February 18, 2023

Leadership Presence – Elusive but Vital

Little girl standing on bridge smiling & wearing a black t-shirt that reads Future Leader

A really popular goal my clients want to incorporate into their coaching series with me is increasing their leadership presence. How do you know whether you have it and why is it important?

Leadership presence is difficult to define. That’s the bad news. The good news for you is that nobody is born with presence. You can cultivate it and you should do that intentionally.

You don’t have to be an extrovert either to have presence. Self proclaimed introverts who exhibit this quality include Bill Gates, Warrren Buffet, Princess Dianna and Michelle Obama.

My favourite qualities they possess are the ability to command a room, to hold people’s attention and yet remain humble. Their ego doesn’t enter the room before they do and their presence doesn’t overshadow anybody else’s. The presence they have  easily coexists with others and leaves those they are with, feeling like they matter. 

This is not the case when people with a big ego enter a room. Their presence commands attention but overshadows everybody else.  It leaves people feeling less than and this erodes their respect for you.

Are you aware of how you show up? Have you even considered how others feel in your presence? Do you care?

How do you define leadership presence?

When I ask my clients what leadership presence means to them, the most common answer is: You know it when you see it, yet it’s difficult to define exactly what “it” is. 

You don’t have to be famous to have presence. You need a healthy dose of self-awareness and understand that you don’t know it all. Your willingness to take actions on your blindspots in order to polish your leadership presence is key.

I look at leadership presence as a powerful combination of personal and interpersonal skills that elicits confidence from others, builds connection, trust and motivates those around you to rally behind your ideas and vision. This influential quality of leadership presence is what makes it so desirable to emerging or even seasoned leaders.

It’s a product of how you show up. How you communicate (verbally and nonverbally), and the impression you leave on others. The most important part of the definition for me is how people feel after encountering you.  Believe me, this matters!

Given that we know what leadership presence is and yet it remains elusive to many leaders, it would also help to define what it isn’t. It most certainly isn’t a big statement but rather a quiet confidence. It’s also not an external force but an internal one that doesn’t come from a big ego or personality. Instead it’s humble. 

Why is it important to have?

On entry into the workforce, you’re most likely hired for your knowledge and the concrete set of skills that you bring to the table. As you progress though, these skills alone won’t be sufficient to move you up the ladder to senior leadership positions. 

In a survey conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation, respondents stated that “executive presence” accounts for 26 percent of what it takes to get promoted into leadership positions.

As a leader you need to become extremely self-aware because, whether you realise it or not, your presence is always working either for or against you. It can set you up for the next big promotion or be the reason that your career stalls. 

Cultivating your leadership presence as part of increasing your self-awareness will help you to show up more powerfully, increase your influence and impact and help you to lead authentically.

6 Practical Tips to Polish your Leadership Presence

Could your leadership presence use some polishing? If you want to put yourself on the fast-track to advancement, I invite you to follow these 6 practical tips to improve your leadership presence now and in the future.

1. Be true to yourself

Being true to yourself is important for all genders but more so for women or marginalised identities working in predominantly male environments. Whilst we are getting better at promoting into top positions with diversity, equity and inclusion in mind, we are still not where we need to be. This leaves us with limited role models.

It is vitally important that you find alignment between who you are, what your values are and what your organisation is expecting from you. Leaders with masks or armour, as Brené Brown calls it, are less able to create psychological safety for their teams and have difficulty building trust within their relationships as a result. People are inspired by who you are, not by who you pretend to be. Authenticity can’t be copied. Getting to know yourself takes time and effort. Want to reach new heights in your career? Then don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and be your your authentic self. You are worth it. 

When told to do something, you can begin by asking yourself: Does this feel good for me? Is that really how I want to or should do it? Does it feel natural?

If you feel uncomfortable then it’s probably a good indicator that you are not being true to yourself. Reframe this for yourself and do what comes naturally to you, feels comfortable and makes you feel good about yourself.

2. Define your unique contribution

Authenticity is the foundation for a strong leadership presence. If you don’t know who you are, what you stand for or what you have to offer, how will others know and why would they follow you? 

