With a wealth of industry experience, Filtered Media’s chief strategist, Heather Jones, knows a thing or two about the skills it takes to be a confident, trusted and respected leader. And she has one simple message for those wishing to establish a sense of authority – no matter where you are, or how you’re feeling.
It was a rough night. With four children, the youngest of whom rarely sleeps through, it often is. I dropped the little one at day care and started walking to my office this morning, noticing the physical exhaustion in myself despite having had my morning coffee already, when I heard my inner coach saying, “lift and stride, lift and stride”.
I lifted my sternum and lengthened my steps. As I did, a sense of confidence and strength flooded my body – “right, here we go, I can do this”.
Back in my university days, I remember a lecturer once commenting you can influence how you feel by taking notice of your body. She made us stand, lift our sternum and chin, and pull in our core muscles – “it’s hard to feel sad when your body is glad”. Clichéd? Yep. But try it.
As women, we tend to take up less space than our male counterparts. We sit closer to one another in meetings, and in social settings. We cross our legs. We take shorter steps, often because of the shoes we’ve chosen to wear. We keep our belongings in front of us. Look around at your next mixed gender business meeting, and see if you notice a difference in the amount of space the male leaders in the room naturally assume compared to others.
When I coach executives, we talk about “owning your space” – it’s particularly pertinent to women, but equally relevant to anyone wanting to establish a sense of authority in a room: spread out a little, lean back, open up space under your arms and around your torso, make eye contact – be respectful of others, of course, and notice how the subliminal confidence cues affect how others respond to your input, and importantly, how it changes your own sense of value and purpose in being there. I learned this lesson from my own mistakes.
I remember arriving late to a senior leadership team meeting at IBM. All my eight male colleagues were gathered around the conference table, with a presentation underway. Rather than claiming my space at the table – where I was entitled to be as the communications executive – I quietly chose a seat in the corner, crossed my legs, and turned my attention to the presenter, avoiding eye contact with the others.
How do you think those physical choices affected my own sense of power and psychological ability to contribute to the meeting? What would you advise the younger me to do if I had that time over?
Make the choice
For me, each day now starts with a choice to engage. As a leader in a fast growing business, I am keenly aware that how I carry myself sends powerful subconscious messages to my team and clients as to how deserving I am of their respect, trust and confidence. I have a responsibility to myself, and them, to own my space.
So here I go, striding into my day. Hope you enjoy yours.