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November 4, 2014

Leadership Lessons from Preschool Story Time

leadership storytime blog pic

During a recent trip to the local bookstore with my 4-year-old daughter, Avi, we sat down for a storytelling session in the children’s section. The facilitator, looking like a giant on a pint-sized, blue chair, began with a simple question: “What do we need to do to get started, kids?” she asked the preschoolers and kindergarteners seated in a semi-circle in front of her.

In unison, they responded: “Open our ears, close our mouths, eyes on me (the facilitator).” I thought to myself, “Holy cow! That can work for leaders, too!”

If you want to exude presence, improve how you communicate, which starts with really listening.  Leaders with that “wow factor,” that “je ne sais quoi” have learned how to be present.  They are in the moment and listen more than they talk.  Listening carefully helps them gather valuable information, demonstrate that they care, and ultimately draws people to them.

That deep listening sets the stage for great leaders to inspire on a range of other levels too.  They often follow their listening skills with these critical approaches for commanding a room:

  • They are self-aware and true to themselves. They know themselves, how they can make a difference, and are authentic.
  • They have a voice. They speak clearly and can articulate what they mean in easily understandable terms.
  • They can read their audience.  They tune in to others, and present their ideas in ways that resonate with the group.  They ask open-ended questions to gather helpful information.
  • They tell stories and make connections. Rather than speaking in platitudes, they relate specific experiences from their own lives that help the audience see them as human, relatable and as people they want to follow.
  • They are inspirational and get their message across. They imagine the future and motivate others to join.
  • They manage their emotions.  They respond rather than react to others.
  • They are aware of their body language, and the body language cues of others.  They have strong posture, eye contact, use an appropriate tone, and match their words and actions.  They exude passion.  They have an abundance of energy, are positive and share it.
  • They understand their own leadership style but can easily read and adapt to the style of others
  • They connect with others as opposed to transact.  They understand that everything they say or do communicates something, and use that fact to help them be influential with others in ways that build a relationship.

Presence isn’t something you’re just born with. Sure, it may come more naturally for some people, but it’s also easily developed as long as you’re willing to work at it.

Here are some key tips for developing your own motivational style:

  • Get to know yourself better. What are the strengths you want to develop and really highlight in your presentations and interactions?
  • Hone in on the stories that help the audience understand who you are, what motivates you, and why you really want them to join you on this journey.
  • Hone your executive presentation skills by treating presentations like a skill you need to master, much like a sport. That means videotape yourself to see what others see.
  • Surround yourself with some truth tellers – people willing to give you honest feedback to make you even better.
  • Consider working with an executive coach to accelerate your results.

The most important tip of all? Dig in and really listen – ears open, mouths closed, eyes on them all.

-David Grossman

This post originally ran on Switch & Shift as part of their "Leadership Presence" Series.  The original post can be found by clicking here: 


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