Recently, in our search for the perfect university, I sat in a room full of nervous aspiring university students and their parents. We faced a young professional who took the floor with a graceful and confident presence. His sharp suit and tie matched his chirpy grin as he had us guess what he studied when he attended the university we were then touring. After a while, he said his degree was practically useless, and a dad in the audience yelled out “philosophy!” and the young man was pleased.
He then asked each of us what we’d had for breakfast. He asked for detail: “Not just ‘cereal’,” he said; “I want ‘Rice Krispies with fresh milk in a small bowl with a big spoon’. You can tell a lot about a person by what they have for breakfast.”
When we finally warmed up to him, he got into the stuff of his speech. I don’t remember much of what he said, but that he spoke so calmly and elegantly that every pair of eyes was on him and we were engaged. He posed some kind of question and when he got silence in return, he said, “A professor once told me that no one can bite their tongue for eight seconds. After eight seconds, if someone wants to say something, or ask something – even if they are filled with doubt – they will feel so awkward that they’ll be compelled to speak just to break the silence.”
This chirpy young chap, showed us two things about owning a room: Own it, then give it away.
The energetic fellow held the attention of a room full of anxious visitors of all ages, and more importantly, he empowered us. His confidence, and the ease and clarity with which he spoke, made him easy to trust and even easier to listen to. He owned the room. Then, he transferred his own ability to effectively communicate onto his listeners, who could then begin to share their own perspective and contribute, even if it was only their meal choice that day.
Effective leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. It impacts others when we might least expect, and affects the work we do in ways we can hardly imagine. Creating space for interaction and contribution is key to be an effective leader, as it allows for positive communication and reinforcement of ideas. Having the patience and awareness to give up the floor to other potential speakers builds mutual trust and respect. Inviting questions and holding space for others to absorb and reflect creates a feeling amongst listeners that their leader is worth listening to because he is willing to listen himself.
Embracing simple tools like these that promote communication and openness can have long-lasting effects on the quality of the relationships between leaders and team members in business.