In this episode, Bridgette and Irvine explore some of the reasons why our leadership voice can become muted, and what we can do to turn up the volume and speak from a place of greater confidence and conviction.
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Bridgette: Hello everybody and welcome to the Resilient Leadership Podcast, where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you to lead with a greater sense of calm, greater sense of clarity, and conviction, even in the midst of VUCA times, volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. And VUCA lives on even as the pandemic starts to wane, and I am Bridgette Theuer and I’m joined by my wonderful co-host Irvine Nugent; and, Irvine, what’s our topic today
Irvine: Well good to be here, Bridgette. And I love this topic. We are talking about finding your leadership voice. So, listeners, if you have ever struggled to express yourself in a confident manner, or to be bolder in how you show up, then this is an episode, especially for you. Now, there is a very famous coach called Marshall Goldsmith and a few years ago he had a really interesting book, at least the title I loved was very interesting and it was, Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It and How to Get It Back If You’ve Lost It.
Irvine: And what I love about that title is the acknowledgment that as we go into our leadership lives and in life in general, it ebbs and wanes, we’re not always at tip-top confidence and sometimes we lose our mojo, and I think that’s really important to realize. And so, we’re going to talk about that, about what happens when we lose it and how might we gain it back and make sure that we are having the greatest influence possible with those that we work with. So, Bridgette, maybe segueing from the title of that book, was there ever a time in your life where you found kind of your footing not so sound as a leader, or perhaps you lost a little bit of your mojo?
Bridgette: Yes, indeed. I would like to say it only happened once, but over a career spanning 23-plus years, there were a couple of times along the way when I could tell my voice wasn’t as strong, it wasn’t as persuasive, it wasn’t as influential. And you know what, the first example that comes to mind is kind of interesting because I didn’t even get to use my voice. And so, here’s what happened. So, I was at this coaching conference, I was so excited to go, flew across the country, joined my fellow coaches and it was day one. And we were being led by the facilitator, it was just really interesting content.
And all these questions started coming to my mind, and I was sitting with a colleague of mine, she and I had kind of met up early and we had a collegial kind of friendship going and I started raising my hand. I had a million questions and the facilitator called on everyone in front of me beside me and behind me, but never once did he ask, did he call upon me for a question.
Bridgette: To the point, I started feeling incredibly marginalized. And my colleague next to me was poking me like, what’s going on.
Bridgette: And this actually took place the whole day. So, I had a conversation with my colleague and she’s like, Bridgette, you’re not imagining it. I don’t know what’s going on. But he looked right at you and then called on everybody besides you.
Bridgette: So, I gathered my courage, and I went up and asked him at the end of the day, I said, Hey, I’m loving this conference, great information, great content, can I ask you an honest question? And he goes, sure. And I said, I raised my hand probably five or six times today. And I’m just curious, I noticed that you never called upon me and yet lots of people around me, you did and any thoughts? And he paused and he goes, hmm. He goes, well, first of all, I wasn’t aware of that. And he goes, but alright, if I had to guess as to why that might have been, I’m thinking it’s because you didn’t hold your hand up with assertiveness and confidence.
There was hesitancy in it. And I pick on people who look like they’re ready to poise the question clearly and well, and I guess at some level, I didn’t see that in you. And I was really taken aback.
Bridgette: And only later when I actually asked him and I hired him to be a coach, did he then help me to see that my leadership voice, not only non-verbally didn’t have at that moment the gravitas that I wanted, but also when I spoke, my voice was in an upper register, it had kind of a higher, thinner quality to it. And it was in part because I wasn’t breathing and centering from my diaphragm, from my stomach.
Bridgette: So, that was sort of the very first thought that came to my mind. I didn’t even get to speak, but our voice is more than just the literal words, right?
Bridgette: And what about you? And that really knocked me off initially. What about you, did you have a time when, I don’t know, when your voice felt muted?
Irvine: Yeah. So, one of the examples that comes to me is I was taking over as CEO of a large non-profit agency and I got into the position and I knew there were a few issues, but boy, in that first month you talk about the proverbial, everything that had been swept underneath the rug started coming up. And I kind of started to doubt myself, I started to doubt like, didn’t I ask good questions? I thought I’d questions. Was I deceived? Was I not? And there was a lot of self-blame and I remember I was preparing for the first board meeting.
The previous interaction with the board had been fantastic, they were excited to hire me, things were going well. And I walk into the room, and it was almost as if I had self-imposed the burden of the world on myself, that basically this organization that had issues for many years, I was blaming myself. And when we get down to have a conversation, it was this experience that I muted myself, that I felt very uncomfortable speaking, I could just feel that there was a boulder in front of me and I didn’t know what to say, and the confidence just left me.
Irvine: And the meeting went on for about an hour and a half and I said, very little. Very little. And I came out and I said, wow, talk about losing your voice, I kind of really lost my voice. And it took me a while to get over it and actually the CEO who was a wonderful professional, sat me down and said, look, this is ridiculous, you’re not to blame for this and you have some great ideas, et cetera, so it was almost, they talked me out of myself losing my courage.
Bridgette: Yeah. What a great example. Let’s face it, leadership is not for the faint of heart and it is a humbling profession. So, I’m just thinking for the people listening, I hope our examples kind of give you, I don’t know, hope that if you or somebody you know sort of in a spot where you feel your voice is not what you want it to be, that there’s a way to get through that. And that’s what we’re going to talk about. So, let’s start to unpack it, I think these examples actually point us in the right direction.
So, kind of the first thing I think is so important to remember that if we want to find our leadership voice, it has to be a whole-body experience. It has to involve the entire self; we don’t just speak from the neck up. And so, can we pay attention to the shape, the posture, the mood, everything that our bodies are telegraphing, and how that is either helping or hindering our voice to come out with confidence and to come out with clarity and authenticity.
I’m thinking of the example I shared early on, when he started coaching me, he helped me to realize that I did not hold myself literally in a posture that facilitated a rich, deep voice that commanded attention. And the good news was he showed me how to change that and it was really about lengthening my spine and breathing from my belly and finding my feet, you know?
Bridgette: In your example, Irvine, did you feel the weight that you were bearing had also shaped your body?
Irvine: Yeah. I often think, Bridgette, if I had a video of that, I think that weight, it’s interesting the way I describe it, because the more I think about it, there is a heaviness and that heaviness was almost, I think it’s probably too much to say it was crushing me, but it was imposing itself and I felt it was restricting me. I was not free. And that was a real burden.
Bridgette: Yeah. And then it just reinforces itself, right?
Irvine: Oh, totally.
Bridgette: It’s like the body gets shaped because of the way you’re thinking and then the shape of the body keeps that intact, right?
Bridgette: Keeps it intact.
Bridgette: So, for those of you who are listening to this, this is kind of an interesting thing to think about. So, when people listen to podcasts, a lot of times they’re walking or running, so if that’s you, you might not be able to do this. But if you’re listening and you’re sitting in your office or in a chair, take a few seconds and do this. Collapse your spine, just kind of slump in your chair and kind of let that spine kind of have a curve to it, and maybe even let the shoulders fall forward.
We all slump from time to time. And just in that really kind of slumped posture, imagine having to powerfully advocate for yourself. Or like you, Irvine, to go into a board meeting where there’s a lot at stake and feel powerful and confident. It’s hard when you are in a really slumped posture to access that, but then now shake that off, and if you just stand up nice and tall, tall spine, open up across the chest. In that sort of tall, relaxed position, imagine what it would be like to advocate for yourself or to take a tough stance.
So, sometimes subtle shifts in the body make a big difference in the quality of voice. And remember that in all these episodes, we’ve been talking about anxiety and how anxiety lives in the body. It has a physiological aspect to it, and it shapes us. Irvine, when you are really anxious, what are you aware of happens in your body?
Irvine: Oh, so I go into, I begin to feel it first with my heart. So, I feel a quickening of my heartbeat, a lot of tension around there. And then I can feel my shoulders closing and almost like wanting to protect myself.
Irvine: And getting smaller. Yes. But it really, for me, it’s the heart and the tension around my heart.
Bridgette: Yes. And that closing in, right?
