All posts by tomloncar

Gravitas – cultivate the X factor of leadership

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If you feel a gap in the leadership shoes you wish to one day fill, then cultivating gravitas can help you grow into the space.

(An abridged version of this blog post originally appeared as an article I wrote for AFR.com: “Gravitas, the X factor of leadership, can be cultivated” 21 Apr 2016)

 by Tom Loncar

 Gravitas and leadership go hand in hand. Those with gravitas have an unforced and natural weightiness of presence that assures, engages and retains the attention of the people who look to them. If you suspect, or have been told, that you are lacking in gravitas or executive presence more broadly, there are ways to cultivate and grow your own variant – purposefully and authentically.

GRAVITAS – THE X FACTOR OF LEADERSHIP

We have all come across people who instantly convey gravitas. They impress in how they hold themselves, in how they listen, in what they say … and don’t say. There is calmness rather than histrionics. In such a person’s presence, we are assured and engaged.  In a study sponsored by companies that included American Express, Deutsche Bank and Ernst & Young, gravitas was found to be the dominant ‘pillar’ of executive presence, with 67 per cent of the 268 senior executives surveyed placing it at the forefront. Gravitas can give you that X factor; it is something worthy of striving for and mindfully maintaining in your leadership development.

WHAT IS IT?

Gravitas has a long history, originating among ancient Romans where it was one of the most highly regarded virtues.  It translates as: “Weight, seriousness and dignity, also importance, and connotes a certain substance or depth of personality”. In other words, gravitas is substance that is noticed, is positive, and makes an impression on others. The opposite?  It’s no accident that “s/he’s a lightweight” is a common description applied to those without it.

THE GOOD NEWS

If you feel you have a gravitas deficit, the good news is that you can develop it. However, it won’t happen overnight, and requires openness to feedback and experimentation. It needs careful cultivation as well as elimination of behaviours you may not even currently be aware of. Whether you are introverted or a more naturally ‘out there’ extrovert, there will be things to dial up – and down – as you start to develop your own authentic variant of gravitas.

IT’S NOT CHARISMA. IT’S MORE

“Charisma” is often added to the mix in discussions about gravitas and executive presence, though is quite distinct. It also has a long history, this time originating among ancient Greeks. Charisma is a “divinely conferred gift”. It is nature’s endowment of charm, rather than a cultivated partner in your leadership development. You can see buckets of charisma in many a golden-haired sportsman. However, charisma will only take you so far, should there be an absence of emotional intelligence and self-regulation. As we have seen among sportsmen, falls from once lofty charisma-laden heights can be harsh …

With gravitas, on the other hand, it’s more a question of nurture. It can be developed, if you are prepared to put in the time. Here are some ideas to work on.

GRAVITAS BUILDING FOUNDATIONS

1. Slow down, listen… and show it. People with gravitas are invariably outstanding listeners. They enable people to feel heard. This is a skill leaders such as Barack Obama and Richard Branson demonstrate effortlessly and authentically.

Consciously slowing down can help develop your capabilities in this area. In coaching developing leaders, I often see passion fused with hurriedness, which invariably extends to the way they communicate. This need for speed can often be interpreted as a lack of any, or only tokenistic connection. So in cultivating gravitas, drop back a gear. Connect as fully as the situation allows, be curious and be aware of the non verbal cues in front of you. If appropriate, go deeper in exploratory questions than you may otherwise be inclined to do, and enable the person you are with to feel heard.

2. Be generous in your recognition of others. Better listening helps instil the tenet that ‘it’s not all about me’ when it comes to gravitas. This extends to recognition of others. The best leaders I have known have effortlessly promoted wide collegiality, where contributions have been generously acknowledged. Being generous means sharing the spotlight more broadly, even when you feel you are due the majority of plaudits. You may feel you are giving something away, but you won’t be – it is gravitas that is being cultivated.

An excellent way to achieve this is by consciously changing your vocabulary from “I did…” to “we did…”, at every opportunity. “We” is noticed, and it inspires a virtuous loop of collegiality. “I” leaves you feeling momentarily important. And alone. This change might run counter to any Type A personality work culture you find yourself in, but cultivating gravitas is a long game, and now is a good time to start.

