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When you think of Leadership, what comes to mind?
Confidence? Power? Force? Intelligence? What about Empathy? Compassion? or Service?
Executive Leadership presence can mean many things to each of us. In this article, we will dive into what makes for a phenomenal leadership presence and how the tides of leadership are shifting to reflect a new rise in leaders. Strong Leadership presence is a blend of confidence, authenticity, audacity, and empathy. Great leaders are needed at all levels of organizations.
Senior Executives set the tone for the entire organization, but middle managers and individual contributors extend that leadership throughout everything they do. This is why leading by example is so crucial. People respond to authenticity, enabling an influential leader to impact organizations and communities positively.
We need more than ever to infuse empathy and compassion into the work of leaders to balance the often heady and intellectual nature of leadership. Leadership skills are crucial to understanding if we are to shape the world toward a more balanced and harmonious way of life. The future of leadership starts now!
Let’s dig in.
7 Key Components of Leadership Presence
Strong leadership presence starts within us first. Confidence is our belief in ourselves and the abilities we carry. It’s not fake. It’s not boastful. It’s not arrogant. It’s a deep-seated belief in our abilities as leaders and individuals to impact the world around us. Leadership presence starts with belief. We must believe in ourselves to carry confidence in all that we do.
Confidence creates strong body language. Body language signals to those around us that we believe in what we say and do what we say. Body language is the reflection of the inner world of the leader.
Confidence breeds and creates a natural air of authority around leaders who believe in themselves. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Too many people try to project the image of confidence, but this will fall in time. You can’t fake confidence for long periods. We must be authentic to who we are and our capabilities. Fake confidence is exposed in time. It requires us to lean into projection and control. Fake confidence is the breeding ground for narcissism.
If we feel a lack within ourselves, we must work to overcome these limits by learning to embrace and accept all we are: the good and the bad. Confidence comes from facing adversity and overcoming challenges. The hard path creates confidence because applying our abilities over time builds confidence.
Action is where confidence is born. But action must come from the authentic expression of who we are. We must honor ourselves and our worth. This comes from establishing respect and compassion for who we are to the core.
This work is almost all internal. This is why emotional intelligence is so crucial for leaders to learn. If we do not learn emotional intelligence, we become slaves to our reactions instead of mastering the depth of our feeling. Emotional intelligence and confidence often go hand in hand.
Confidence is the foundation.
2) Communication Skills
Each of these components builds on one another. From confidence comes communication skills. We need to have the courage to speak clearly and freely with our teams to reach higher levels of success and achievement. Growth and excellence don’t happen in comfortable states. They happen by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and going outside our comfort zones. Communication is the means to stretch ourselves beyond what’s possible.
Clarity in communication is crucial. If we are vague, passive, or indirect with our communication, we risk our team members interpreting our words instead of understanding them clearly. This is where confusion and frustration happen. Concise communication is key as well.
Clarity and conciseness go hand in hand. We don’t want to be callous but must be clear and direct. Sugarcoating things leaves room for interpretation which runs the risk of teams falling out of alignment. Create a space of respectful discussion and openness. So when there is confusion or lack of clarity, you can work through the haze to find a clear path forward.
Respect is what allows your team to lean in and open up. Treating others with respect and care goes a long way in leadership roles. Show people you value their perspective by listening with intent and care. We get the most out of our team when we activate their creative and problem-solving skills by empowering them to speak up.
Combining body language and emotional intelligence with communication skills shows your team you can handle whatever they throw at you. It doesn’t matter how tough things may be. In a leadership role, it’s our duty to carry heavy burdens and deal with tough challenges; by allowing our team to be open and honest, we can overcome anything that comes our way.
Last, storytelling is a powerful way to engage our team and audience. It’s a great way to teach and share examples of exactly what we desire from our team and to help them see what’s possible. Our leadership style may vary, but we can leverage stories to inspire and educate our team on what we need from them.
Stories illustrate the principles and expectations we hold for our teams. They are a great way to present values and ideals in ways that resonate with people at an emotional level. Storytelling is the oldest form of leadership.
Powerful communications skills and a strong presence enable leaders to inspire action and drive change wherever they find themselves.
Effective communication builds from a high level of emotional intelligence. Without emotional intelligence, there is no empathy. And without empathy, we can’t connect to our team, which shows them we understand their needs and perspective. Empathy is a superpower for leaders. When applied by senior leaders, the higher up the chain you go, the more impact empathy will have on the organization.
If you’re in a leadership position, you owe it to your team to develop empathy. It’s a hard skill to learn because we must learn to manage our feelings. All feelings, both good and bad. This is hard for many of us. Without an understanding of our feelings, it’s going to be very difficult to understand the feelings of others.
If we want to earn the respect of our teams, we must lead with empathy. True leadership will always consider the impact requests and goals will have on their team at a human level. And human level means addressing the emotional component of being human.
