Leadership presence. It’s a phrase that’s often bandied about but is rarely understood. Leadership presence is difficult to define because though we know it when we see it, we’re not sure exactly what it is. And when we don’t know what it is, it’s extraordinarily hard to know how to get it.
However, we do know that leadership presence is extremely important. Your leadership presence determines the opportunities you get. And the opportunities you get, drive your personal growth and success.
I recently worked with Sarah, who is a trainer and facilitator, but who was struggling with her confidence in the training room. Whilst technically brilliant she didn’t feel able to handle difficult people or complex questions, and she wasn’t confident in how to structure or lead the training. Because of this, both Sarah and her boss were concerned that she wouldn’t be able to deliver the outcomes that she needed.
It turns out that when Sarah prepared for her training days, she would set up the room early, and then she would leave and go get a coffee or check her emails. She’d leave the room open for the attendees to just wander in and she would arrive at around the same time they did. So, she wasn’t physically there in the room to welcome the participants. She wasn’t there to direct them and establish her place as a leader from the get go. She was losing influence and weakening her ability to get the outcomes that she wanted, especially with those people that were working with her for the first time.
In the end, her weaknesses as a trainer weren’t about her training abilities at all… they were about her presence.
What is Leadership Presence?
Amy Cuddy, author of Presence, says, ‘Presence emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves so that instead of fighting ourselves, we are being ourselves.’
Leadership presence isn’t just one thing. It’s your command of a room, it’s your role in your communities, it’s your ability to share and even ‘sell’ your thinking, it’s your own subtle confidence and convictions in your abilities in your niche and it’s being able to be both persuasive and impactful. It’s your aura and energy, and it’s the thing that makes people say, ‘there’s something about you’.
So, what are the traits that lead to a strong leadership presence?
8 Traits for Strong Leadership Presence
Gravitas, which you can think of as dignity or solemnity, is the x-factor in leadership. In Cracking the Code: Executive Presence and Multicultural Professionals, the research showed that gravitas was believed to be the dominant pillar of executive presence. In fact, 67% of the senior executives surveyed said it was the core characteristic.
2. Strong Personal Branding
Leaders with presence are self-aware and, able to reflect on themselves and do deep inner work. They understand who they are and their strengths and weaknesses. They know the value they bring to a room and own it. And they share this by stepping into the power of their personal brand.
3. Strong Speaking Ability
Leaders with presence people speak persuasively. It’s not that they are perfect, or perfectly eloquent, but they know who they lead and how to lead them. They understand how to present and share a message for maximum impact.
4. Strategic Networks
A leader with an executive presence is quite clear about who they need around them to support them. They understand that the right networks help them get done what needs to get done and what they want to get done. They build those networks around them.
How leaders spend their time impacts their presence. Strong leaders are productive and spend their time on the higher return, higher impact activities. They manage distractions and interruptions with grace and ease.
6. Attention Out
Those with a strong presence have their attention focused outwards, using deep empathy, insight and understanding of their audience. In their speech, they rarely use the pronoun ‘I’ and they focus on improving, supporting and developing others instead of being the centre of attention.
7. Thought Leadership
All leaders with a strong executive presence need to be able to communicate their opinion through insightful thinking, or thought leadership, in a way people can consume easily. And this communication is done by creating content. The form of that content depends on the leader and on the audience, but it might be through blogs, videos or intranet communications.
8. Digital Presence
Leaders with a leadership presence are easily found online. They must have a well-written LinkedIn profile that positions them within their industry and within their organisation – not one that reads like an obituary or a recitation of their CV.
They also need to appear on their company’s website, or on their own if it’s a personal brand. And they are active on social media. In The Social CEO study, undertaken by Weber Shandwick, 43% of executives with socially active CEOs labelled their company’s leader as inspiring. That number dropped to only 26% when CEOs were not utilising social media.
Today it’s not about face-to-face interactions anymore. Most of our interactions in 2020 were digital, and while that will change somewhat going forward, it seems pretty clear that digital interactions are here to stay. The rise of digital working environments has allowed some people to come forward as leaders, who might not have otherwise done so. Working those digital communication lines and maintaining your presence while doing so is vitally important in this changing space.
Many leaders struggle to build these presence traits. And if you’re one of them, you’re not alone. Most of us will have some, but very few of us will have them all. But the good news is that these traits can be developed. They can be adopted, worked on and moduled to increase your presence and your leadership.
As you develop your presence, get feedback. Speak to trusted colleagues and ask them what you’re doing well, and what you’re not. Over time you’ll build that unidentifiable thing that guarantees that people will see you as a leader in the room.
Love to hear your thoughts…
Jane Anderson is a strategic communications expert, speaker and the author of seven books including the upcoming Catalyst Content. She has over 20 years of experience helping people to communicate confidently. And she is obsessed with authentic influence and human connection to drive business growth in a world of disruption and automation. Jane delivers Content Creation Bootcamps (Virtual and Face to Face), Coaching and Keynotes. To inquire about her working with you or your organisation please contact us here.