Though Spain’s new King Felipe VI was supposed to be the main actor of his much acclaimed crowning ceremony last week, Queen Letizia drew just as much attention among international journals. Her elegance, her demeanor, her attention to her daughters throughout the ceremony…she was splendid, impeccable, the very image of perfection. Was it too much? Insistent chilly comments about her in Spanish press certainly beg the question.
Chemistry between the new Queen and her people doesn’t quite flow the way it should, despite her dedication and well-honed communication skills. Something’s definitely amiss. I define leadership as perfect adaptation to the context. Pure and simple. Whenever we do too much of something or too little of it, we miss the target. Perfection itself can, therefore, be overdone as much as it can be underdone. And here’s how Queen Letizia may betray an ever-so-small imperfection to her own impeccability: she lacks spontaneity.
As you may know, Queen Letizia never imagined she would one day live a modern day fairytale. Born to a middle-class family from Asturias, in Northern Spain, she became an ambitious, hard-working journalist. Queen Letizia first introduced herself to the Spanish public as evening news anchor on national television, later marrying the young heir to the crown. She is a highly intelligent woman with acute knowledge of the media industry, and strong Asturian determination. She is famous for holding on to her own opinions about everything from fashion to the role and responsibilities of the Monarchy in Spain’s current economic reality.
There couldn’t be a better prepared woman to be Spain’s Queen. Yet she is sorely criticized as much as she is praised. Some would say this hostility has to do with her lack of aristocratic ancestry, while others attribute it to sheer envy. It may be so. I, however, think it’s directly related to an excessive pursuit of perfection, ironically resulting in her lack of perfect adaptation. In other words, trying to be perfect is what makes us imperfect leaders.
The new King was visibly touched by emotion several times throughout the coronation ceremony, demonstrating a sensitive and endearing trait to his watching kingdom. A hand to his chest, a slow nod of his head, a subtle hint of tearful shine to his eyes as he looked around him… met with an inconsistent display of humorous gable, quick gestures and fluttering movements from his Queen. As he slowed down to experience the deep significance of the moment, she sped up with untimely jokes, fleeting eyes and stiff smiles. But why?
How could someone as well prepared and talented as Queen Letizia fail to fall naturally into place with her partner’s expression of profound humanity? Because falling in to emotion is not a rational decision of the mind, it’s a spontaneous reaction of the body. If we focus our heads too much on doing everything right, our bodies can’t tune into spontaneous bursts of emotion or impulse. We block our own adaptability to situations, and we isolate ourselves from the sophisticated communication channels that help mammals react immediately together without a single word. When we use our heads to control each and every gesture we make in front of admittedly cruel, scrutinizing cameras, we’re throwing away millions of years of Evolutionary design imprinted on our human body-vehicles way before we ever learned to talk or think rationally. It’s like parking our Ferrari in the garage to ride around on a bike, but without an eco-friendly excuse!
A number of communication experts would have us believe that a crowd can be engaged with careful imitation of scientifically proven face expressions and preplanned postures or movements. But subtle examples like our new Spanish King and Queen, preparing to board a discreetly stunning, open-topped Rolls-Royce for their final procession, prove otherwise. It looks like we are trying too hard, like we are not honest, like we shouldn’t be trusted. And it makes us perfect preys to mercilessly attack with cruel gossip for days on end. While leading from our heads may be enough to squeeze through most challenges in life, we are fooled to feel more self-confident than we should, later humbled by failure when more complex adventures outsmart our limited minds.
And let’s be honest: too many cameras can be daunting to anybody, no matter how much media exposure they may sail through every week. Large audiences intimidate most human bodies, with pressure growing as assembly size increases. When we can’t physically hold such crowds in front of our eyes, especially if they are coming through cold, impersonal cameras, the potential infinity of people watching us can destabilize the toughest and proudest among us. Once overwhelmed, we stop moving naturally and start acting to cover our unease.
The secret to perfect adaptation in mass communication, then, is to stay grounded no matter what. Grounding is an intuitive term used in psychology to describe a level of emotion that is close to earthy calm and peace. It’s the opposite of overwhelming, and it allows our body to respond flawlessly in most every challenge we encounter in life.
When we feel good in our own skin, we trust our bodies to express who we are with total spontaneity and engaging, heart-felt content. There is no need for planning, or thinking, or acting. We just go with the flow…and get it right. Over-thinking, in fact, betrays the purpose of grounding, because it keeps our attention focus away from the very emotions which are overwhelming us. As unsettling emotions take over our bodies, we may find ourselves thinking faster, more obsessively, trying to control our external situation instead of coming back to soothe the feelings themselves.
This is the spiral that leads to excessive perfection on stage. If Queen Letizia reminds herself to stop thinking about what looks right on camera and start feeling her body’s own discomforting sensations, her entire image will visibly relax. Her smile will soften, her eyes will grow deeper, her movements will slow down and she won’t have so many untimely comments to make. More importantly, she will connect effortlessly to her King and fall into the moment’s excitement in an irresistibly humane way. Leadership is not about trying.
It’s about feeling and responding in perfect adaptation to what each challenge requires from us. Queen Letizia is a very impressive woman in many ways, but shooting for perfection backfires on her. If you want to be a perfect leader, stop trying and start feeling. The rest of the pieces will fall into the right place when you learn to fall into yours.