The performance of a leader comes under examination from everyone around them, as they’re expected to lead by example and deliver their best performance in all situations.
Such high expectations include leaders being able to not only make difficult decisions under pressure, but also articulate themselves effectively in any given scenario, and withstand the incredible pace of a modern business.
This responsibility and level of expectation can leave those in senior positions more susceptible to the pressures of the role. When leaders feel that they haven’t been able to perform their best, they can feel under scrutiny and begin to doubt their own performance.
Such situations tend to arise when they feel underprepared or rushed, and as the pressure builds, this can lead to increased stress, which can have a detrimental effect on their mental, emotional and physical performance.
The best leaders aren’t always those with the most experience, but those who are able to manage themselves effectively through the diverse challenges they face every day. Great performance comes from understanding what makes you good and then being able to do more of that when it really matters.
But what techniques are available and how can we apply them to a business environment?
Flexing your leadership style is key, as it allows you to draw on the emotional and rational sides of yourself in order to address the situation in the most appropriate way. Every scenario is different and will require you to use a varied level of authority, creativity, empathy or clarity. For example, one situation might require you to be more understanding and softer in your approach, whilst another may require a firm tone to assert your authority. Those who can find the personal resource for communicating authentically in these ways make the most successful leaders.
To flex effectively, we encourage professionals to connect to four different areas of the body: feet, gut, heart and head. The feet act as your base and represent standing your ground, the gut captures our feelings of fear and excitement, the heart is central to building real trust, and we make good judgements and decisions under pressure by maintaining a clear head. To become a fully-rounded and authentic leader, it’s crucial to understand the role that each body area has to play in order to develop your leadership style effectively.
The first body area we focus on is the feet, learning how best to ground yourself. Try placing your feet firmly on the floor, hip-width apart, aligning your body and lengthening your spine. Keep your knees soft so you create a solid base. Having a strong base offers greater stability and will impact how you are perceived by others in the room. It allows you to hold the space around you, conveying confidence in your own ability, and ensures that your message is delivered with authority.
Try to remove any physical tension from your body, assessing how relaxed your shoulders, spine, neck and throat feel. Excess tension here can inhibit your delivery of your message and in turn affect the relationship you build with the audience. Try not to shrink your body or physically contract whilst you talk. Instead, take up the space around you and open up your stance as freely as possible.
Once you have grounded your feet and created a solid base, the next step is to manage fear or anticipation effectively by connecting to your breath. In effect, speaking from your gut. Negative emotions and nerves can impact our ability to communicate and speak clearly, causing us to take short, shallow breaths, which affects our concentration in the moment. To release unhelpful tension, take a moment to think about your breath. Start by breathing out (first) and in, slowly and deeply, giving yourself time to get ready to speak. This will ensure you are relaxed as you start to deliver your message, which helps to give your voice a full-bodied tone. To avoid rushing or getting breathless, take regular pauses, to allow your breath time to settle and process the next thought. This moment is yours, so take as much time as you need to guarantee that your message is delivered with clarity and confidence – what you have to say is important.
As a leader, it is extremely important to be heard as you intend to be heard, but you also need to make a connection with those around you. This allows you to achieve a strong leadership presence, which can be applied in any situation. Be aware of your senses, using the power of eye contact to connect with the audience. Maintaining a strong gaze not only displays confidence, but is a great tool for developing trust and rapport with colleagues. In group situations, be sure to share your eye contact around the room so you are being accommodating to the entire audience. Engage with your surroundings, listening to what others have to say so you can respond effectively to what’s happening in the moment and make appropriate decisions. Make sure your body and posture is open to the room. Be seen as you would like to be seen.
Making small adjustments to your vocal delivery and practising articulation exercises will also help to enhance your leadership performance. Using drills which warm up the tongue, lips and vocal cords will cause your voice to resonate and your words to travel more clearly – allowing you to make a better connection with the audience.
By physically and imaginatively connecting to these four key parts of your body we can equip ourselves with the right skills to succeed. Ultimately, professionals will be better placed to master the art of leadership in business throughout their career, with techniques that can be applied at each stage of their success.