Sacred Six Steps to Executive Charisma — and Powerful Personal Impact

Today is Tuesday, so this post is on positive personal impact. 

Last year, I did a series of podcasts.  Half were on career and life success.  The other half were on leadership and running a small business. 

Debra Benton

was my guest for a conversation on career and life success.

Debra is the author of Executive Charisma.  She shared her thoughts on what she calls the sacred six steps to executive charisma.  These steps are important for anyone who wants to make a powerful, positive personal impact.

Read on to see what Debra has to say…

Bud:  I wanted to compliment you on the alliteration sacred six steps to executive charisma.  I’m assuming you chose words other than the fact that the sounds roll off your tongue for some reason, particularly the one Sacred.  So I was wondering if you could sort of begin a bit by talking about the sacred six steps and how you came up with particularly that word – sacred?

Debra:  You know I toyed with the word sacred.  I wanted to emphasize the importance of and the significance of lastingness of the these six components and there’s a risk that it’s offensive because of the religious connotations, but I mean it in a non-religious way in that it’s truly very important the things you must hold near and dear and use.

Bud:  What I’d like to do Debra, is go over the six steps in order and then we’ll come back and talk about them each a little bit more in detail.  So exactly what are these six steps of executive charisma?

Debra:  Well, first I want to correct you a little.  And that is I don’t want to talk about them in order, as there is no order and one must do this and one must do this.  I want the audience to understand you do first and second and then first and fourth and sixth and fifth, they’re incorporated, and interchanged.  They overlap…does that make sense?

Bud:  It makes perfect sense and thank you for pointing that out.

Debra:  First I want to discuss “be the first to initiate”.  Now initiate means take the bull by the horn and take some action.  Do something before you’re necessarily ready.  The stars are aligned, you’ve been invited, you’re relaxed, you’re confident…you have to be the first to initiate many times, because others are just as uncomfortable as you are breaking the ice.  You speaking first, you volunteering makes everything…it literally makes or breaks a career.  It takes courage, and to help you with the courage, the other steps support your ability to take the initiative. 

And by the way, initiative can be something simple.  I tell a story about when I needed to eat one time at a restaurant before I caught a plane and had only a short amount of time.  I walked in and the maitre de said “I’m sorry but we’re full.” And, now, I have been at restaurants and, you have been, where they say they’re full, but they aren’t.  There’s always two or three people ot four tops and I could see there were spare chairs, sure people at the tables, but there were spare chairs.  So my choice was to say “okay” and miss the meal, and I’m not one prone to do that. Or, with pleasantness, not with obnoxiousness, say “I’ll just see if someone will mind if I sit with them”.  And I initiated something different by walking into the restaurant.  When I saw a few people with a spare chair I asked, “I know this is unusual, but would you mind if I used your spare chair, I’m trying to catch a plane.  I won’t interrupt your meal”.  And they said “sure”.  Actually, they thought it was sort of funny.  And long story short, they later, became a client because they liked the willingness I had to take the initiative.  We all have about a thousand opportunities a day to initiate more.  If you seize one or two, your life will change measurably. 

Bud:  I think that’s great!  That’s just a wonderful story.  I’m pretty gutsy, but I’m not sure if I would do that. I’m not sure I’ve ever even thought of it. I might do it now that I’ve heard you speak about it though…

Debra:  Well, I could bore or entertain you, depending on how you view it, all day long with stories about my willingness to do this.  Literally in thirty years of doing this I’ve had my hand slapped once.  But it has given me such a good life.  And when I see others do it, I’m happy for them.  People will say to me, “Debra, I finally had the courage to approach my boss in the hallway about something that has been bugging me for six years.  In six seconds, it got addressed and resolved.  My whole life is different with this company now because I took the initiative.”

The second step is “expect acceptance of yourself, as a human being”.  Others will always have a bigger title, make more money, be more important in rank or whatever, but as human beings, you are equal to anyone on earth.  Now everyone on earth is equal to you too, so as you expect acceptance, you must give acceptance.  Again, I think of a CEO in

San Diego

and he says, “Debra, in my thirty-two years of running the show, I have never discriminated against a woman, or a minority, for being a woman or a minority.  I have discriminated against woman, minorities, and men if they don’t expect acceptance of themselves.  Why should I give it to them?” 

And pretty much if you don’t expect acceptance, you won’t get it and if you do you just might.  But you have to give it too.  Because if you are judgmental and critical, people see it, sense it, and get back at you.  If you give them acceptance, which doesn’t mean accept poor performance, but acceptance as a human being, they’ll be more receptive to you.  Should I go on down the list?

Bud:  Yes please.  Go ahead. 

Debra:  The third is “ask”.  Ask questions, ask favors.  Too many times bright people trying to prove themselves think if I tell everything I know, if I show you what I can do, if I solve the problem, that will give me recognition, appreciation and reward.  It is good to know how to solve a problem, to know all you need to know.  But it is far better, far more bonding if you ask questions.  You have a better effect on others, you are trusted more, you are more liked when you ask questions – even just to confirm what you already know. 

Here’s an example.  Say I have a person who is supposed to be doing a brochure, and I’m not sure if she did it.  So I can ask, “hey, did you remember to do the brochure?”, which is a little like, “hey, were you smart enough to remember?”. Or, a better question, still asking questions, but phrased better is, “hey, when you do the brochure, how did it turn out?  I’m curious about the layout, the format, I’d like to see the draft.”  Now, you see the tone of my voice, the choice of my words gives acceptance to her as a human being.  “Were you stupid enough?”  No, that is not it…not giving acceptance.  “How did it turn out” is giving acceptance.  So minor differences in your tone of voice and choice of words makes all the difference.  The point is, ask questions.  Ask to learn, ask to buy time, ask to let others shine in the spotlight, ask to be a better communicator.

Bud:  Okay.  I get it – pretty subtle, but great common sense advice.

Debra:  And I should just add on “ask favors too”.  Again, a lot of independent, hard-working, self-starters out there think they can do it themselves.  The more you do for others the more they resent you.  You must ask favors.  Now you don’t ask “would you hire my son for the summer”, but a favor can be, “hey can I get your opinion on this project – you’ve done this before and I’d like your opinion”.  I’ve asked a question, I’ve asked a favor, I’ve mad them feel good, I’ve maintained their self-esteem, I’ve taken pressure off myself.  There’s so many benefits. 

Number four.  “Stand tall, straight and smile”, meaning have the persona of the winning person versus the persona of the loser.  You watch a professional football game – the losing team is hunched on the bench, towels on their head, slumped over, scowls on their face.  The winning team is over there bouncing off the walls, good posture, smiles beaming.  We don’t always win.  We’re not always on the winning team, but it would serve you to look like you are, to act like you are…you might change the course of events. 

Somebody says “isn’t this fake?” and I’d say “you know, I’d rather have fake pleasantness than sincere unpleasantness”.  Good posture, like your mother told you, increases your energy, improves your voice, keeps your organs aligned, keeps you healthier.  And even the smile.  I’m not asking you to go around like Miss


and smile, smile.  I ask you to have a pleasant expression, relaxed, slight smile, but a relaxed expression, and literally, I tell people if you say the words “Cheez Whiz”.

I know you have a story you will tell us about this Bud, but if you say the words “Cheez Whiz” it gets you the expression I’m trying to get you to have.  The key is you must maintain it when you are happy and when you’re not so happy, mad, sad, scared, you keep it all the time because if you drop it, they’ll think “what’s wrong, what happened?” 

Now five: “be human”, and obviously everything we’ve talked about is along those lines.  Human doesn’t mean being inappropriately intimate, you don’t have to tell someone you bathe with a sponge versus a washcloth.  What human does, talk to them as a human.  Everybody out there has aging parents.  They don’t want to get cancer.  They worry about their children’s future.  They want to keep a roof over their house, they don’t want to get sick themselves, they like green lights over red lights.  We are more allowed to be liked, it’s up to you to initiate.  You can roll in number one.  That’s why I said there’s no order here.  You initiate revealing something human about you to connect, or you could ask a question.  I mean, my husband is a cowboy – he’s not into business at all and he will meet my CEO clients and one of the questions he loves to ask is how did you meet your wife?  Well for some reason no one ever asks him and they love to tell that story, even if they’re getting divorced, that was at least a good story at one time.  And it’s a very human thing, it’s a question.  My husband could ask “how did you increase shareholder value last year” and that will not make it, but “how did you meet your wife?” works.  Obviously you can see that ties into being human.

Bud:  So it’s a matter of connecting people to people, person to person.

Debra:  Yes.  As opposed to role to role.  Which is “I’m meeting my boss, and how’s business?  Oh, good, good”.  And “how’s your department?”, “good, good.”  “What’s it look like for next year?”  “Oh, good, good.”  You know, it’s like it makes you want to vomit.  So that’s what being human is, and touching is part of being human.  I promote touching, in the appropriate places..

Bud:  That is great. I really like some of the stories you’re telling.  I can’t wait to talk about that sixth one, “slow down, shut up and listen”.

Debra:  Okay.  Well, as you can tell from the other five, it takes initiative, it takes energy, it takes putting things out there.  Number six is “slowing down, shutting up and listening”.  Because as much as you’re energetic and trying on and on, sometimes you serve yourself best by doing the opposite of what most other ambitious, anxious, people are doing and that is slowing down. 

Slow down in your talking, walking, gesticulation, I don’t mean to the point that it becomes boring, I’m not suggesting that, but I’m saying ask a question so they can hear, slow it down so they can hear what you ask.  Shut up, let them answer.  Maybe while they give an answer instead of “uh, uh, well you know”, say, “Huh, tell me more”, “huh, can you give an example?” because if you don’t ask a question like three times, you won’t ever get to the truth.  Only by shutting up, listening, keeping the “Cheez Whiz” expression on your face do you get them to reveal more and more and then you learn what you really need to learn.  So altogether, they make a very good plan, pattern of behavior to handle any situation you are in, personally or professionally.

Bud:  Well that’s great.  Particularly the listening one.  It really resonates for me because, like a lot of people, particularly if somebody begins to say something with which I don’t agree with, I tend to start with my rebuttal, saying it out loud before the person even has a chance to finish.  And what I have trained myself to do is say. “okay Bud, when somebody says something and at first you’re not agreeing with him or her, the best thing to do is really to shut up and listen because that’s when you might learn something.”

Debra:  And you know, a good follow up is, “huh, can you give me an example of what you’re saying?”  Let them give it.  Another example is “I’m sure not sure I’m with you”.  And by the time they’ve…I say this to women sometimes.  There’s a guy at the office party who will come up to you and say “you know, you’re not as dumb as most blondes I’ve had to work with”.  Thinking he has just given her a compliment.  And I say she can lash out and give her a piece of her mind, or with a relaxed expression, relaxed tone of voice, ask a question, “what did you mean?”  Whatever he says, ask again.  I’m still not sure if I follow you.  And as he digs a deeper hole for himself, ask him the third time, can you give me an example?  So just about anything you’re confronted with, whether you like it or not, shutting up, slowing down is a good thing.

Some great common sense advice from

Debra Benton

on the six sacred steps to executive charisma:

·        Be the first to initiate.

·        Expect acceptance of yourself as a human being.

·        Ask.

·        Stand tall, straight and smile.

·        Be human.

·        Slow down, shut up and listen.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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