Greetings, Fellow Citizens of Earth. I bring you leadership lessons from a crisis a century ago.

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As we weather this pandemic, our connections will see us through, whether we’re 6 feet apart, on social media, or in a video call.

We need leaders everywhere with smarts, who care about our well-being.

Leaders who create connection.

Leaders like Ernest Shackleton.

Shipwrecked in Antarctica in 1915, Shackleton’s leadership presence kept his team together in a survival story lauded by historians as “incredible.” The book is a great read.
True leaders embody what they believe. Their leadership approach radiates from their body language.

In Shackleton’s time, other expeditions were also shipwrecked in Antarctica. All but his lost many lives to starvation and violence among the crew.
Shackleton’s ship the Endurance, crushed in the ice.
Photo by expedition photographer Frank Hurley.
Shackleton was able to not only keep all his men alive — he kept them happy and content — while stranded on the ice for more than 18 months.
Shackleton’s crew playing a game on the ice while shipwrecked.
Photo by expedition photographer Frank Hurley.
Based on biographies about him, it’s clear Shackleton led through his presence. There’s no doubt his crew looked to him constantly for clues as to what their future might hold. At all times, he gave off a sense of confidence and optimism that they’d survive.

Like Shackleton, your leadership presence is now more important than ever, whether you’re dealing with the new realities of working 100% virtually, managing kids at home, or on the front lines of battling the pandemic.

So I encourage you to use these skills and behaviors to be like Shackleton:

Leadership Presence Creates Connection

A relaxed, open, still body says

“I’m not afraid. I’m confident in my abilities.”

A relaxed face / soft smile and light humor (what I call “beachballs”) says

“We’re going to get through this.”

Confident, meaningful gestures say

“I have a clear idea I want to convey.”

A matter of fact tone and downward inflection say

“These are the facts. Let’s act accordingly.”

Speaking in above average volume says

“This is important.”

Direct eye contact says

“I see you as a person, not a number or a threat.”

Using someone’s name says

“You’re important to me.”

Bottom lining information says

“This is the thing to remember.”

Lead to connect, and don’t touch your face! (picture taken BEFORE the virus outbreak!:)


Pat Kirkland
Pat Kirkland Leadership
If you haven’t guessed, I love coaching people to strengthen their leadership presence.

Hands down, it’s palm up

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You outstretch your hand toward someone in a meeting or presentation. “Yes, Amit, you have a question?”

Is your palm up, or down, or are you pointing with your finger?

Does it matter?

As it turns out, it does. Research shows palm up is most effective.

It’s somethng I’ve coached people on for years. And I recently came across information that helps me better understand how and why it works.

One of my favorite books is Super Better by Jane McGonigal.   In it, she notes that from ancient, pre-language times, holding a hand out with the palm up indicates a welcome, and an offer of help. A palm down, however, is a negative, a rejection.

And, Allan Pease in his Ted Talk  Body language, the power is in the palm of your hand” (from about 5:30 to 10) explains and demonstrates the power of the upturned palm significantly impacts vs the downturned palm and the pointed finger.  Using the same content, he notes that the research shows that direction given with palms up can be 40% more effective in terms of audience retention and engagement than downturned palms. Audiences recall less of what speaker say when the speaker points.

So what does this have to do with Leadership Presence?

Gesturing with your palm up conveys that you welcome and support the listener — that they are “in good hands” with you. it’s one the micro behaviors that make you appear open, approachable, and able to create connection between you and other people.

In the coming week, notice what palm position you and others use most often. When gesturing toward another person, do you do it with your palm up, your palm down, or do you point? Watch what other people do … and notice your response to them. 

If you tend to point or gesture with your palm down, start mapping in the palm up approach.. 

Want to learn more? Check our open enrollment program schedule — or contact us about setting up a program for your organization!
Quest on!

The non verbal behaviors that help make the Parkland students powerful leaders

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photo: screenshot from CBS News coverage.

Like so many around the world, I’ve watched the student survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL in awe.  They’ve created and now lead the massive #NeverAgain movement for gun control. Their goal is to spare others the suffering they’ve experienced.

So what does this have to do with Leadership Presence?

Could it be content? Time magazine points out that some of these students had studied gun control and politics well before the shooting. They’ve got facts at hand.

How about debate skills?  The Miami Herald ran an article in which school superintendent Robert Runcie credits  the school district’s system-wide debate program that teaches extemporaneous speaking from an early age.”  And their debate teacher, Jesus Caro, who speaks at their rallies, has clearly done a tremendous job coaching them. Caro rightly says “It does make me proud.”

