Even for executives accustomed to delivering a presentation to hundreds or thousands of people, speaking on camera can be an unexpected challenge. What looks comfortable and confident on a stage can appear stiff and lifeless on video.
It’s important to master this skill, because speaking in this video-driven world with poise and authenticity is essential for taking advantage of an ever-increasing variety of communication platforms, including webinars, virtual meetings and promotional videos.
Improving your on-camera (or virtual) performance is easier than you might think, when you know the secrets.
Why it’s hard to be authentic on camera
Wondering why you seem “flat” when speaking on camera? According to Karin Reed, author of "The On-Camera Coach" and a former news anchor, it’s because you can’t see who you’re talking to. When addressing a person or a live audience, you can see their reactions and adjust your performance accordingly. Without that feedback, your voice loses its natural inflections and your facial expression changes, as well.
Strategies to boost your on-camera performance
Here are a few proven ways to add back the expressiveness that the camera takes away.
Visualize your viewer. Instead of a monologue with the camera, imagine you’re having an intimate conversation with a member of your target audience. Picture that person being on the other side of the camera lens. If that mental leap is too challenging, here’s another tip from Matt Abrahams, author of "Speaking Up Without Freaking Out": “I position a photo of my family directly behind my webcam so I can look at them while I’m speaking, but it looks like I’m looking at my audience.”
Focus on your message. When you focus on merely uttering the words perfectly, instead of the meaning and the point you’re trying to convey, you come across as fake. Listeners know when you are mindlessly reading your message versus being personally engaged. If you aren’t fully engaged in your presentation, listeners will tune out. “Thinking the thought” and staying in the moment will allow you to connect to your message and your audience.
Use appropriate gestures. TV host and media trainer Scott Morgan advises keeping your elbows bent around the midsection of your body. For medium and even tight camera shots, your hands will be visible but not in the way.
Reed recommends letting the way you are framed dictate the size of your gestures. If you’re on a tight shot, you don’t want your hands to come into the frame. Her general rule is, the wider the shot, the more room you have to gesture.
Virtual meetings have become commonplace in business. Chances ar,e you often talk to others using your phone, the webcam on your laptop or a video-equipped conference room. Webinars are similar. A common problem with both is imprecise eye contact, says Reed.
When you look at the image on your screen as you talk, you appear to be looking down at the viewer’s chest instead of looking them in the eye. Instead, look at your webcam or at the camera lens to improve eye contact and build rapport with your audience.
Here’s the most common mistake with promotional videos: failing to make your content appropriate for a specified audience.
We’ve all had the experience of playing what we expected to be a quick video, that turned out to be way too long. For a corporate video distributed on social media, make it quick and to-the-point. Video is great for piquing interest but not for conveying loads of information. Business viewers prefer “snackable” content online: consuming small bits of information at a time.
Reed says that the sweet spot for video length appears to be two minutes (according to a detailed analysis in 2016 by Wistia). Organize your content so they hear the core message upfront, loud and clear. Defining your core message at the start will efficiently drive your content and help keep your video in that two-minute sweet-spot.
When crafting your message and deciding where to publish your video, consider where your target audience is going to be online. For example, instead of posting a business thought-leadership video on Facebook, share it with a LinkedIn group related to your subject matter or tweet using a focused hashtag.
No matter which social platform you choose, Reed counsels her clients to avoid jargon and use conversational language. Complicated words intended to impress often confuse people instead. Practicing out loud can really help you develop a more natural delivery that resonates.
Change your mindset
When performing on camera, chances are the stakes are high and your anxiety is, too. Changing your attitude can go a long way toward improving the way you come across to your audience.
Reed’s advice is to cut yourself some slack and avoid aiming for perfection. It’s more important to be authentic than to articulate perfectly. “In normal conversations, we flub all the time, and it’s OK on camera, too,” she explained. “Those human moments tend to resonate with the audience. Performances that are too polished come across as fake, and nobody likes fake!”
Morgan also has some good advice on this subject: aim for what he calls a “dinner party delivery.” Adopt the tone and body language you would use for engaging in conversation at a dinner party.
If you’re not taking advantage of video for business communication, you’re missing out on an important tool for promoting both your corporate and personal brands. You’re also missing out on engagement that can directly impact your company’s bottom line. Up your game by using these tips for mastering on-camera presence!
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.