Bridgette: And so, whatever happens for you and we all have a physiological response from anxiety, for some, it’s a knot in the stomach. Others, it’s like their shoulders come up to their ears, whatever the case pay attention to the shape of your body under pressure and stress, because it is undoubtedly affecting your voice. And I know within 30 seconds in a coaching session, when I’m just on the phone with somebody and we just say, hello, how are you? How’s your day? I can already tell through their voice, the tenor, the pace, the energy, or lack thereof, I can already hear in their voice so much. And undoubtedly the shape of their body is a part of that.
Bridgette: Fascinating. Okay. So, paying attention to the shape of our body, shifting that to support a more confident voice. But what about? Because your example, I think really ties into this, Irvine. What about the connection between the beliefs that we’re harboring and the confidence in our voice? How does that work?
Irvine: Yeah. It’s a really interesting question because I think all of us have a belief system and some of those beliefs are, we know them, we acknowledge them, it’s how we act or value a system. But then some of them are below the surface, we could call them shadow beliefs, and these are assumptions we make, and sometimes we’re conscious, but most of the time we’re not, we’re unconscious of them and they impact how we show up, they impact our behavior.
Irvine: And they influence it. And so, therefore, it’s really interesting to kind of put some work in and kind of uncover, what are these? Now, in leadership I know, and you’re probably the same as well, in coaching leaders, there are so many assumptions that come out and they influence us and at times, we don’t know that we’re being governed by these assumptions. And it’s like, well, let’s just stop here and really look at that. So, for example, leaders should have all the answers.
Bridgette: That’s a common one.
Irvine: That’s really common, that basically, if I’m a leader, then I better have answers to what’s happening and it’s uncomfortable and it takes a lot of courage for a leader to say, you know what? I don’t have an answer here. Or for example, I need to wait until I have all the facts. And of course, you mentioned at the beginning, VUCA and we’re in a world now where decisions have to be made, sometimes with only 60% of the facts. We all have what I like to call a conflict story. And for some of us, conflicts are bad, and they need to be avoided and they take away from a team or else decisions, we always have thoughts around how decisions should be made.
And one of the common ones you get is that all decisions should be made by consensus. And if a team’s functioning well and everyone’s voice is heard, then it’s a consensus and that’s not necessarily the case. So, all of these really are important because I think they impact how we show up, they impact our bodies, and they impact our voices.
Bridgette: Yeah. Now, in your story of your own personal example, I think I heard a shadow belief there, maybe a couple. It’s kind of like, well, if it’s going to be it’s up to me, the whole organization was on your shoulders, past, present, and future.
Irvine: Correct. Yes.
Bridgette: Interesting. I had a client once that had this shadow belief that you should only speak up when you have expertise on a subject. If you don’t have expertise, it’s not your job to speak up, let the other people do the talking.
Bridgette: And, man, when she was in her senior leadership team meetings, she would really fall by the wayside a lot of times because when you’re on a senior leadership team, everybody has expertise in a different domain. So, they’re going to be topics that are not your background. But then why have the meeting? Everybody is still supposed to contribute, you know?
Bridgette: So, she really had to find a way to move past that in order to find her voice.
Bridgette: In that team. Yeah.
Irvine: It’s interesting as well. Maybe go back to a few episodes ago where we were talking about leadership and charisma and being charismatic. I remember coaching a leader who really thought that to be an effective leader, that they needed to be extroverted and they needed to be the life, and that just wasn’t them. And there was such an intense struggle, this attempt to be extroverted when it really wasn’t who they were.
Irvine: And it was interesting talking about that shadow believe, well, why is it? Well, I have to be dynamic, and I have to come up and have so much energy, et cetera. And I said, is that really you? Well, no. And so, okay. And I said, well, then what’s your gifts? And so, then to really uncover what the giftedness is, well, my gift is the power of listening, the power to generate ideas that are so well thought out and succinct. I said, yeah.
Irvine: And so, that’s what’s going to empower you, not trying to be someone you’re not.
Bridgette: Oh, for sure. You can never find your voice when you’re trying to mimic somebody else, right?
Bridgette: You have to be the real deal to truly find your voice. And that was kind of like the client I was just talking about, she had gifts of curiosity and listening, deep listening, discernment, asking great questions. And really, I kind of helped her discover that a way she could find her voice was to ask the group really good questions, she didn’t have expertise, but she had curiosity and she had discernment. So, help the group think together better. But I want to go back to something, Irvine, because you’ll always do a lot of reading around the neuroscience.
