You recognize it instantly. People with leadership presence exude an aura of command, a confidence that they are in control of themselves and the situation at hand. It’s different from charm or charisma, though they may be very engaging qualities. Leadership presence can be high in people who are extroverts or introverts, so it is not necessary to be the most talkative person in the room.
George S. Barrett, CEO of Cardinal Health, in an online New York Times interview, talked about the importance of people believing in their leader, and trusting the competence and judgment of the person at the helm. He articulated leadership presence as a combination of doing the right things and forging a connection at a human, fundamental level.
What qualities make you a leader with presence, one with an aura of command?
Confidence. Leaders with presence use language that is strong, positive and based on facts. They are calibrated about what they know and don’t know. Because of that calibration, they don’t oversell themselves or their ideas, and are not falsely humble. They are a visible, passionate force within the organization.
Vision. Leaders with presence have a strong clarity of purpose, a compass that guides not only what the organization does, but why. They share this vision widely and engage others within the organization in shaping how the vision will be realized.
Strength under fire. Even in the most arduous circumstances, leadership presence requires self-control and poise. Leaders with presence are grounded in the facts, and do not allow emotions to skew their perspective about what is important. They remain focused and responsive to changes around them and are not afraid to make the tough calls when necessary.
Judgment. Leaders with presence use judgment to achieve excellence. They establish mechanisms for accessing the critical information needed to understand the current reality and predict the future. Like good chess players, leaders with presence think 1, 2 or 3 moves ahead in terms of strategy. They focus only on what’s most important and are prepared with contingency plans for both the foreseeable, as well as the unpredictable, future scenarios.
Learning. Leaders with presence are continual learners. They gain insight first and foremost by listening and asking the right questions. They are disciplined in their efforts to better understand themselves, their people and the world around them.
Humility. Leaders with presence recognize that they don’t know everything and actively ask for help when needed. They admit mistakes and take action to ensure that they are not repeated.
Engagement. Leaders with presence create space for people to own their work and express their passion, thinking and creativity. At the same time, they ensure that people know what results are needed and why and provide the necessary support and accountability.
Image. Leaders with presence project a professional image through appropriate dress, grooming, behavior and language. They freely express their own unique personality within these boundaries, and are comfortable in their own skin.
Leadership presence is an intangible that can be readily observed, and difficult to achieve. The payoff is that leaders with this aura of command can more easily create a work environment where people relax, engage and confidently take action themselves. Without this intangible, others in the organization may feel anxious and uncertain because of the leadership vacuum. Assess yourself today and begin addressing the gaps in leadership presence, so that you can earn the respect and trust of your people.
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