3. Grow and communicate your expertise. Leaders with gravitas often come across as the most knowledgeable person in the room. But they didn’t get there overnight. Focus more narrowly when you start developing expertise in areas that inspire you – learn ‘a lot about a little’, and seek to become a curator of the range of ideas in your domain. Dorie Clark from Duke University says: “If you’re a thoughtful curator of the best ideas in your field, even if you’re not developing them yourself, others will start turning to you for guidance.” A thoughtful curator will not just passively collect, they will also mesh and reinterpret the ideas they are exposed to. You can show you’re a thinker which will add a unique, authentic and valuable dimension to the foundation you are establishing.

4. Welcome the unpredictable with a pause. Gravitas meets stressful situations level-headedly, without vein-bulging histrionics and screaming. This is because gravitas also embodies high emotional intelligence. Leaders with this capacity recognise their own and other people’s emotions when stressful situations emerge, and use the cues they experience to guide their thinking and behaviour. They stay cool. They don’t get ‘hijacked’ by where an emotions-first autopilot will take them, and where over-the-top responses can leave them with a reaction they regret a mere few seconds later … and with a reputation diminished.

Unpredicted day-today ‘emergencies’ represent a good place to enhance your emotional intelligence. Recognise the emotions you see in yourself and others when such situations present … and don’t go where your autopilot instinctively wishes to take you. Tuning in to your breathing can be a useful ally when potential conflict presents, as can the mindful use of a pause. As Mark Twain insightfully said: “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”  By bypassing immediate reactivity with a managed response, your gravitas foundations will be further boosted.

MANAGING THE CURSORY SIGNALS

Most of the ideas I’ve described so far require effort that starts from the inside. These are important and necessary foundations for gravitas. But in a competitive workplace there is also a more overt external dimension to consider. It may seem superficial, but how you cursorily present to others in fast-paced environments will influence your ‘gravitas cut-through’. Judgements are made unreasonably quickly. Here are some ideas that can help you better manage the signals you send.

1. Your look – simplify the interpretation. People jump to conclusions, all the time. This is efficient and helps to simplify a complex world. But it means that only a selective picture is perceived. Nobel Laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman has called this “WYSIATI” – What You See Is All There Is. This is a human decision-making bias that, while efficient, means the conclusion that is jumped to first is the one that stays. So in the case of cultivating gravitas, your first-impression may be an ongoing impediment to people recognising the deeper package within.

While it may seem superficial, business attire is a vexed mash-up of associations. Every industry has its own fashion bandwidth, and it is important to calibrate accordingly. Note that this does not mean being a corporate fashion automaton – there is room for an authentic and distinctive you that does not detract from the gravitas you are cultivating. Gain a frank assessment from a trusted colleague or mentor who is sartorially savvy. Hold back any defensiveness and develop your look to one that is congruent with where you wish to go.

2. Body language and mannerisms. In addition to clothing, other signals may be apparent in any WYSIATI assessment of you. Mindful development of gravitas also requires enhanced awareness of what our body and physical movements tell others. For example, do we have a bunch of mannerisms, be they “umms” or tendencies to scratch certain body parts when nervous, that undermine how we present? These are often things we don’t notice but can unfortunately jump out immediately at others.

How we hold ourselves more generally can also help or hinder our leadership credentials. Our posture not only suggests things to others, but can also influence how we ourselves engage with both routine and more stressful workplace situations. Harvard Professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy gave one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time on this topic entitled: “Your body language shapes who you are”. Cuddy’s research suggests that positive, expansive and open postures change your body chemistry – you feel more powerful, while also being perceived more positively by others. Consciously turning up the power in your body language, even when it may seem inauthentic to do so, can provide you with the impetus you need in coming across as a leader with gravitas. According to Cuddy: “Holding one’s body in ‘high-power’ poses for short time periods can summon an extra surge of power and sense of well-being when it’s needed”.

Gaining insights on what your body language is telling others is an area where an external view can be invaluable, as surprising gravitas-depleting truths are revealed. A trusted mentor or independent executive coach can provide you with a review of how you present, and which mannerisms may come out of your woodwork when placed under stress. There will be things to dial up – and down – as you seek to put your best foot forward.

FEELING INAUTHENTIC?  GOOD!