No doubt he’s proud!  And no doubt that practice speaking extemporaneously from an early age combined with a firm grasp on relevant content has helped prepare them for this moment.

These young people use powerful non verbal behaviors to show up as competent, approachable leaders. My team’s been in touch with Caro via social media, who confirms that they discuss tone, inflection, and body positioning.

Watch part of this video from CBS news — from1:43 to 7:18 — in which Parkland students David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez are interviewed — and hold their own — with two news desk professionals.
Notice these 3 key skills that David and Emma exhibit as they:
  • Speak in a matter-of-fact tone and their brows are relaxed. At times Emma has a soft smile. This signals that, despite the highly emotional nature of their topic, they’re going to remain calm and approachable.
  • Use short sentences and phrases, with many ending in downward inflection — for example, listen to when Emma says “We’re going to make this change” at about 2:30 – 2:41.  You can feel her certainty when she drops her pitch at the end of the sentence.
  • Hold their bodies still. A still body signals competence and confidence.
The combination of those behaviors keep their presence strong, confident and composed. They come across with tremendous maturity, holding their own with adult professionals.

Notice also the effect that these young leaders have on those they lead. One of the news desk people says she “was so impressed with the behavior of the kids” at the most recent march. These young leaders are modeling the behavior they want from others in the movement. As leadership expert Dede Henley writes in Forbes, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create other leaders.”

Oh … and there’s one more thing I want to point out:

Do Emma and David use all the non verbal behaviors of effective leadership 100% of the time? No. Do they use them enough to make an impact? Absolutely.

As noted in the Miami Herald article, David Hogg says “I’ve never won a single debate tournament, even come in 10th place … I guess it shows you don’t have to be great at something to make an impact.”

David and Emma’s leadership presence shows that you don’t have to be great at something. You have to step up and take action, use the best skills you can. When you do, you can make a difference.

Want to learn more? Check our open enrollment program schedule — or contact us about setting up a program for your organization!
Quest on!

About Me: My life’s work is to move humanity one step forward through more effective communication. That mission brought me to crack  the code on the non verbal behaviors that create the New Leadership Presence. I developed the Predator / Prey / Partner™ model that my team and I use to coach people in small groups in both company-sponsored and public workshops to show up as competent, approachable leaders.


Virtual Presence: 9 Ways To Show Up Powerfully and Effectively on the Phone

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The secret to more effective presence on the phone is to show up in essentially the same ways that work in person. You want to send signals that you are both highly competent and approachable, and combine those qualities with in-the-zone energy.  Practice the key Energy, Voice, and Speaking Style behaviors below and you’ll come across with executive presence, that quality that automatically grants you attention and respect.
  1. Start strong, don’t hesitate. Speak in a louder than average volume.  A conference call, for example, is not the time to come across as low key.  Not only does it make you difficult to hear, it conveys an I-don’t-have-power presence. On a scale of 1 to 10, you need to be at least at a 7.
  2. Be succinct. Shorten your content, use short phrases with short pauses in between.  Give it a staccato feel.   You’ll sound commanding rather than rambling. You’ll convey that your content has energy and it’s moving. You’ll sound like you’re under control and don’t have “verbal diarrhea.” (I’ve never used the word diarrhea in a blog post before – there’s always a first time!)
  3. Upbeat Energy.  On a 1 to 10 scale, you want to be at a 7 or 8.  More than that and you’ll come across as over the top or a little crazed. Less than that and others will unconsciously perceive you as as having no power.
  4. Use people’s names, particularly at the beginning of the call.
  5. Positive, friendly, informal tone.  This is especially important when you start the call. A formal tone conveys that you are the good soldier following orders, rather than a commanding officer who can call the shots. And, a friendly tone tempers the increased volume so you don’t come across as yelling. It says you’ve got it handled – as in “It’s all good on my side.”
  6. Downward inflection. You have to, HAVE TO, drop your tone at the end of phrases and sentences .  Nothing says “inconsequential” so much as “upspeak.”
  7. Speak in a lower pitch, at a slower pace – Use the lowest pitch of your voice. You don’t have to sound like Dart Vader, but you’ll sound more authoritative when the listener hears the lower tones of your own natural voice. A slower pace not only reinforces that what you say is important, i t also helps people understand you,and is particularly helpful if you have an accent, or when you are one of the disembodied voices in a conference call.
  8. Use light asides. A sense of humor says you’re in a good mood, relaxes everyone, and puts them at ease.
  9. Speak with a soft smile.  Others can hear a smile in your voice.
Practice these behaviors before you’re in a high stakes or high stress call.  Practice in low-risk situations — when you’re ordering coffee, interacting with a friend, or even at your dining room table. Pick one behavior at a time and practice it a few minutes a day until it becomes second nature.   Happy practicing, we’d love to know how these behaviors work for you on your next conference call!



