“Presence requires alignment between your mind, body, and words – to walk the talk, you need a simultaneous focus on all three levers: mental, skill, and physical”
-Own the Room, page 9
Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins’ Own the Room: Discover your Signature Voice to Master your Leadership Presence guides you to identify the voice you use most often and tweak it to become stronger leaders who can connect with any audience in an authentic way. It is particularly useful for people who have transitioned to a new role or environment (like me!), when the style that was mastered in a previous role just isn’t cutting it anymore. This book explores and guides people how to continue to own the room through career transitions. The pay-off of reading this book and personalizing the clearly outlined steps is that you consistently have a unique leadership presence that is confident, authentic, and effective across a variety of situations and with diverse audiences.
Voice Quadrant: What voice are you using?
"The challenge all individuals face is to adaptively use both voices: to speak for yourself, your team, and your function and to know when to do the same for others, their teams, and their functions"
Su and Wilkens illustrate a voice quadrant that features four voice types: passive, driving, supportive and signature voice. Think about the way you interact with people most often. Do you find yourself consistently speaking about yourself, your needs and your vision? That’s a driving voice. Or do you most often listen and offer support? That’s a supportive voice. When a person consistently uses either the driving or supportive voice, conclusions and judgements are made about that person and their ability to lead. The sweet spot is the signature voice, where driving voice and supportive voice are balanced.
I recently transitioned from working in a non-profit community arts centre to working in a corporate human resources firm. Upon reading this book and doing some reflection on my communication style, I discovered I used two different styles at each of the workplaces. At the community arts centre, I had reached a level of confidence and expertise that I often spoke about my vision, and did not hold back sharing new ideas. My voice was heard often in meetings. I used a driving voice. In my new position, I use a supportive voice as I learn the new job and adapt to a new work culture. I am more often asking people how I can help and speaking up for other people’s visions, rather than my own. I am quieter in meetings and take in more information than I share.
Own the Room provided me with an action plan to find a balance between the two voices by examining three key areas; Assumptions, Communication and Energy (ACE). At the community arts centre I could have listened better and supported other people’s development. In my current position, I need to express my own ideas and initiatives to move closer to my signature voice.
If you are unsure about which voice you most often use, make a list of 5 people you work with. Think about and watch yourself interact with them. Are you using more “I” sentences, or do you listen and offer support? This is likely the voice you would fall back on in stressful situations.
Don’t assume. Examine.
"You may be guided by beliefs that are outdated, inaccurate, left over from a previous role or experience, or simply dead wrong."
Developing a signature voice requires examining assumptions that may be sabotaging your voice. There are several areas to examine such as: what you think you bring to the table, your values, and how you feel about authority. Take some time during the day to answer these questions:
- What are my unique strengths, and what do I contribute that others don’t?
- What is the scope of my role and my sphere of influence?
- What does success look like in my role?
After reflecting on your strengths and what success looks like for you, write yourself a new bio that celebrates your uniqueness. Use it as a motivator and guide as you work on your signature voice.
Don’t copy. Create.
"Those who try and mimic someone else stifle their own creativity and innovation and fail to build on their own strengths."
Common advice suggests that to have presence, all you need to do is watch successful people and emulate their presence. I find this hard. While I adore being around leaders that I respect and can learn from, I want to be myself. Su and Wilkins believe that everyone has a unique leadership voice that allows them to be themselves and also impact the world. The secret here is not about searching for an external role model, but searching within. Watch yourself in conversations. Are you listening to other people or just waiting for a pause to speak about your side? Try allowing for space for other people’s ideas and see how that feels and changes your relationship with others. While you can gain a signature presence by taking a broader perspective, you don’t gain it by pretending to be someone else. Be honest about your presence and identifying patterns of behaviour that aren’t serving you anymore.
I appreciate that the advice and steps in Own the Room can be used in a variety of sectors and through-out all levels of your career. The book includes advice on helping others find their signature voice and 15 pages of a Signature Voice Toolkit that help you personalize an action plan. Su and Wilkins establish that developing you signature voice is a lifelong process that needs to be evaluated and adapted as your roles change – so the book is worth holding on to for future use.
Are there communication habits that you have carried with you from past experiences that aren’t serving you right now? How do you plan on adapting them to improve your professional presence and own every room you’re in?