It has been stated that upwards of 80% of how we communicate is through body language and non-verbal forms of communication. Research shows that the most successful leaders exhibit mindful presence, authenticity, transparency and self-confidence as they face workplace challenges. The most effective leaders embody a type of personal presence that communicates confidence, strength, wisdom and self-awareness in the absence of arrogance, ego or cockiness.
Over the years, I have struggled with being mindful of my body language and non-verbal communication skills in my personal and professional lives. One book stretched my thinking about how I show up and influence others’ perception of me as a leader, and I believe its contents are useful to both aspiring and seasoned managers.
Amy Cuddy, author of Presence, is a social psychologist, bestselling author, award-winning Harvard lecturer, and expert on the behavioral science of power, presence and prejudice. She is well known for her TED Talk “Fake It Til You Make It” about the power of body language, and she is a proponent of “power posing,” a physical technique for increasing self-confidence and executive presence, especially among women in the workplace.
What is Presence, According to Cuddy?
Cuddy defines presence as “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential.” Essentially, presence is about being true to yourself, your beliefs and your thoughts regardless of who is in your company.
Throughout the book’s 11 chapters, Cuddy shares stories of leaders who struggle to exhibit their authentic presence in the workplace and shows how they overcame that challenge.
In “Chapter 4: I Don’t Deserve to Be Here,” Cuddy speaks to the paralyzing reality that imposter syndrome creates for many leaders. She dispels the prevailing myths that plague us by this mindset, like we just “got lucky” and didn’t actually earn our success. These thoughts can work against being our truest, most authentic selves with others.
In “Chapter 5: How Powerlessness Shackles the Self (and How Power Sets It Free),” Cuddy says to own your power by owning your story and changing your perspective about your challenges in life. She argues that we all will face situations beyond our control, but what differentiates the powerful from the powerless is that the powerful don’t allow themselves to be inhibited by hurdles. The author encourages people to practice psychological resilience as she reminds us that we can “be present” just by choosing how we approach difficult situations.
Finally, in “Chapter 9: How to Pose for Presence,” Cuddy offers many practical tips on how to become the best versions of ourselves. She defines specific ways to exhibit a strong presence (such as minding your posture throughout the work day by setting hourly reminders to check your posture). I personally can benefit from a reminder to not slouch at my desk.
Three Ways to Arrive at “Presence”
- Mind your presence: We arrive at this by being self-aware. Cuddy provides tangible tips and examples of how leaders can embody presence and embrace their authentic selves in their professional relationships and work centers. Leadership at any level can easily implement the strategies Cuddy outlined.
- Be your authentic self: When we bring our whole selves to work, we’re walking in our truth. “Don’t fake it till you make it, fake it till you become it,” is an example of one of the many empowering and motivating messages in the book. The author encourages leaders, particularly female leaders, to be authentic without regret. There are more benefits than disadvantages to being you!
- Own your power: Cuddy said, “Power makes us approach. Powerlessness makes us avoid.” In other words, when we own our power, we become confident, brave and self-assured. We’re more likely to face our fears and take risks than shrink at the first sign of a problem. This is such an important aspect of leadership — approaching what makes us uncomfortable.
Presence is a skill that you can cultivate with practice. It’s a powerful leadership tool for strengthening not only interpersonal relationships, but your personal resilience. If you are an emerging leader, a senior executive or a career enthusiast looking to improve your mindful leadership skills, I recommend that you add Amy Cuddy’s book to your leadership library. You’ll find it a meaningful, insightful reference.
Shakima Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and subject matter expert (SME) on counseling and advocacy programs in her current role. Her government career spans 15 years, starting in the Navy. Kima completed her Masters in Social Work degree from the University of Washington and has held positions with the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) and the Army. Kima is passionate about Diversity and Inclusion workplace issues. She earned a certificate from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business in Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion for Organizational Success. She also holds certifications in Executive Leadership and Women in Leadership Programs. You can connect with Kima on LinkedIn.
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