Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: "Leadership Presence" - Teaching Leadership Skills Using Acting Techniques

Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire

Review by Don Redman

A recent study in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Applied Psychology claims it has found scientific proof that leaders are born, not made. But leadership coaches Kathy Lubar and Belle Halpern make a rather convincing argument to the contrary in their book, Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach, Motivate and Inspire.
Co-founders of The Ariel Group, an executive leadership coaching service company, Lubar and Halpern use their theatrical background to argue that  whether you’re the head of a company or an elected official or even the president of an all-volunteer organization, leadership skills can be taught using many of the same techniques actors use to master their roles.

More than mere “stage presence,” Lubar and Halpern say leadership presence is more than skin deep –  it is “the ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others.”
In their view, leadership isn’t confined to those with titles like CEO, President, Board Chairman, or supervisor, but includes anyone who tries to foster positive change. “A leader is anyone who tries to move a group toward obtaining a particular result. You don’t need a title to lead.”

But you do need presence.
In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, Welsh rebel Owen Glendower boasts to Henry “Hotspur” Percy, “I can call the spirits from the vasty deep,” to which Hotspur retorts, “Why, so can I, or so can any man, but will they come when you do call for them?” That is the ultimate test of inspiring leadership.

So what can serious business leaders or team managers or even Slidell Little Theatre board members possibly learn from a group of people who pretend to be someone else? Sure, actors can teach techniques like projection, posture and diction, but leadership?
Explain the authors: “The skills that actors use to move, convince, inspire, or entertain have direct and powerful applications in the worlds of business, politics, education, and organizations in general…. Great leaders, like great actors, must be confident, energetic, emphatic, inspirational, credible, and authentic.”

Halpern and Lubar, cognizant of the dichotomy between acting and being authentic, explain the obvious paradox that in order to pretend, the actor must be real. “That need (to be real while pretending) requires the actor to delve inside himself because the only way an emotion can be authentic is if it comes within the actor. Actors, consequently, are probably more aware of authenticity than anyone else, because they’ve studied it, and themselves, so carefully.”
Leadership scholar Warren Bennis echoes the authors in praise of their book: “Leadership Presence does identify one of those important things that do matter, the natural and obvious…connection between leading and acting. They are unavoidably yoked together, these two, by a common social purpose: the creation of mutuality, of transforming feeling into shared meaning.”

Using a four-step formula – or Four Act Drama – Halpren and Lubar have developed the PRES Model of Leadership Presence used to train more than 30,000 executives over the past two decades.
The PRES model is an acronym for what the authors say are the four elements of leadership:

P – Being Present, the ability to be completely in the moment, and flexible enough to handle the unexpected.
R – Reaching Out, the ability to build relationships with others through empathy, listening, and authentic connection.

E – Expressiveness, the ability to express feelings and emotions appropriately by using all available means – words, voice, body, face – to deliver one congruent message.
S – Self-knowing, the ability to accept yourself, to be authentic, and to reflect your values in your decisions and actions.

The four acts contain their own case studies and examples followed by a series of exercises designed to make you stretch as a leader and to engage in some serious soul-searching.
The authors explain the four acts and corresponding book chapters:

Act I – Being Present: Learning to live in the moment and using improvisational theatre to explore “flexibility,” the key feature of how you act when you are fully present.
Act II – Reaching Out: Getting the best from people you lead through empathy and making connections to create relationships with other persons.

Act III – Expressiveness: Expressing emotion and developing passionate purpose and communicating congruently.
Act IV – Self-knowing and Authenticity: Learning techniques to develop explicit beliefs and values through self-reflection, and accepting yourself and living your values to develop authenticity.

Leadership presence, say the authors, combines “power with humility.”
“It’s about where you and those you lead want to go and what all of you want to accomplish and how all of you can benefit from your work together.”

A brisk and easy read, Lubar and Halpern have penned an excellent resource for burgeoning leaders and even those who are currently in leadership positions, be it on the corporate level or as head of the local PTA.
The exercises, however, including journaling, self-reflection, and storytelling, will require considerably more effort, but well worth it if the end results are self-awareness and inspiring, authentic leadership skills.

The authors beautifully summarize the ultimate goal of acting and how it relates to leadership:
“The ultimate purpose of theatre and acting is to create meaning and context in our lives…. In the same way, leaders create meaning for groups and organizations they lead and they do that by authentically connecting what’s important to them to their work as a leader. What makes this so powerful is that it allows the leader and the led to connect with something bigger than themselves and their own self-interest…. We all want meaning. We all want to be connected with something valuable in human affairs.”

Harkening back to Shakespeare’s Glendower and his claim to conjure spirits, Warren Bennis writes: “Genuine leadership…requires more than putting on the trappings of power. It requires the ability to find that magnetic core that will draw together a fragmented audience – not to just call the spirits, but to make them come when they are called…. In essence, the leader is able to create community.”
And that, after all, is the goal of Slidell Little Theatre: to create a sense of community within the organization, and within our society, and  to add meaning to our lives through the performing arts and our work as volunteers, whether as directors, actors, stage crew, board members, ushers, or grounds keepers. Fulfilling that mission – to engage, educate and involve members of the community in high quality theatrical productions – requires inspired leadership, which, thankfully, can be taught using some of the very techniques we employ to entertain audiences every year.

Leadership Presence is a great start to developing those skills and should be included in any organization’s collection of leadership/management resource literature. The book’s lessons and exercises will have you returning to it again and again.
A copy of, Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach, Motivate and Inspire, can be found at the Slidell Branch Library on Robert Boulevard, or can be purchased online here.

 About the Authors
Belle Halpern and Kathy Lubar

Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern are the co-founders of The Ariel Group, an international training and coaching firm comprised of performing artists and business professionals teaching participants to authentically connect, communicate and build relationships. Halpern has performed worldwide as an actress and singer and has taught music students at Harvard University. A co-founder of Boston’s New Repertory Theatre, Lubar acted professionally for 15 years, playing lead roles in a number of national tours.

About the reviewer:
Don Redman currently serves as vice president of Marketing on the Slidell Little Theatre Board of Directors. An award-winning journalist, playwright and published author and poet, Redman was awarded the St. Tammany Parish President’s Literary Artist of the Year Award in 2006 for his adult comedy, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia’s Wolf Note?” When not volunteering for SLT and other nonprofit organizations, Redman is the associate editor of a regional travel magazine, and creator and sporadic contributor to “The RedmanWriting Project” blog.  Redman is currently working on a comedy inspired by real events and The King, and is writing a children’s story.

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