Leadership Presence

Ever since I started working in the corporate environment almost fifteen years ago, I have been curious about many questions.  Is skill more important than the attitude? How to create and sustain high performing teams?  What truly motivates a person? How to get various departments to function in alignment towards one objective?  I keep looking for answers in my everyday experiences.

One such question for me has been “what creates powerful leadership presence?”

In the course of my work, I have interacted with many people at different levels in the organization. They belong to different functions playing a variety of roles. I have met with people from several external agencies and vendors as well as peers from the industry and outside.  As I look back, some of them have left a great impression.  They were more inspiring than the others. They commanded respect very naturally. I craved for more interactions with them.  And then there were others who did not impact me in anyway, and made me wonder how they got there in the first place.

So why, then some people have such a positive impact? How are they able to have that “leadership presence”?  Experience or tenure alone doesn’t seem to be the answer.  I have seen such people in all age groups. After some searching, I feel there are four key aspects to leadership presence: Clear Vision, Fresh Content, Infectious Energy and Disciplined Intentionality.

Clear Vision: Having a clear personal vision is fundamental. What they want to accomplish and how clearly they are able to articulate it, establishes their leadership power. Clarity of their vision helps rally rest of the team. When everyone involved sees the goal ahead clearly, there is commitment and collective ownership. The team is inspired and there exists a strong resolve to succeed. People who are able to visualize and articulate the vision with compelling conviction, naturally tend to have an involved audience.

Fresh Content:  While vision inspires, quality content commands respect. I have always seen that people with strong content are respected. Not only are they strong on content they are also willing to learn and fill the gaps. Continuous learning is a sign of maturity. Many senior people over the years tend to lose focus on developing content, as many think they need to focus just on managing people.  In today’s dynamic and ever changing world, keeping the content up to date with relevant and useful knowledge, enhances leadership depth.

Infectious Energy:  I have always observed that people who have a great presence also exude warm energy. It’s infectious. When they step into a room we feel their presence.  You can experience the fire of their passion, burning inside.  When you interact with them, you are on a high and become part of their energy field.  You are engulfed by the intensity of the fire of deep beliefs and conviction.  We also know instinctively when someone has no energy and when the presence is dull and void of life.  I feel it is very difficult to have an impactful presence, without that fire, without unbounded passion.

Disciplined Intentionality:  One other aspect that I have seen among inspiring leaders is their ability to be fully present and aware in every moment. They are intentional about every interaction and are thoroughly  prepared for every meeting and every conversation. When you are with them they make you feel you are the centre of their universe. This makes the other person feel respected and involved. You return with greater clarity and feel a sense affirmation. Another aspect of intentionality is caring for one’s physical appearance and well being.  To be dressed appropriately, to be intentional about how you want to present yourself for each occasion. I will never forget what one of my earlier bosses said “We pay a lot of attention to how we dress when we go to a wedding or when we go to a religious place. We know that being inappropriately dressed is an affront to the host. Similarly in our professional environment too, we need to be very purposeful about how we appear”.  Many tend to overlook this aspect. And it negatively impacts their leadership presence. Those that are aware of this, know that they are on stage all the time. They know that every action, every word, every gesture is observed, analysed and dissected. Leadership has no downtime or intermissions.

Looking at my learning about what creates powerful leadership presence, I realized that, all the above can be cultivated. We don’t have to be born with it. One can develop the essential habits and enhance their own leadership presence. Build on what one is naturally good at and cultivate disciplines that need to be fostered. All it takes is being conscious and being fully aware.

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