Kevin Lawrence is MD of Odyssey management training – on a mission to eradicate mediocrity Odyssey specialises in leadership and management development, change, executive team development and organisational development strategy.
A leader who has presence commands attention. People are attracted to them and want to hear what they have to say. This is a quality that all leaders can – and should – develop. To do so, it’s important to understand the core skills and behaviours that combine to produce it. These are:
Possessing knowledge or skills that are of benefit to your people and/or organisation: We choose and want to listen to others when we feel that it will benefit us to do so. Individuals who are accomplished and competent in their roles are often more self-aware; confident about their strengths and open about their weaknesses. This confidence and openness contributes to them knowing they have ‘something to offer’ and being trusted by those around them – helping to build presence.
The ability to (humbly) communicate the worth of your skills and knowledge: Being aware of our own strengths builds inner confidence. When other people are aware of our strengths it heightens their confidence in us. