011 - How to Show Authority (Without Being Pushy)


  • The story of the off-site group and who stood out
  • What composure is and why it conveys authority
  • How composure helps you, and others
  • Seven simple ways to develop composure, improve your presence and convey authority
  • Specific ways you can tame your mind.


(Two books not mentioned, but worth a look.)

  1. Become the Real Deal, by Connie Dieken
  2. Presence by Dr Amy Cuddy.


If you want to come across with more presence, more authority, but without being pushy, what should you do? Today I want to share some tips I've been coaching senior leaders in, over the past 20 years. And they're simple, but powerful because they work.

Let me tell you a story. I was facilitating a meeting for an Auckland institution a while back and there were about 20 people there representing various organisations that had a stake in the topic we were discussing.

Looking around the room I could see that some people appeared comfortable while others didn't, and everyone conveyed a degree of credibility ranging from "I have no idea what I'm doing here" to "I should really be running this thing."

But one person exhibited an air of genuine authority and it was a former Prime Minister of New Zealand who was the temporary Chair of that institution. The key reason he looked like he had authority was not because he did the talking, put forward the most impressive ideas, or led the debate. It was because he was by far the most composed.

In the Heat of the Moment, Be Cool

Even when things got a little messy and heated, he remained composed. And when he spoke, everyone went silent, and listened carefully.

Composure is the state or feeling of being calm and in control of oneself and when someone has it, in a group setting, it comes across as quietly authoritative.

Two Key Benefits of Composure

There are two principal reasons why developing greater composure is a good idea. One is an enabler, the other is an outcome.

First, the enabler:

1. Composure allows you to be calm, considered and clear. When we take steps to feel more composed, we use less energy mentally, and that simply frees up your mental resources for being clear while also reducing your nerves and therefore feeling calm.

Now the outcome: 

2. You convey a presence that others associate with credibility, authority and respect. The opposite of composure, being tentative, nervous and erratic, does not. This presence can be very helpful when you are in a leadership position with colleagues or clients and you want others to buy-in to your vision, propositions or advice.

How to Develop Your Composure

It has a lot to do with lowering your pace. Your mental and physical pace. You'll see this theme in the following ideas:

1. Walk slow

If you are going to a meeting, walking quickly will signal to your nervous system that there is urgency and that breeds a panicky state on mind. So, walk slow. Take another 30 seconds to arrive.

2. Breathe slowly

When you're tense (and you might not even be aware that you are) you breathe quickly and shallow. That deprives your brain of oxygen which puts your body on alert. Instead, breathe slowly for 3 or 4 breaths. 

3. Talk more slowly

Nervous people tend to talk fast and can come across as rambling. It most likely has to do with avoiding the discomfort of being found out, or even just having silence with others. So we speed up to fill the gaps. Instead, slow down the speed of speech. If you're at a 8 out of 10, imagine turning down the dial to 6.

4. Pause

If you asked a professional provider a question you felt was very important, and they immediately jumped right in and shot back an answer, what would you think? Probably, that they haven't really heard what you said or that they are 'shooting from the mouth.' It's better to pause, before you answer. It conveys thought. Think to yourself, "Pause, 2, 3..."

5. Lower the register of your voice

We tend to associate nerves and hesitancy with a higher, thinner voice. Actually, this is part of our evolutionary heritage where, when we feel threatened, our brain reserves some energy for flight (running) and therefore we don't have so much available for calm, relaxed talking. So, pause, breathe and lower the register of your voice. Physically relax and speak more from your lower diaphragm than your upper chest. 

6. Be prepared

Turning up at the last minute to a meeting or presentation without having anything prepared leaves you exposed. But, if you spend some time beforehand thinking through what the opportunity is about, what are the most important things to discuss, and what is at least one piece of value you can bring, you'll have something to offer. The key is to be ready.

7. Tame your mind

In a given setting, you need to tame and manage your mind to have any hope of developing greater composure.  Here's how to do that:

  • Start by becoming better at recognising your mental state and name it. Are you calm, distracted, or elsewhere? Are you paying attention to the speaker, or thinking about what you're going to say?
  • Pay attention to your breathing. Slow it down. Imagine a large dial with numbers 1 to 10. Visualise yourself turning it down.
  • Notice the distractions in your head. Imagine shutting the doors in front of them and closing them off. You could literally jot them down on your pad to get them out of your head.
  • Observe the setting you're in - what is the purpose of the meeting? Is that being followed? What can you do to add value? Try to be fully present and ensure progress is made on the most important things.

In a Nutshell

You can develop composure, and in doing so convey more authority, if you:

  1. Walk slow
  2. Breathe slowly
  3. Talk more slowly
  4. Pause
  5. Lower the register of your voice
  6. Be prepared
  7. Tame your mind.