Performing our way to confidence

As a recruiting professional I often coach my friends through their career-related issues.  I recently coached two friends who needed similar kinds of coaching.  I was happy to be asked for help and pleased that I could provide a bit of performance coaching. 

One friend is someone who I had coached during a transition into a new role in a new industry. She is an extremely bright and talented professional who, like many of us, can easily become insecure in the face of having to do what she  does not know how to do. 

I think it is fair to say that with today’s economic realities many people are being asked to stretch in new ways, take on new roles, and wear multiple hats. It is a challenge to rise to the occasion and perform at the top of our game even with an underlying feeling of “there’s no way I can do this”.

In the case of this particular friend I had to remind her of all the things she’s done and accomplished without any previous experience — without “knowing” what she was doing. As she and I and many of us can attest to from our life’s experiences, we learn in the doing. Sometimes we need reminding of that. 

The performance I recommended in these moments is a performance of confidence. More than one of my improv coaches has made the offer to me that I work to create more “high status” characters, as my “natural” inclination (behavior) can be to play “low status” — characters who are do not in any way convey confidence.  Playing/performing confident takes self-conscious effort when we are questioning ourselves. I’ve learned the role of confident and accomplished businesswoman through improvisation and most of all by performing in life — and I’ve become that woman. Methodologically the “pretending” ** leads to development,  we become who we were not.  

My other friend is an accomplished and talented producer who is looking for a new opportunity after many years of working with people she knew well and built strong relationships with over many years of working together. It’s both common and disconcerting when looking for a new position to become insecure or frightened, especially in today’s employment market.

I asked her if there is someone she admires for her or his confidence. Someone came to mind immediately. I suggested that she do a “creative imitation” of that person. How is this other person in the world?  How does she express her confidence that makes her an appealing role model?   It turns out that my friend admires this other woman’s ability to take pride in her accomplishments without boasting.  That was an important thing to recognize in the other person, so as to begin to find a way to give expression to her own accomplishments in her field.  In the case of my friend, developing a performance of (just the right amount of) hubris is exactly what she needs.

**For more on “pretending” I refer readers to the paper “Let’s Pretend” by Drs. Lenora Fulani and Fred Newman:

New roles, new performances

This week the Wall St. Journal ran an article entitled “Executives Try On Unfamiliar Roles”
In the article the author states that:

…executives are finding their duties suddenly changing to cover areas they know nothing about. Businesses eager for quicker growth during the recovery want fresh viewpoints without hiring new management. Three-quarters of 36 U.S. companies recently polled by Cohegic Corp., a Houston management-consulting firm, said they are asking executives to take on unfamiliar roles.

The article talks about “alien role rotations” and role swaps and, perhaps not surprisingly, fails to mention the performance challenge of taking on new and unfamiliar roles.

As the business landscape changes – and indeed as the world changes – we find ourselves doing more and more things we “know nothing about”.  Luckily each and everyone of us has the ability to play new roles (think childhood) without having to know anything at all.  When we play we are not focused on “knowing”, we are focused on our activity.  It just might be that “knowing” has little or nothing to do with our ability to be successful in new roles – perhaps it is the performance of the role that counts.

More and more companies are learning to value play and performance and that’s a great development for all of us.

Playing Around With How and What

As an executive search consultant I have deliver good news and bad news to candidates and clients.

As an improviser I know that the performance – the “how” – is often more important that the “what” I am saying.  My experience, and I suspect others’ experience, is that we often spend a lot of time on planning what we are going to say, especially in difficult conversations, rather than how we say what we say.

Is it possible to be playful in a difficult conversation?  Playful in a serious, relational, developmental way.  Can we look at something in a new way, try out a new voice, take a risk to be more direct (and thereby more giving)?

What we say is important but perhaps how we say it is most important.