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Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate, and Inspire

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Book Review by Ron Cacioppe, Managing Director, Integral Development

“Leadership Presence does identify one of those important things that do matter, the natural and obvious – but eerily overlooked – connection between leading and acting.”

-Warren Bennis, Leadership Presence, pg. xiii

Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate, and Inspire

By Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar

Unlike most leadership authors Belle Linda Halpren and Kathy Lubar do not come from a strictly business school, military or academic background. The authors are highly skilled actresses and taught acting skills in Repertory Theater. Many of the students they had were various professionals including teachers, doctors, businesspeople and others. Because these individuals were able to use the theatre skills they acquired effectively in the workplace, the authors founded the Ariel Group in 1992. Since that time the Ariel Group has presented workshops to over 30,000 executives. This book is a result of that effort and the results achieved.

The main theme of Leadership Presence is simple yet profound. The authors define Leadership Presence as the “ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others in order to motivate and inspire them to achieve a desired outcome”. Throughout the book there is an emphasis on the word “authentic”. According to the authors, presence and authentically can be developed in leadership roles.

The book adds something very important to the literature on leadership. It explains clearly and simply what is “presence” and how to develop it in yourself. Whether you call it “stage presence,” “command presence,” “charisma,” or one of the several other names we’ve give to the concept, it is a concept that has generally been difficult to convey to someone who doesn’t already possess the talent. 

We know it when we see it. 

But how does a person become someone that is so intensely “there” that you can’t miss them? What can you do to inspire attention and respect just by walking into a room? Doesn’t every leader want his followers to believe him, trust him and do what he asks willingly and enthusiastically, just because it’s him that is asking? 

Is there really a way to get that special something for ourselves? 

Almost every author on leadership tries to pin down the elusive nature of presence and hold it still long enough to observe how to build these skills into a package.

When you talk, you want others to listen, right? Whether it’s a now-or-never event (making a key point in an oral argument, for instance) or one in a long stream of communications over time, getting your point across and making some sort of advance in what you’re doing is probably at the top of your list every time you open your mouth.

How you present yourself, how you communicate, how you listen, how you connect, and how you respond to feedback you receive creates leadership presence. Think about stage presence, that indefinable something that makes magic as soon as an actor steps onto a stage. Leadership presence is the business version of stage presence.

This is not a book about motivating or manipulating others by using acting skills or pretence. It is a book that focuses on learning to authentically connect with the minds and hearts of others to effectively lead. Far too many business leaders conduct themselves in ways they think their executive roles require, rather than being themselves based on their heartfelt values. The result is that they come across as inauthentic and this breeds a lack of trust. 

Leadership presence can be cultivated. Halpern and Lubar outline the PRES model in the Leadership Presence, which includes these aspects:

P – Being Present. 

Being “present” means being fully focused on what’s going on in the time and space you’re occupying, so that you’re able to respond to whatever happens, however unexpected it may be.

R – Reaching Out. 

Leaders must listen to others and build authentic relationships. Emotional intelligence plays a significant role in reaching out to others in a genuine and effective way.

E – Expressiveness. 

This involves using your words, your body language, and the tone and rate of your speech to express your message, and ensure that each of these routes for communication is congruent with the others. We’ve probably all seen someone who shakes his head in a “no” gesture while saying, “What a great idea,” or a manager who stands in front of a group to announce an “exciting new initiative with lots of opportunities for us to do well,” while her body is slumped and her voice is halting and quiet. Harness the power of communication and express your message clearly.

S – Self-knowing. 

The foundation, building block skills of Leadership Presence start with the concept of self-knowledge. Effective leaders tend to be self-aware, authentic regardless of situation or circumstance, and guided by core values and priorities. A leader who knows her True North (her calling) and acts accordingly will exhibit a stronger presence than one who shifts based on context.

The authors encourage the reader to practice using “PRES” when he or she interacts with other people over the next few days. Notice how you feel and how others respond to you. Notice where you feel comfortable and where perhaps you need additional practice. And notice, most importantly, the effect your presence has on your leadership.

Leadership Presence was written to teach techniques that will help leaders motivate, inspire and reach out to others. It will help the reader to enhance relationships, build collaboration and flexibly deal with challenging situations. The book is composed of nine chapters divided into four sections suitably called “Acts”. Act I discusses how one can learn to be completely in the moment. Act II analyses the skills available to build relationships. Act III examines the appropriate way to express emotions and feelings. Act IV focuses on being yourself and reflecting your values in your behaviour. Most chapters end with a section on exercises or practice guidelines to cement the information taught in the preceding chapter. Numerous personal stories and examples keep the material interesting and practical.

The authors of Leadership Presence make it easy to understand and utilize the ideas presented in this book. They strongly believe that leadership presence is key to effectively running a successful organization of any size or kind. Much of what they say isn’t new. Even the idea of using actor’s techniques has been used before. It’s how they package their ideas makes it understandable to the average person.

Practical Relevance for Leaders and Organisations

Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar have been running workshops in leadership for over ten years, applying the principles and techniques they learned and developed in theatre arts to the realm of business. Reading their book is like participating in their workshops. The stories, examples, explanations and instructional material are presented in the same format they use in their seminars. The book also includes exercise pages for the self-development so many of the techniques can be learned without attending the workshop.

Each chapter of Leadership Presence  is completed by clear, effective and well-formatted practices and exercises.  This book can be of great help to those managers who want to explore interesting techniques to further develop their leadership skills.

