Own the Room: A book review by Bob Morris

Own the RoomOwn the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence
Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins
Harvard Business Review Press (2013)

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde

In their Introduction, Any Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins reject three common but remarkably durable myths about developing a leadership presence:

Myth #1: You Are Who You Are. “This is probably the most pernicious myth out there: presence is something you either have or don’t.” In fact, [begin italics] anyone [end italics] can develop leadership presence.

Myth#2: One Size Fits All. “This myth is the opposite of the first, but just as pernicious. Instead of resigning themselves to be who they are and giving up on the prospect of change, leaders try to alter their presence to emulate someone else.” In fact, as Wilde suggests, each person should develop a leadership presence that is [begin italics] uniquely theirs [end italics].

Myth #3: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It. In fact, “an effective presence is dynamic…Being conscious of who you are and where you are in your career and in your organization’s pipeline is paramount to ensuring you adapt your presence accordingly.” This is how Marshall Goldsmith would explain it: “What got you here won’t get you there.” Continuous improvement and, especially nourishment of leadership presence, is imperative.

With regard to developing a Signature Voice, it is important to keep in mind that more than 80% of the impact of each “message” we send to others is non-verbal. That is, the power of a Signature Voice will be determined by tone and body language.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of the material that Su and Wilkins examine:

o A New Way of Diagnosing Presence (Pages 20-24)
o How ACE [Assumptions, communication strategies, and energy] Works (44-48)
o Why Assumptions Matter, and, Confidence: Action Steps (57-70)
o Perspective: Action Steps (74-78)
o Clarity: What Your Values Are, and, Clarity Action Steps (78-84)
o Why Communication Matters (92-94)
o Framing: Action Steps (99-103)
o Advocacy: Action Steps (106-109)
o Listening and Engaging: Action Steps (113-117)
o Why Energy Matters (125-128)
o Body Language: Action Steps (130-133)
o Tone: Action Steps (138-143)
o Being Visible: Action Steps (145-146)
o Signature Voice Is a Journey (155-156)
o Lead with Purpose (165-169)
o The Role You Play: Manager as Coach (174-182)

It is noteworthy that several of the key passages focus on “action steps”: initiatives to apply what is learned from the given material. Indeed, both Su and Wilkins seem to possess an insatiable curiosity to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why so they can then share what they have learned with as many other people as they can. That is why they include several “Drills” (e.g. “Identify Key Influencers,” Pages 148-149) throughout their narrative. These are self-diagnostic exercises that enable their reader to interact with the material, to become actively engaged in the aforementioned “journey” develop a signature voice. Su and Wilkins also include “What to Remember” sections and reviews of key points as well as dozens of “Figures” (e.g. 3-1, “Assumptions you are likely to make,” Page 81) and “Tables” (e.g. 6-1, “Trigger Events and Backsliding,” Page 159), and several especially interesting vignettes that feature real people, in real-world situations, who are coping with many of the same circumstances and issues that the reader will also encounter.

Before concluding this book, Su and Wilkins add to the narrative three remarkably valuable “toolkits” (in an Appendix) whose contents are based on three strategic objectives: building overall presence, preparing for an especially important meeting or event, and facing a significant leadership struggle or challenge. Just as “no one size fits all” (i.e. Myth #2), no action plan is appropriate for all leadership situations. My guess is that most readers will need at least two and perhaps all three within a year after absorbing and digesting the wealth of information, insights, and counsel that Sun and Wilkins provide.

No brief commentary such as mine possibly do full justice to the quality and value of that material. However, I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of the book. Also, I hope that those who read my commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not to obtain and read it. In that event, I hope what it offers will help them to locate their own Signature Voice and then nourish it as their leadership journey continues, one during which (I hope) they will help others entrusted to their care to find their own.

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