Because the cultivation of gravitas will stretch you, it is likely that you will feel inauthentic in some aspects of the journey. Such feelings are inevitable and will be a sign that you are stretching yourself in the right directions. INSEAD’s Professor Herminia Ibarra indicates that acute feelings of inauthenticity can be a sign of real leadership growth. This is because when we introduce new or challenging behaviours, we also move beyond our comfort zone. Ibarra writes: “Career advances require all of us to move way beyond our comfort zones… (however, these advances can) trigger a strong countervailing impulse to protect our identities. When we are unsure of ourselves or our ability to perform well or measure up in a new setting, we often retreat to familiar behaviours and styles”. Your cultivation of gravitas won’t get far if you stick with the same-old same-old. It is important to push through in order to realise any potential that may be found in the unfamiliar beyond.

HOW WILL THEY FEEL?

Experiences with good leaders are not forgotten. They leave people with a feeling that stays. In cultivating gravitas, be mindful of how the people you deal will feel during their interactions with you. Ultimately, they won’t remember the detail in PowerPoint deck you delivered, your clever dot points or your erudite executive summary. But they will remember how you made them feel. Work to this, and you are on your way to gravitas.

© Tom Loncar Executive Coaching 2016

Harness your ‘Authentic Impostor’

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Do you feel like an impostor at work? Perhaps your new role has you feeling inauthentic, and you dread that you may be caught out at any time?  Find your groove by harnessing the impostor within.

(This blog post originally appeared as an article I wrote for AFR.com, “Why it’s good to feel like a fraud at work” 20 Apr 2015)

‘Authenticity’ is definitely a candidate for buzzword du jour. With being authentic under the spotlight, some of you, on occasion, may feel that you’re very much the opposite. You may feel like you’re faking it above the surface where everyone can see, while flailing about beneath, well out of your depth. Perhaps the next crisis will be the one that finds you out, bringing an end to your masquerade?

Rather than being a fake, it’s more likely that this feeling has arisen because you are being true to yourself and indeed authentic. This feeling has a name – Impostor Syndrome.

 YOU’RE IN GOOD COMPANY

Impostor Syndrome was first coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. It refers to ongoing feelings of inadequacy that refuse to go away even if all evidence suggests that the opposite is true and is associated with high-achieving and often highly successful individuals. Although initially applied to high achieving women, it has also been found to be applicable to men. Even Albert Einstein once pronounced “the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease – I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”  Other notable people who have revealed their own impostor doubts include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Puppet Labs chief executive Luke Kanies, Care.com chief executive Sheila Marcelo and actors Don Cheadle, Mike Myers, Emma Watson and Meryl Streep.

AUTHENTICITY FRICTION IS A GOOD THING

In more recent research, INSEAD’s Professor Herminia Ibarra has looked at high-achievers and found that acute feelings of faking it can actually be a sign of growth. Why?  Because, in doing something new or challenging, we are getting out of established patterns and comfort zones … and feeling like impostors as we try new things. This feeling is a sign of positive change and growth, though it can “trigger a strong countervailing impulse to protect our identities”. In other words, retreating back to familiar comfort zones to alleviate this sensitivity, and thereby denying the chance to realise the potential that lurks in the unfamiliar beyond.

 FIVE STEPS FOR MANAGING THE FAKER FEELING

So, feeling like an impostor can be associated with the development of a better and improved you. How can you ease some of the associated discomfort, and help the inner – and authentic – impostor to flourish?  Here are  five ideas to get you started.

  1. Adopt a less rigid, more playful mindset

Cisco founder Sandy Lerner once said the “the first rule of a game is to know you’re in one.” Ibarra argues strongly for experimentation as we try to figure out what is the best way to respond to new challenges and circumstances. This requires a more playful and less rigid frame of mind, where we treat things more like a new game, and we do permit ourselves the odd mistake or two.

  1. Get ready for negative feedback

Trying new things will inevitably lead to some mistakes and potentially negative feedback … something that may be hard to process for high-achievers who have become accustomed to delivering ‘100 per cent perfect, every time’. Remember, you’re learning and these are virtuous mistakes. Start rolling with and welcoming these punches. It’s a new game.