This book makes tested strategies available to all readers, from high-profile CEOs to young professionals. It teaches: 

  • How to express yourself dynamically to motivate for results
  • How to build relationships to enhance collaboration and business development
  • How to handle tough situations with heightened confidence and flexibility
  • How to integrate personal values into leadership communication to inspire followers

This book applies the elements of acting and theatre to a business leadership context. This may initially seem unrelated, but the parallels are intriguing and well illustrated by the authors who call on the many skills and techniques that actors are trained to use to communicate with their audience. They demonstrate how these techniques can be developed by individuals in workplace leadership roles to increase the effectiveness of their communication, and inspiration of others.

We know presence can be developed because there exists a whole group of people who work diligently and successfully to develop it. That group of people is actors, and their success, even their livelihood, depends on presence. They must excite us when they step onstage, or they will fail. For the actor and performer, presence is not a happy accident of genetics or upbringing; it’s the result of training and practice.

The authors also point out that great leaders, like great actors, must be confident, energetic, empathetic, inspirational, credible, and authentic. That leaders and actors share some skills and characteristics should come as no surprise. Actors and leaders face a common challenge. They must be prepared to play different roles, as the situation requires. They must be prepared to influence and move people every day.

Warren Bennis is one of the most recognised and wise authorities on leadership.  His forward to this book he talks about how American Presidents such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Regan had an extraordinary presences as well as ability to play the role of ‘the President’  His quote at the beginning of this review shows how much he values the relation between acting and leadership. 

Limitations of This Book

I found the exercises, guidelines, and activities excellent but overpowering.  There were so many of them and so many good insights and things for me to do to develop my leadership presence that I didn’t know where to stop or start.  The book was so workshop oriented that I really wondered if I could get all of this by just reading the book and looking at or doing the exercises.  I felt I needed an acting coach or to attend a 3 day workshop with the authors to really experience some of the creative and emotionally challenging exercises.

Some managers might feel the acting world is too far for them. Certain Jungian/Myers Briggs Types like an ISTJ (Introverted-Sensing-Thinking-Judging) Type might find these exercises too personal, too creative and too feeling.  These types might need the skills and attributes more than any other type but this book may be a bit too ‘out there’ for them to read it. 

The authors do an excellent job referring to great artists and theatre to make their points and they have confidently expect the reader to be convinced.  The book doesn’t provide any research, studies or results other than personal examples about how effective the translation of acting ‘presence’ skills is to leadership.  University MBA programs may need some harder evidence before they introduce acting classes into their curriculum. 

A number of Australian managers will ask the question is the PRES another American biased approach to leadership.  The strong expressiveness and feeling skills that are held up as ideal for leaders may have a bias toward the American ideal of leadership which a number of studies has show is a cultural bias towards individuality, low power distance, achievement, and charisma which are not as highly rated by Australian and Asians as they are in the United States.  

Finally some managers might ask the question; How can we learn to be more authentic from people who lie professionally? After all, isn’t that what acting is really about at the end of the day? Isn’t an actor faking a role he is playing?

Ultimately, however, acting is really an unrelenting search for the truth about the human condition, and therefore actually one of the most honest endeavours one can undertake.  Acting is the paradox that, in order to pretend, the actor must be real. That requires the actor to delve inside himself, because the only way an emotion can be authentic is if it comes from within the actor. Actors, consequently, are probably more aware of authenticity than anyone else, because they’ve studied it, and themselves, so carefully.

Conclusion

Now more than ever, we need our business leaders to be truly inspiring. In the 360 Leadership and Management Profiles that we conduct at Integral Development with over 5000 managers, the ability to inspire and bring out the best in others is one of their lowest rated skills.

This book can help managers become more inspiring—by applying the skills similar to professional actors. The book’s innovative approach brings the techniques of the stage into the boardroom and can give leaders the tools they need to connect authentically and dynamically with the hearts and minds of those they lead. Major corporations around the world, including General Electric, Mobil Oil, CapitalOne, and Deloitte & Touche have hired them to coach executives one-on-one and lead workshops, to give employees the advantage of Leadership Presence, to achieve success. 

Today managing is not enough. The stakes are higher, the competition fiercer and the pace faster. In an increasingly uncertain climate people are looking to leaders for more than just competence, they need to believe in the leader fully. Leaders need to demonstrate confidence and integrity in their every move. They need to authentically shift between leadership roles depending on the circumstance.

These times call for true leaders who live and work authenticity. People want leaders who are comfortable in their own skin, who don’t forget where they came from and who lead based on profound self-knowledge. To inspire followership leaders must connect authentically and stir the emotions not just the intellect.

Whether the reader is new to the study of the leadership or has read a number of books, this book provides an innovative and useful perspective on leadership. Leadership Presence is one of those unique books that helps you to step back and look at the forest because it gets to the very heart of leadership…authentic behaviour and values.

If you want to develop and hone the skills that can make you valuable to your colleagues and your company, the lessons found in the Leadership Presence book are very worthwhile. 

Leadership involves keeping up-to-date with the latest ides and thinking throughout the world. The Integral Leadership Book Forum provides an opportunity for senior managers and leaders to learn new ideas in leadership and have lively discussions about current thinking in leadership and business.

The bi-monthly forum includes a brief discussion ona book with a small group of your peers, debating ideas and sharing insights on how leadership ideas can be practically applied to business leadership.

The forum offers:

  • Six insightful and relevant books on leadership
  • Exposure to a small group of senior leaders and managers who will discuss each books’ insights and applications
  • A light, organic breakfast

Presenter

Ron Cacioppe is managing director and founder of Integral Development. He is a leading expert in leadership and has more than 25 years’ experience in conducting leadership development programs in Australia, Southeast Asia and the United States. Ron holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD and is currently an Adjunct Professor at Curtin University’s Australian Sustainable Development Institute.

Ron Cacioppe

Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD. He has taught in the Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

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