leadership presence

You walk into a room and people gravitate toward you, look to you for clarity and direction, as you swing, with ease, from one promotion to the next. Considering the level of dedication you inspire, progress mounts and so does your reputation.

What company doesn’t want that type of leader?

Who doesn’t want that type of reputation?

Most rising leaders crave such a reputation, yet few reach it. Why is that?

Their motivations are out of alignment with the natural cause of leadership presence. Caught up in clothing, tone of voice, titles, and a whole variety of external factors, they miss the “presence” piece of leadership presence.

This is not to say the external factors are unimportant. Your clothes, nails, and shoes can have a rather large impact on your confidence. And, if you’re not confident, how are you supposed to be present?

Which comes first—your confidence or your presence?

Confidence leads to presence, and validation (description in the opening paragraph) of your presence further strengthens your confidence. The two feed on each other, as you progress toward the level of influence you crave in your career.

Uncovering Your Authentic Motivation

While there are many motivators for increasing leadership presence, the one that leads to the greatest results is a commitment to being present in your interactions—which means being able to truly be with people and hear what they’re saying.

When you add, “…so I can…” to the previous statement, your real motive comes to the surface. For example: “I want to be more present in my interactions so others will see me as important and I get the promotion.” In this case, your real motive is to get a promotion, not to be present.

Authenticity is the key to achieving leadership presence, which requires an honest look at what’s motivating you. Being present with others, listening intently to what they’re saying and giving them your full attention, is actually more about them than you. In other words, presence comes as a result of switching the focus from receiving to giving.

When you’re in the moment with others, here’s what you often say—without actually saying anything:

“You matter to me.”

“I care about what you have to say.”

“I care about you.”

“You’re important.”

“This moment matters.”

“I trust I’m where I’m meant to be, doing what I’m meant to be doing.”

“I’m secure enough in myself to know that the right opportunities come my way.”

“You can trust me.”“We’re in this together.”

It’s through being present with whoever happens to be in your presence that you achieve mastery in leadership presence. From this perspective, leadership presence isn’t about what you wear, how you speak, or the accolades you’ve achieved. It’s less about other people’s perception of you and more about your perception of yourself.

When you see yourself as someone who’s inherently valuable, capable, committed, and trustworthy, your ability to show up fully is greatly increased.

Moving from Trying to Trusting

By doing the inner work of finding your inherent self-worth in all areas of your life, your focus naturally shifts from trying to trusting. That is, from trying to be seen as someone of value (a leader with presence, for example) to trusting in yourself and the value you bring to the situation. When you’re not caught up in trying to be seen in a certain way by others, you free yourself to be with them.

However, often unknowingly, your focus is on proving yourself. Such a focus sends a signal that you don’t trust yourself, at least not in certain areas of your life. For example, you might find it rather easy to be present while mentoring young people, participating in sports, or even parenting. But the moment you walk into a board meeting, your blood pressure increases and you lose the ability to be with the people in front of you.

The reason is simple—you think you should know something you don’t or be some way you’re not. The moment “should” or “supposed to” takes over your mind, you unconsciously start looking for ways to prove yourself, and this takes you out of the moment. It seems easier to focus on proving yourself through posturing, talking about what you know, or even making demands of others.

The discomfort of not knowing in those moments can make you feel remarkably vulnerable. When the shame of “should” hits, being still and trusting is nearly impossible. And yet, it’s through facing your fears (sometimes of inadequacy) and questioning each one that they lose their power to take you out of the present moment.

It’s by acknowledging (to yourself and maybe a trusted confidant) the situations that cause you discomfort that you gain the ability to look beneath the surface and question the fear. The more you recognize your triggers, accept them for what they are (an opportunity to see where fear pulls you out of the moment), and question their validity, the greater your leadership presence will be.

Reframing Your Goal Leads To Better Results  

By focusing on increasing self-awareness and acceptance you wind up with greater leadership presence. Those who are at peace with themselves, as they are, have a palpable trust in each experience of life. This doesn’t mean they don’t feel discomfort or disappointment. The difference is in the way they respond to those moments of discomfort.

Those with presence often quiet themselves in moments of disappointment and ask good questions. Rather than assume they should know the answers or be the person to “fix” the situation, they trust the answers will surface if they ask the right questions. Often, they look to others for their expertise as they humbly admit their limitations.

Now, the interesting part is that people with presence are highly unlikely to even think they’re being humble. To them, it’s impractical to think they should know everything or be the one with the answers. The path each person takes to know and accept themselves as they are (and life as it is) is as varied as the individual. The key, though, is to continually move in the direction of acceptance.

Accept yourself, as you are.

Accept life as it is.

Accept others as they are.

Accept your current place in life—and in business—and come to a place of appreciation for all you are and all you are not. As you move closer to accepting who you are, as you are, your ability to accept and even appreciate other people and situations as they are leads to the peacefulness of presence.

Three Easy Exercises to Enhance Leadership Presence

To move closer to acceptance—and therefore presence—consider implementing the following three exercises every day:

  1. Read the book of your life. Take fifteen minutes at the end of every day to go over your day in a journal. What worked well? What didn’t work so well? What brought you joy? What irritated you, and what part did you play in that irritation—and in the joy? Then, after you have a few days under your belt, go back and read one of your previous entries every day. Through this process, you’ll begin to see patterns. Becoming aware of your patterns gives you the ability to change them and get better results.
  2. Learn from people whose efforts inspire you. You can do this through watching YouTube videos, listening to or reading books, going to conferences, or simply observing the people around you. What are people doing and saying that inspires you?
  3. Test out new behaviors. If you pick up an idea from a video, try it. If three different people suggest you try yoga in the same day, do it. By testing out new ideas and behaviors on a regular basis, you’ll begin to see new results.

Regardless of your reason(s) for wanting to strengthen your leadership presence, going through the process of what leads to presence is a gift worth giving yourself.

So, rather than concerning yourself with titles, suits, hair styles, etc. as a way to create the image of leadership presence, give yourself the gift of a lifetime by coming to know, accept, and appreciate yourself and situations as they are.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister