Leadership as performance art: How to act the part

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The Art of Leadership Newsletter

The office chatter is back, holidays are being compared and new year resolutions the focus.

Now is the time to set you goals, map your destination and set out on your journey for success.

For your personal goals, make sure that you invest emotionally in them – make them something you truly want to achieve, not something you think you should be doing. In business, make sure that you revisit your lessons learned from 2017 and incorporate them into your business plans for 2018.


From the Queensland, Victorian and Sydney Hub Teams and all of the Stephenson Mansell Associates, we wish you a prosperous, productive, and positive year ahead.

Leadership as performance art: How to act the part

One of the fascinating things about human beings is that rarely do we see ourselves the way other people see us. The mirror we hold up for self-reflection is usually cloudy, cracked or an overly-pleasing shade of rose.

US organisational psychologist Dr Tasha Eurich says 95 per cent of people think they are self-aware, but the true figure is closer to 15 per cent.

“I always joke that on a good day, 80 per cent of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves,” she says in a Wharton School interview.

Further obscuring our understanding of how we are going in the world, research suggests that the higher up the organisational ladder we climb, the more prone we are to self-delusion.

CEO disease is a very well-supported phenomenon where the higher you ascend on the corporate ladder, the less self-aware you become,” says Eurich, author of Insight and Bankable Leadership.

“What happens when you’re at the top of the food chain, in particular, is the standards for performance are murkier. You are usually in a much more visible role and quite often people are afraid to speak truth to power. And that’s you.”

Getting the character right

I have now been coaching business leaders for more than 14 years and, as a former theatre director and lecturer in performance arts, I know that business leaders can learn much from the world of theatre.

An actor who does not know how she is being “seen” by others will not know how to move them emotionally. The audience will disengage or go to sleep as she fails to keep their attention and convince them of her story.

Good performers require self-knowledge. They must be able to read the scene correctly, work with others and be the character that the role requires.

These necessary qualities also apply to business leaders, who have the added disadvantage of being surrounded by a chorus (of employees) that keeps telling them they are doing great, even when they obviously aren’t.

These leaders must learn to work with their “stage fright”, presenting themselves as the person who can get the job done, who can be trusted and is worth following.

While these leaders are convincing employees, customers and shareholders that they have the “right stuff”, they must also deliver an authentic performance. The audience can always smell a fraud.

Have an honest conversation with yourself

Leadership presence means being able to communicate, influence and deliver in all situations – whether you are giving a keynote at a conference or talking to your team at your weekly meeting.  To master these skills, you will first need to undertake some introspection and have a genuinely honest conversation with yourself.

Just like actors who have voice and movement coaches, business leaders can get specialist assistance with their character development and delivery.

Honest feedback can cure the effects of the ‘CEO disease’ and help them understand how to be and who to be in each moment. Another person, such as a coach or mentor, can let them know that their preoccupation can be read by others as dismissiveness, that their urgency can be seen as bullying, or that their quiet tone makes them seem timid.

To be effective such feedback also needs to be practical, rather than an instruction to “be more confident”, “be louder”, or “just join in more”. People don’t generally become more assertive or open because they have been told to do it. They need to be shown how.

As a performance coach, my practical advice may be to suggest that they narrow their stance, bringing their feet in line with their hips to appear less aggressive when talking to others. Or I may teach them to alter their breathing to project their voice to the back of the room, or to organise the content for a presentation so they can make a powerful impression.

This way, they can replace old habits and reactive behaviours with more considered and effective ones, developing more impact, presence and influence and knocking the critics from their seats.

Peter will be sharing his expertise on Executive Presence and Impact when he facilitates a one-day workshop in Sydney on 20th February. Click here for further details.

Peter’s work with Stephenson Mansell Group draws from his career as a theatre director, educator, and coach. A former Head of Directing at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and Head of Theatre at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Peter has a unique talent for developing the presentation, communication and public leadership capabilities of senior executives, management teams and keynote speakers. He brings these skills to his corporate work across a range of areas including organisational review, corporate strategy, change management and leadership.

What’s On

Are you getting noticed? Executive Presence and Impact Workshop with Peter Kingston.

As a successful business leader, you know that your job is more than just having great ideas.  It is also about persuading people to join you in your vision.

Designed for corporate influencers, this insightful and interactive one-day workshop will help you to enhance your influencing and communication skills. More than simply a focus on presentation skills, the workshop will provide you with insight and performance techniques to suit your development goals; to develop confidence and presence and to be more influential.
Seats limited! Click here to register.

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