As an Executive Coaching practice we frequently work with our clients on leadership presence and impact. Sometimes it is described to us as a desire for more gravitas – a wish to cultivate an air of natural authority, be unflappable, depict calm confidence, or achieve an air of being worth listening to. Presence or gravitas is usually presented as a key ingredient in achieving greater success or renown, and more often than not our clients would like a few handy tips… however in our experience this is an inside job! The source of real presence requires the client to uncover and make sense of their stories – to go below the line.
Tim Gallwey, author of the The Inner Game series of leadership books puts it well: "There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure in the outer game."
The inner game takes place in our minds and includes obstacles such as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting beliefs and assumptions. Leadership presence is a portrayal of our inner game into the outer world; how others experience our leadership impact depends hugely on how we have mastered our inner game. All of us will have experienced times when we felt “in flow” or what athletes call “in the zone” – when our minds are quiet and we are fully focused on what we are doing, and our connection with others seems dynamic and positive. Unfortunately, we all have times when we are overly analytical, sceptical, critical of self and others, our actions feel laboured and our communication seems mistimed. Obviously, we all would prefer to experience more of the former and less of the latter, and to achieve this requires cultivating presence. This inner work will involve enhancing self-awareness, becoming more mindful, developing empathy and self-compassion.
This is a far cry from a few tips, however over the remaining part of this year we will keep with this theme and share some insights we’ve found helpful.
John O’Donohue puts it this way: “Our life’s journey is the task of refining our belonging so that we become more true, loving, good, and free.”
The Inner Game of Work, T Gallway
“How mindfulness improves Executive Coaching”, HBR January 2016
Kristin Neff: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion ted talk
John O’Donohue, Poet and Philosopher