In my circle of new and aspiring directors, there have been many questions about developing boardroom presence and understanding how to influence people without having positional power.
This is a subject that I too happen to be interested in, so I started researching what exactly executive presence is, and how you go about developing it.
Now I’m not an expert in presence; however, over my professional and board careers I have had to work at developing my own presence and can share what has worked for me.
To me, presence occurs at the intersection of high emotional intelligence (EQ), confidence, and authenticity. Simply put, if you have all of these traits, the chances are that people would describe you as having ‘presence’.
Why would you want presence in the boardroom?
The board environment relies heavily on influence, persuasion, and appropriate pressure in order to get things done. Since directors are generally not employees, and that boards operate on majority voting, relying on positional power is not an option that you can lean upon to achieve your goals. Consider the fact that as a company director you take on a lot of risk. Furthermore, you rely on your fellow directors to operate responsibly and make decisions that don’t place you at further risk. Without the positional power to assert your influence, you need to develop and hone effective personal power. This is where having a strong presence can help.
Let’s take a look at how you can develop the three traits of presence.
Now I am sure that you’ve heard about emotional intelligence, or EQ as it is commonly known. However, often people struggle to define it. We talk about the types of behaviours demonstrate by people who we think have a high EQ. Things like ‘empathetic’, ‘connected’, and ‘they just get me’ are frequently used.
Norman Rosenthal M.D. describes emotional intelligence as “… the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions – in oneself and others – and to use that information appropriately.” In the boardroom, having this ability allows you to successfully navigate through the field of different personalities all with their own thoughts, feelings, and goals.
The kicker with developing your emotional intelligence requires first taking an introspective look and understanding your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours before you can begin to recognise, interpret, and act upon others’ emotions.
When I first entered the boardroom, my confidence as a director was mediocre (at best). Of course I had some confidence; you don’t take on a directorship if you have zero confidence. After a short while, I realised that I wasn’t any less intelligent or capable than the people I shared the boardroom with. Much of my apprehension and concern came from my own self-doubt and inability to see my own skills and abilities.
Take the time to work through the mental barriers that you have created and messages that you play to yourself in your mind that work to undermine your confidence and hold you back from being the type of leader you want to be.
Another activity that I found increased my confidence was learning. There is a reason that Get on Board’s tagline is “Knowledge is Confidence”, and it’s because learning all you can about the organisation, how to behave in the boardroom, and what it means to be a company director gives you a level of self-assuredness that fosters confidence – you know the right questions to ask, you know how a highly effective company director behaves, and you know how to hold your own in a room full of your peers.
The learning process takes time and (certainly for me) is a constant work in progress. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.
Being direct and honest with others fosters trust. Being straightforward decreases speculation and misunderstanding of what and why you’re trying to achieve. People will know where you stand on issues and your behaviour will be more predictable. From my perspective, this makes you much more easier to work with.
This was something that I struggled with (and sometimes still do). I fell in to the trap of believing that I had to act in a certain way, the way that I thought directors and board member had to. I was tough, black and white, and held strong in my convictions. No wonder I was not getting anyway! It turns out that to really achieve greatness, you need to do it with and through others. “The whole is stronger than the sum of its parts” approach was needed, and authenticity was a key step in getting people working together and pointing in the same direction.
Brené Brown believes that authenticity is cultivated by first being vulnerable. Listen to Brené’s approach to vulnerability in her incredibly popular TED talk here (it’s had over 19.5 million views!).
As you can see, developing ‘presence’ takes time and manifests in its own unique way for each individual. If you are currently sitting on a board, or would like to in the future, developing your personal presence is a worthwhile journey to undertake.
For further reading on developing your presence, check out Kristi Hedges: she has a book “The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others” and a blog that are both recommended reading.