If executive presence is essential for First Time Leadership, how do we go about having it? More importantly, what are we even looking for?
Forbes explains executive presence as ‘…sending the right signals…’ to others. It is how others perceive you, and as an aspiring or first time leader, you want to be seen as leadership.
What if executive presence is already in us, and we can only tap into it when we have true confidence in ourselves?
An opportunity strikes
In early August, I received a call from Helen, a job recruiter, and she had come with an opportunity. With phone in hand, I calmly walked out of the office to take the call, in full view of my boss.
Once outside, I confirmed with Helen my interest in the opportunity, and as I walked back into the office, my boss asked. “You were out for 20 mins. Who was that calling?”
Some people suffer from verbal diarrhea. I suffer from honesty diarrhea. I told my boss the truth about Helen.
I left a well-paying corporate job to be a speaker, and like all new ventures, it takes time to get things rolling. I was struggling financially, it was impacting my family, and I was beginning to wonder if I had made the right choice. My confidence wax and wane and each day in my new venture was an emotional rollercoaster.
My boss critiqued me in the most loving way as he pointed out that with my skills and experiences, I could do better but I lacked the confidence to back myself. He had hit the nail in the head. I speak and write about demystifying and creating an awareness of leadership for aspiring and first time leaders, and yet I experienced an epic failure in myself.
For many of us much of our confidence is externally derived.
We are told to be or to achieve this or that. Psychology Today describes confidence as a belief in one’s self and ability to success at something. The problem is that much of our confidence is Domain Specific, meaning we are confidence when we are good at one thing, but lack confidence when we suck at another. Think Michael Jordan. Pro at basketball, poor at dancing. Just look back to 1992 where he hangs out with the late Michael Jackson.
Domain Specific confidence is also uneven, and so is not a dependable source of confidence. That was what I felt for months after leaving my corporate job. The first few days were great, then it all went downhill as I went deeper into the land of uncertainty and ‘what do to next?’
I decided I had to fight indecisiveness.
Imagine being in your dream job, but the salary was so low it does not cover your living expenses. Then an opportunity comes by offering an amount several times more, but you would only do it for the money. What would you do? Which direction would you take?
When I was presented with that job opportunity, I was stressed out because my decision became a struggle between my rational mind shouting to me what I should do, versus my heart, the keeper of my dreams, gently hinting to me my true path.
Indecisiveness is an energy waster, a real confidence killer, destroyed how I carried myself through the day, and ultimately crippled my executive presence. My focus was dissipated and it was only when I reconnected with my true path did I regain it.
“Daniel, why do you doubt yourself?”
Those were the words of Jennifer, whom I only met a few minutes before. We were participating in an exercise together in an event in February 2018, and she had stripped away the façade and saw what little self-worth I had.
When I left my corporate job, with neither a job title to tell me who I was, nor a salary to denote my worth to society, I felt small. At home I was ‘Minister of Home Affairs’, but outside I felt nothing. Complete apathy was the only way to numb myself from the pain. Most days were an emotional and psychological struggle with indecisiveness. I had been shown a mirror of myself, and I did not like what I saw.
My boss told me to instead think of what I am doing by sticking to my true path as ‘investing the salary difference’. I had to relearn that external validation is like playing with fire. I had to tame it so my job title no longer tells me who I am, and that my salary is not an indication of my worth.
Working on my confidence is really a series of micro-actions
I decided to try one last thing. I remembered a TED talk by Amy Cuddy, now a Harvard professor who in 2012 proved that an expansive posture can boost testosterone level and lead to more confidence. I decided to once again reprogram my mind by walking, speaking, and holding my posture like a leader. It is literally the body tricking the mind.
Every day I focus on taking micro-actions with my only intention to make the day productive. I continued to work on an expansive posture, even getting my boss to remind me whenever I am not doing so. As I found my momentum I steadily rebuilt my self-worth, I regained my confidence in myself, and my executive presence along with it. They were in me all along.
How about you? What would you do to tap into your true confidence to emit your executive presence?
Daniel Lee is a speaker and writer and is co-authoring a book on First Time Leadership (FTL) to demystify and create awareness on leadership for aspiring and first time leaders to transform from minions to leaders.