We’ve all heard it before. A high-potential associate or new manager receives advice on how to show up with stronger confidence and presence and then they’re told that classic line, “Walk in and own the room!”
Please, STOP saying this. It’s awful advice!
First, if the individual already knew how to “own the room” then he/she would.
Second, your definition of “own the room” is probably different than their interpretation so without clarity on how you define that phrase you leave him/her even more confused and self-conscious.
Third, if an individual lacks self-confidence then what he/she hears with that advice is “fake it until you make it.” He/She already doesn’t feel good enough and so you teach him/her to create an outer image they want to project to the world to try and prove they belong. As a result, they often lose their authentic self and their ability to genuinely connect with others – which is the best part of what they have to offer the world.
Finally, it perpetuates ego – a pervasive problem in many organizations today. We have enough ego-centric leaders in the workplace today who always shine the spotlight on themselves, fail to take other people with them when making decisions, believe their truth is the only truth, and are unconscious to the impact their presence has on others.
I believe this advice is meant with good intentions, but there is a better way to coach leaders on how to show up and communicate with stronger impact. Instead of telling leaders to “own the room,” we should empower and teach them how to “own their energy.”
I define energy as the presence and mindset you show up with everywhere you go.
Below are five intentional actions every leader can take to own their energy and build their credibility in the process:
1 – Act Like You Belong
The best career advice I ever received came from Greg Creed, CEO of Yum! Brands. He said, “STOP trying to prove you belong and ACT like you belong.” Leaders who act like they belong aren’t trying to prove it to anyone. They believe their presence, their words, and their ability to ask great questions already matters. Owning your energy means you embrace the strengths and talents you bring to the table, and you make a conscious choice to focus on the value you bring versus the skills or perspective you don’t.
2 – Demonstrate Quiet Confidence
I define quiet confidence as the ability to stand in your truth – unapologetically – while also giving others permission to do the same. Nonverbal communication constitutes over 65% of how we communicate and some leaders are clueless on how their body language is impacting their ability to connect and build trust throughout the organization. Owning your energy means you acknowledge that the body language of power and confidence looks and feels different than the body language of collaboration and empathy, and you possess the self-awareness and discipline to flex your style. Quiet confidence requires you to stand tall in your own light but make it safe enough for others to do the same. When we do that, we make others feel heard and acknowledged for what they bring into the room and we find ourselves connecting on a much deeper level. It is on that level that we build strong engagement and organizational culture.
3 – Listen to Understand
Your leadership impact will never trump your ability to listen. You can listen to be right or you can listen to understand, but you cannot do both. Owning your energy requires you to be assertive with your truth, but curious and open to others’ truth as well. Your listening skills directly influence whether people respond from a place of fear and ego or love and collaboration. Research in neuroscience shows us that the chemical reaction produced from these core emotional states is very different and will impact the direction of the conversation. Listening to understand is difficult because it requires us to slow down from our busyness, create space in our conversations, stop putting people on “call waiting,” and listen to what is not being directly said.
4 – Move the Conversation Forward
Owning your energy means you don’t have the extrinsic need to showcase your brilliance to the entire room. You speak up when you have something valuable to contribute and that you believe will move the conversation forward. Moving the conversation forward could mean initiating a difficult conversation that people are avoiding, connecting the dots to what others are saying in the room, asking empowering questions that spark a different way of thinking, or offering your perspective on an issue if it hasn’t already been discussed. Leaders who own their energy understand that communicating with impact is not about speaking a lot. It’s about speaking in a way that adds value. These leaders know how to be brief and brilliant with their words. As a result, they create stronger influence.
5 – Know What You Stand For
Success is an inside-job, and your confidence is a direct reflection of your mindset. Leaders who own their energy aren’t playing a part. They have a clear vision for how they want to be perceived and they ensure their actions support that authentic image. They understand and can articulate their values and purpose. They accept that their purpose is bigger than any one meeting, relationship, conversation, and/or title. Knowing what you stand for is fundamental in being able to lead yourself and even more important when earning the right to lead others.
If we as leaders are going to help cultivate the next generation of authentic leaders who lead with both their head and their heart then we must empower and model what it means to “own your energy.” The moment we do that we take full responsibility for the mindset and presence we show up with every day, and we demonstrate that great leaders don’t play the starring role in the entire room, but they are committed to playing the starring role in their own life when it is their time to speak and contribute.