Identifying and owning the unique value you bring to your organisation helps you minimise the inner critic we all have. It reminds you of your worth. Intentionally defining your leadership brand puts you in control of shaping how you’re perceived and clearly communicates to others what you stand for as a leader. Perception of you and what you stand for are important aspects of your leadership presence.

How do you define your leadership brand? You can start by asking yourself:

a. What am I good at? What strengths set me apart?

b. What am I passionate about? What gives me energy, meaning and speaks to my  values?

c. How do my strengths and passions connect to the organisation’s goals?

Communicating clearly and concisely with senior management is a fundamental aspect of gaining respect and influence. Not only do you need to know your unique value proposition, but you also need to be able to articulate it succinctly.

3. Conquer your Inner Critic

One of the pillars for leadership presence is self-confidence. It’s hard to exude confidence outwardly if internally, you’re listening to that little voice that constantly belittles you. Tells you what you could have done better or questions your ability and your worthiness. 

You have the power to choose what you believe. So why would you choose to listen to disempowering stories about yourself? 

For many of us – women and marginalised identities in particular – this happens unconsciously. Your inner critic may have been running on autopilot for so long, that you have forgotten you have the ability to choose something different.

Silencing your inner critic begins with listening and taking note whenever your inner critic begins to show up with negative or self-deprecating thoughts. Ask yourself, is this thought useful? Is it helping me evolve into who I want to become? When you encounter a negative thought, come up with an equally true statement that is positive. For example: “I’m not qualified to take on this role”, re-frame this as “I’ve overcome big challenges before. I can learn.”

To make this practice even more powerful, I recommend to my clients to share their positive truth out loud with a trusted friend or colleague.  Our logical left brain understands things abstractly, but our emotional right brain won’t fully believe the positive story until we practise hearing ourselves say it and receiving feedback from those we trust.

4. Focus on others

I can hear you say: what the…..??!! I know. Ironically, one of the best ways to increase your visibility and presence as a leader is to focus on others. Having a strong presence isn’t about being the loudest person in the room. It’s about knowing when to speak up and have an opinion and when to ask questions and actively listen. Presence doesn’t come from a big ego! It comes from humility. 

Enter each conversation with the goal of finding some way to help the other person. Listen with the intent to understand not respond. Very few leaders actually cultivate this art nowadays because they are too busy. They “tell” to show they have authority but also get the issue out of the way and move on quickly.

When you take the focus off promoting yourself and put it on making others feel seen, heard, understood, valued and supported, you dramatically improve your ability to connect and make an impact. It is one of the most important skills that allows you to build relationships quickly.

My clients find that by being curious, asking questions and not ‘telling’ their team what to do really shifts the dial. Their teams increase their productivity, become more efficient and learn how to problem solve for themselves. It blows my client’s minds how quickly they get improved results!

5. Intentionally craft your every move

I know this sounds daunting but intentionality is key to enable you as leader to focus on what is important, not urgent. 

To grow as a  leader you have to constantly push beyond your comfort zone. This means you may find yourself having to silence that inner critic repeatedly, doing things even when you feel nervous and confidently stepping into your power as you rise to lead your way. 

Before going into a meeting or having an important conversation, take some time to ground yourself. Take a few deep breaths. Intentionally drop your shoulders and pull them back. Think about how you show up and how you want to be perceived. Most importantly think about how you want people to feel after their encounter with you. This preparation can make the difference between appearing scattered and indecisive or powerful and persuasive. 

When you feel nerves or self-doubt creep in, think about a time when you successfully navigated a challenge or got great feedback. Focus on what happened, how you felt, and what that experience was like. Research shows that recalling a time when you felt successful or accomplished can increase your level of confidence in the present moment.

6. Take Action

The final piece of the puzzle is taking action. It’s the key piece that sets people with leadership presence apart from those that just manage. Set specific goals that challenge you to overcome your fears of putting yourself out there, of being criticised or ridiculed.  As you continuously overcome new challenges, your confidence will grow and you’ll expand not only your capacity to lead but to lead with presence!

Want to know more about how you could polish your presence, build trusting relationships and increase your impact? Book yourself into a complementary strategy call here or contact me here.

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