And so, we’re talking about the connection between the shape of our body and the quality of our leadership voice, and our beliefs in our voice. What’s the neuroscience around the body, the posture, and finding our voice and speaking confidently?
Irvine: It’s really interesting; there are a couple of things that strike me. Number one and we’ve talked about this before, as human beings, we are made to survive, and we have amazing mechanisms that come into action before we even think about them. And part of that, of course, is our bodies. Our bodies are made to protect ourselves, so one of the things is when we feel threat, when we feel anxious or fearful, then we will protect ourselves. And we are the only mammal that exposes their organs. So, here we are standing tall, and we have our heart and our lungs, all of it is sitting out there.
Irvine: And so, one of the things that happen, when we feel unsafe, then we begin to close and cover that, so it’s an instinctual protection. And of course, this begins to impact the quality of our voice, because we know there are two ingredients that make really powerful voices. One is, and you’ve referred to it a number of times, one is breath. So, where are we breathing from? At times I find when I’m under stress and I don’t know if you’re the same, is that I find my breath is up here, it becomes a little more throaty and…
Irvine: And chesty and it’s not really down in my diaphragm.
Irvine: And then the second thing is then that breath is reverberating in space in our bodies, and so if our bodies are closed, we have shallow breathing, which really is reverberating against less space, and it impacts the quality of our voice.
Irvine: So, all of that, of course now, you could say through evolution that we’re under attack, one of the other things that happen is that saliva is drained from our throat, and you think about it if you’re under attack. But the last thing you need is to be shouting out loud and telling people I’m here, it’s really shhh. And so, everything is coordinated to make us feel smaller and to reduce our voice. And.
Bridgette: That is really interesting.
Irvine: Yeah. And then the opposite is when we feel more powerful, when we feel that the environment is for us, then we tend to expand our bodies, we take up more space.
Irvine: I found some great research a while back from two psychologists from Stanford University, Gilroy and Gruenfeld, and what they were talking about, even our voice begins to take up more space and I thought, oh, what, that’s just such an interesting idea.
Irvine: So, just as our bodies take up more voice, then leaders, who feel more powerful, actually speak slower. And even at the risk of being interrupted by others, that they’re slower, but part of that is it’s okay, I don’t fear being interrupted.
Bridgette: That’s right.
Irvine: Because I feel powerful. So, people who speak slower and the quality of their voice as well was more powerful. So, it’s amazing how our voice totally ties into the way our bodies show up, and do we feel power, or do we feel powerless in this situation?
Bridgette: It’s like our voice is a lagging indicator of our bodily state, right?
Irvine: Yes. Yep
Bridgette: And so again, one of the simplest ways to regain our voice is by shifting the body, open up your posture.
Bridgette: Open up your chest, sit up tall, feel your legs, and breathe, breathe deeply because that changes the physiology and that physiology will, we can’t change the rules of the way our bodies work, that physiology will affect the timbre, and the tone and the quality of the voice and just the confidence from which we speak. And at the end of the day, I think the people who are listening to this, when they saw the title of, find your leadership voice; it’s about finding that mojo again, as you said, at the beginning, right?
Bridgette: That mojo. Okay. So, I think there’s another really important building block here, so we’ve talked about the shape of our bodies affects our voice, the shadow beliefs that we harbor affect our voice, but also the degree to which we’re really connected to our greatest strengths and what we deeply care about. And we’ve talked about that on other episodes, but I don’t think we can mention it enough that.
Bridgette: We’re working so fast and so furiously and we have so many demands on our time that we always are at risk of losing connection with who we really are and what we care most about.
Bridgette: And we speak most powerfully when we come from that, right?
Irvine: Yeah. There’s a sense of almost, a sense of passion, kind of like we’re connected to our deepest values.
Irvine: Kind of nowadays, we get a lot of talk around integrity and authenticity, there is authenticity 101, it’s really focusing in on that most. Which we value the
Bridgette: Yeah. So, Irvine, what is something that you care deeply and passionately about?
Irvine: I care deeply and passionately about; I think helping or being fair to people and people’s rights being respected. When people’s rights are violated or people are ignored, it really impacts me.
Bridgette: You know what’s interesting, just as I listen to you, what I noticed is that your voice, it became a little quieter in a way that caused me to want to lean in.