The best leaders are the ones who deeply care for their teams and understand their perspectives. Empathy builds bridges with our team members and creates strong relationships that can last decades. Leadership presence increases when we become good listeners and help our team reach their full potential. All of this is possible by developing empathy.
A successful leader in the 21st century understands the value of empathy and moves away from the “do as I say, not as I do” leadership style. Empathy takes us to deeper levels with our team and builds positive energy to overcome the inevitable challenges that arise in striving to do great things.
Moving away from the “Command and Control” style and becoming the authentic leader our teams need us to be. It may be counterintuitive, but empathy is the pathway to a strong executive presence. Don’t underestimate the power of empathy and the energy levels it can bring you and your team.
4) Flexibility and Decisiveness
Being flexible and decisive are crucial as we go to a deeper level of the power of leadership presence and the leadership qualities needed to excel in organizations. Creating the space for our teams to be open and honest is supported by our ability to be flexible.
We get things wrong.
We learn and pivot.
This is why decisiveness falls in line with flexibility.
Mistakes and learning are inevitable. But how we respond to them determines the probability of hitting the desired outcomes. New leaders struggle with flexibility because they’re caught in the old trap of what business leaders did in the past—ruling with force and fear.
Effective leadership is built around the Growth Mindset. And growth requires flexibility in how we operate. When we become rigid and inflexible, the business world passes us by. This can happen to a new and seasoned executive. The good news is the growth mindset and learning to be flexible are skills to acquire.
One way to do this is to find 10% of any idea shared by your team members you like. By doing this, you show your team you care about their hard work and the ideas they bring to the table. We can always find at least 10% of an idea we like and can build upon.
This also helps silence the inner critic many of us carry because our ideas are honored.
Decisiveness is best when we hold a clear vision of the future. Without the vision, we will struggle to make quick decisions to progress. This becomes a bottleneck for organizations. This is why confidence is the first key component of leadership presence and great leaders.
Confidence allows us to act quickly because we believe in our abilities and team members to create desired outcomes. Adapting to changes as our businesses evolve are signals of good leadership. Fixed mindsets can destroy our ability to change as the market requires us to.
There are countless examples of businesses that failed to adapt to the market – Blockbuster, Kodak, Sears, Yahoo, Toys “R” Us, and Blackberry- just a few that come to mind.
Good times for companies are created by leaders who are flexible and decisive.
5) Charisma and Presence
These two are usually what people think of when they think of leadership presence. But it’s important to note there are scales of charisma and presence that appeal to all types of people, so you don’t have to be the outspoken and charismatic leader you may imagine. Charisma can be quiet and reserved but still bring an energy of authenticity.
Charisma is being 100% authentic to the person, not faking it. Charisma and presence show up in the ways we engage and inspire others. Our communication style, body language, and active listening skills will reflect this.
Charisma is an inner power that comes from loving who we are fully. It’s magnetic to people around us. That means keeping great eye contact, good posture, and a positive emotional tone that reflects our optimistic view of the future. That doesn’t mean we’re blind to challenges or limits. It means we’re fully engaged to take them head-on.
Great leaders never avoid the harsh reality we face. Staring into the abyss…
Don’t overthink this one. It’s easy to compare yourself to others and degrade your power. Leadership presence comes from the authentic expression of all that we are. This creates a magnetic presence people can’t deny.
6) Purpose-Driven Leadership
Purpose can sometimes feel like a four-letter word. But as leaders, it is crucial to drive success in our organizations, especially when change is required. Purpose ties our work to meaning and impact on the world around us. Life can easily become a mundane routine we struggle to complete without purpose.
Purpose is one of the best ways to create a stronger leadership presence in our organizations. You will see over and over the power purpose has on organizations that rise above their business acumen. Emotional intelligence is the foundation of connecting work to purpose because we understand the needs of our team at a deeper level.
When senior leaders connect purpose to goals and strategies, organizations have the potential to be unstoppable in the market. Humans are meaning-making machines, so connecting purpose to work rises beyond a paycheck. It allows us to be a role model for our team and the market we serve. It’s a key principle to becoming truly great organizations.
Self-awareness can increase our purpose-driven leadership as we deepen our understanding of what drives us as individuals. All of this comes down to living authentically to who we are and sharing the key principles the organization expresses with our work as a company.
Purpose doesn’t have to be some grandiose mission. It’s best when it ties into the work being done and focuses on how it serves the community meaningfully. All businesses, when run with honor, serve communities positively.
Uncover that meaning and share it with your team to help them find the connection to their day-to-day work and its impact on the world around them. Do your best not to overthink this one and reflect on how your company impacts the communities around you.
7) Self-Care and Composure
This is my favorite of the key elements of leadership presence: self-care and composure. Self-care makes everything else in life possible. When we nurture ourselves as leaders, we become unstoppable forces of nature. I would argue this is the greatest leadership presence training. Why does it matter that much? Because without self-care and genuine connection to self, we live a life misaligned with who we are from within, and misalignment always weakens our presence as leaders.