  1. Talk about it with trusted colleagues and mentors

Going it alone can worsen you impostor feelings. Though this does not mean you should become an open book to all around you. Be selective, reconnect with mentors or close colleagues who know you and your achievements well, and can provide a good stabilising sounding board.

  1. Coaching to help with goals that stretch you

It may be useful to get some outside expertise. Obtaining some coaching help is particularly useful in identifying, setting and monitoring your progress against goals that stretch you in the right direction. As you increase your experimentation, and get into some unfamiliar terrain, the review of your progress through coaching dialogue can enhance the insights you experience along the way.

  1. Remember that you’re not alone

Fears about being an imposter tend to occur in a vacuum… “it’s me, me, me… and I’m so fake”. Recognise that others have ‘interiors’ too, and many of them will be hearing the same inner chatter. Authentic people experience impostor pangs. Go easier on yourself, and process these feelings positively and constructively… then see where your ‘authentic impostor’ takes you.

© Tom Loncar Executive Coaching 2015

Extrovert leader? Tap into the power of the introverts around you.

Despite your best efforts, key people in your team remain passive and disengaged with your way of leading. It may be time to tune into the introverts’ wavelength.

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(Adapted from an article I originally wrote for the Australian Financial Review, published on 10 February 2015)

You have got to where you are through being an ideas and people person. You just can’t stand still! But some key people in your new team seem to be entirely unresponsive to your ideas and charms. You really need them onside, and need to break through. Extrovert… it’s time to get to know the introvert.

 Some key differences between you… and them

The differences arise in how you process and receive energy from the world around you. “Extraverts” (psychologist Carl Jung’s original and correctly Latin description, aka in more recent times as “extroverts”), are outgoing and know a lot of people – their network and friendship base is broad. They also jump quickly into and between activities, and are quick to ‘fire off’ the ideas that come to their minds. Introverts, on the other hand, take time to reflect and really really focus. They prefer deeper relationships rather than frequent and broadly based social stimulation. Their inside world of thought and analysis may be quite involved! It can also mean delays in moving from reflection to action. Of course, many of us do not feel completely extroverted or introverted across all situations – it might depend on the ‘hat’ we are wearing – but tendencies can get magnified in the workplace. Forcing people to unnaturally adopt ‘what works for you’ will lead to friction.

 The introverts’ journey in an extrovert world

The perils of introverts striving to step up to the extrovert plate are detailed in Susan Cain’s best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She encourages introverts to be more at ease in their own skins, in a world where the extrovert ideal is increasingly losing its gloss. On a broader level, introversion is the necessary countervailing influence on the dangers of unchecked extroversion where excitability, risk-taking and potentially reckless action can lead to catastrophic outcomes, such as Enron or the 2008 banking crisis. With a seat at the table, she argues that introverts would have seen the finer details and warning signals, and helped steer a course well clear of the disasters that followed.

So, are there things you could be doing differently to activate the power of the introverts in your team?

Rules of engagement

In my coaching experience, a rigid view that one needs to bring the other party around to your way of thinking, without acknowledging that they may engage with the world around them entirely differently, is often a starting point that needs to be challenged. So, if you have extrovert tendencies, some ideas to help you better tune in to the introverts around you include the following.

  • Recognise that silence is often golden. As we know, introverts live in a more reflective place. You can benefit from silence too. Avoid thinking out loud too often when in the company of your team, with all the ideas that come to you – keeping up with you is exhausting!
  • Listen, slowly. Part of using silence more strategically will be resisting the natural temptation to download back. At every opportunity. Listen and absorb.
  • Let them deep-dive. Subject matter focus and expertise is a brief that the introvert can naturally run with. They will be doing their best work when not under your gaze. Give them autonomy, though do check in every now and then to confirm their focus is staying on the right track.
  • Quiet spaces. The march towards entirely open planned work environments is robbing introverts of the quiet spaces they need. Some privacy equals good management practice for allowing introverts to be at their best.
  • Assign specific group roles. Unnecessary group work where lines of ‘who does what’ are unclear will be frustrating to the introvert. Provide specific clarity as to their responsibilities.
  • Avoid surprises. Your impulsivity is out of whack with their need for structure. Again, slow down!
  • Send out meeting agendas. Not interested in your great ideas? What you may be perceiving as disengagement in your meetings is more likely a reflection of introverts needing time to think about what you’re revealing. Send agendas out before your meetings, and you will get more feedback from your team.