About Pat Kirkland Leadership:
We deliver transformational, executive presence coaching for managers to VPs in a small, company-sponsored group setting that produces remarkable results in a matter of days.

What It’s Like To Be Coached By Pat Kirkland (Participant Guest Blogger)

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I signed up for a Leadership Presence Foundation class because it was offered and because I’ve had a nagging feeling for some time that I could become a more effective leader and communicator. What wasn’t working for me was not clear. But I knew that, while I seemingly was coming across as likable enough, I often felt I wasn’t inspiring confidence in others, especially people with whom I’ve never worked. If I were to put a name to it, I’d call it the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome — there are times when I felt “I get no respect.”

The day of the coaching class arrived and I went in feeling pretty good about myself. Dressed in my best colors, I knew the topic I wanted to work on for presentations and, truth be told, figured I’d be at the head of the class fairly quickly as I’ve always prided myself on being able to speak in front of a group, especially with a little preparation.

Boy, was I surprised.

Our first task was designed to give Pat and Susan, her coaching partner, a “baseline” for each of us — an idea of where we were starting in terms of our leadership presence. We were each to stand up at the front of the room, say our name and what it is that brought us to the class.

Piece of cake, I thought. I went first.

“Hello, my name is …” I heard myself saying. And heard myself telling the group why I was there. I used group eye contact and some gestures I’d picked up from some training I’d taken long ago. While I knew it wasn’t riveting, I thought I came across reasonably well.

Pat asked the group for 3 things that were working for me.

The “what was working” stuff was pretty tepid.  Clearly I had not made a fabulous impression. I don’t remember anything anyone said that was working because about that time my brain started to go into a self-conscious-induced paralysis.  Pat and Susan gently started suggesting things that could be improved. Others in the group nodded in agreement.

Turns out I had an “upspeak” problem — a habit of ending a phrase or sentence with an upward inflection. Upspeak makes people sound less credible, Pat explained. As if they aren’t entirely sure what they’re talking about. As if the thought expressed is up for question. I’d heard other people do it. Had no idea I did it too.

I try again. Couldn’t even get my name out without going up at the end. I am 100% certain of my name. You’d think I could say it without a questioning sound. But it was a struggle. This was going to be harder than I thought.

Vocal volume was another issue. Susan, standing toward the back of the group, said my voice is audible, but more volume will give it more authority, make me sound more confident and therefore come across as more credible.

I try increasing my volume. When I do this, I unconsciously rise up on my toes and sound panicked. This also turns out to be more difficult to correct than one might expect.

Pat stands next to me and gives me what actors call a “line reading.” She says each phrase and I mimic her. She takes my hands and shows me how to feel a “weight” at the end of a phrase rather than a lift in the voice. The former gives you a credible sound, the latter makes you come across literally as a lightweight.

Finally I’m able to deliver a short paragraph with far fewer upturns in my tone. We decide to leave vocal volume for later. One habit at a time. Pat and Susan assure me that it takes just a bit of practice to re-route the neural pathways of our communication habits. And they promise to show us how to practice later.

Next up is another classmate who has a decent delivery. But it’s not dazzling. Within 20 minutes, they have worked with his eye contact, his gestures, and his facial expressions and suddenly he is approaching dazzling. I find I feel differently about him than I did at first.  Initially, he came across as an OK guy.  Now, I’m ready to run his political campaign, should he ever run for office. I’m buying what he’s selling.

As each of the handful of other class participants takes their turn, I witness the same minor miracle of a transformation — tiny little changes in external behavior make huge differences in the impression each creates. I’m learning vicariously, picking up tips and cues as the others are coached.

Did I mention we were videotaped? Yes, Pat and Susan come armed with tiny little video cameras that they use to tape each of us.  At the end of the first segment, we copy our footage to our laptops, with instructions to watch the footage over the lunch break.

Watching the footage is an eye-opener. You really don’t get how you come across until you see yourself in footage. My first few takes I most closely resemble a deer in the headlights. Or more accurately, I look like my cat when you try to put him into a carrier head first, like I really don’t want to be there.  Let’s just say I’m not owning the room.