This means nurturing both our physical and mental/emotional health. Many of us struggle with nurturing our emotional worlds because we all carry pain we seek to avoid. Doing this is disastrous for leaders.
It effectively guarantees those emotions will overrule our leadership if we don’t manage them. When we nurture our being from within, we create a force that is unshakeable by outside circumstances. This is why it ties into composure.
When we are strong within, the chaos outside doesn’t impact us the same. We are steady and sure from within. This inner compass becomes our guidance in chaos. Thus making us unshakable in turbulent times.
Why does this work? We have taken the time to understand our values and what’s important to us. We anchor to who we are from within ourselves. The values aren’t dependent on others or their definitions but on our own. This gives us the ultimate power over how we view the world and respond to circumstances.
Caring for ourselves in this way also ensures we remain full and abundant with energy. We’re more easily frustrated, flustered, and burned out when we run ragged. These all lead to problems as leaders. When we care for ourselves, we minimize the risks of being overtaken by our unmet needs. Great leadership presence comes down to self-awareness and self-care.
They go hand in hand. Don’t underestimate the power of a great self-care routine.
Developing Leadership Presence
Now that we’ve discussed the seven key components of Executive Leadership Presence, how do we actually develop these qualities? Well, much of this comes from within us and the relationship we have with ourselves. These are not innate qualities either. All of these pieces can be grown and developed, but they are qualities that we develop from within.
So they are inside of us, but not necessarily innate qualities. Connection to our Authentic Self is the ultimate means to leadership presence.
If you find yourself undermining or comparing, stop it right now. Make the decision to believe this is possible, and it will be. From there, we build action around the qualities we desire to develop. The beauty of this work is the elements of leadership become natural as we strengthen our relationship to who we are and what we value.
These are not exclusive qualities or special qualities. They are available to each of us. But the continuous development of these traits is where things differ.
Over time, we must continue to build emotional intelligence, social skills, communication skills, body language, empathy, confidence, purpose, etc. These are not one-and-done types of things.
We must work to make them part of our DNA. If you notice some areas are weaker than others, reflect on why that may be. Where are you denying your needs? What areas are you overlooking your strengths? What areas are you comparing yourself to others? There is no one-size-fits-all model for leadership. This is the beauty of it!
Take time to be with yourself and explore your perspective.
Are you critical of yourself?
Do you feel imposter syndrome?
Do you struggle to be confident?
All of these things can be addressed within us. They take time to explore and empathize within. Compassion is the root of great leaders. Inconsistent leaders struggle because they are inconsistent within themselves.
You are the answer you seek, but it begins by allowing the wisdom from within you to lead you forward. This process will work to shape you as you grow and become aware of what holds you back.
The Benefits of Leadership Presence
Hitting goals and achieving the desired outcomes are obvious aspects of leadership presence that come to those working on it, which leads to greater career and professional success in your chosen field. Those are great things, but more than anything, you will find the ability to connect with your team, customers, and vendors in previously impossible ways. This work can deepen your humanity and bring a sense of satisfaction never felt before. It also creates leaders our world desperately needs… Those driven by values and purpose more than material gains at the expense of everything.
When we lead by example and live as role models, we do well at work and inspire and motivate our teams to be great humans, not just good at their jobs.
Leadership presence extends beyond purely professional objectives. It touches and impacts our communities in loving and powerful ways. Work becomes a means to do good in the world—a vehicle for service. Presence is driven by internal factors that communicate outwardly the seven elements we discuss.
It’s counterintuitive, but we shape the world around us by shaping the world within us. Doing the inner work to become a powerful leadership presence in your organization will ripple into every element of your life. It empowers us to become noble men and women living deeply in the world.
We hold the keys to creating a world never seen in human history.
It all starts within each of us.
Leadership presence is about much more than projecting an image of confidence and charisma. I hope you’ve learned there are many ways to express powerful leadership presence that reflect who we are on the inside. Leadership isn’t just about those in actual “leadership” roles either. A strong leadership presence can apply to any position or rank within companies. Ideally, the more, the better!
We need our current leaders to embody these principles to help us progress as a species, so that means ALL roles!
Balancing our spiritual or meaningful principles with pragmatic approaches at work will go a long way in making progress as an organization and impacting the people we lead at a human level. The greatest changes come from within us at a deep human level and ripple outward.
We are the creators of our world, and this is doubly true as leaders. This leadership style becomes more relevant as the rise of remote work and corporate culture shifts to reflect the needs of humanity, not purely our economic outputs. We are not robots!
I encourage you to develop your own leadership presence and define what it means for you. Even if you’re not in a leadership role, learning to lead your life with intention and meaning will help make life better for everyone, including ourselves!
Never forget the greatness you hold is already waiting within you to be discovered. It simply needs to be nurtured and cultivated.
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