Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.

–James Stewart

The Social Facilitation Effect is the tendency for people to perform differently in front of an audience than they do when they’re alone. When I first read about this, I thought that of course this so obviously makes sense. Nothing earth-shattering here. I already know that it’s much harder to talk in front of a large audience than to one person. But wait, this experience is actually more nuanced than that.

Research shows that for tasks that a performer knows well, the social facilitation effect can actually improve performance. What a great thing! It turns out that practicing my presentations over and over actually does help me become a more effective public speaker. It’s a great confidence builder to know that if you’re well-prepared, your audience can push you toward success. Next time I have a public speaking challenge, I’m going to visualize the audience as a benevolent group that is helping me perform at a higher level than I could on my own. After all, it’s science.

Update 1: I was discussing this with my daughter yesterday while we were driving to her ice-skating competition. She was telling me that she was nervous to skate in front of a big audience, and so I briefly explained that Social Facilitation Effect predicts that the combination of hard work, practice, and the energy of an audience will help her perform better than she might on her own. After a successful one-foot spin and two gold medals, we are both true believers.

Update 2: I was in Florida to speak at a conference this past week. Although I was a little bit nervous, I remembered the social facilitation effect and walked to the front of the room with confidence. I smiled and the audience smiled. Rather than robotically scanning the room, I spoke to individual faces and people stayed engaged. I walked toward people when they asked me questions. In short, it was a great experience. I actually had someone ask me for public speaking tips after my presentation! 

When people ask me for my leadership advice, one of my favorite things to tell them is that being a boss is like being a sheep dog: sometimes you bark at the sheep, and sometimes you bark at the wolves.

Accepting a job as a supervisor or manager is about making a personal commitment to the people who report to you. It’s about making a decision to dedicate yourself to your employees’ success and continued growth by ensuring that they have all of the resources, training, and organizational support that they need to excel at their jobs. When you’re an individual contributor, your performance is measured by your personal success. But when you’re the boss, your performance is measured by the success of the team.

Barking at the Wolves.

We have all had bosses who we knew weren’t watching out for us. Who wouldn’t go out of their way to defend and support us in difficult situations. Who would just take whatever was thrown at the department, even if it meant their employees would suffer. Outrageous deadlines, training budget cuts, unfair policies, and on and on. A good boss is willing to bark at those wolves and defend her sheep. Lack of security is one of the primary contributors to job dissatisfaction. Make sure that you are doing everything that you can to defend your employees from the wolves. Those snapping jaws have their own agenda and will try to achieve it at your expense.

Barking at the Sheep.

This is the more familiar aspect of being a boss. Obviously, sometimes you need to tell people what to do. But even when you are in that situation, remind yourself that your primary responsibility is to take care of your employees. When you are directive, do it for the benefit of the people that you are responsible for, not to enhance your own reputation or to deflect blame. Yes, a sheep dog barks at her sheep to get them into the pen. But she does it because it is her responsibility to keep them safe and well cared for.

Being a boss is about balancing both of these behaviors to ensure that your flock is both protected and under control in order to help them achieve their highest potential.

A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.

–Eleanor Roosevelt

For over a year, I have thought about starting a blog. A place for women in business and technology to share ideas and learn from each other. But I haven’t done it. I haven’t done it for the same reasons that I haven’t done a lot of things…my fear that I wouldn’t be good enough at it. A lack of self-confidence. Since I was a kid, I have never liked doing things that I’m not good at. I would rather not participate than try and then confirm to myself and everyone else that I’m “failing.”

But, things changed for me last week. I read The Confidence Code. This excellent book covers the science behind women and confidence, and how so many women, including those in very high positions of power and authority, struggle with the same issues that I do. It seems that I’m not as alone as I thought I was. One of the lessons of the book is to try things. To not ruminate, but to act. To take a chance and if something doesn’t work out, well you learned and can move on to the next thing. Self-confidence is about taking action. And so, today I started my blog.

I’ll be starting slow and learning as I go, so I’ll make mistakes and do things I wish I hadn’t, but that’s part of the adventure. My ultimate goal is to talk about women’s issues in business and technology and provide ideas and resources for them. I read a lot of business books, so I’ll be starting with book reviews. At the top of my list? The Confidence Code, of course.

Update: I wrote my review of the book that started it all! Read my first book review on The Confidence Code here