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The Executive Coaching Corner:  Executive Presence Series

September 9, 2014  Blog Series 3 of 9:  Executive Presence:  More Derailers

In this issue I’m going to discuss a key executive presence competency, which aligns with the Center for Talent Innovation’s (CTI) research.  Then I’ll provide you practical tips to help you develop your skills in this area.  We’ll begin with Staying Present and Calm: Managing Stress (how you act: gravitas)

Staying Present and Calm: Managing Stress

Let’s go back to the bottom line we discussed a few blogs ago: To reiterate: you’re constantly under scrutiny when you’re in a position of power or authority. Your employees, colleagues, and managers are routinely storing data points about your behavior and looking for consistency. To quote Aristotle:  “We are what we repeatedly do…”  

Thus, it’s important to recognize that the first way to get your brand to stick is to practice, practice, practice your new skills. However, even though you’re getting good at your skills, there is a saboteur lurking ready to knock you off your game, and derail you.  And that saboteur comes in the form of stress. It’s absolutely critical that you learn to manage your stress, so you can stay on track and be consistent.

Stress can cause your amygdala to get hijacked. The amygdala lies deep within your brain and is your protector, a guard dog of sorts who puts you in survival mode when the environment becomes uncertain or dangerous. Primitive man always had to be on the lookout for danger, and his friend, the amygdala—an internal radar detector—activated when the environment changed. Today you don’t need to worry about saber tooth tigers, but because this is such a primitive part of your brain, it doesn’t know the difference between real danger and perceived danger. It only knows that when the situation is uncertain, you need protection. As a result, whenever the amygdala senses uncertainty, alarms go off to tell you to prepare to fight, flee, or freeze. This is so powerful, that it immediately sets off a physical chain reaction of which you’re initially unaware unless you’re fully present to subtle bodily changes. If you don’t calm your amygdala down quickly, it will take over, put you into survival mode, and diminish your capacity to think clearly.

What are some of these unconscious reactions?  

·         Senses and perceptions sharpen; time may slow down.

·         Blood flow to the muscles increases; muscles become tense and ready for action.

·         Your heart beats faster, increasing blood pressure and preparing you for peak exertion.

·         You breathe more rapidly getting ready to fight or flee.

·         You may want to urinate or empty your bowels; this makes you lighter so you can run faster.

·         Your digestion stops; blood is diverted to your arms and legs.

·         Hormones are released that make the blood stickier so you’ll lose less blood if injured.

·         You start to sweat profusely, cooling you for exertion and making it less easy to grab you if being chased. 

Thus, the key is to stay present and be mindful of what’s going on in your body.  This allows you to immediately work toward quieting your amygdala the moment you sense something is up, before it takes over and puts you in survival mode. Quickly calming yourself allows the thinking part of your brain (the pre-frontal cortex) to continue to function so you can think before you act. For example, you may feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, your gut may feel queasy, or perhaps you’re clenching your fists or teeth. When this happens, you must act swiftly to relax yourself. One of the fastest and easiest ways to regain control is to begin breathing deeply. Start with four counts in, hold for four, and four counts out. Do this at least three times to help settle you. While often overlooked, it’s surprisingly effective.

 Stay tuned:  In the next insertion we'll discuss additional ways to manage your stress.

For additional one to two-minute sessions on other topics,  go to the Executive Coaching Corner Archive.