What Lessons Can We Learn From Kamala Harris’ Communication?
With Newly-Inaugurated Vice-President Kamala Harris Set To Begin Her First Term In Office, The True Significance Of Her Appointment Is Being Realised Not Just In The United States, But All Across The World.
Kamala Harris’s journey to becoming Vice President has been aided by her empathic and authentic communication and leadership style, which exudes what expert RADA Business tutors Sheelagh McNamara and Lisa Akesson term ‘executive presence.’ As women’s leadership is brought into its rightful place under the spotlight, Sheelagh and Lisa – who co-deliver the transformational Executive Presence for Women programme – take a closer look at this appointment, using their experience, perspective and insight to focus on how Kamala’s presence and leadership style has led her to the top.
Communicating as a leader is about far more than what you say, it’s about your presence and ability to command a room. As Lisa Akesson comments: “Not only has Kamala Harris shattered the glass ceiling as the first Black and Asian woman to have become the Vice-President of the United States, she also has a communication and leadership style that is empathic, authentic and exudes what we call ‘executive presence’.” “Whenever Kamala Harris is speaking – whether that be giving a speech or being interviewed – you can see that she is not afraid of letting her personality and feminine style merge with her confidence and gravitas. She has a very dynamic persona, and her general warmth and contagious smile also make her seem approachable.” “Combining this with the deeper pitch and resonant tone of her voice means Kamala is able to speak with authority and credibility, while also displaying a calming presence. This ‘executive presence’ makes her both likeable and trustworthy.”
Relatability And Credibility
Great leaders are not only credible; they are also consistent. This is important for building trust. Sheelagh McNamara notes: “Kamala appears to have a rare ability to deliver powerful messages under intense scrutiny, with grace and gravitas. But perhaps more importantly, she comes across as relatable and authentically herself: she is alert yet relaxed, and comfortable in her own skin.”“As audience members we can determine who is powerful, credible, likeable – or not – in a fraction of a second when they speak. Kamala Harris succeeds at this by owning her space. Her posture is upright and open across the chest, and her weight is evenly balanced on both feet. She uses a wide range of gestures including a modified steeple hand-clasp, which denotes power, and she combines this with a neutral expression – for example, when she is signaling a lack of belief.”
Physical And Vocal Presence
Maintaining a physical presence and using your body language to aid communication is another vital skill for leaders. Expanding on Kamala Harris’ ability to own her space, Lisa observes: “Kamala stands tall and roots herself to the ground, which gives her instant presence. She uses a wide plane of gestures that powerfully highlight her points and help to land her message. Her pace is measured and she is not afraid to use silence and pause when she speaks, which communicates self-assurance, conviction and ease in a public arena.” Sheelagh agrees: “Gesture gives energy to the voice and face. We are naturally attracted to people who are animated and have a good vocal range. As a voice coach, I can guarantee that whatever is going on in your body is reflected in your voice. Think how quickly we tune out of monotone deliveries. Kamala’s wide variety of tone, pace and pitch instead keeps us engaged so we listen to her every word.”
Demonstrating Grace Under Pressure
Many leaders work under intense pressure, which can often lead to communication breakdowns. Kamala Harris has frequently demonstrated another quality all good leaders should have – grace under pressure. Sheelagh explains: “Kamala’s ability, and the finesse with which she dealt with Mike Pence’s interruptions during the Vice-Presidential debate last October, is a great credit to her skills as a leader and communicator. By simply stopping his repeated interruptions with a smile, direct eye-contact, a stop-palm position and the frequent repetition of a very simple phrase: ‘Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.’ She was able to assert her dominance, her right to speak and be heard; and again, she owned her space by using physical presence.” “However, it’s more than just Kamala’s voice and body that keep us tuned in. It’s her ability as a storyteller. She captivates her audiences through the sharing of her personal story, which is relevant to the times we are living in. She demonstrates the importance of authenticity and living by your values.”
Passion And Authenticity
From government to business, it is important for great leaders to be authentic, as well as passionate. Authenticity is portrayed through our voices and our bodies when we are communicating. As Sheelagh reflects: “Overall, Kamala’s ability to communicate using a wide range of facial expressions, as well as her warmth, her dignity and her laughter, make her a natural role model for all women because it feels as though when she rises we all rise! We need women to be in power – not just empowered.” Lisa adds: “Kamala Harris speaks from her heart and with passion. Her message is fully aligned with her beliefs and this is communicated congruently through her body, breath and voice.”
The Executive Presence for Women programme helps women in business to harness the power of communication to help them become great leaders. Please find further information about the programme here. To learn more about RADA Business, including Virtual Coaching and Performance Programmes for leaders, please visit their website
Image: The White House