formidable or charismatic/confident - it's your choice.

The other day, a friend shared an industry newsletter that had many great ideas for sales, finding business partners, etcetera. One of these tips struck me as odd. Well, maybe not odd, just very limiting,  especially if you didn’t know what the author meant by it….

It said, “Be formidable.” The problem with the article is it did not say how to be formidable or when and why you would want to be….

When would you want to be formidable? 

I’ve never thought much about being formidable, so I looked up the definition and here is what I found: “inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable.” Wow, what that word conjures up for me… some positives I see in being formidable are determined, knows what one wants, and capable… what does the word formidable mean to you?

Be sure and share what it conjures up for you below in comments as I’d like to know your thoughts on ‘if being formidable works for you….’

What word would I prefer leaders replace formidable with?

Confident comes to mind… as does charismatic. I much prefer leaders to be confident and capable adding in credible ideas to inspire me to action rather than “inspiring” from fear.

By the way, you instill fear, you don’t inspire fear. Fear may influence and motivate you away from something, but you are never truly inspired by fear…. A leader today needs to be authentic, determined, inspiring (without fear) as well as be a great communicator who is confident, credible, and collaborative instead of “formidable.” A leader with these qualities are often called “charismatic.”

However, to answer the question on how to “Be formidable” both formidable, charismatic and confident traits are created in pretty much the same way… it just depends on the context, the level of pomp, hype and intensity you want to display and your intention and or desired outcome.

Both start in your brain—get clear on what you want—do you want to be a long-time leader that is followed out of devotion and loyalty or are you looking for short-term compliance?  Once you are clear on these it then comes down to your mindset.

First, set the intention for how you want to be seen, then choose the actions that will display that choice. Setting your intention is critical, yet is often overlooked – too often leaders ‘just wing-it.’  It is important to determine the impression you want to leave followers with since your body language (including your vocal intensity) mirrors your thoughts and emotions as does your automatic word choices. For example, if you are feeling positive and upbeat, your voice will naturally sound positive, upbeat and energetic and the words that naturally flow will be in alignment.

It’s the intention that changes the meaning behind the following 5 steps in how to be seen as a leader – formidable or charismatic and confident – it’s your choice.

As you begin, remember is it your intention to instill fear to provoke change or is your intention to inspire to produce change?

Whether you are creating a formidable leadership style or a charismatic and confident style, both are formed by combining these five parts:

Step #1: Take up more space. Your grandmother was right, good posture with your weight equally distributed over your hips while maintaining low, full breathing with an extended exhale will make you feel (and appear to others as) more comfortable and in control.

Your choice of body language is where we depart ways between charismatic/confident and formidable. To be seen as “formidable” add the grand gesture of your hands on your hips and add a strong index finger point.

A charismatic/confident leader does not need grand power gestures. Gestures should flow naturally and align with your words.

Good posture, including taking up more space, has been shown to change your thoughts and emotions so that you feel more successful too. According to research, the more space you can take up, the more confident you will feel. (More on the science of taking up space can be found in the work of Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School.)

Step #2: Be concise and to the point. Keep your key point, “your statement” to about 100 words or less with no intro, preamble, qualifiers, extro, or language softeners. Short and to the point always sounds confident! This includes body language softeners such as a wink, raised eyebrow, a shift of weight, or a nervous laugh. Concise and short always sound convincing and confident. Be very specific with the part of the message you want to emphasize and don’t emphasize too many points.

Focus on one key point and no more than three supporting points. It’s okay to repeat the key point after the supporting points, if you pause and breathe.

Step #3: Use the Power Pause. The pause is where you can get full, natural breaths. This is key! Make sure you pause and breathe!

Maintain low, comfortable breathing with an extended exhale. The exhale is when the body relaxes. Full abdominal or complete breathing sends a message of “I’m okay and I’m in control of myself no matter the situation.”

During each pause, breathe. Inhale completely (through the nose) filling the abdomen, keeping your head and lips perfectly still. The mouth only opens as the words come out. Opening the mouth before the words are ready will make you look less intelligent and less confident. Fast, or shallow breathing activates the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response in yourself and others.

The pause allows the listener to have time to think about and absorb what you just said. Use short pauses between sections of each sentence (where the comma would go), and longer pauses at the end of each statement (where the period would go). The longest pause is right before and after the part of the message you want to emphasize, for example, that would be the ‘key point’ as I mention mentioned in Step #2, you would do a short pause before and a short pause after.

Step #4: Maintain eye contact. Eye contact is the second most immediate non-verbal that people respond to (your breathing pattern is first.) Eye contact is also the most often misused. It can be subtle or direct, and knowing how to mix the two is a major part of the art of building relationships and being seen the way you want to be seen. Also note that how much eye contact is too much or too little varies with the culture, gender, and context.

Yet, back to being seen as formidable… as you come to your “key point” in your message – the part you want to emphasize – maintain direct eye contact longer than normal (for you) and limit blinking. The more formidable you want to appear, the more you limit your blinking as staring elevates the listener’s heart rate and can activate a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, especially between two men. If limiting your blinking is not done with great care it can lead to conflict. For an extra dash of formidable, drop your chin about 1/2 inch as if you were looking out over glasses. The eyes high in the eye sockets give an extra “Do it, now” quality to your words.

Many books suggest that if you don’t make constant direct eye contact with someone, you are untrustworthy. Nonsense! I even heard one expert recommend having “sticky eyes” when you want to make a good impression. I’m all for looking at someone when in conversation, but too much (or too little) eye contact is not only disrespectful but can feel downright creepy. To show confidence, know that over the course of normal, positive conversation, eye contact is a series of long glances instead of intense stare-downs.

Confident leaders know the eye contact works best when both parties feel it’s “just right,” so take your cues from the other person and match their preference for how much direct eye contact to use.

Step #5: Practice really does make perfect. Practice saying “your statement” beforehand enough times that all the emotion has drained out. You want all the voice quivers and “nerves” to be gone and the more you practice “your statement” over and over the more the ‘nerves’ will drain away. Confident and charismatic leaders use a variety of voice patterns, from command to connection. (Read more on voice patterns in my book What Your Body Says and How To Master the Message). Learn how and when to say something from the heart (connection) or from the head (command) to truly inspire loyal action in others. Before speaking, ask yourself am I coming from my ‘person’ or my ‘position?’

Consider videoing yourself or practice important messages with several other people to get their feedback on their first reaction to what and how you say what you need to say. Number 5 is often the most overlooked or discounted – as the saying goes “just do it” and you will see results – when it’s a mission-critical message the last thing you want to do is ‘just do it.” The results of ‘winging it’ are evident around us every day…. Talking with friends is not the same as mission-critical messages.

Whether you choose formidable or confident, your verbal and non-verbal message should always be pre-considered, precise and on-point.

Try these 5 practical and easy steps to a new and confident you!  Confident and charismatic will create lasting leadership while formidable creates short-term compliance. Which would you rather have? 

Enjoy the adventure,

To Success! To Life!