When I was first starting out in my career (small town girl making her way in the big city, finding her feet in agencyland - sooooo cliche hahaha) I suddenly found myself thrown head-first into the corporate game of snakes and ladders. You climb the ladders as quickly as you can and try your damnedest to avoid the snakes (be it people, clients, destined-to-fail projects or sticky situations) that could slip you back down the board again.
When I was starting out I was SUPER lucky to be blessed with some fantastic managers, role models and official and unofficial mentors. And I’m not just talking about the leaders and managers who were nice and friendly, easy to work with kinda people, I’m talking about the rare and invaluable kind of person who really invested their time and energy into supporting my professional development and growth.
People who took the time to sit down with me, provide constructive feedback, helped me identify my strengths and opportunities to grow. Who coached, mentored, advised, stretched, challenged and backed me where so many other people would never have bothered.
It’s one of the things I’m most grateful for in my career, and I certainly wouldn't be where I am today, the person I am today, or the business woman I am today had it not been for their willingness and openness to offer guidance and insight.
Having had the benefit of that guidance is probably one of the key things that’s drawn me in to coaching and fuelled my passion for offering that same support to other women in their businesses.
BUT, there were a couple of times where that advice, although incredibly well intentioned, just really missed the mark, and it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I’ve been able to see that.
As I moved up the corporate food chain into more senior roles one of the key themes, or I guess challenges, that emerged in my professional development was how I, as an early 20-something female working in a client-facing, professional consulting role could command the respect of my (often middle-aged male) clients. (Yup, hello antiquated corporate attitudes where apparently being young and female was considered a disadvantage that I needed to try and work around.)
I knew my shit, I knew what I was talking about and delivered what I said my team and I would deliver. My work spoke for itself, so I thought, but commanding a boardroom filled with the senior suits of some of the world’s biggest companies apparently required me to have this thing called ‘gravitas’.
Graaagh-vi-taaaaghus. (That’s how it always sounds in my head for some reason.)
I’m not sure why, but its a word that’s always rubbed me the wrong way. For me, it comes with connotations of arrogance and separateness. I’ve always pictured it like some kind of forcefield surrounding a person, that draws people in but doesn’t allow them to get too close, keeping them at arms length.
If you’ve got ‘gravitas’ you’re intimidating, untouchable, someone to be revered from a distance.
And look, I’m sure that’s not what the intention was, that’s just my interpretation of the word (which probably stems from some deep-seated resistance that bubbled up when I was given that feedback). I guess what they were meaning was really presence and authority.
Now, if you’re familiar with my blog, you’ll know that I LOVE to talk about building your personal presence, holding space for people and unleashing the powerful communicator within us all.
EVERYONE has the ability to be an engrossing, engaging presenter.
ANYONE can learn to hold the room, hold an audience and use their own unique strengths and talents to do so.
ALL OF US have the potential to powerfully connect, whether it’s one-on-one or one-to-many, in a way that goes past the simple delivery of information and touches the hearts of the people we’re trying to reach.
These days, when I speak with clients, friends, other business women about this very topic I’m SOOOO clear - like Windex window clear - on how to achieve that (namely authenticity, but I’ll come back to that in a minute). But back then I honestly didn’t have a clue, and the thing I found incredibly frustrating was that no-one was able to give me a simple, straightforward explanation of exactly what they were talking about.
I would get vague responses when I tried to dig a bit deeper into what I was actually trying to achieve; and then there was the suggestion of HOW I should go about achieving it.
The advice I was given was to identify someone to model myself on. To find a more experienced woman within the industry or more broadly, and to look at how she conducted herself, how she dressed, how she stood, spoke and behaved, and to try and copy that.
Basically, try to be someone else.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m ALL for having role models, and for gaining inspiration or learning from others, but that doesn’t mean leaving all of you behind and putting on a mask in an attempt to be someone you’re not.
Building presence, creating authority and ultimately inspiring the trust of your audience is all about authenticity. It’s tapping into your ‘why’, being open and true to yourself. And it’s about knowing who you are, what your unique strengths and your weaknesses are and working with those - not trying to sweep them under the rug with pretence and show.
The corporate world is archaic in so many ways and if you’re in that environment it’s so easy to get caught up in ‘the way things are’; I certainly was.
But, no matter the environment, corporate, small business, solopreneur, authenticity will never serve you wrong.
People are drawn to passion. People are drawn to enthusiasm and energy and a clear love for what you do. People are drawn to real, honest, open connection. If you want to build presence and authority it’s not about finding someone to copy - you’re only ever going to be a shadow of your full potential that way.
Knowing yourself, knowing what you bring to the table, your values, your strengths and your weaknesses and being true to all of those is THE MOST powerful way to build presence.
Be unapologetically you.
And then watch as it draws all the right kind of people into your life.
Have you ever been given a piece of advice that, at that moment or in hindsight, really wasn’t great? I’d love you to hear your experiences! And don’t forget to sign up for the weekly newsletter so you never miss a post :)