The P.O.I.S.E formula for leadership
What is the X factor that makes a leader? Shital Kakkar Mehra, a noted corporate coach and best-selling author, lets us on in the trade secrets of successful CEOs and star performers in her hugely popular work, Executive Presence: The P.O.I.S.E formula for Leadership
Charisma. Impact. Leadership. Presence. An ability to inspire. If all of the aforementioned adjectives could be summed up in two words, it would be in the term Executive Presence. Something we greatly respect in others and covet for ourselves. Also called Personal Presence or the ‘it’ factor, this nebulous, hard to encapsulate yet absolutely necessary trait is what business and political leaders possess in abundance. In cricket, Sachin Tendulkar has ‘it’, football greats Pele and Zidane display ‘it’, Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs embodies ‘it’ and most world leaders have ‘it’ in abundance.
In today’s competitive world, technical and intellectual competence are not enough to take you the distance as a corporate honcho. While no one’s disputing the importance of in-depth knowledge as the foundation of your career, your ability to deliver and articulate a confident message that engages your audience and is in keeping with the values represented by the brand you work for, is what will take you that extra mile.
“Climbing the corporate ladder is a lot like climbing Mount Everest, where most people with fitness and training can make it to the base camp but cannot proceed further. The skills needed to reach the base camp are motivation, fitness, training and willpower. Once you reach the base camp, the required skill set changes drastically,” writes the author. “Now, the abilities needed to reach the summit are experience in mountain climbing and adequate lung capacity to operate in the rarefied atmosphere. Similarly, in the corporate world, most people make it to the base camp, some at 35, some at 40 and others at 45, depending upon your industry. However, most are unable to get beyond it, as they cannot see the change in the skill set needed. Earlier, it was a combination of technical skills and intellectual skills, and now it’s a combination of physical, online, influencer, stage and engagement skills. These skills can be defined as Executive Presence—the lack of which is a roadblock for potential leaders to climb higher. Remember, the leadership funnel is very sharp at the top and your Executive Presence is your competitive edge”
Cracking the code with P.O.I.S.E
As promised, the P.O.I.S.E formula, which is the very essence of the much-admired Executive Presence, takes up the five sections of the book. Section I is dedicated to Physical Presence—namely your attire that doubles up as your visual resume and your body language.
Section II is devoted to the nitty gritty of your online presence—an absolute must in this era of social media. This section talks about building your online presence and working on your personal branding via networking sites. Section III or “Influencer Presence” talks about gravitas and poise, effective communication and executive maturity. Section IV is about Stage Presence or public speaking skills that gives you that extra edge when it comes to getting ahead.
Last but not the least is Section V that waxes eloquent on engagement presence or the art of building relationships. This includes conversational skills, working with virtual teams, building relationships using technology, communicating with global teams, internal networking and workplace relationships, external networking and building relationships.
God lies in the details. So does leadership
The most helpful aspect of this 300-page-book is the sheer detailing of all that leaders need to look into. From using personal space effectively to negotiating work and life in the era of social media. It is a fact that many people judge you by your online presence—including Facebook and Instagram posts and decide whether or not they would like to do business with you. Here’s why, “The content you’ve posted online defines you and based on your online presence, people will make judgements on your success, your economic strata, personality and at times even your character… creating a powerful personal brand online is a process that goes beyond putting up a few good photographs. As your digital footprint will outlast your current job, may even outlast you, it’s important to take conscious steps in curating your presence online,” writes Shital Kakkar Mehra. “However, research shows that more than half the CEOs in India don’t have an online presence on any of the social media sites. While they may view it as a waste of time, in reality, social media has several benefits and can be used as an excellent new-age communication tool.” A fine instance of a CEO who uses social media to maximum effect would be Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group.
He articulates his thought succinctly and bonds with his audience by listening and responding. Humorous, humble, approachable and open-minded is what he comes across as.
In another chapter on Effective Communication and Executive Maturity, the author explains how learning to say ‘no’ is an integral pillar of success. Team leaders, managers and budding entrepreneurs receive dozens of emails and calls and messages from people approaching them for help or even an urgent meeting. Saying no goes against what we’ve been taught about respect and approachability; we want to be viewed as ‘nice’ by those around us. & so, we are unable to refuse a client/boss/vendor/colleague even though our own work is more important. This leads to a wastage of time and an increase in stress.
Another chapter on Conversation Skills engages the reader on the importance of knowing what to say, how to say it and when to say it. While many would view small talk as frivolous, the fact is that small talk is an important skill that will take you far. “As a young leader, establishing your career and relationships, understanding the benefits of small talk will make people feel engaged and inspired to make a genuine connection with you,” explains the author.
The chapter on Working with Virtual Teams is particularly important given the paradigm shift and never-before-challenges wrought about in a post-Covid world. From tips to handle conflict and the importance of using time well by speaking in bullet points and handling feedback positively to handling rejection of one’s projects and ideas with grace, the chapter explores it all. There’s also know-how on how to communicate with global teams by building better cultural awareness and recognising that what works well in one culture may be downright rude in others. “Knowledge is power,” says the author. “Gather information about your teams’ diverse culture before you start the interaction. Some cultures have a blunt way of communicating while others like the Japanese need you to show patience towards an expansive, indirect style of communication.”
“Building Relationships with Technology” explains how the unwritten rules of WhatsApp and emails along with details on how and when to use emoticons.
Another useful nugget would be Internal Networking and Workplace Relationships. It answers frequently asked questions like who pays for a business meal to who holds the door open and why it’s common courtesy for even women employees to escort male visitors to the office elevator so as to ensure a smooth and hassle-free exit from office premises.
Lucid, observant and up to date with the latest developments in the corporate world, the book is invaluable not only for its insight into the irrevocable changes wrought about in a post-Covid world but also its little nuggets on the niceties expected from highly visible corporates in assorted cultures.
All in all, a must-read for anyone hoping to add the extra to the ordinary
BULLETS FROM THE BOOK
- Different cultures view time differently. Westerners need to be ‘on time’ as their workday tends to be divided into 30-minute slots, while the Middle Easterners and South Asians are comfortable being 5 or 10 minutes ‘in time.’
- Know your triggers: Leaders display heightened self-control and self-awareness to better understand why they respond to a particular situation thus. Then they work on ways to build self-control—a mentor, yoga or breathing exercises, whatever suits them.
- It is important to calibrate your response to leave no room for ambiguity. Ex: “Please mail your presentation for review by 4 pm so we can review it before the client meet at 6 pm,” instead of saying: “I need the presentation by 4 pm.”
- Check-in regularly but resist micromanaging. Let your team take ownership of the work.