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A manager’s musings: Learning to lead and personal presence

Our new blog series follows newly appointed manager Suzanne Smith (her nom de plume), as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery to find out if she really has what it takes to become a good leader

It’s finally paid off – all those years of hard graft, staying on the right side of the big boss, and not being afraid of getting stuck into a project which most would have avoided like the plague, has meant I’ve received a promotion and I’m now managing my own team.

Nervous excitement is the best way to describe how I’m feeling right now, but also a feeling that I’m about to go into the unknown – a strange hazardous territory that I’ve not yet explored, and one which is a million miles away from my comfort zone. Will I be good enough? Will my team respect and listen to me? Will I be able to stay on top of all the things which are about to be thrown at me from a great height without any help or support? (Worst case scenario of course). 

The truth is for all my knowledge and experience, I’m feeling a little ill-equipped to take on this role – like I’m about to go into battle without the right amour and I’m afraid I’ll be left vulnerable. I know what my new role requires of me – it says so in my contract– but no one has ever actually sat down with me and said ‘this is what you need to do to become a good boss’. There’s no definitive manual out there which outlines exactly what skills and traits you need to be the boss your employees want you to be; the one which they’ll respect, work hard for and listen to. Perhaps it’s a case of finding out as I go along, perhaps it will all fall into place? However, my motto in life has always been to prepare. I’m a firm believer that preparation reduces unnecessary stress and anxiety – and for that reason I’ve decided to embark on a journey towards being the best boss I can possibly be and fully preparing myself for a role I’ve worked so hard to get. 

To begin I’ve identified some key areas which I think I need to work on as a new manager – these include confidence and personal presence, communications skills both verbal and written (I’m terrible at public speaking for instance), and perhaps most importantly for me – being able to stay calm and in control of things. I’ve seen so many bosses over the years lose the plot when the pressure gets to them and I think staying in control is key to earning respect from my team. My plan is to attend the wealth of workshops and courses all geared towards helping first-time managers like myself, and speak to professionals who’ll be able to inspire and motivate – and, I’ll be reporting on my progress as I go. 

I hope you enjoy the read and perhaps even take away some useful tips which will enhance your own managerial career. Remember to keep an open mind – what works for some, may not work for others and certainly may not work for me. I’m a bit of a skeptic myself, but during this learning curve, I’m determined to keep my prejudices at bay and be open to suggestions on how to improve myself as a manager. 


Week one: How much of a personal presence do I really have? 

Personal presence is always something which sounded a bit vague to me. Don’t we all have a personal presence by just being somewhere? However, given that it’s something which keeps on cropping up in management self-help books and Ted talks, there’s obviously more to it. 

Jo Ouston, founder of Jo Ouston & Co, advises that having personal presence is pretty crucial if you want to be a successful manager – or successful whatever stage you’re at in your career. She describes it as ‘individuals with the gravitas to inspire confidence or the charisma that creates enthusiasm.’ I was intrigued to find out more, so I went along to one of her breakfast showcases – a sort of taster session which introduces her comprehensive six day flagship course on personal presence. 

The course is there to help people develop an authentic voice. It explores the elements of self-awareness, self-management, integrity and awareness of others which all help to build confidence, impact and influence, and therefore a personal presence. The key ingredient to having a personal presence, she stressed, is ‘being honest and not acting’. Well, it’s easy enough to be honest right – especially if, like myself, you’re not very good at acting anyway?

But as Richard Quine, our trainer who delivered the session, explained – there’s a little more to it than that. He argued that to be true to yourself you need to have a high level of self-awareness – something which people often think they have, and then when put to the test, discover it’s actually something they lack. And it’s not only self-awareness which is an important tool in gaining personal presence – there’s also social-awareness. 
‘In terms of being good at managing relationships, the only way to get there is to start with developing a self-awareness and then working your way through the other areas – social-awareness and self-management,’ he said. 

Ouston and Quine argued that without having a belief and an authenticity in the things you say and do, you will never truly be able to command a personal presence – and for that reason it’s not something that can ever be faked. “Having personal presence isn’t about behaving in a certain way to get your own way,” Ouston argued. “It’s about having more awareness. You must have clarity in your intentions.”

Quine also talked about displaying personal presence through your physical actions. “Body language is important,” he said. “If we relax and become more comfortable with ourselves, and also see things from other people’s perspective, we got more positive and productive relationships and interactions.” He stressed that when people aren’t being authentic, it shows through physical cues such as their posture or eye contact. 

The session served as an enlightening introduction to the components that make up personal presence, but the main thing I took away from it was this need to be true to yourself. How many leaders can we think of (it’s mostly politicians who spring to my mind) that have lacked authenticity in their speech, their mannerisms, and their tone – and as a result, we’re left questioning, are they really right for the job? Can they actually lead? In my opinion, leaders that lack authenticity certainly don’t have the gravitas that’s going to inspire me to get up off my seat and start championing for their cause. If you don’t believe in your vision, how can you possibly convince other people to? 

On my management journey I think it’s going to be essential to remain true to myself and to my cause, and if this will give me personal presence, then great! However, having the self-awareness to always manage with integrity, as well as the social-awareness to inspire and motivate my staff, is another matter entirely. Perhaps I will need to sign up to Ouston’s full course – the taster session is clearly just the tip of the iceberg for me. 

If you want to discover more about the personal presence course run by Ouston & Co then visit www.joouston.co.uk or email info@joouston.co.uk

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