Regularly being asked by large corporations to help their managers develop better leadership presence, I often find that a lack of leadership presence is caused by a failure to be present. That is, leaders are not fully in the moment with those that they are seeking to lead, rendering their efforts to connect and influence others weak and ineffectual.
Whilst Hollywood stereotypes would have us believe that leaders who have presence must be commanding, ooze confidence and act heroically, the reality of leadership is different. Whenever I ask managers to list the attributes of those that have great presence, a very different set of characteristics usually emerges. Typical words and phrases that are generated include empathetic, careful listener, authentic, open, warm, intentional and deliberate. These are all words that indicate that a leader with presence is present with others.
I have concluded that leadership presence is a function of being present, and the more I observe and talk with others, the more convinced I become. That to focus only on those that you are with, and to pay full attention to what they are saying and doing is the path to real impact. Followership requires that others can trust the leader and connect to him, going beyond just knowing that he is competent. Furthermore, to influence and lead others, a leader needs to know where others are starting from and lead them from there. It is nearly impossible to do this without being with them 100% in the moment, alert to what they are saying and what they are doing.
We all have experiences with leaders who are distracted, not listening to us, not fully there with us. Instead they are more connected to their own thoughts, their own needs, their own views. As a consequence we feel disconnected from them and wonder if we can trust their intent and their words. Ultimately this means that they fail to impact us in a positive way and are unable to fully engage us in the real work to be done.
That is why real leaders with presence are more likely to fit Jim Collins description of Level 5 leaders – a combination of humility and fierce resolve. It is the humble leader who asks questions and listens carefully and who is fully present with her followers. It is the fierce resolve that is possessed by a real leader that allows him to subjugate his own ego needs to make sure that every conversation is in service of those that he seeks to lead.
Having presence requires us to be present. It’s as simple as that.