 Activate the power of the introvert

As Susan Cain observes, “there’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” So, keep a lid on your natural impulsivity, and give some space to the introvert – your decisions will be better for it.

© Tom Loncar Executive Coaching 2015

Thriving, striving, ‘just surviving’… or ‘skiving’?

 

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‘Skiving’ is not an everyday term in this neck of the woods (I think Bananarama’s Deep Sea Skiving from the 80s might be one of my more erm… significant recollections of its headlining usage), but I saw this attention-grabber in the Schumpeter column in a recent edition of The Economist:

A guide to skiving: how to thrive at work with the minimum of effort (http://www.economist.com/news/business/21627649-how-thrive-work-minimum-effort-guide-skiving  )

Skiving, aka shirking in the US, and perhaps aka something within one of the e-enabled ‘creative bludging’ categories here in Australia, has been perkily and poignantly brought under the microscope. Schumpeter initially covers a ‘how to’ perspective. In terms of an action plan for skivers, some subtlety is required. From the good old jacket-on-the-back-of-the-chair trick (leave your jacket always on display so that a boss on walkabout will assume that you are the first to arrive and the last to leave, similar to the Seinfeld episode where George leaves his car at work, and Mr Steinbrenner thinks he’s been working extra hard, though George is not there at all)… to even more subtle “cyber-loafing” strategies in today’s workplace.

More poignantly, the article also mentions “The Living Dead”, a 2005 memoir of life as an office worker by David Bolchover, where he writes that the amount of work he had to do was inversely related to the size of the company that he worked for. The article also mentions that the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration discovered that some of its employees had spent 75% of their time at work watching pornography in 2009. More recently, a German public servant, in a farewell retirement message to colleagues, revealed that he hadn’t performed a stroke of work for the preceding 14 years. Zilch, nada, nichts, nowt.

Clever? Or a pointer to a profound hollowness and disengagement? The personal opportunity cost too…

While living and breathing your employer’s ‘brand’ can, in reality, for even the most earnest of corporate strivers (and, indeed leaders) be a tenuous and intermittent outcome, if (upon deeper reflection) there’s nothing there, why drift… and drift… and drift?

The purposeful skiver will always be there, and self-contentedly so (some of you may be aware of the other George Costanza technique of “looking angry all the time and people will think I’m busy”). What about the rest of us?

Leading your group, sub-contractors and suppliers, and, more importantly, leading yourself within the maelstrom of all-urgent/all-action forces at play in your work-life require exceptional attention. As Stephen Covey said “most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” Getting uplift from just surviving to more purposeful thriving is achievable and can be activated by taking stock of what is important. To you. Your values, your strengths and how you can apply them, are key. Traversing this important but unfamiliar terrain can arrest any drift that may be present. Then we have lift-off.

© Tom Loncar Executive Coaching 2014

Disarming the narcissist – the spotlight shift

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Narcissists are all around us. Although more acknowledged than in the past (e.g. read what the SMH has to say about the narcissistic boss here), they always have been part and parcel of our workplaces and social relationships, often leaving a trail of ‘what happened there?’ behind them. How to spot them? Here are some characteristics:

  • They are political animals, effectively managing upwards… while they can.
  • Their personal view on their own achievements, particularly when communicated verbally, are enormous.
  • They are charming, with wittiness and generous compliments on tap.
  • In their mind they are really, truly special (and you are not, despite what their short term words and actions might suggest – they will play with your ego).
  • They often reveal their true selves with a revealing take on how they truly see their minions.

In a one-off or initial workplace meeting or presentation, you may be seen as a threat – they will seek to unbalance you through an awkward question or two, or three. Or more. They will probe a weak point (in their eyes) mercilessly. If you think you are being caught in the narcissist’s headlights, a quick disarming strategy is to throw the spotlight back on them. As quickly as is possible – they won’t be able to resist, as the topic has turned back to their true passion – themselves. “Oh, let’s not go there now, tell me about [insert as applicable – “your studies”, “your weekend”, “your plans for this role”]. Remember, they are the most interesting person in the room – give them the spotlight they crave.

© Tom Loncar Executive Coaching 2014