I Own This Space!


Last week I suggested that charisma and the energy associated with it are vital tools, not just for big-stage political and business leaders, but for “everyday leaders.” I’ve been reading outside the leadership field for insight and came across a wonderful exercise in a book called Stage Presence by Jane Goodall.  I’ll quote it below.  But, before you read it, imagine what your “stage” is.  When I shared the exercise with my wife Jennifer, she lit up and shared her “stage,” saying “that’s exactly how I thought as I walked into court” (as a federal prosecutor.)  Where’s your leadership stage?  Maybe it’s a presentation – sales, investment, church or classroom.  But maybe it’s less one-way:  it’s a staff meeting table, a meeting with your business and life partner, your child’s teacher, or your adolescent child.  Picture yourself entering that “stage,” and imagine this exercise Goodall shares from acting teacher Julie Holledge:

“The first exercise I do . . . involves them walking onto a stage from the wings, finding the strongest position on the stage to stop, surveying the auditorium, and saying ‘I own this space’.  The rest of the class sits in the auditorium and responds . . . ‘yes you do’ . . . or ‘no you don’t.’   The trick of the exercise is for the actor to control time, relax and achieve perfect physical alignment.” [emphasis added]

Are you getting a thumbs-up?  Do you own your space?

What’s key to your getting the “yes you do” own the space from those who are with you?  Unlike a solo actor, your “audience” is not thinking about you; they’re doing what we all do; they’re thinking about themselves, their work, ideas, and feelings. So, the cool thing is you can walk onto stages this week, with only you aware of yourself and of your efforts to “own the space.”

What will you think of?  I’m drawn to two tips.

Your body is your vehicle, so where do you want it to take you?  Literally. Next to the boss, across from her, in a spot of sunlight? Or is it in your child’s bedroom for a discussion?  Standing or sitting?  Face-to-face or at an angle?  How do you command attention by being fully, physically present.  Interesting questions, aren’t they?

And how will you gather yourself up from the inside?  Do you believe you “own this stage?” Jennifer in court began by controlling her own mind. As she walked in she was reminding herself that she belonged: she had prepared, she represented the United States, she knew the court rules, and so that jury could trust her.

Do you belong?  And how will you gather up your presence?

I’d love to hear how you practice presence this week to

Lead with your best self


  • I see this as very effective if we in fact DO own the space – as Jennifer owns her place in the front of a courtroom. I’m always wary of anything that can seem like posturing but very much aligned with owning our essence and true greatness.

    For many of us, the space we own is our branding. As you know, I’m the author of many phrase books. Just recently I took new and deeper ownership of that space. It’s not posturing – it’s a recognition. When I work with people on their branding, we’re really looking for how to describe the space they already own. I like the phrase.

    • Meryl,

      I’m happy that you like the phrase! As you do own the phrase-space.

      As to your point about “if we in fact DO own the space,” I think an everyday leader always owns their space. Each of us has a point of view, something to contribute. As Cathy Raines tells so well below, we MAY not choose to occupy a space – like the board table – and that’s our choice, but if we choose to be there, then we ought to BE there. How do they say it, “I may be just one. But I am one!” (Is there a better phrase for that?)


  • Dan,

    Great insight! I never thought of it in those words but that it what I have to do everyday when I walk into a new school setting across the State. Since I speak to over 100,000 kids and parents each year I need to connect with them immediately, thereby owning the space.

    Thanks for sharing it in a leadership forum so that what is done is recognized for what it is.

    The TIP Lady

  • Yes, gaining favorable Attention is key to begin to pass the A.C.I.D. test of the sales process (more at http://www.SalesTip.info). However, it is only the beginning of planning for a successful sales leadership interaction.

    One of the major reasons why sales & leadership people fail is they think they can get away with “winging it.” This expression comes from the theater; where it alludes to an actor studying his part in the wings (the areas to either side of the stage) because s/he has been suddenly called on to replace another. First recorded in 1885, it eventually was extended to other kinds of improvisation based on unpreparedness.

    Being prepared for the customer interaction is important. Knowing what action you want the prospect to take based upon this sales interaction allows the sales person to focus. Having a strategy of what to ask, what to show and tell helps to move the prospect to taking the desired action. Anticipating obstacles to the sale will allow you to plan how to go around or over potential “roadblocks” in accomplishing your sales objective.

  • An important distinction is whether we really embody the presence. In your wife’s experience, for instance, she was tapping into what was actually true for her – prepared, representing something important, etc. This is the difference between “putting on” the presence we want to create (“doing” body language) and actually becoming that leader we want to be by authentically tapping into our own deeper presence. As we become an authentic leader, it shows up in our physical presence and people respond positively.

  • A good column and good comments too. Sometimes we are so in our heads we overlook the rest of our body – even though the people around us subconciously are more aware of our “body” language than our spoken language.

    Your column today reminds me of a lesson I learned about “being at the table.” I had deferred to others who wanted to sit at the CEO’s table during meetings, which didn’t have space for everyone. Over time I realized I was being left out of important conversations and that my lack of actual presence at the table had been a factor. When we want to be at the table we should be at the table.

    • Cathy –
      You wrote:
      “When we want to be at the table we should be at the table.”
      That is outstanding.
      p.s. We probably shouldn’t slouch when get there, either, right?

  • I would like to read a RFL on what to do when two or more persons all think the stage is theirs at the same time. Do you leave? I suppose it depends on the circumstances.

    • Mark John,

      I love your comment, and maybe I’ll take on this challenge in a future RFL.

      Here’s what I’d write about: If someone else thinks they own the stage, then see it as a duet!

      If you bring to mind that it’s the audience that matters, this could be very cool. It’s partly those in the board room or staff room who are the audience, but mostly those outside – the clients for whom you are performing. So, you own the space, but so does your co-actor. You’re Batman and they’re the Joker 🙂 You own the space when it’s your turn to speak. You own the space when it’s your turn to listen. You own the space when you listen to your “partner,” because in the engagement and exchange there is chance of creativity, insight, clarity.

      Our sports-and-conquest world sees conflict as a win-win. Acting and music – listen to the incredible “I cannot forgive him,” duet on Paul Simon’s Capeman opera. Two mothers sing about their boys – one dead, one in prison. Each teaches. Neither can give in.

      I love this question, Mark. Thanks!


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