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27/05/2020 – Special Report / Business / Leadership

Dropping the corporate mask

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The corporate ‘business as usual’ style of leadership is hugely unhelpful when people are feeling afraid and uncertain. Now is the time for business leaders to drop their corporate masks and be authentic and honest with their staff. Here, Dr Diana Theodores – an executive performance coach and speaker – outlines how to unlock your authenticity as a leader.


The story I hear most frequently from executive leaders I coach all over the world is their desire to ‘feel more like me’ and ‘to bring more of myself through the door’. No matter what the business culture – from Energy to Entertainment, Technology to Retail, or Finance to Formula 1 – bringing your fullest, boldest, most authentic self forward creates higher quality engagement, more fulfilment and greater service for you and your organisation.


As a native of New York who now resides in London, I was raised on a steady diet of great performances – the ones that bring you to your feet in standing ovation and make you feel more alive, more awake, more motivated, more hopeful and more galvanised. I believe the same power of inspiration is within great leadership performance. As a leader, when you fully commit to your unique gifts – like a great performer – you step into your fullest, fearless authenticity. And by bringing more of who you are into your organization, you can inspire, ignite, influence and make a difference.


Here are a few pointers to build more ‘authenticity fitness’ and connect with your unique voice and authentic presence:


True voice


When did you last hear your own voice? It’s our primary instrument for presenting, communication, speaking up, pitching, participating in meetings and engaging in conversations (both virtual and in person) – and yet it’s surprising that our own voices are often unfamiliar to us. The reason? Many of us walk through the door into our office and slip into autopilot. Our voices are shaped by our organisational cultures – which all have their own rules, jargon and language to follow. Is it any wonder that messages go ‘stale, flat and unprofitable’ (to quote Hamlet)? 


Take a minute to think about what your outside voice: The one that reads bedtime stories in full characters, the voice that cheers in supporting a team at a sports event, the voice that sings along to a favourite song while driving the car, the voice of amazement when reading something you want to share – “You’ve got to hear this!”. Do you agree that you have an extraordinary expressive vocal range? 


Your rushed, dampened down or monotone business voice is just a habit. Break the habit by setting clear intentions for what you are talking about and why. Your voice is ready to perform as needed. Use the voice power from your life, and you’ll have everything you need to authentically inspire, convince and influence.

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Show emotion


Many of us feel we have to leave our emotions at the door in order to stay professional and corporate – but there are times when it’s necessary to show emotion to be an inspiring leader. Situations like pitching your vision, giving motivational talks, mourning a loss of a colleague or coping with a big failure will all help to share your humanity and create trust with your team. Showing your feelings by welling up or having to stop for a moment and take a breath of composure doesn’t mean that you are in meltdown. It only shows that you can give the gift of compassion to yourself and others, and that you value who you are. Barack Obama is one of the most cited examples of an inspiring speaker and he frequently sheds a tear!


Re-awaken ‘the child within’


Reflect on the childhood passions that still show up in you today. Keep a favourite photo of yourself as that child visible at all times – the one that could do anything or be anyone; the one that was filled with curiosity, creativity, wonder and enthusiasm. That child is in you still and a great ally. Bring your inner child with you along for the ride. If your creativity has gone a bit dormant, re-ignite that fire. Make creativity dates with yourself: step inside that art gallery you pass every day, register for that workshop, join that choir, take out your sketchpad, lift the piano lid – whatever your creative passion is, start today.


Invest in your life story


Your life story contains wisdom, experience, powerful insights and compelling messages, and is the gateway to your full presence. Start creating your personal repository of stories. Value them and share them. Your stories are always in service to others. Storyboard your career, noting key achievements, strengths and drivers. Reflect on the connections between your professional story and your personal life story. You’ll discover renewed clarity, meaning and purpose. Knowing your story, embodying it and communicating inspiring messages from it is a powerful resource for your authentic ‘brand’ and visibility. 


Prepare yourself as much as your content


Preparing yourself is as important as preparing your content. Before rushing into a meeting or other scenario, take a moment to clarify objectives and intentions. Ask yourself, ‘What is needed here? How do I need to show up?’ It’s your job to create the environment needed for maximum engagement and results. That environment starts with you, your energy and ability to be present. To do this requires connecting to yourself before connecting to the world! Take a moment, a deep breath, get grounded and settle into yourself in order to be at your authentic best for others.


Acknowledge and build on positive feedback


Think about a compliment someone paid you or some praise you received recently, and then think about a careless or negative comment someone made. Chances are you will forget about the positive remark and ruminate on that negative remark for days and possibly weeks. Break the ‘rumination’ habit and always pay attention to positive feedback. Not only does it contribute to your strength-building story, it’s also a practical resource for improvement. The more you understand your strengths and resources when you are ‘at your best’, the more successfully you can apply them to scenarios that challenge you. But none of this can happen unless you hear, acknowledge, receive and value your positive feedback. 


Summon your inner revolutionary


Reflect and ask questions about ‘the way things are done around here’. Break out of the habit of obedience, and role-model doing things a bit differently. Being authentically you does not mean being habitually you, performing in a kind of default zone day to day. Within you is your own ‘revolutionary’ – poised for acts of courage, risk-taking, standing up and being counted, speaking up about something that matters, initiating an idea or project, and stretching out of your comfort zone. The greatest act of your inner revolutionary is the act of bringing yourself fully through that door and performing as you in all the roles you play. Go forth. The world needs you.

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Dr Diana Theodores

Dr Diana Theodores is an executive performance coach, speaker and Director of Theatre 4 Business. Her new book Performing As You: How to have authentic impact in every role you play is out now, priced £12.99. To find out more go to:

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