I notice all the things about my appearance that I don’t like — my hair, my chin, how I’m standing, how I really do need to lose a few pounds. If you’re a woman, you likely know how quickly and thoroughly you can critique your own appearance. But a funny thing happens when I look at the last take — the one where I’d improved my delivery. Suddenly those imperfections disappear and become unimportant. Because what’s important is that the person speaking — in this case, me — sounds confident and assured in what she’s saying. She’s engaged, she’s knowledgeable, she’s speaking out without apology. She’s self-assured, believable, and authentic.

After lunch I learn that the others had a similar experience watching their own footage. Horrified at first, we all came to see that those seemingly insignificant behavioral changes made a world of difference in the impression we made and how we felt about the person speaking.

I won’t go into the rest of the day, except to say that Pat and Susan have a slew of ways to help you get where you need to be to come across as your best, most authentic, most competent, likable self.

At the end of the day, they advise us to practice, practice, practice. Practice in low-risk situations — when you’re ordering coffee, for example. Practice cements the behaviors in your neural pathways so it becomes automatic.

I’m not going to tell you my name, because I believe you’ll have an unbiased expectation of the class if I remain anonymous. But if you see someone in Starbucks speaking in a strong voice with a definite downward inflection when she asks for a latte, that’s me.

mistake banana skin

3 Ways To Recover From A Mistake, and What To Say To Yourself About It

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You got the information wrong in the presentation. Missed a critical deadline. Lost the sale. Sent the wrong email. Made the wrong call on a hire. Or you recommended a vendor that turned out to be a disaster.

Whatever it is, you’ve made a mistake. You know it. Worse yet, everyone knows it.

So what do you do now? How do you save face, minimize the hit to your credibility, make it so it doesn’t define you?

First: Repeat to yourself “It’s no big deal.”

Then pick one or more of these:

  1. Ignore it.
  2. Downplay it, like it’s no big deal, act as if it doesn’t phase you at all
  3. Or, have fun with it.

The Russian nation had a major blunder in its opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics made light of it at in the closing ceremony and it was a PR coup! A very public opportunity to recover presence.


Pat Kirkland Leadership takes leaders to the next level through small group, intensive coaching sessions.

If He Can Do It, I Can Do It: Lessons From The 4 Minute Mile

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It’s a funny thing about human nature:  believing we can do something that seems difficult to us is often more than half the battle. The 4 Minute Mile is a case in point.  Until May 6, 1954, many believed that no human being could run a mile in less than 4 minutes.  But on that day, Roger Bannister, a British medical student and amateur athlete did just that — ran a mile in 3 min 59.4 sec.   While times on the mile had been decreasing steadily over time, the 4 minute mark had become a psychological barrier for many and a goal for some. Exactly 46 days after Bannister broke the record, Australian John Landy beat his record by a split second, and in the coming years the record time shrunk even further still, as seen in the chart below.  Psychologically, the other runners essentially said to themselves “If he can do it, I can do it.” And then they did.

Every day in our practice we see the same thing.  It’s why we use so much demonstration as well as individual practice.  When students see someone else demonstrating a behavior, even one that appears very difficult — for example, they see someone start a meeting in Partner mode, coming across as both warm and competent — it gives them the knowledge that they, too, can master those communication skills.  As one student put it, “If she can do that, I can do that.”  We live for those breakthrough moments.

World Records for the Mile Run, 1850 – Present Day, Men, Amateurs, Professionals, and IAAF (International Amateur Athletics Federation).


“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” — Roger Bannister

The Gender Trap

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The Gender Trap, an article published in the European Business Review in 2013, ably outlines the double bind women in leadership positions face.  It’s recommended reading for anyone struggling with the dilemma of how strong, smart women in the workplace can emerge as effective leaders.  The article points out the heart of the problem bluntly:

“A woman who adopts a command-and-control style or behaves in an overly assertive way is vulnerable to being labeled a “bitch”. As Penelope Trunk, a columnist for Business 2.0 magazine notes acerbically: “There is no male counterpart to this term, because men who exhibit such traits are promoted.””

Key for women leaders is to balance competence and likability, in a way that works within cultural norms.  As the authors note, the self-aware, self-monitoring female leader can make great strides in increasing her influence on both counts by avoiding extremes of both ends of the behavioral spectrum, illustrated in the magazine’s first table:


Self-awareness and self-monitoring, often aided by personal and small group coaching, pay off in another way.  They help female leaders overcome another challenge that seems to come with the territory:  self-doubt.  As the authors note:  “Ambitious women certainly face barriers that their male colleagues do not, but some of those barriers are in their heads.”