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Maximize Your PRESENCE, and Personal Power will Follow

March 20, 2016


She was a college sophomore, sleeping in the back seat of the car while her two friends were in the front. There were taking turns driving from Missoula, Montana, to Boulder, Colorado. The next moment she was waking up in a hospital room, critically injured from being thrown from the car when the driver over-corrected when the wheels hit the shoulder. She was a mess. Doctors told her that as a result of her traumatic brain injuries her IQ had dropped 30 points. Forget about continuing on at university she was told. Find a career that’s suitable to your abilities.

But she prevailed, proving everyone wrong, despite what she’d been told and the daunting obstacles that lay ahead.

Meet Amy Cuddy, PhD in social psychology from Princeton, and associate professor of business administration at Harvard University. Her research focuses on power, non-verbal communication and stereotyping. Her 2012 TED Talk in Edinburgh is the second most-watched with over one million views.

Now 43, Cuddy’s long journey back to health and onwards to graduate and post-graduate studies is a study in leadership perseverance. Her ground-breaking research into how we can use our bodies to influence and train our minds is reaching people in practical ways, from actors to business people to parents to teachers.

Cuddy Presence

At the end of December 2015, Cuddy released her new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. An excellent book, Presence enables Cuddy to delve much more deeply into her research and findings, and also to share selections of her numerous encounters and thousands of emails from people.

“Presence,” as she defines it for her book, “is the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potentials.”

First, however, let’s take a moment to watch her captivating 21 minute TED Talk.

In her book Presence, Cuddy stresses that presence is not a “permanent or transcendent mode of being.” Instead, we move in and out of it through our daily lives. Some would say that when we’re in this state that we’re living in the moment. But it’s also important to note that Presence is about releasing our personal power. As she states: “It’s about the honest, powerful connection that we create internally, with ourselves.”

When we look at personal power versus social power, Cuddy explains that while there’s a relationship between the two, more important is the distinction of what both represent. Social power is about exerting dominance to control the actions of other people. But it’s a limited power, she adds, since social power requires control over people. In contrast, personal power is based on being free from having to dominate others. It’s unlimited power because it requires you to access your inner resources, including values, special skills and unique personality.

It comes down to social power being about power over versus power to. Another way to express the latter, based on my leadership work, is that personal power may be seen as power with. I prefer power with because of its connotation of collaborating and sharing power with others.

Most importantly, Cuddy eloquently expresses her approach to power:
“Unless and until we feel personally powerful, we cannot achieve presence, and all the social power in the world won’t compensate for its absence.”

Later in the book. Cuddy talks about how to pose for presence, based on her interesting research findings. She also shares some of her stories from people she has met or from whom she has received emails. Her anecdote about Shannon who taught her kids to “starfish up” is not just cute but an effective way to reduce nervousness. Whether you do public speaking, chairing work or community meetings, managing projects, or being a busy parent, Presence has a very practical side to it. It’s not just about Cuddy’s research and her views on power relationships.

Take some time to check out Amy Cuddy’s research work and TED Talk. And perhaps add her new book to your reading list.

Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.
Maya Angelou (African-American author, poet and civil rights activist)


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