How Do We Create More Professional Leadership “Presence”?
While leadership can be characterized as being effective when a few very specific skills or competencies are demonstrated (being goal-oriented, well-organized, effective at communicating etc., for example) a less tangible but nonetheless important aspect that is often overlooked is having a sense of “presence” as a leader. In this brief article we therefore want to look at this further and what it tangibly means to have presence.
More and more organizations both small and large are now slowly starting to realize that not only must leaders at all levels need to be broadly competent and manage well but they need to have presence as well. In other words, they need to show high levels of confidence, be strong in their efforts to steer teams in the right direction and be able to bring people together for a common purpose or goal – both within their own team and when it extends to other teams across an organization. This is what we mean by leadership presence because it’s not just a shallow layer that a leader might “wear” (such as being well-dressed or talking in a louder or more confident tone) but something deeper that makes people want to pay attention and be happy to follow that individual. It therefore pays every organization to think about what this quality of presence really is and then consider how it might be developed.
In general, research suggests that most people say that a person has leadership presence when he or she is perceived to be authentic, is deemed to be competent, has natural influence, exudes confidence (even when only listening and not necessarily speaking), and is clear and decisive. Let’s therefore look briefly at each of these characteristics:
- Authenticity: Authenticity means two things. 1) Not “inventing” a leadership persona and especially not one that is false to whom the leader really is. 2) Making sure that words and deeds are consistent. People watch leaders closely for their actions and will perceive more presence and authority when these are authentically aligned.
- Competence: Although competence will mean different things to each leader, it essentially entails being as knowledgeable and able about the major tasks to be achieved and about the people on the team and what they can and should contribute. This involves a leader being open and having the capacity to ask insightful questions.
- Influencing ability: Presence is almost impossible to have without good communication skills but counter-intuitively perhaps it also needs good listening skills, so that people pay attention when comments are made or questions asked.
- Confidence: Like influence, confidence is often outwardly shown by effective communication ability and strong body language (and eye contact in particular) but can also be shown when listening closely to understand another person’s view.
- Clarity and decisiveness: Time and time again people in teams say they like leaders who are decisive and not evasive or procrastinating.
In summary then, presence is an attribute that is fundamentally about how a leader interacts with others and uses many if not all of the above characteristics much of the time. It is consistently therefore mostly about his or her perceived behavior, and most importantly how it affects the individual or the team of people that is being led. As such, it is critical that organizations not only understand the concept of leadership presence (and talk about what it might look like in practice) but spend time and effort to help all of their leaders evolve their skills in this area.