Leadership and Presence

Presence is an important aspect of a highly successful leader in the workplace. Leadership presence is made up of several facets. Presence is the ability to take command of a room or space. It is the ability to assume a leadership role amongst various audiences, share your thinking and opinion with confidence, and strike a balance between talking and listening so that your communication style is both persuasive and impactful. There’s an emphasis of professionalism and carrying yourself with poise and grace – not being the loudest in the room – that also contributes to leadership presence.

When asked about presence in leaders, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what we mean by it. We’re aware of when someone has presence, and also able to recognize when that presence is missing. There are four questions I ask leaders to reflect upon at the start of our leadership trainings.

  • How do people feel in your presence?

  • How do you want people to feel in your presence?

  • How do you feel in your own presence?

  • How do you want to feel in your own presence?

The first two (2) questions go hand-in-hand and are often the ones we don’t think about much. When reflecting on how people feel in your presence as a leader, do they feel excited, calm, toxic, scared, nervous, empowered, shut down, happy, stressed, cared for, dismissed, etc.? We often think about how we feel in other people’s presence but we don’t often take the time to reflect upon what we are doing to create an atmosphere around us. I often share with the class that if I were to spend time in each of their presence I would feel something different. Through our facial expressions, body language, verbal messages, and so on, we create an atmosphere or our own presence.

The last two (2) questions are just as important, as there is a direct correlation between how I am feeling and how others feel in my presence. If I am feeling stressed, irritable, or easily angered, it is likely others will feel and sense those in my presence as well. Sometimes we can hide this from others but many times these feelings and emotions still find a way to leak out.

Why is presence important to leadership?

So why is this so important to leadership? How people feel in our presence as a leader directly impacts productivity and the bottom line. Think about the best boss and the worst boss you have ever had.  How did you feel in each of their presence? What was the impact of that?

Most individuals share that in their best bosses’ presence they felt seen, heard, trusted, validated, respected, etc. They also report going the extra mile, doing their best work, and challenging themselves to do better because of this boss.

In the presence of our worst boss, we often feel degraded, negative, ignored, or micromanaged. The impact of this is that the boss often gets compliance but not commitment. We do what we have to do and spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid this boss. The ripple effect is poor deliverables, reduced morale, and decreased trust.

Developing an “aware self” as a leader

The first person we have to lead is ourselves. As a leader is it critical that we develop an “aware self”. This is the part of us that can observe our thoughts, feelings, choices, actions, and impacts at the moment. It is the place within us that can discern our own emotions and then make conscious choices as to what will be the best course of action. Without this “aware self” or “editor”, we lead and live from a reactive place.

In an effort to enhance my own “aware self” I began playing with these questions many years ago as I was heading home from work for the day. I would think to myself “how do I want my family to feel in my presence?” I would often answer with things like loved, heard, joyful and connected. Then the next question would be “do I feel any of that in my own presence right now?” Most often there would be a resounding “no”. Was I expecting my family to create these experiences for me? What was my role in it?

I began to visualize all the behaviors that I might be able to do to help create the atmosphere I wanted. I visualized how I would greet them, what kinds of questions I would ask them, how I would connect with each one, etc. I didn’t always do each of those actions and I did notice that when I at least thought about it, the nighttime routine went much smoother.

I have now made this a part of my everyday practice both at work and at home. I spend time thinking about how I want the participants in my classes, my coaching clients, coworkers, etc. to feel in my presence. I picture how I will enter the room, how I will connect, how I will ground myself, etc. I notice a dramatic difference in my own ability to focus, connect, and influence when I choose to be intentional about my presence.

Leadership and presence are inextricably connected and the first step to becoming an intentional leader is focusing on presence.

Thank you to Thriving Workplaces instructor, Kelly Coyle Wyngarden, for writing this article. Kelly is the founder of Indigold Consulting. She is a highly skilled organizational development consultant, trainer, facilitator, and coach working closely with leaders and organizations to strengthen their internal capacity, navigate complex relationships, and managing change. She uses a collaborative approach and facilitation style building strong relationships while maintaining a focus on results and impact. She has worked with front-line employees to executives in small non-profits to large corporations for the past 24 years. Connect with Kelly.