What leadership qualities are important to today’s workforce?
The best leaders—the men and women people want to follow, not have to follow—are confident, authentic (genuine, worthy of trust, reliance and belief), and intrinsically powerful, which means they’re connected to a purpose greater than themselves.
“It’s choice, not chance, that determines your destiny.” -Jean Nidetch
Over ten years ago, I found myself in a class for leaders and managers. After building rapport and working to create a safe environment of trust, the class facilitator decided to have us go around the room and share our insecurities and fears. The coach was specifically homing in on our weaknesses and asking for us to be transparent with others in the room.
As we worked around a small circle, one woman was visibly nervous. When it was her turn, it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned her red. She stumbled over her words as she explained how fearful she was to speak in public. Even in a safe situation with supportive friends, she still was nervous to share. We learned that she even had nightmares where she was in front of a room, perched behind a podium, and she misplaced her notes and looked out at a sea of unforgiving faces. Another attendee encouraged her and told her that she was better off avoiding these events so she didn’t trigger her fears.
The fear of public speaking grips many people who avoid it at all costs.
I want to share why this “avoidance thinking” is toxic to aspiring leaders.
“Fear the fear of public speaking and do it anyway.” –Arvee Robinson
Recently, I spoke to my local chapter of Toastmasters and shared 7 reasons why learning to speak in public is vitally important.
1. Overcome your fear.
There’s enormous power in mastering and overcoming a fear, whatever it is. I can recall the smile on a new rock climber’s face when he conquered his fear. “I have never felt so alive and free,” he said to me soon after completing his climb. That same feeling happens if you overcome a fear of public speaking, and – at least to me – it’s a whole lot easier than climbing a mountain.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, and to sit down and listen.” –Winston Churchill
When you not only are able to overcome your fear but also become proficient at it, then your confidence soars. Confidence is often more compelling than competence. I don’t know what happened to the nervous woman after the class ended, but during the few days of our classes, she saw remarkable improvement. You could feel her confidence building.
“Competence without confidence just doesn’t cut it.” –Derek Lewis
Great public speakers attract opportunities. Why? Speaking makes you visible. You’re in front of the room, so that’s rather obvious. But the fact is that your credibility is enhanced. You become an expert.
“It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach, just get them to fly in formation.” –Rob Gilbert
Leadership is all about influence, about persuasion, about taking people from one point and moving them to another. Speaking is part of that process of persuasion and often the most powerful part. Anything that helps increase your influence is generally a good move.
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Author and serial entrepreneur G. Shawn Hunter is the founder of Mindscaling. His latest book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact, argues that it’s the simple things, when done extraordinarily well, that make a great leader.
Shawn and I talked about his book and how it’s not always the most extraordinary, sweeping actions that make the biggest impact.
“The greatest leaders cheer us on when we try something new.” -Shawn Hunter
I love this philosophy because all of us can make just a few adjustments and improve our leadership today.
Do One Thing At A Time
You advocate that small, incremental choices can lead to a big impact. In your research for this book, what one small choice have you noticed in the most successful leaders?
I would say the one thing that successful people do is that they do one thing at a time. That might sound small and trifling, but, honestly, the way successful people get things done, or have meaningful conversations, is to do only that one thing. They turn off their phone when talking to people. They turn off email. They schedule time for writing and reading. They block off time for exercise and reflection. It sounds small, but it adds up.
Is it possible to teach self-confidence? What are some ways to increase it?
The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence. Nothing makes you feel confident like being prepared. There is also a type of self-questioning that can be quite helpful. Instead of repeating the mantra, “Yes, I can do this!” to build self-confidence, try asking yourself if you have the capabilities to achieve what you are envisioning. If you ask specific questions of yourself, you will be forced to answer to your weaknesses and reconcile them.
“The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence.” -Shawn Hunter
You talk about building resilience through challenge. Do challenges make the leader, or does the leader seek out challenges?
From what I understand through studying flow states, it’s a self-reinforcing paradigm, but only if you get the challenge part right. As your readers may know, flow states occur when the level of challenge presented meets (or slightly exceeds) your skill level. In that state we can become hyper-aware and hyper-focused. We also accelerate our learning. Once we feel that state, we often seek out those experiences which create flow states. There are people who can actually get addicted to inducing this type of state. They’re called Type T people, also known as adrenaline junkies.
Pronoia: believing the world is conspiring for your success.
Persistence. I love the story of your daughter and how she ended up with a rare poster of Taylor Swift. What are some ways to develop persistent curiosity in everything we do?
Good question! The great physicist Richard Feynman once described how you can spot a real expert versus a phony. Look for three little words, “I don’t know.” The phony will have all the answers, while the experts will be willing to admit what they don’t know. Real experts are relentlessly curious, even assertively curious – that is, they will demand explanations for things that many others simply accept as rules.
Here’s an interesting fact about people who describe themselves as curious. These people are also assertive. Curious people are decision-makers. They are influencers. They often say they have direct influence over the outcome of decisions and change. If you think of the people in your company and community who consistently drive change, I bet you will be thinking of inquisitive people – people willing to ask the hard questions.
“Creating confidence is the result of applied effort and work.” -Shawn Hunter
You advocate the counterintuitive advice of taking breaks when we’re busy. Why is taking a break so important? How do you get a type-A, driven leader to follow this practice?
All-nighters don’t scale. Period. In some corners of business, we have created a work environment in which it’s cool to brag about how many hours we work, and how little sleep we get, and how many deliverables we accomplish. I worked in a company once that mandated a rapid response time to every incoming message. When you create an environment which requires people to constantly monitor correspondence over email and text, the next thing they do is constantly initiate messages.
Studies demonstrate what we already know intuitively. That is, our intellectual and productivity capacity diminishes rapidly when we are sleep deprived and when we are distracted. To answer your question, organizations and leaders should reward people who deliver meaningful, thoughtful contributions, not who puts out the highest volume of email noise.
12 Intentional Behaviors for Big Impact
1: Believe in yourself.
2: Build confidence.
3: Introduce challenge.
4: Express gratitude.
5: Fuel curiosity.
6: Grant autonomy.
7: Strive for authenticity.
8: Be fully present.
9: Inspire others.
10. Clarify roles.
11. Defy convention.
12. Take a break.
Of the 12 critical competencies, is there one that more leaders struggle with than others?