I’m still learning the ropes here at Potential Squared. To get me up to speed, I’ve been privileged to sit in on many of their programmes to learn more about what we as a business do and stand for. Recently there was a workshop I attended that stood out for me in really surprising and exciting way.

One of our clients is the UK division of a world-leading chemicals and biotechnology producer. We’ve been working with them for four years now to develop ‘high-performance behaviour’ in their leaders. On the day I attended, the groups performed a range of tasks that were designed to challenge their perception of themselves – and also to challenge how they thought others perceived them.

This is of course a sensitive topic because it’s so intimate. That's why I was interested to see how the day would go. The session kicked off with a high-impact question from the facilitator: ‘What do you think of me?’ The participants were asked to write down three adjectives, at least one of which was to address a negative or developmental area in their initial perceptions of the facilitator. No ‘blah’ words, such as ‘nice’ were allowed, either. The words were then collated and reviewed, and the tone of openness in giving and receiving feedback was powerfully set for the day.

The participants themselves had ample opportunity to practise being on both sides of feeding back, all foccused on developing their ‘personal brand’. It’s a crucial part of our values that everyone should be encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work, so at first there seemed a paradox in the idea that a leader would want to adapt how they come off to others. Surely being authentic should come naturally?

In fact, developing your presence and impact as a leader makes perfect sense. Even more, it’s about how to express yourself with greater authenticity. A leader’s voice, we learned, means two things, and presence, impact and authenticity come from matching them up. On the one hand, your voice is how you present yourself to the outside world and includes your words, behaviours and presentation – all the things that are observable about you. Your other voice is the internal one, the one about what you stand for, what drives you to lead.

Each of the participants were asked to produce another list of three adjectives, and this time they were supposed to describe the way they wanted other people to perceive them. Then in teams of six, they took turns to present themselves to their group after which the others would write down three adjectives about how they in fact did perceive them. Finally, pairing off, the participants discussed with each other the three ways they wanted to be seen and the fifteen ways they actually were seen.

This was a powerful exercise because it was truly Refreshingly Direct. For the participants, it was an opportunity to gain valuable insight to help them develop and iterate around the way they present themselves more impactfully in new situations. It was also a vivid opportunity for participants to discover things about themselves they’d not realised before, in a supportive environment.

The day ended on a practical note, with an exercise that translated everyone’s personal brands into real-life situations. Everyone was asked to bring a real challenge they were facing at work, such as hosting a team meeting, delivering a pitch to a stakeholder or managing a difficult team member or client. Business Role Players were individually briefed on each scenario and how the other party might behave. Then the participant played out the situation with them. Testing out presence and impact in a recognisable situation made everyone feel immediately confident in their ability to take their learnings and insights back to work.

It was a striking end to a powerful day, and for me a clear demonstration of the power of being Refreshingly Direct in order to truly bring your authentic self to work.