ALC English Journal Article Dec 2013

Leadership Presence

QUESTION: “I’ve heard that great leaders have something called “presence”.  What is leadership presence, and how can I get it?”

ANSWER: Like charisma, leadership presence is difficult to define, but easy to recognize. Let’s compare two equally capable leaders, one with “presence” and one without, in a typical business situation.

A Leader, BUT . . . No Presence. After a morning of back-to-back appointments, this leader runs into his staff meeting 15 seconds late, sweating from rushing to be there on time. He’s carrying a stack of haphazardly organized papers, which he spreads out on the table in front of him. Wiping his forehead with a cloth, he begins the meeting by asking one of his employees to make copies of the agenda for everyone. He’s forgotten a pen, so he borrows one from the person next to him. Halfway through the meeting he asks the team to continue, while excusing himself for an “urgent phone call”. When he returns, water is dripping from his incompletely dried hands.

At the end of the meeting there are still several urgent issues to discuss, but another team is waiting outside of the room eager to start their own meeting. Nervously glancing at his watch, he hastily outlines the remaining issues. He hurriedly thanks his team before rushing to take a taxi to an important client appointment.

A Leader with Presence. This leader walks at a leisurely pace to her meeting, stopping at the restroom on the way. In the privacy of a bathroom stall, she takes a minute to review the purpose and agenda of the meeting, and organize her papers neatly into her notebook. Since she’s alone, she looks at herself in the mirror, takes a deep breath, and adopts a friendly, confident facial expression. With five minutes to spare, she greets several people on her way to the meeting, and enters the room right on time. As she sits down she places a stylish pen on the table beside her notebook.  She then distributes the agenda she had printed in advance.

As the end of the meeting nears she realizes they will need more time to discuss the remaining urgent topics, so she asks everyone to schedule another meeting time later that day. Unfortunately everyone is busy, so she suggests they meet for dinner at a local restaurant. Gathering her things, she asks one of her people to summarize the action items and post them to the team collaboration space. As she leaves she thanks the team for their work on a challenging customer project. She then stops by her desk on the way to an appointment with an important client to pick up a small gift for them. During the taxi ride she calls the restaurant to reserve a comfortable table for her team.

Preparation, Communication, and Confidence. As you can see from these examples, presence refers to the aura that a leader projects that makes people feel confident in their leadership. This aura is achieved mainly through preparation and communication style. Projecting confidence and an unhurried pace through body language and facial expression is key. All of this can be learned with practice. If you don’t feel like a leader with presence, copy the behaviors of those you admire. Even if you don’t feel like you have it, other people will perceive you as a leader with presence.

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