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Lawyers as leaders

19 January 15

Written as the follow-up to last month’s in-house article, this advice on cultivating your “leadership presence” to get your voice heard when it matters, has a much wider relevance

by Liz Rivers

Do you want to be seen as a key person to be consulted on the big decisions made by your clients or organisation? If so, you need to cultivate your “leadership presence”. Yes, I know this wasn’t on the syllabus at law school. I see lawyers devoting lots of energy to keeping up with the law, and far less on consciously developing their influencing skills. Yet the more senior you become, the more important these skills are.

There are simple techniques you can learn that will increase your impact on others. Think of people you know who as soon as they walk into a room, have an immediate positive impact before they even speak. I call them “radiators”. Conversely, you also know “drains”: people who can suck the life out of the room without uttering a word.

The key to being a radiator rather than a drain is not about being clever – it’s about being in your body. More than 70% of communication is non-verbal, yet most of us focus on words and neglect how we use our voice and body.

A powerful technique to increase your “radiator” factor has been developed by Wendy Palmer, co-author of Leadership Embodiment: How the way we sit and stand can change the way we think and speak. Drawing on centuries-old insights from mindfulness and the Japanese martial art aikido, leadership embodiment is a system that will empower you to be a better communicator, with less effort.

To put it into practice you need the three Cs: centredness, connection and courage.

Step 1: Centredness – inner calm

Before you think about opening your mouth, the first relationship you need to establish is the one with yourself. The more calm and solid you are inside, the more effective your actions will be. This stage in effective communication is frequently overlooked. Our culture values doing over “being”, so that we end up running ever faster on the hamster wheel of activity while becoming less effective.

The good news is that you don’t have to sit in a cave in the Himalayas for years to cultivate your inner calm. By using a simple centring technique for just 20 seconds you can dramatically reduce your cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and increase your testosterone levels (the confidence hormone).

Try the following and notice the effect it has on your sense of calm:

  • Breathe in and imagine your breath going up your spine to the top of your head, lengthening your spine.
  • Breathe out and imagine your breath going down the front of your body, softening your chest and relaxing your shoulders.

Not only will you feel better, but this simple practice alters the way other people perceive you. Research by acclaimed TED (www.ted.com) speaker and Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy shows that simply by altering your posture in this way, others will perceive you more positively. She found that candidates who consciously changed their posture for just two minutes before an interview were significantly more likely to be hired.

Step 2: Connection – relationships

Once you have established your inner calm, the next step to being a powerful influencer is to make a strong connection with your audience: your client, board, team or peers.

People yearn for a sense of belonging, and a key element of leadership is creating a sense of inclusion. You don’t have to have boundless natural charisma in order to create a powerful sense of connection with others. Neuroscience has discovered that our bodies emit an electro-magnetic field which extends beyond our skin and can be sensed by others. This is known as our “peri-personal” space and typically extends to arm’s length distance all round our body. Working consciously with your peri-personal space, you can create a powerful connection with those you seek to influence.

Try this:

  • Think of your peri-personal space as a bubble around your body that extends about arm’s length in all directions.
  • Visualise this bubble and give it a colour.
  • Now visualise extending this bubble till it fills the corners of the room, encompassing the people you are talking to.

This might sound strange, but trust me – it works! By using this technique you will create an environment where people want to hear what you have to say and feel part of something bigger than themselves. They feel energised and inspired.

Step 3: Courage – speaking up

Once you have centred yourself and created a receptive environment, the final step is to deliver a powerful message. You need to have the courage to take a stand for what matters to you; to speak from the heart rather than saying the safe “corporate speak” thing that won’t get you criticised but won’t get you noticed either.

Try this:

  • Picture the outcome that you want (a flourishing organisation, a happy team, satisfied clients or whatever), and see it at the end of the room, beyond the people you are talking to.
  • Extend your peri-personal space out as far as that image.
  • Soften your back and imagine supportive hands on your back.
  • Deliver your message and imagine it travelling out into the space beyond your audience to connect with your image of the outcome.

You’ll be amazed by the difference this makes to your impact. Practise it with a friend first before you do it for real and ask them for feedback on how you come across when using this technique.

You can think of the three Cs like the three parts of a butterfly: centredness is the body, your core foundation, and connection and courage are the two wings. A butterfly with no body or only one wing won’t get very far! But with all three it has great range.

So, if you want more say in the key decisions of your organisation or clients, remember the three Cs of leadership embodiment:

  • Centredness
  • Connection
  • Courage.
For the previous article see Journal, December 2014, 34
Liz Rivers is a leadership coach, mediator and facilitator. Formerly a litigation lawyer in the London office of global law firm Eversheds, she now helps professionals communicate more powerfully at work, so they can increase their influence, resolve differences and have more productive teams.
A practitioner of mindfulness and a trained psychotherapist, she is passionate about the importance of bringing emotional and bodily self-awareness to the art of leadership. She works with Core, the business mediation provider. w: www.lizrivers.com 

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