Kristi Hedges turned to a leadership coach when she founded the SheaHedges Group, one of the first technology-focused PR firms in Washington, D.C. It proved a sensible expense. “It saved me from making many mistakes,” Hedges says now.
When she sold her firm in 2007, she considered buying into another, similar business. But somehow, she kept coming back to the idea of coaching.
Today, Hedges is a leadership coach, blogger for Forbes.com and author of the just-released Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others.
Not only does Hedges run her own coaching practice, The Hedges Company, she is a founding partner in the leadership development firm Element North. It’s a challenge, running two businesses simultaneously, she says. “You have to cut yourself a bit of slack.”
The book spun quite naturally out of the work Hedges does. “I coach a lot of CEOs on the subject of leadership presence,” she says. “I realized that I have my own model, and it would be helpful if I put it on paper.”
According to Hedges, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the concept of leadership presence. “Look at how companies address this,” she says. They teach what Hedges calls “red herring stylistic traits,” such as maintaining eye contact and producing commanding gestures.
“That’s not what presence is,” Hedges asserts. “Presence comes from the inside out, not the outside in.”
Consider the people who inspire you, she says. “Who makes you work at your best? They may not be the most charismatic people in the room. But they took an interest in you, and you felt like they had your back. They communicated well and often.” In fact, says Hedges, “I believe that communication is the heart of great leadership.”
It took two years – almost to the day – from writing the proposal to publication of the book, Hedges says. Hedges says she has always enjoyed writing – she minored in poetry in college – but had stopped indulging in it. Now in her 40s, Hedges says, “This has been an incredibly creative decade for me. All the parts of things I abandoned along the way are dropping back onto my plate in a joyful way, like writing.”
Writing The Power of Presence was a life goal for Hedges. As she puts it, “This book was pounding on my door. I felt I had something to say, and that there was a lot of misinformation out there.”
What are Hedges’ top tips when it comes to presence?
- Build relationships. The top reason that leaders fail is a failure to build relationships, says Hedges. That’s especially in today’s world of virtual teams. “You have to be an influencer and relationship developer, or you can’t get work done,” she says.
- Become more intentional as a leader. “Learn to take that step back and build in thinking time,” Hedges advises. What is your intention, and what should the outcome be? “You have to work on yourself first; you have to be excited to get others excited,” she says.Hedges places great value on intention. One woman she worked with went to pitch a really big client. As she waited to make her presentation, she realized that she was thinking, “We’re not ready for this.” As the woman told Hedges later, “I stopped, and realized my intention should have been, ‘We deserve this.’ ” Says Hedges, “It ended well. She got her head in the game and won the client.”
- Make individual connections. “Instead of trying to be a game player, we’re better off focusing on building trust and personal connections with the people around us. You do that by working on skills like flexibility, empathy, consistent and frequent communication – and learning how to deliver bad news gracefully.
- Inspire. That’s the role of a leader, Hedges asserts. “Our primary job is not to control or manage people, but to inspire people.