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There are two reasons why people separate themselves from the crowd: they are either bold leaders or timid followers. The rest of the herd sticks together.
Bold leaders move toward obstacles and do not let hesitation or doubt impede their progress. Timid followers lurk behind because they are afraid of obstacles and look for ways to avoid them.
As a counterintelligence agent, I looked for both personalities in the targets I attempted to recruit to work for the US government. The blue flamer often rushed ahead; they could be a good target if they failed to use good judgment. The slackers represented the other end of the spectrum; they were timid souls who always looked for the easy way out. Often, that meant cooperating with the FBI.
There is a saying in the FBI: No arrest goes according to plan. Agents know better than anyone that circumstances can change without warning. It’s essential that a leader is able to adapt and make effective decisions under pressure.
A leader’s success, in any environment, is based on their ability to manage the risk that presents itself. Simply stated, bold leaders understand how to exploit and mitigate risk; this is why they are more successful.
Bold leaders are not pushy, loud or bossy. They do voice their opinion, take charge, and energize the rest of the team.
Let’s take a closer look at the 5 reasons bold leaders are more successful:
1. They hide their weaknesses
Everyone has weaknesses, so it’s stupid and counterproductive to not acknowledge them, at least to yourself. It’s also to your advantage to become equally aware of your strengths. An awareness of your strengths and weaknesses allows you the opportunity to approach a volatile situation with a strategy that places your best foot forward.
When you appear as a bold leader, your weaknesses are hidden behind the actions of someone who is confident of their strengths and is making use of them.
How to make it work for you:
Uncover your weaknesses so you can learn how to manage them.
Don’t spend a great amount of time trying to turn them into strengths because it will never happen.
Instead, put your time and effort into your strengths so you can continue to build them up.
Reassess yourself on a regular basis so you are not surprised when a weakness rears its ugly head.
2. They know perception is reality
As a kid who grew up on a remote cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming, I watched as predators snuck up on the hesitant prey. I learned early in life that once you hesitate, you show yourself as weak and expendable.
They way people perceive us, by our actions and the words we use, will guide the way they treat us. If we present ourselves as victims, guess what? That’s how we’ll be treated! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out: if you indicate a lack of confidence in yourself, it will bring out the tiger in your competition.
How to make it work for you:
Remember that a bold leader is not someone who is cocky and aggressive.
Work on building up your strengths now. When you have confidence in your abilities, there will be no need to go on the defensive when you’re confronted with an obstacle or challenge.
Present yourself as a bold leader who is thorough, confident and authoritative.
3. They appreciate stealth
Authors have described the recruitment of foreign spies as an act of seduction. More often, it is the stealth of a snake that has circled his prey long enough to know when to strike.
In the same way, bold leaders learn a great deal when they sit in silence during negotiations and listen to others. They make no sudden move to intimidate or alarm the challenge that sits before them. All the while, however, their mind works to identify the best way to disarm the opposition and sway the negotiation toward a more favorable outcome.
Bold leaders do not make rash decisions. They maximize their chances of success and investigate the challenge before they make a decision.
How to make it work for you:
Stealth is an art form because it takes its adversary by surprise.
Recognize that the loudest voice is not always the smartest one.
Conduct due diligence and strike when you’ve gathered enough information to make an effective and successful decision.
4. They create an environment of continual improvement
Continual improvement demands that bold leaders feel comfortable holding the tension between failure and risk. They learn how to use risk to their advantage and, at the same time, mitigate catastrophic risk so they can protect their team.
No one is comfortable with failure, but it is the flip side of success. They are two sides of the same coin. Bold leaders do not back away from failure. Instead, they learn from each iteration and apply it to the next challenge.
Continual improvement and innovation challenge existing practices. They also produce energy and adrenaline. They allow each team member to think in fresh ways about ways to accomplish a goal. Bold leaders are not afraid to reward a team’s insightful experiment, even if it is a failure. This will help you create partnerships within your team to help them learn and reboot from their failure.
How to make it work for you:
Distinguish between the areas where risk is encouraged and the areas where it is not.
Use words like experiment and exploring to describe a project instead of successful or unsuccessful.
Keep risks small so they are fast and nimble.
Fund each clearly defined phase of the project so everyone knows the budget.
5. They balance risk-taking
Bold leaders seldom act in extremes; they are not risk-adverse, nor are they careless. They strike a balance between the two. They don’t sit around and wait for the perfect opportunity before they step in because seldom exists an opportunity with no risk. Instead, they make the most out of their circumstances. They have mental toughness—they believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than expect their circumstances to change.
Successful people tend to look for the small wins in every situation. The power of positivity leads to consistent small wins. Each small win spells success. Success not only attracts others, it provides momentum.
How to make it work for you:
Start with a small battle you think you can win.
Assess the situation and understand the problem.
Communicate your goals to your team.
Map out a strategy.
Develop a process to gather accurate information in a timely manner.
SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.
How effectively do you use data to tell stories?
Very: my data always tells a story: 52.8%
Kind of: sometimes my data tells a story: 39.1%
Not very: it’s rare that my data tells stories: 6.1%
Not at all: it’s always just a data dump: 2.0%
Tell me a story. Clearly many of you think about the story you’re trying to tell with your data. When you understand how to structure a story and what elements to include, it’s much easier to use data to fit your narrative. Invest that extra time thinking through the story before you jump into the analysis. That extra time will clarify your message and help move your audience to take the actions you want them to take. If you’re not thinking about the story your data is telling, find people who are good storytellers and ask them how they craft those narratives. Storytelling isn’t hard. It just requires discipline and the use of a solid storytelling method.
Dan Shorr, the founder of Vice Cream, spent his college summers driving an ice cream truck. After college, he followed a typical career path. He went to work at a large consumer products company and started to climb the ladder.
Then, it all changed. Newly married, a first-time homeowner, Shorr was told that he had cancer. He was given a grim diagnosis.
Thankfully, he won his battle and is healthy today. Cancer changed his outlook. No longer did he want to simply live life, he wanted to indulge in it.
His brand is the embodiment of the indulgence. Cancer has also shaped his leadership and helped him overcome his fears.
I left our conversation inspired and a bit hungry for some ice cream. I hope you have a similar experience in reading what he shares below.
Why are you doing this crazy thing?
“My first reaction is in our mission and our purpose. It's not just a bumper sticker. Our mission is to bring smiles to the faces of consumers, specifically cancer patients and their families.”
“On a personal level, I always wanted to start my own thing and, without sounding too much like Tony Robbins, I believe in the power of fear. I think fear holds people back in life, whether it's asking a girl or guy out or moving across country. Even with my experience in building the PowerBar brand and working at Pepsi, I was still scared to start my own thing.”
What got you over that fear?
“Two big events that kicked my ass. One was being around the finish line at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. That was a very scary day and it made me re-evaluate what I wanted to do. Then I got diagnosed with cancer. I was told that I had 12 weeks to live. I beat it, I'm 100% fine, but both those things were enough of a kick in my ass to blow through that wall of fear.”
How do you deal with fear and doubt?
“I must say and it's not [BS], that I interviewed somebody recently, and this candidate, this 27-year-old asked me about fear and failure, and what's the chance of failure. I honestly have never thought about it. I have a very clear vision of our success, I have a very clear vision of where we're going. This kid spooked me. I haven't stopped thinking about it. I've never thought about failure once. Now I'm like, 'oh my God, I should never have met this kid,' he totally got me out of my zone.”
What have you learned about leadership?
“Probably my favorite teaching -- I saw Tony Robbins at a small MSNBC conference in L.A. a few weeks ago and he had a great phrase. I think it's really cutting-edge. What he said, which I really believe in, is that we need to be leaders and not managers. If we must manage, we have the wrong people. That's critical to where I am right now. It's my job to lead, to build the strategy, to build our plan, and to do what I'm uniquely poised to do, which is hire great people, sell, raise capital. I don't know if managing people drives revenue. If I find that I am managing the team, I think I have the wrong team as a small company. We all need to be doing heavy lifting, and I need to hire people that I empower, and who can execute.”
How do you make time for you, and for your family?
“My answer is that I'm still learning. I think it's building one building block at a time.”
What advice would you offer to an aspiring entrepreneur or leader?
“What I call BST and AST, Before "Shark Tank" and After "Shark Tank." I never miss an episode, but I think a lot of people see the excitement of an Airbnb being valued at $50 billion and Justin's or RX bar exiting at $650 million. Getting into the business for an exit may not be the right reason. Because, it's hard.”
“I think the other advice I'd probably give people is something I've learned lately. You don't necessarily go with the team that you started with, and that's sad. It's not negative sad, it's just that my vision was we're all going to do this together, but not everybody is built for this startup life.”
What would your current self tell your former self?
“You're going to lose your hair and be a little bit more patient.”
He ended our interview by sharing, “At the end of the day, I go back to what we started with, I really do tap into my cancer experience. My team may be tired of hearing about it, but we had a really difficult situation with our co-packer yesterday -- you can print this -- where we were treated with incredible disrespect, and I leaned across the table and said, 'we're not curing cancer here, we're making ice cream.' Coming from me, it's not a cliché, so it makes the room stock still."
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Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow and become sustainable and investable. He works with clients to design and execute customized route-to-market and go-to-market strategies that build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. Catch him at FoodBytes in his role as a mentor and find his articles in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and FoodDive.
The most effective leaders draw people to them. You know from your own career that while tough, stoic leaders may be revered or even feared, they don’t have that gravitas to build a truly great team of high performers.
If you want to ensure that your reputation for openness precedes you, read on for tips to improve your approachability.
Just saying “good morning” builds your reputation in small increments every day. When you greet everyone warmly day in and day out, you convey that people matter to you. You let the office know that yesterday’s tensions are in the past and you’re ready to meet them all today for fresh new discussions.
Don’t be choosy with who you acknowledge -- greet those you don’t work with directly, including the clerical and maintenance staff, if you really want to say, “people matter.”
Learn people’s names, and use them
Make eye contact
Ask faux rhetorical questions, like “hey, how are you?” when you don’t have time for a real answer
Show you care
People are drawn to those who share a genuine care and concern for others. Set aside time in your week to check in with your team. Ask how about their tasks, about barriers they’ve encountered, about troubling factors and distractions from outside work.
Demonstrating that you care -- even when everything is going right -- makes it easier for people to come to you when they really need your help.
Give your full, undivided attention
Ask follow-up questions
Reflect and recap what you’ve heard
Take on every issue or problem as your own; instead, encourage suggestions on ways to move forward
Ask only when you know there’s a problem
Asking “how can I help?” is a powerful tool in the effective leader’s toolkit. This simple phrase conveys so much -- it signals that you’re listening and are willing to aid in the solution. It encourages strategic problem-solving and offers up intervention only where requested, empowering others instead of taking over.
Allow people to fully answer before offering your own suggestions
Be clear on next steps
Follow up with actions you’ve agreed to
Simply take on tasks; instead, clear barriers and empower others.
Ask for help
Similarly, asking for help is something that great leaders do, and do regularly. The less experienced might incorrectly think that taking the lead means never requiring assistance. Most people genuinely do want to help -- it’s human nature. Asking for help provides opportunity for others to shine in addition to making sure you get the best solution and the right person doing the job.
Be specific about the problem you’re trying to solve and/or the kind of help you need
Always ask the same people; share opportunity with your entire team.
Have a sense of humor
There are times that require absolute seriousness, and those that require levity. The best leaders know when to crack a smile, when to add in a joke and when to just laugh along with everyone else. There’s no science to it, so think about the leaders you’ve admired in the past and their approach to humor in the workplace.
Be willing to laugh at the situation
Use a little humor to break tension
Use cutting humor at anyone’s expense
Be too self-deprecating; it can be uncomfortable and make others jump to your defense
One key leadership quality that is showing up more often on companies’ “most desirable” list is optimism. It can be tempting to express frustration and cynicism in the face of challenge, but great leaders can acknowledge that there are troubles, while expressing confidence in the team to make the most of it and get things done.
Believe in a better future, and then help make it happen. People are drawn to others with a positive outlook.
Stay positive whenever possible
Acknowledge issues, but commit to helping find solutions
Be disingenuous. When situations aren’t ideal, it’s still possible to believe in the ability to overcome or recover and to plan better for the future.
Make time to chat
It may seem most effective to be all business, all the time, but good leadership includes making time to connect with others on a personal level. Get to know people, discuss nonwork matters and ask about them and the things they care about.
This doesn’t have to take up a large portion of your day and can often be done in the small moments near the coffee machine or the walk to and from a meeting.
Follow up from previous conversations – ask about kids, trips, activities. Show you’re invested in what they say
Forget those who don’t seek you out or cross your path regularly. Make sure to ask after the team members who are more quiet or out-of-the-way
There’s always going to be some separation between leaders and those who work with them. While your role may be more formal, try not to bring that rigidity into your demeanor -- people are more likely to approach those who seem more familiar and on their level. When you can, ditch the tie or the formal attire in addition to the formal attitude.
Be casual, but not shabby
Fixate on hierarchy; think of your role as leader as facilitator, not dictator.
People are most likely to resonate with a leader who feels at their level but with the power to make their jobs easier and more successful. Teams want someone who will help figure out how to do things better and then help make that happen, not someone to assign work and finish tasks for them.
If you want to be approachable, think of the ways you can encourage others to come to you when they need you most. Oftentimes, that will be by making time for them even when they don’t.
Joel Garfinkle conducts executive coaching and is the author of "Getting Ahead." Garfinkle recently worked with an executive who was faced with building relationships with an entirely new staff, whose prior boss was a closed-door, remote vice president. By working with Garfinkle to make herself approachable, she was able to draw the team to her and build a high-functioning team. More than 10,000 people subscribe to his FulfillmentATWork newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!” His website GarfinkleExecutiveCoaching.com has over 300 free articles on leadership, workplace issues and career advancement.
As anyone who has read my columns over the years knows, I am deeply indebted to obituary writers.
I like drawing nuggets that illustrate aspects of the human condition and serve as role models -- or sometimes caution lights -- to the rest of us.
Our lives, if we are lucky, are a long string of hits and some misses that are woven across a lifetime of living, interacting with spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends and colleagues.
At a certain point, you feel you have lived awhile but when you read an obituary, you see that you can sum up a life pretty quickly in 500 to 1,000 words.
Even a long obituary cannot capture the entirety of a person’s life. Nor should it. What you are going for is the essence of a person. What did she do? How did she do it? How did she overcome obstacles? And what to people think of her then and now?
Such questions might serves as notes of reflection for all of us. Thinking about our end is really thinking about our legacy. We will be remembered by those whose lives we touched.
John Baldoni: Obits Make a Life Worthwhile - YouTube
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, Inc.com named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. Global Gurus ranked him No. 22 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”
Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Donna Steffey.
Did you hear the one about the American businesswoman who went to China and dropped her chopsticks during lunch? The gracious Chinese manager quickly replaced everyone’s eating utensils with forks, making the American feel relieved but everyone else feel awkward.
Or did you hear the one about the Western businessman who unconsciously put his feet up on the desk, showing the sole of his shoe, in the Middle East? He so offended his clients that he lost a big opportunity.
We’ve all heard the cringe-worthy stories from colleagues who work cross-culturally about the gaffes they have inadvertently made while doing business with international partners. These blunders can sound humorous in the retelling, but they can lead to damaged work relationships and delayed business results.
Here are three things you can do as a leader to ensure that you and your staff navigate the increasingly interconnected world of business and avoid cross-cultural blunders:
1. Offer cultural intelligence training to everyone in your organization, not just the folks who travel abroad.
It can be just as consequential to have local staff offend an international partner visiting the home office. I’m sure you heard the one about the IT guy who gave the “OK” sign to a female Brazilian manager and had to apologize afterward. The problem is that people think they can read a book or blog about a different culture and understand everything there is to know. We are often surprised to discover that the person or situation is completely different then what we expected based on our research, which is often stereotypical.
That is why cultural intelligence training involves 4 competencies.
Build desire for the work. Get your people enthused about working with people from other cultures. Discuss the opportunities that, by expanding beyond local boundaries, are available to people and businesses.
Learn about other cultures. Read books, blogs and newspapers from other cultures.
Strategize ways to work cross-culturally. If you have an online meeting coming up with international partners, plan how to make the call interactive. We have all heard the one about the conference call where the Western manager lectures for 20 minutes then asks if there are any questions. The answer is "No" because participants stopped listening 19 minutes ago.
Demonstrate correct actions. Learning and applying the correct verbal and nonverbal actions when needed in unfamiliar circumstances is essential. Utilizing awareness-in-action is also required -- the ability to read people around you and to know when it is necessary to self-correct or make amends for your mistake.
2. Conduct a talent audit to assess which cultures are represented fairly within your organization and which cultures are underrepresented. You can take it a step further and assess staffs for cultural bias. Researchers say that if you have a brain, you have biases. The secret is to learn to manage one’s own biases to not allow them to negatively impact decisions, behaviors, and actions toward others.