Bridgette: And you talked a little bit more slowly.
Bridgette: And it kind of reminded me of what you were saying earlier, that when we are speaking from a place of confidence, we’re not rushing our words, we’re not shouting at people. There’s a space that we’re taking up that causes or invites others to lean in.
Bridgette: Yeah. That’s really neat. Yeah. So, thinking back to the example of the client who had this shadow belief that I should only speak when I have expertise and it wasn’t until she really realized that one of her biggest gifts was asking discerning questions that helped people think better. She didn’t really, do you know how we don’t really see the gifts that we have? She didn’t really see that as any big deal.
Bridgette: And then it wasn’t until she realized, oh, yeah, so that’s one of my main gifts and I can offer that even when it’s not an area that I have 20 years of experience in.
Bridgette: And once she got connected to that, into the value of wanting to truly help her colleagues, truly collaborate. I think that is what allowed her to move forward and find her voice. It’s a journey that we take, we get to the other side, sometimes it’s years that we are in this place of feeling confident and in touch with our mojo, but inevitably, life has a way of throwing us curve balls that can throw us off course. So, this isn’t a one-time journey, is it?
Irvine: No. And how many times have we talked about, Bridgette? It was like, if you were putting it around in February of 2019 thinking, my leadership’s going so well, coronavirus came and all of the sudden, whoa. And so, this is it, this is the reality of leadership now, perhaps not as dramatic as what we’ve gone through for the last couple of years, but the pace of change is quickening, and the complexity is deepening and what’s required of us sometimes is new ways of thinking and we will feel uncomfortable at times and perhaps lose our voice.
Bridgette: Yeah. So, it’s kind of this process of finding our footing, then losing our footing, then finding our footing again, then losing our footing, but doing that maybe more quickly. Because when we lose our footing, we know it’s a natural part of the process and we have ways to regain it.
Bridgette: Okay. So, we always want to leave listeners with a core practice, so what’s a core practice for folks?
Irvine: Well, a really interesting core practice to really embody everything we’ve been talking about today is one which is called embodying your length. And we’ve talked about how whenever we feel triggered, whenever we feel anxious, et cetera, our body tends to close to protect itself. And so, the reality is whenever we are facing challenging situations, maybe a difficult conversation, a situation where I have to speak up that’s challenging as well. It’s only natural for our bodies to feel a little more closed, and so what we try and do is to do the opposite. So, what would it mean and what would it look like for us to embody our length, to assume this tall, straight, upright posture, really going into our dignity as human beings.
Whenever you see someone who is very dignified, they have this beautiful posture, which is tall and erect, so then just to exercise in that, spending a few moments and really thinking about our dignity and our strength and our confidence, and just trying to stand tall, to straighten our spine and to hold that for a few moments before we have that difficult conversation. And the wonderful thing about this is, small changes can make a big difference.
Irvine: And especially to the quality of our communication, so just try that a few times. One of the things that I often find when we get out of bed in the morning, we have a number of different choices, but I think a beautiful choice in the morning is just to get out of bed and to stretch a little, and just to have an intention of taking a posture like this, embodying our length, to enter into the dignity of ourselves.
Irvine: For the coming day.
Bridgette: Because when we sleep invariably our spine kind of settles, so just sort of stretching and finding that length is a really, I hadn’t thought about it being a morning practice, but I love that too. Irvine, that’s wonderful. Yeah.
Bridgette: Alright. So, there you have it, if you feel maybe, you’ve lost a little bit of your footing, a little bit of your leadership voice, we hope this conversation has been helpful, I know it has reminded me of some really important things. Irvine, thank you so much for the conversation. And if you know somebody who maybe you manage, or is a colleague, and they’re not feeling as rooted in their confidence, share this episode, our aim is, as we said at the beginning, is to help every leader to feel and to lead with a greater sense of calm, clarity, and conviction and you can’t do that if you can’t find your voice. So, on tap for next time is I believe a great topic on setting healthy boundaries. Am I right about that, Irvine?
Irvine: That’s correct. Yep.
Bridgette: Alright. So, we will see you, folks, next time and take good care of yourself and Irvine, have a great day.
Irvine: You too. Thanks, Bridgette.