One of the greatest leaps of faith that actors and dancers have to take before stepping on stage is that all their work and creativity will somehow be understood and appreciated by the audience. Sometimes actors will resort to working on their scenes or their movements with video or in front of a mirror, which sounds good at first but can lead to self-conscious and hollow performances. While the technique might be solid, there is often no connection between the audience and the performer.
Why is this? Well, I think that it goes back to the fact that we cannot be objective observers of ourselves. We are intrinsically incapable of seeing ourselves as others see us. The attempt to control how others see us by critiquing our movements in real time lead us to create safe choices that imitate what looks like excellence. The result is an empty performance no matter how technically perfect it might seem. In some instances this might be enough, but when we are trying to achieve greatness, when we are attempting to find a union between our inner life and the world around us, this disconnect can be frustrating and unsatisfying.
Leaders who need to speak publicly and lead organizations through difficult change often find it difficult to get helpful feedback on what works and how to improve. Anyone can tell you what you did wrong in a speech or what you should be doing better. However, if you try to implement those changes, you wither find that you have swung too far in the other direction or that the request seemed impossible or too vague. Advice like, “Use your hands more” or “Don’t be so monotone” are ways that actually restrain us from being better at communicating rather than help us. We cannot become more natural by watching ourselves in the mirror.
Feedback is helpful and constructive to most people who are serious about what they do. We would be hard pressed to find a dance studio without mirrors for the dancers to have a sense of their technique. The problem arises when we are putting our whole sense of how we are doing in what we see in that mirror, or in the feedback that we get. Leaders of organizations are being asked to not only manage people and the day to day operations, they are also being asked to provide a vision for the company, instill confidence in the direction they are taking and resonate excitement and passion in the goals. These skills require us to bring something to the table that is deep within us. It requires more than just technique to motivate and inspire an organization to reach for a bigger goal and greater achievements. A leader has to be able to share what excites her specifically about the goals, what it is about it that brings up her passions. This cannot be measured objectively in a mirror.
My recommendation to those who are struggling with finding their voice in leadership or public speaking is to find out what it is that lights you up about what you do. Challenge yourself to let go of the voice in your head that tries to objectify how you look and sound and trust that it will shine through. A dancer or actor has spent countless hours training in a rehearsal studio working on technique and honing their skills. The moment, however, when they step out onto the stage, they need to trust that those skills will be there. They need to trust that the audience will appreciate what they have to offer in this vulnerable form of expression. They have to leap and have faith that they are enough.
This is also what we need to do as leaders in our organizations. Stop looking at the mirror and trust that we have trained for this moment, that we know what we want to say and that we can have faith that our skills, intellect and passion is enough to persuade, motivate and inspire our employees, clients and customers to achieve the more difficult goals.
1. Stop watching yourself. It is impossible to be objective about your performances.
2. Trust yourself. Your success in achieving a difficult goal in an organization will be dependent on your willingness to reveal the passions you have for the objective. If what you are saying is true, then you will never need feedback from those around you about how you did.
3. Do your training. Work with a coach, a mentor or someone who you trust completely to be honest and supportive of your growth. This will help you to better understand what is working for you and what is not and how to detect the authentic moments that grow your presence.