In the course of my coaching career I have seen many female clients in leadership roles who often find it difficult to command authority in a male-dominated work environment.
They, quite rightly, do not want to ‘copy’ their male counterparts by becoming more masculine in order to gain gravitas. So the challenge for them is to find a strong sense of authority whilst still remaining true to their feminine identity.
In terms of delivery styles, I frequently see female clients struggling to take up the appropriate amount of space. Posture has a powerful effect on emotion; i.e. if you stand or sit with a sense of authority, you start to feel in control of a situation.
So here are a few ‘top tips’ to increase your authority and gravitas in the workplace
- Stance: Make sure your feet are grounded with your weight evenly distributed. This will avoid any temptation to rock or shift your weight from one leg to the other, both of which will undermine what you are saying and make you feel insecure.
- ‘Plant’ your feet hip-width apart. If your feet are too close together, you will struggle to feel grounded, particularly if you are wearing heels.
- Imagine there is a piece of string pulling you up from the crown of your head. This will ensure you are using your maximum height. Allow your arms to move away from your side when you gesture. This will help you feel that you own the space.
- When sitting, sit as far back in the chair as possible and use the back of the chair as a support without collapsing into it. Make sure your hands are visible and above the table to enable you to gesture freely.
- Make sure that you are not collapsing in the centre of your torso, particularly when seated. This will give your lungs the space to fill deeply which will, in turn, create a more grounded, resonant and powerful voice. This deeper breath will also fuel your brain with oxygen, clarifying your thoughts and increasing fluency in moments of anxiety.
- If possible, keep both your feet grounded on the floor when sitting. If you do want to cross your legs, make sure that you are not crossing them to the extent that the angle of your body has turned slightly to one side. This will undermine your authority and may mean that someone next to you could be receiving a negative impression from you as you have turned away from them.
The above tips should help you increase your power and authority through posture. Taking your time when speaking and using pauses wherever possible to refuel with breath will also give you a stronger sense of gravitas and credibility. The key is to understand that you are not ‘pretending’ to be anyone else. Observe yourself when you are at your most confident and authoritative, and transfer this behaviour into situations where you wish to raise your status. You will be surprised at the results.
Helen is a skilled executive coach who specialises in equipping senior executives with presentation and communication skills. She has worked across many different sectors and her clients include Roche Pharmaceutical, GlaxoSmithKline, London Deanery, Barclays Bank, Transport for London, National Grid, The Royal Household, Costain, Vodafone and Warner Brothers.