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This is a true story about a mid-level marketing executive named Ken. It didn’t happen at my company, but it could have. In fact, it likely could have happened at your company, too. Ken was a Type B practitioner. He was bright enough, but quiet. Unassuming, in fact. Solid, but unremarkable. A classic introvert. He was a reliable tactician, but nobody who’d be “going places.” Ken was easy to ignore and his leaders pretty much did so.
That is, until the day he stood up to speak. Ken’s world changed on that day. Yours can, too.
I’ve been interested for some time in the insights of Forbes contributor Victor Lipman on issues of communication and leadership. So I was particularly interested in his book premiering this week —The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World.
Like many of today’s entrepreneurial leaders, I did not arrive at my current role in a traditional way. I’m excellent at my craft. But prepared for classic leadership? Not so much. (How many other entrepreneurs fit this description? I suspect that most of us do.) By nature, I am a Type A at work—results driven, work hard/play hard and leave no stone unturned. In the field of PR I like to believe my instincts have become a finely honed instrument. But as a leader I’m much more a Type B. I look for people at least as bright as I am and hopefully brighter still. I abhor conflict, but prefer to work things out than to lay down the law. I direct others with greater focus on the outcome desired than on the path they take to produce the result.
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This is not typical in traditional leadership, Lipman notes, which anticipates authoritative actions, decisiveness and a persona that “means business.” But perhaps that’s not such a bad thing, he opines. The disengagement stats would lead me to agree. The corporate world is awash in employees who act not out of resonance with a company’s vision or respect for their superiors, but in many cases out of apathy or even fear. But what would happen if leaders, managers and unassuming employees like Ken could learn to treasure and leverage their nascent Type B skills?
Great things would occur, he believes. And speaking of Ken, here’s the story of what happened on the Day That Everything Changed:
Because of his shyness (a Type B trait), Ken had taken to stand-up comedy as a hobby, unbeknownst to any of his colleagues at work. Performing in front of others gave him a level of confidence that surprised him. He learned that he rather liked the opportunity to read an audience, to make others feel at ease, to make them laugh, and to create good outcomes.
About six months later, opportunity knocked. A competitor had pulled its business away from West Texas, leaving the door open for Ken’s company to step in and prevail. Because of his reliable background, management invited him to step up during the client presentation to speak. And speak he did. Ken presented with poise, energy, confidence and a touch of humor. He moved about the room with ease. He finished with a flourish, leaning in to the CEO of the client company as he looked him straight in the eye, saying, “Now I ask you, does this sound like the kind of opportunity you can afford to miss?”
He’d won the business. He had demonstrated a principle of business as well. Most “Type B” managers fear public speaking (in fact studies have shown that for many it is only slightly less undesirable than losing a limb). Yet it’s one of the most valuable business and career skills you can have. And it can be learned.
1) Watch yourself on video. It’s so hard to do, for all of us, but it’s the one true way to get objective input as others would see it. This one step will go further than anything else in helping you improve your presentation ability. And if you work with a coach, the footage will give you a concrete tool you can look at and analyze together.
2) Find a personal style you are comfortable with. Some great speakers are gregarious and boisterous. Some run through the audience, jump, dance around and take up most of the stage or even the room with their gestures. Others are more quiet and authoritative, speaking directly into the listener’s heart. Some of the very best are a combination of both. But over time you’ll get a feel for your own best style and will learn to make it your own and perfect it.
3) Pick out a person in the audience and pretend your presentation is simply a conversation with them. How hard would it be to converse with only one person? Presumably not hard at all. Just be sure, in public speaking, that you rotate connections at least periodically to ensure that you are speaking to all parts of the room. But not only will this strategy help to quell your nerves while speaking, it will also help you to look directly into the face and eyes of the individuals in the room while you speak.
4) Have your material down cold. This is imperative. I’ve personally presented in a room where technology suddenly failed and made it necessary to give the first third of my presentation without slides or notes. Furthermore, if you do use PPT (and there are cases for and against), knowing your material thoroughly will allow you to use any PPT frames you have with skill and not as a crutch. In his book, Lipman confesses that his children witnessed him practicing his best presentations in advance, using the ironing board as a lectern in the privacy of his home. The practice paid off (and I’m betting the discipline of his activity was a positive lesson for his children as well).
The ability to engage and present to an audience is just one of the Type B skills Lipman addresses, but it’s a skill that I believe enhances entrepreneurship particularly well. In summary, then, whether you’re more Type A or B (and especially if you’re a B) your leadership and career will benefit from your willingness to build upon your Type B skills. Which means, for example, that being capable and smart is a much better thing when the day arrives that you learn to deliver the goods as a public performer as well. In Ken’s case, from the day he presented he became one of the current economy’s greatest assets—a Type B leader who’s learned to leverage his best abilities well.
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