How to dramatically improve leadership performance

Claire Dale provides insight on improving leadership performance in business.

Reading time: 4m 30s.

The workplace has evolved in recent years: flexible working initiatives, duvet days, pet crèches and modern technology have transformed how we work – but has our leadership style flexed in the same way?

Traditional leadership styles maintain a clear divide between senior management and more junior staff, with change unfolding at a relatively slow place as conventional hierarchy and ways of communicating are kept in place.

In today’s fast-moving and forward-thinking workplaces, we have come to expect a greater range of leadership styles, with ever more demanding scenarios to face. Leaders are expected to be many things to many people: providing discipline, inspiration and motivation, and care for their teams’ wellbeing, as well as implementing strategy to create a profit.

One thing remains essential, whatever the challenge: businesses need leaders with gravitas who can communicate with clarity and perform at their best, no matter which scenario they are in.

The latest research report, Beating Workplace Performance Anxiety, shows the strain such demands can place on leaders and their ability to communicate and perform effectively. In fact, senior directors report experiencing anxiety at work an average of 10 times per month – twice the national average across the total UK workforce.

Leaders are expected to be many things to many people: providing discipline, inspiration and motivation, and care for their teams’ wellbeing, as well as implementing strategy to create a profit.

Situations causing leaders to feel most anxious are those when their performance and ability to communicate is really in the spotlight. Over 30% of leaders state networking or pitching for a new contract as the situations where they feel most unsure of themselves.

Companies wishing to unlock the leadership potential of their senior staff need to recognise this extra strain, and help empower and equip their leadership teams and senior managers with the tools to be the best versions of themselves.

Leaders and managers agree. More than half (53%) of those surveyed said they would like training to help them communicate more effectively and manage their anxiety.

An actor learns to adapt the status of the characters they play by changing how they use their body and voice. For example, taking up more space with posture and gesture, moving and speaking more slowly, and using stillness and pause is typical of higher status characters.

Taking up less space, walking and gesturing using faster movements, speaking fast or hesitantly, and frequently nodding the head or touching the face or body is more typically associated with the behaviour of low status characters.

Knowing this enables leaders to be aware of how they play their status and build greater confidence in their teams and organisations at critical moments, by signalling strength when they need to. This is important for new and experienced leaders to learn, and we include this in Leadership in Action, our course for leaders who are line-managing or leading a team for the first time in their careers.


Speaking authentically and honestly disclosing aspects of yourself as a leader is important to build people’s trust in you; people need to believe that you have their best interests at heart. Compassion in what we say and how we say it is vital to leadership.

Everyone benefits profoundly when leaders are comfortable and speaking genuinely – from the heart.

A great leader can focus on effective storytelling: the ability to convey a message and carry their audience with them. Use the techniques of storytelling to craft a powerful narrative so that leaders can take their audience and teams on a journey.

Part of this skill is appreciating how to start any speech with a tantalising hook, engaging those listening from the outset. By shaping your key messages, you can not only create greater rapport with your audience, but also convey more empathy (especially when delivering a technical message). Feeling that you have your audience gripped feeds your confidence and fuels your performance. 

By uniting the power of the mind and the body, you can leverage the fundamentals of great performance to be a successful and effective leader. While this may seem hard to do in the first instance, not having the ability to flex your style depending on who you’re speaking to is one of the major barriers to great leadership.

Few of us naturally have the skills to stand in front of an audience, big or small, and deliver a rousing speech without using our bodies effectively – managing our nerves and holding our space. By planting your feet firmly on the floor, approximately shoulder width apart, you start to build a solid base to operate from, a fundamental principle in releasing your ability to present authoritatively.

Making simple physical changes can also have a great effect on how you feel and how you make your audience feel. For example, if you want to inspire others, learning how to manage your breathing can aid greater vocal power, yet it also keeps you calm in situations where the stakes are high with the ability to focus on your overall intention.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, and those that do it best can flex their style for specific situations. Leaders can learn how to show both compassion and authority to create their desired impact. By becoming more aware of how you are seen by your audience, you can begin to develop the skills required to strike this difficult balance.

By implementing these techniques, refined over decades by the world’s finest performers, leaders are able to transform their performance and reduce their anxiety.


About the author

Claire Dale is a leadership tutor for RADA Business


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