Kristi is a serial entrepreneur, communications expert, author, and sought after leadership coach. In her 20-year career working with leaders to help them communicate more effectively, she’s passionate that anyone can learn presence. She is CEO of The Hedges Company and founding partner in the leadership development firm, Element North. Kristi is author the book, “The Power of Presence,” writes about leadership for Forbes.com, and penned “The Leadership Factor” column for Entrepreneur.com. She’s been honored as one of the “50 Women Who Mean Business in Washington, D.C.” and as an owner of a “Top 25 Largest Women-Owned Businesses” by the WBJ. Kristi holds a Phi Beta Kappa B.A. from Virginia Tech & an M.S. from Purdue University.
She is also an ICF-credentialed leadership coach through Georgetown University.
1. How do leaders galvanize teams?
They galvanize by having an inspiring presence. You have to get people to believe in something greater. It’s the “vision” which starts with the leader. I’ve seen nothing that’s a substitute for the fire-in-the-belly. It’s the passion that comes through you . . . you can’t phone it in. And vision isn’t only the purview of senior leaders. You can be in an entry level job and stand out as a leader. How does it happen? The person had a vision for their role, they were able to share it,and engage others.
2. What are the influencing leadership skills that lead to having a vision?
There are four components outlined in my book that visionaries share. They are:
Personal — The vision has to be personal and felt in the bones of the leader. Others will only feel as strongly as the leader feels. If you’re adopting a corporate vision, you have to make it your own.
Aspirational – The vision is focused on moving others towards something greater than the unit or oneself.
Shared – It has to belong to everyone with equal participation. Visions that disproportionately benefit a few at the top are not motivating. Most employees don’t care about increasing revenue.
Active – It must be embedded into the fabric of the company. It’s a process that has to be communicated and reinforced throughout the organization. Everyone uses Zappo’s as an example of this, but it’s a great one.
3. Your book is entitled, The Power of Presence. How do you describe executive presence and how does one get it?
Presence is a hard-to-define concept with defined power over our lives. We see it immediately in others and make decisions based on it, yet it’s hard to put into words. It’s tougher still to determine our own. I define presence as the ability to connect with and inspire others. You’ll notice that I didn’t use the word “charisma” which conjures up images of big personalities or extroverts working a room. And how does one “learn” that anyway? Introverts can be extremely successful at achieving executive presence by being good listeners, asking the right questions, and leading with quiet authority. Presence is an equal opportunity endeavor. Authenticity is a critical part of it.
4. In the opening of your book, you say, “Hands-down, executive presence is the corporate it factor.” Why is it so important?
Today, companies are flatter and more distributed than ever. Professionals are required to do more, be more visible, and lead matrixed teams. Influence is how most work gets done. So, demand for developing executive presence is higher and growing in importance. Companies are seeing it now as a core skill. It’s directly linked to the ability to get noticed, forge trusting relationships, and get others on board with your vision.
5. Everyone recognizes leaders with “presence.” They stand out for their seemingly innate ability to command attention and inspire commitment. But what is this secret quality they exude, exactly?
The model that I developed, which is the basis of the book, is called “I-Presence.” It’s a very practical approach to developing presence so anyone can work on it — at any level, personality type or profession. I’ve used it with many leaders with success, so I’m pleased to bring it to more people through The Power of Presence. To have a stronger presence, the book guides readers through three core areas:
Intentional: What type of presence and values do you want to convey?
Individual: How do you build relationships that foster trust and loyalty?
Inspirational: How do you let the best personal part of yourself shine?
And shine is what Kristi does!
To Buy the Book: The Power of Presence
Interview continued from last week:
1. How did your background and experience prepare you for what you’re doing today – CEO, leadership coach and author?
I’m a firm believer that your background builds upon itself to create your present, even the detours, but you can only see this with hindsight and the benefit of time. The older I get, the clearer the narrative gets! In writing my book, I reached back to use many of my own stories and experiences. Certainly for my current work as a leadership coach, I was fortunate to have very relevant experience from the PR firm I co-founded and built for 10 years. I started it in 1997 and ran it through very different market conditions – up, down and sideways. During that time, I had a coach which was a rewarding experience both personally and professionally. When I sold my interest in my firm, I kept coming back to coaching as a transition to my next “real” business. As things happened, my coaching practice grew, I started working in the broader leadership development field, and this was my next business.
2. Since leadership coaching was a pinnacle step within your career, how can it benefit other professionals who find themselves going through critical points of change?
I’ve had a coach, and of course work as a coach, so I can say with good perspective what a gift it is. I cannot think of any professional development that you can get as an adult that’s as relevant and individually instructive. Coaching gives you someone who holds you accountable and who doesn’t have a stake in your final decision. When you look at other people who give you feedback within your company, they all have a bias and a stake in what you do. If it’s your boss, your outcome benefits him/her and the team’s overall performance. If it’s another employee, your decision often benefits that individual. It’s the same even with your spouse. They are all invested in the outcome. Your coach is only invested in helping you make the right choices for you.
3. So how does an “independent” coach help?
Coaches help you to ask the right questions. They help you see the full impact of your
decisions and realize your options. Often, we are so locked into our own perspectives that our eyes aren’t open to other paths. A good coach gently helps you get out of your own way.
4. From your past 20 years as a leadership coach and consultant working with leaders to help them define and develop executive presence, are their barriers that are often more common among women?
Culturally, the parameters for women are narrower than they are for men. So, for many women it can be both confining and confusing. We all know of the dichotomy. If you’re too strong you’re the b-word (that rhymes with witch), and if you’re too soft you’re a pushover. As women, we are constantly trying to walk that delicate balance of being the right amount of strong and right amount of open. Women can get stuck in this murky water, especially when moving into a new leadership role. Men look at executive presence differently. It’s more about how am I building followership? Women are concerned more about the interpersonal piece of it. How am I connecting individually with each person? Of course we learn from both approaches — the right balance is to connect and build trust with individuals and the overall team.