3. Be sure your talent development partners are role models of cultural intelligence. They need to know how to design and deliver content in an inclusive way to transfer learning. There are countless books, videos and other resources to learn about cultural norms and business dos and don’ts in other countries.
Did you hear the one about the knowledgeable business leader who trained his entire staff to manage their unconscious biases, use resources to learn about other cultures and successfully built a multicultural team? That manager can be you.
Donna Steffey, MBA, CPLP, is president of Vital Signs Consulting and an international trainer, author, facilitator of the ATD Master Trainer Program and adjunct faculty at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. During her career, Steffey has designed and delivered training programs in 25 countries. She worked with 15 other training experts to write "Destination Facilitation: A Travel Guide to Training Around the World," detailing techniques for needs assessments, design processes, facilitation and classroom management in whatever country or region you're visiting.
“Don't let the expectations and opinions of other people affect your decisions. It's your life, not theirs.” ~ Roy T. Bennett
We live in a paradoxical world. On the one hand, we are more connected than ever before. Social media and our portable devices makes posting and reading content, liking, commenting, and sharing, easier and faster than ever. We know what our contacts are doing in real time and can “join them” virtually from the comfort of wherever we are and whatever we’re doing at that moment. Email and a host of messaging platforms also keep the virtual conversation going around the clock.
Yet, there is something about all of this connecting that leave so many of us wanting and unfulfilled.
Part of the issue, no doubt, is the superficiality of how we connect and engage. Though our networks are larger and more diverse than ever before, the quality of those connections is simply not there. So much of communication depends on the things that technology cannot replace, like nonverbals, proximity and the like.
But for many of us, a bigger issue with Networking 2.0 may be the inauthenticity and contrived realities that it fosters.
If your social feed is anything like mine, you are inundated daily by friends, connections and pseudo-celebrities pitching highlight reels of unmitigated successes. In response, we scramble to create our own picture-perfect realities, as if every day is the best day of our lives, with no setbacks or worries.
It’s like we are seeking to build relationships on golden quicksand, scurrying to build layer upon layer of new achievements before the foundation sinks in beneath us.
That certainly is not a way to create sustained, meaningful relationships.
Perhaps that is why we spend so much of our time on social media hunting down authenticity. I recently interviewed a rising social media star and best-selling author, Daniel Gefen, for my podcast. During our conversation, I asked him about how he has built his online presence. This is what he told me.
“Be real. Don't pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t think that that if you look successful, people will respect you more. … People root for (those) who are raw, honest and authentic. That’s what people crave … especially online where there’s so much fake. There are so many people trying to … be someone they’re not like and we smell it a mile away.”
While authenticity is important everywhere, it is perhaps most significant for leaders to demonstrate.
Why? Because authenticity breeds trust, which is a crucial element in the workplace. Leaders who demonstrate integrity and character command our support and fidelity. We are much likelier to go the extra mile and stand by them regardless of circumstance. In contrast, the absence of trust can make it very difficult for leaders to gain support.
While leadership is often presented as a matter of giving to and serving others, authenticity focuses the leader first on self-development. It requires leaders to be on a journey to uncover their inner values, strengths, passion and vision. When they do this, they develop a "true north" inner compass that can guide them in everyday life and when things start to become particularly sticky. It also builds trust in the leader, as others begin to see them as focused, disciplined, believable and dependable.
(Of course, once leaders have developed their authenticity, they are better suited to give to and serve others. But you can’t give what you don’t have.)
With trust in leaders at all-time lows, it’s time to consider how personal authenticity can become your greatest leadership asset.
What are the key qualities of authentic leaders?
Purpose driven – Authentic leaders are driven to discover who they really are, to identify and connect with their "why." They use that sense of purpose to inform decision making and stay balanced and focused, regardless of external realities.
Listeners – An authentic leader is a good listener who seeks and integrates feedback.
Dialoguers – Authentic leaders promote safe, trustworthy dialogue. They master the art of conversation and share their leadership story or point of view, especially with people new to the organization.
Connectors – Authentic leaders lean into challenges and go the extra mile to work with, understand and develop the people they are privileged to lead.
Here are some strategies to help build your authenticity.
