When it comes to appearing more authoritative on the job, the work comes in long before you "act" a certain way. While acting more authoritative is crucial, eliminating your own limiting beliefs that are certain to show up in your actions is really the key.
A few tips:
Work to get rid of your own need for "love" (need to be liked), "approval," or "appreciation." When trying to communicate with authority, stay focused on the goal of what you need to achieve, and let go of the motives or conditions you have attached to it. For example, your goal might be: "The team needs to quickly accept a change in the decision." This decision needs to happen regardless of if you are liked for it, they are happy about it, they appreciate how difficult it is for you, etc. If you stray from the original goal, you will quickly erode your authority all by yourself.
Make your point in few words. Use fewer words than you are tempted and then stay silent. Plan out your message, even if in only a few minutes while in the meeting, and then edit ferociously. Women especially do just fine with making their original point, but they quickly take back or throw away all authority gained by talking too much or explaining their rationale. Make statements with downward inflections in your voice at the end of the declaration and then be quiet. Wait for questions and/or listen for how clear others are.
Edit your stories. Your stress in these situations is not caused by the actions we need to take, but by the stories we make up about what will happen when we do step up. When thinking about delivering a message with authority, rehearse it ahead of time and then "listen" to the thoughts that run through your head while preparing it. Be aware of the "stories" we tell ourselves such as "this will not go over well," or "I won't be taken seriously," or "it won't work anyway." Ditch the stories and the drama. How could you possibly know the outcome? These stories are not based in fact, but are based on your fears and your creation of a future reality. With these stories in mind, your actions will reflect your beliefs and will help to co-create the very reality you hope to avoid. Stick with the facts; ask for what you need, or share your viewpoint and refuse to make up stories about the rest.
Quit playing small. Get your own buy-in first. Then step up into your own greatness. When working on raising my consulting fees, I would find myself stuttering when I tried to quote my new fee with clients. I would state the fee tentatively, and then hurry to offer them a discount before they even expressed any real objection to my new rate. I had to convince myself (sell myself) on my own value before I could sell anyone else on my value. After some reflection and lots of rehearsing the quoting of my fees, I quit playing small and stepped up and asked for what I truly believe is a great value for my clients. Low and behold, they paid without exception.
Have an exit strategy. Most of us procrastinate jumping into a conversation with authority as we are not confident in our skills or that we would know how to handle every issue that might come up. Having an exit strategy gives you confidence that whatever comes up; you will know how to respond. My favorite is, "Wow, you've given me a lot to think about. Let's circle back around tomorrow and continue this dialogue." With this response memorized, you can be confident that no matter how the conversation goes, you can exit gracefully, re-strategize, address your limited beliefs and re-enter the conversation with a new approach.
And finally, the person with the most authority and credibility is not the one who is most confident or forceful in today's workplace. We have become immune to force and many find that the more you attempt to convince, the less convincing you become. Work instead to find the ultra solution—the one that moves beyond all those on the table that are usually presented as mutually exclusive options. Gain authority by replacing the "or" that is stamped between different ideas with an "and." That way you can suggest ideas that take the entire group to a higher level where many things are possible and many things can be true at once. Something such as, "Do we want to cut cost or increase quality?" becomes, "How do we cut costs and increase quality at the same time? Here is an idea."
Cy Wakeman is a dynamic keynote speaker advocating a revolutionary new approach to leadership. Her groundbreaking ideas are featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and www.SHRM.org. Her book, Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, & Turn Excuses Into Results (Jossey-Bass, 2010) is available for order at all major online book retailers. For more information, visit www.cywakeman.com.
[Image: Flickr user SS&SS]