5 Ways to Develop the Poise That Defines a Business Leader
Audrey Hepburn had it. Jacqueline Kennedy had it. Even Fred Astaire had it. They all had poise. And you can have it too.
By definition, poise is a self-confident manner or bearing that offers steadiness and stability. It is most often indicated in a particular way one carries himself or herself, and it can make the difference on whether you are respected as a business leader -- or not.
Poise is being aware of your surroundings and being flexible and adaptable. Poise is not something you are born with or can acquire overnight. It is something you must practice daily.
Here are a few ways you can cultivate poise.
1. Practice manners and etiquette.
First impressions count when meeting with someone. Stand tall and act confident (even when you don’t feel it). Give a firm handshake, offer an enthusiastic greeting and maintain eye contact. Always introduce yourself by saying your first and last name. If you forget someone’s name, don’t fret. Just say something like, “It’s been one of those days; please tell me your name again.”
Be mindful of how your behavior affects others and learn the proper etiquette of dining and socializing. People notice your manners, whether you are taking a co-worker to lunch, networking in a crowded room, negotiating a deal or simply interacting around the office.
2. Become a better communicator.
When speaking to a group, talk at a moderate speed with constant volume; avoid drops at the beginning or end of sentences and make eye contact with your entire audience. Use good grammar and avoid the use of “fillers” like “um” or “like.” If you aren’t comfortable speaking in public, take a course at a local university or join Toastmasters. This will be the best investment you make in yourself.
When speaking with others, become a thoughtful listener. Always choose your words carefully and think before you speak. Although it may be difficult at times, be patient and don’t be tempted to finish others’ sentences.
3. Keep your composure.
I once worked with a colleague who lacked composure and was always in a panic. Though he had an advanced degree and lots of talent, he was unable to remain calm and thus made all his co-workers feel uneasy. He was often needlessly dramatic about the smallest of problems. He couldn’t deal with crisis and change so he ended up quitting.
There will be times when you don’t agree with someone or things didn’t go as planned. Before you jump to conclusions, listen to what is being said. Before you get defensive or angry, assess the situation calmly. When others panic, a leader with composure takes a step back to connect the dots of opportunity within adverse circumstances. Your poise makes others feel safe, secure and comfortable in your presence.
4. Become conversational in diverse subjects.
The best conversationalists are great storytellers well versed on topics far beyond their own business and industry. To acquire a well-rounded repertoire of conversational topics through books, magazines and trade journals and talk radio programs. They attend classes, go to cultural and sporting events and watch a variety of movie genres.
One of my mentors told me, “School is never out.” Take the opportunity to learn everything you can and you will feel more confident and be able to interact with anyone in business and social situations.
5. Focus on the positive.
Be thoughtful of others and look for how you can help whenever the need arises. When you help others, they want to help you in return. That's the rule of reciprocity.
No matter how tempting, avoid office or workplace gossip. Be authentic, but don’t be an open book or spill your every emotion in words or on social media. Try to find the silver lining in all challenging situations. Unless a situation is life threatening, get over it and move on. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Overall, take pride in how you look, what you do, what you say. Do your best work each and every day. Brush up on your appearance and presentation skills. Consider yourself “on stage” any time you are around clients, employees, co-workers or anyone with whom you do business.
Your poise will elevate you in the eyes of those around you.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).