leader begins simply with being present, in a highly focused, non-distracted sense. “They’d rather have less time with their leaders if it means they aren’t distracted during that time,” says Bill McCarthy, an executive coach specializing in the interpersonal side of leadership at LeaderSource, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based leadership development and executive coaching consultancy. Leaders who are truly present and in the moment also are much better able to tap into their insight and instinct, to see the obvious, and to notice what’s happening to those around them.

Authenticity and strong communication skills also are key. “Employees would much rather work for someone they think is authentic,” explains McCarthy. Leaders must have and project confidence and emotional intelligence to build trust and communicate effectively with their teams. Those who genuinely connect with the people around them generally do so through insight, intellect, honesty, listening, instinct, vision, clarity, confidence, appreciation of others, compassion and empathy. In short, they display characteristics that make other people willing to trust and follow them.

Kavanagh describes the emotional elements that business leaders use to inspire teams as, “Connecting to the hearts and minds of an audience to achieve a desired outcome. It’s really what a good actor does,” he states. “Anyone can read and understand Shakespeare, but people go to the theater because it adds that emotional impact.”

Leadership lacking? Many executives confuse being in charge with being a leader, mistakenly playing off authority over emotion and genuineness. Other common and potentially costly mistakes include:

  • Focusing on charisma—Quiet leaders often can be just as effective as those that rely on pomp and circumstance. Says Kavanagh: “Leadership presence isn’t just about making an entertaining presentation. It’s about how you show up and communicate in business.”
  • Misplacing the spotlight—Leadership is actually less about oneself and more about shining the spotlight on others. “Step back from your own personality and ego and embrace the ‘we-ness,’” says Bob Gunn, co-founder of Princeton, N.J.- based leadership consulting and training firm Accompli. “Don’t lose the ‘we’re in this together’ mindset.”
  • Failing to acknowledge others—Leaders who don’t give followers a stake in a project or don’t appreciate other ideas will not gain the commitment or faith of their followers. “Leadership is becoming more and more about listening,” says McCarthy.

Tapping into leadership Devoting the time and attention it takes to avoid pitfalls and cultivate a strong leadership presence can translate into deep results. And it’s an area of effort where finance professionals especially stand to benefit.

McCarthy has been working more and more with finance and IT professionals over the past five years. “These professionals have risen to the top based on their technical competence. But when they move into a CFO or other executive-type role, technical competence isn’t enough. A more complete approach to leadership is required.”

Luckily, most leadership experts agree that the skills and capabilities that translate into a strong leadership presence can be taught. “Some people have a head start; they have a natural predisposition to being good with people,” says Kavanagh. “But, like everything in life, it can be taught. There’s emotion and passion in all of us. You just need to learn how to bring it out.”

According to Gunn, many important leadership traits are evident in young children. “Kids are so in the moment,” he says. “It isn’t until we start becoming adults that ego kicks in and we pick up assumptions. We start worrying about the way we look or what other people are thinking.”

Leadership presence requires self-assurance and self-knowledge. Because leaders must communicate what matters to them in a way that makes it matter to other people, leadership coaches advise showing staff who you really are. “Tell stories about yourself,” Kavanagh suggests. “It might reveal that you’re not perfect, but telling staff how you overcame challenges will be much more motivating than just being an authority figure.”

Some measure of training and focus can make a big difference. “For some people it’s a transformation,” says Kavanagh. “We get people to start thinking differently about themselves and give them confidence to go out and apply the techniques.”

Leading with impact Many professionals use their heads to rise to the top. But adding heart and emotion can make a difference when it comes to achieving business and personal objectives.

On a personal level, focusing on leadership skills will help improve the ways in which you execute your job. Being present and plugged in, you’ll work more effectively and hear and implement good ideas. What’s more, this can be an avenue through which to build your credibility. After all, what leaders say can carry less weight than how they appear and sound when interacting. Focusing on body language, tone of voice and overall emotion to convey energy and enthusiasm can give you a better presence and communication style.

But more importantly, cultivating a stronger leadership presence allows professionals to better relate to staff. When you lead with warmth and emotion, you gain trust and guide with a subtle—but effective—authority.

In short, when a good leader leads, decisions are made expediently and are executed more successfully. People become energetically engaged in the common mission, positively impacting the firm’s performance and growth. After all, true leaders have the ability to connect with the thoughts and feelings of their audience—inspiring others to do their best work.

“Leadership isn’t about doing, doing, doing,” notes McCarthy. “Leaders remind other people what’s important.”

Hearts & Minds

The Ariel Group teaches its “PRES” model for cultivating a strong leadership presence and emotionally connecting with followers. The techniques include:
P—Being Present. Act in the moment and be flexible enough to handle the unexpected
R—Reaching Out. Build relationships with others through empathy, listening and authentic connection.
E—Expressiveness. Express feelings and emotions by using all means of expression—words, voice, body and face—to deliver one congruent message.
S—Self-knowing. The ability to accept yourself, be authentic and reflect your values in your decisions and actions.

The Ariel Group teaches its “PRES” model for cultivating a strong leadership presence and emotionally connecting with followers. The techniques include:

P—Being Present. Act in the moment and be flexible enough to handle the unexpected

R—Reaching Out. Build relationships with others through empathy, listening and authentic connection.

E—Expressiveness. Express feelings and emotions by using all means of expression—words, voice, body and face—to deliver one congruent message.

S—Self-knowing. The ability to accept yourself, be authentic and reflect your values in your decisions and actions.

 

So you want to be a leader?

Do you know your leadership style and how to use it? Can you persuade others to embrace your ideas and strategies? Are you passionate about what you do? Are you using your talents and skills effectively? Most importantly, do others perceive you as a leader?

One of the most significant differences between good and great companies is effective leadership. It’s what turns ideas into realities and makes vision come to life. If an organization wants to be successful in the 21st century, it must acknowledge the importance of creating leaders at all levels.

Recognizing this, the Center for Corporate Financial Leadership (CCFL), a service of the Illinois CPA Society, has created a leadership program, “Leadership: Becoming an Impact Player,” which it offers throughout the year. Past program highlights have included: identifying the traits and foundation of leadership; understanding the myths surrounding leadership; learning the difference between leading and managing; identifying steps to improve your leadership skills; and recognizing the importance of emotional intelligence.

The program counts as an elective toward CCFL’s new Executive Education Certificate Program, which enables you to demonstrate your commitment to enhancing your knowledge base and bringing value to your company. Once you have completed four core executive education classes and three elective classes, you will be awarded a Certificate of Completion.

To learn more about CCFL’s leadership programming, visit icpas.org/CCFL.htm , Section: Executive Education, or call Wendy Sech at 312.993.0407 ext. 244.

 

 

 

 


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