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Just be you

By Dr Diana Theodores

Using her background in performing arts, leadership expert Dr Diana Theodores encourages women to engage with their 'unique gifts' in order to progress.

It seems we are still a long way from gender equality in business. As a performance coach and women's leadership expert, I know that many female business leaders feel unable to be themselves and believe they must compromise their authenticity in order to succeed. The story I frequently hear from my senior executive female clients is the desire to feel 'more like myself' and 'to bring more of myself through the door'. No matter what the business culture, from energy to entertainment, technology to retail, or Fl to finance, I am convinced that the need for women to forge their own templates for leadership authenticity has never been greater.

Growing up in New York on a steady diet of great performances, from Bernstein to Broadway to Baryshnikov, I was inspired to spend years as a dancer, choreographer and theatre director. Later, I began to apply the principles of great performance to the business stage, and set up an executive performance coaching and training company. I believe in the energy of inspiration - you have to know what moves you in order to move others and inspire confidence and commitment.

Great performances by outstanding performers bring audiences to their feet, making them feel more alive, more awake, more motivated, more galvanised. As a leader. when you fully commit to your unique gifts - like a great performer - you step into your fullest, most fearless authenticity. And by bringing more of who you are into your organisation you can inspire, ignite, influence and make a difference.

There are many ways women can cultivate their authentic impact in all the roles they play. The following are just a few tips that have helped my clients to connect with their unique voice and have authentic impact.


1. Claim the 'I' and stop hiding behind the 'we'

Next time you talk about a success or achievement, notice if you are saying Tor saying 'we'. That stealthy little 'we' loves grabbing the spotlight! Whose story is it anyway, if not yours? Minimising your contribution or even putting yourself down to ensure you stay 'part of the team' is

a misguided approach. It's essential to understand that claiming the T isn't arrogance. Having the gravitas, presence and integrity to be able to claim your own success and also credit and appreciate others is key to your visibility. If you don't claim your T, someone else will.


2. Stop! And breathe

Take a moment to connect with yourself before you rush into meetings, important phone calls, conversations and presentations. Creating this space, no matter how 'micro', will help you to act with more clarity and intention. Notice your posture and body language when you're under pressure or before heading into a meeting. Make a conscious shift, get unstuck and get centred.


3. Reawaken the girl

Reflect on the girlhood passions that still show up in you today. Keep a favourite photo of yourself as a girl with you at all times. That girl could do anything or be anyone. She was filled with curiosity, creativity, wonder and enthusiasm. That girl is in you still. She is a great ally. Bring the girl in you along for the ride.

Make creativity dates with yourself: step inside that art gallery you pass every day, register for that workshop, join that choir. take out your sketch pad. Start today.


4. Your life story is your best asset

Before anyone can care about what you know, they have to know who you are. This means you have to know who you are. Hands down, your life story is your greatest asset - it contains wisdom, experience, powerful insights and compelling messages. Start creating your personal repository of stories, value them and share them. Your stories are always in service to others.

Storyboard your career, noting key achievements, strengths and drivers. Reflect on the connections between the professional you and the personal you to refresh your self-awareness.


5. Prepare yourself as much as your content

Preparing yourself is as important as preparing your content. Before rushing into a meeting or other scenario, take a moment to clarify objectives and intentions. Ask yourself, 'What is needed here? How do I need to show up?' It is your job to create the environment needed for maximum engagement and results. That environment starts with you, your energy and your presence.


6. Acknowledge and build on positive feedback

Think about a compliment someone paid you or some praise you received recently and then think about a careless or negative comment someone made. Chances are you will forget about the positive remark and ruminate on that negative remark for days and possibly weeks. Break the 'rumination' habit and always pay attention to positive feedback. Not only does it contribute to your strength-building story, it's also a practical resource for improvement. The more you understand your strengths and resources when you are 'at your best', the more successfully you can apply them to scenarios that challenge you. But none of this can happen unless you hear, acknowledge, receive and value your positive feedback. Think of receiving positive feedback as a beautifully wrapped gift. You wouldn't drop it on the floor, would you?


7. Act as if

Think about all the ways you express yourself in the whole of your life - from reading bedtime stories to hosting a dinner party to setting off on a big adventure. You possess a whole palette of expressive energies, behaviours and voice qualities.

Being authentically you in the workplace does not mean being the same all the time! A great example is how a senior leader in the private equity industry transformed her presentations from dull, monotone, information-driven delivery to dynamic, meaningful and engaging by reconnecting with her love of poetry. Noticing how expressively she read her favourite poem, she 'acted as if' by transferring her inspired voice to the story of numbers she had to present. She was overwhelmed with the positive feedback she got from her team.


8. Summon your inner revolutionary

Reflect and ask questions about 'the way things are done around here.' Break out of the habit of obedience and try doing things a bit differently. You don't need to be epic and iconic to be a revolutionary. Within you is your own revolutionary, poised for acts of courage, risk-taking, standing up and being counted, speaking up about something that matters, initiating an idea or project, and stretching out of your comfort zone. The greatest act of your inner revolutionary is the act of bringing yourself fully through that door and performing as you in all the roles you play. Go forth. The world needs you.


Impact and influence

Learn more about our Impact and Influence programme, designed to lift you out of your day-to-day default style of personal ‘performance’ and instead develop your skills in operating in a zone of high impact and influence.

About the Author

Dr Diana Theodores is an international performance coach, Programme Director for the Impact and Influence programme and Director of Theatre 4 Business. She is author of bestselling Performing as YOU: how to have authentic impact in every role you play. Full profile.

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