Ronda Beaman on developing executive presence

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From her popular class on professional development to her workshops on executive presence, Dr. Ronda Beaman is nothing short of renowned in the Orfalea College of Business. Bold and uplifting, her presence often leaves her audience in awe. But beyond the lecture halls and club meetings, Beaman has an unsurprisingly impressive resume; she is the Chief Creative Officer at PEAK Learning, serves on the Board of Directors for the National Pay It Forward Foundation and has written an award-winning book as well as a memoir. The Wire sat down with Beaman to learn more about her journey to finding herself and becoming a source of inspiration for the generations of women after her. 

What is your background and work experience like? What has made you an expert on this topic?

I think it’s like anything. It’s just try and fail over and over again, and keep failing better. I’m a Chief Creative Officer for an international consulting firm. I never intended to have a career in speaking or anything like that, it just kind of evolved. I think that every time you walk in a room and need to hold forth, or every time you want to pitch an idea, it’s got to be something you really believe in. I think every time you do that, you just get a little better and more confident. You have a little more fun. I think that the secret to anything is to really believe in what you’re saying and doing because eventually, if you don’t, people can smell that a mile away. If people are really polished, they’re too perfect or too practiced— that comes across as insincere, I think. I think it’s just practice, practice, practice.

I think that just walking into a room and being 100 percent satisfied with who you are, that’s not only executive presence. That’s dynamic presence. That’s unforgettable presence. That’s power presence.

What skills do you possess that you believe have enhanced your career? 

Fear of failing. Fear of failing is a huge one. I grew up when girls were supposed to be present and not argue. I learned in one of my internships—I started out majoring in broadcasting and advertising, and I had an internship at an advertising agency— [that] all these 40 and 50 year-old people didn’t know anything more than I did, but they pretended that they did. Because it’s all guesswork. All of business is guesswork. You can learn all the theories in school, but when you really get out in the world, what works at one place won’t work at another. You’re consistently trying to figure out a formula for human behavior, and there isn’t one. The fear of failing and the fear of trying very hard to make sure that women were respected in the workplace and that we knew just as much as anybody else in the room was a real motivator for me because when I started we were really on the cutting edge of women entering the executive boardrooms more and more. I also have always liked people. I just like them. All kinds of people. It’s more interesting for me to sit in an airport and watch the people going by than actually the trip I’m taking. I think really liking people helps you be a leader because you want the best for them and you want to be your best for them. I have boundless energy. I’m blessed with that. It takes a lot of energy to succeed. It takes a lot of optimism.

What attributes do you believe are necessary for women and men in the business field? Specifically, what attributes do you believe help women and men advance their career as well as widen their job prospects?

I think that organization as a skill is underrated. I think you need to be organized to be successful in anything, including being a mom. I mean how do you remember to keep everybody’s schedules and basketball games and band practice and dinner has to be ready at a certain time. That’s organizing. I like to say to my classes that everybody is the CEO of Y-O-U, and so I think that managing your energy and your tasks and having big outcomes and big dreams. I think those are very important in any arena—home, work, professional, personal.

And again, back to the people thing, you know. Everybody brings something to the party, even people that rub you the wrong way. They generally have a skill or something great about them that you can’t see clearly right away, but everybody’s got something worthwhile about them. I think that skill of sticking with things, that skill of sticking with a person, of not giving up, not giving up on a goal and those kinds of things.

Bottomline of all of this is your health. If you don’t have your health and you don’t feel good, I don’t care how organized you are and I don’t care how smart you are or how many skills you have, it’s for not because you’re not going to enjoy it and it’s going to kill  you. And you can be resilient, but at what cost? If you’re really resilient, but it takes everything from you, that’s not the idea either. Everything in moderation including moderation.

What are some obstacles you’ve faced in your career?

I think the biggest one [obstacle] is my thin skin. I was raised by a parent who was fairly critical and I took that all in for the longest time. And I think [if I didn’t have] that happen to me, I could have accomplished even more. You know, no matter how you’re brought up, those tapes are still in your head even if you’ve accomplished more than you thought you were ever going to or you did more, that’s still in there, those first 18 years of whoever raised you. And I think that’s the biggest obstacle is understanding that I’m not what other people say I am, that I’ve built a life that I can be proud of and I have to remind myself of that. I think everybody in some ways has to remind themselves of their own personal story and their own personal success and who they really want to be and your own integrity. I think it’s hard, especially when you’re a leader, especially when you’re cutting new territory, like with Women in Business, to take those slings and arrows and not have them affect you. As long as you know that what you’re doing is right, as long as you know that this is the best you can do and you’re keeping your values straight, then moving forward and not letting it chip your marble is important.

What tips do you have for women who are just starting to build their professional selves?

Not comparing yourself. [Women are] like our own worst enemy, aren’t we? I think that the biggest obstacle is criticism and self-criticism. It keeps you smaller than you need to be.

Well, you know I just spoke to the Women’s Leadership Academy last week, and I was like, “I don’t know why you guys are calling yourself Women in Business, you should be calling yourself Women Mean Business” because I think that just walking into a room and being 100 percent satisfied with who you are, that’s not only executive presence. That’s dynamic presence. That’s unforgettable presence. That’s power presence. I think that these four years or five, however long it takes you to get through college, are so important at defining and building your story and who you want to be and how you feel about yourself. Because how you feel about yourself follows you right into that room. When you’ve built a story, when you’re proud, you don’t need any tips. You just walk in and that radiance and that enthusiasm and that eye contact and that poise, it just follows you like magic. And people want a piece of it. Everybody’s got that in them. If you go look at a playground of little kids, it’s so charming; it’s hopeful and fun. Everybody feels good about themselves, especially girls. We [women] don’t start feeling bad about ourselves until about 11. Then we start to notice boys and, “Oh, what’s happening to my body?” But until then, we are dynamite, and that’s still in all of us. It’s like those golden seeds of who we’re meant to be. But if you can use college as the four years to re-ignite and feed those golden seeds and leave here really clear about who you are and what you bring—not what you want, not what you’re going to take, but what you bring—that’s presence that can’t be ignored.

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