How to excel in the art of leadership and management

01 August 2019 6 min. read

RADA Business, the commercial arm of renowned drama school Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), is helping leaders to improve their performance in the workplace. Claire Dale, director of leadership programmes and trainer at RADA Business, shares how.

Board meetings, one-to-one meetings, presentations, client calls – these are some of the scenarios that senior managers will likely encounter on a weekly basis. When working closely with other people there will, for most of us, be times when we feel we haven’t performed to the best of our ability. Perhaps we look back and wish we’d said something differently or handled a situation in another way.

These situations tend to arise when we’re underprepared, rushed, or feeling under pressure to impress, but the best leaders are those who are able to tune into their ability to remain calm, think clearly in stressful situations and articulate their message in a way that turns the hearts and minds of others towards the best possible future. The good news is that there are fundamental skills of leadership that can be taught, practised and perfected. 

Trainers at RADA Business build upon the techniques employed by top actors to train business professionals to excel in their working lives. They learn to release physical and vocal tension and achieve a relaxed state of mind enabling them to communicate more effectively. It helps managers to master the art of leadership and be at their best, whatever the scenario. 

How to excel in the art of leadership and management

The art of ‘flexing’ is key to mastering the art of leadership. Flexing refers to drawing on both the emotional and rational sides of one’s self in order to approach scenarios in the appropriate way. For example, one situation may require a firmer tone and stronger sense of authority, whilst another may require a softer, more empathetic approach. The best leaders are those able to adapt to new scenarios and find the approach that is best suited to it – whilst remaining authentic.

RADA Business encourages professionals to increase their range and blend of leadership modes by focussing on four different body areas. They can then access the best way to approach a scenario with greater ease: coming from the feet, gut, heart, or head. 

The feet are your base and represent standing your ground and driving forward, whilst the gut is where feelings of excitement (and fear) come from. The heart is central to building real trust, while making good decisions under pressure comes from the ability to keep a clear head. In order to find a leadership style that is both successful and authentic to you, it’s crucial to understand the role that the body plays and learn how to use each area most effectively. 

Leadership techniques

So what techniques are available and how can we begin to embody them? 

Feet: Hold your space
Simple changes to how you stand and hold yourself make a big difference to how you come across to others. Plant your feet firmly on the floor, hip-width apart, keep your back straight and hold your space. Avoid the temptation to shuffle and fidget. Standing in one position will help you to feel grounded and also conveys a sense of confidence and authority to everyone in the room. If you prefer a little freedom of movement, set yourself a base point on the floor that you can return to periodically if you find yourself wandering and need to reset. 

Gut: Remember to breathe
When we’re excited or nervous our bodies go into fight or flight mode, which triggers the release of adrenaline and tells our brains we need more oxygen. For this reason, we will often find ourselves taking short, shallow breaths when we’re nervous, which can then affect our ability to think and speak clearly. Before speaking, take a moment to breathe deeply and slowly, allowing your belly to move with each breath. This will then give your voice a full-bodied tone, giving your speech energy and helping your body to relax.

Not only will you find you are able to convey your message with more clarity, but in this relaxed state you are better prepared to think on your feet and respond well. Regular pauses will allow you time to breathe and take a moment to clearly settle on your next thought before delivering it. Pauses also have a wonderful way of recapturing an audience’s attention – it’s the power of silence. 

“The art of ‘flexing’ is key to mastering the art of leadership. Flexing refers to drawing on both the emotional and rational sides of one’s self.”

Heart: Make eye contact
Eye contact is something many struggle with, but showing you aren’t afraid to hold someone’s gaze is a real display of confidence and will help you connect with your audience. It’s a great tool for developing trust and will help you deliver your message with impact. However, there are limits to this: too much eye contact may cause some to feel uncomfortable. In one-on-one situations it’s good to mirror the level of eye contact given by the person you are addressing, maintaining eye contact for a similar amount of time as they do. Use your peripheral vision to become aware of what else is surrounding the person you’re talking to; this will take the edge off the intensity of the gaze. 

Head: Articulate clearly
Small adjustments to your vocal delivery can have a huge impact on people’s perceptions of you and is something all leaders should take on board. Before they go on stage, actors use vocal drills to warm up the tongue and lips – this allows the voice to resonate and project more clearly at show time. It may seem like a bizarre exercise, but leaders can benefit greatly from warming up their vocal chords prior to making a speech or even jumping on a conference call. To do this, practise what you’re about to say aloud beforehand and try emphasising the consonants. Not only will this warm up the voice but you’ll also find you have more clarity in your delivery, which conveys confidence. Remember to take that all-important breath before you begin.