Learn to live in your comfort zone. Stay consistently true to your values, even when it seems more comfortable or convenient to adjust your style to outside whims and interests.
Get real. Ask yourself, “How would I behave if money and social expectations were not factors in my life?”
Go back to basics. Remind yourself what you wanted to be when you grew up. Picture yourself in your childhood dream. Do you see that smile and that positive energy? That can be your life.
Surround yourself with the right people. Identify who you can be yourself around. Because we are social creatures, it is important to spend time with people who make us feel good and accept us for who we really are.
Being authentic as a leader is hard work. No one can be truly authentic all the time; everyone will say and do things they will come to regret. The key is to make authenticity a priority to work toward and then to have the self-awareness to recognize these times and listen to close colleagues who point them out.
According to Gallup, as many as 87% of employees say that professional development is important to them. Today’s flat organizational structures provide limited opportunities for professional development in the form of a promotion. So, companies have turned to other ways to foster professional grow.
Many organizations now focus on “internal career mobility,” which is defined as a company’s efforts to provide career opportunities laterally throughout the company.
Many employees still equate professional “growth” with a promotion. Leaders need to reframe that conversation, not only because a focus on promotion limits employees’ opportunities, but also because growth comes in many forms.
Chad Koetje, a national accounts manager for a technology firm, has held several leadership positions in his 20-year career. Koetje has found that “employees (especially those new to the workforce) are so concerned with advancement. They tend to underestimate the value that lateral mobility provides.”
Koetje coaches young, ambitious team members by pointing to senior leaders in the organization who have held a variety of similar-level positions. This helps employees realize how a well-rounded set of experiences is a legitimate way to advance in one’s career.
“[Younger employees] tend to focus more on the job title than the value of the experience they will gain,” Koetje says, so he views his role as helping them see the longer horizon and benefits they’ll experience by trying out lateral job opportunities.
See the opportunity in daily activities
The best developmental opportunities are often the most mundane, and might be met with indifference or even disdain. But if you can help your team see that everyday activities like leading meetings, making presentations and managing projects do indeed strengthen their skill set, you’ll have abundant opportunities to develop them professionally.
Staci Miller is an EHS professional with over 20 years of managerial experience. She constantly looks for ways to delegate responsibilities to her team members. Miller’s favorite methods include assigning a team member to organize a brief team-building activity during multi-day offsite meetings and asking members of her team to attend meetings in her stead when her attendance isn’t mandatory.
“I choose meetings that provide visibility to senior management. If my attendance is a must, then I still allow for development by deferring questions during the meeting to allow my team members to demonstrate their expertise,” explains Miller.
Get clear on their goals, and then find ways to grow them in those areas
Here’s an example from an employee’s point of view: Emily Hazelbach is an early-career learning and development professional who works for a global manufacturer of health and beauty care products. Hazelbach’s team leader has a strong commitment to team development.
“Each year, my boss meets with us one-to-one to discover information on how we work, what we are passionate about, and what focus areas we want to pursue for the year,” says Hazelbach.
Armed with that information, Hazelbach’s team leader keeps an eye out for developmental opportunities, based on that employee’s focus areas. As a result of this year’s career planning, Hazelbach is designing the training for a product launch, which will sharpen her facilitation and instructional design skills.
“I really appreciate the extra effort my boss has taken to help me develop professionally by providing opportunities to grow in the areas I am passionate about” reports Hazelbach.
You can offer internal career mobility to your team members even without a substantial professional development budget. All it requires is a bit of creative thinking on your part about what what constitutes “development.” From there, internal career mobility will naturally flow, one opportunity at a time.
Jennifer V. Miller is afreelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook communityThe People Equation andsign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”
SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.
How actively do you seek to build personal resilience?
Very: it’s a big focus of mine.: 49.4%
Somewhat: I’ll focus on it from time to time.: 34.9%
Not very: If I build the skill, it’s not intentional.: 9.1%
Not at all: I rarely even think about resilience.: 6.6%
Resilience is a differentiator. A large proportion of you focus on building your personal and leadership resilience. That’s great! The ability to stay strong and thrive during turbulent times is the hallmark of a great leader. If you want to increase your resilience, consider focusing on four critical areas: maintaining your physical well-being, managing your thinking, fulfilling your purpose and harnessing the power of connections. A deliberate approach to building resilience will go much further than letting resilience just happen.