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.
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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.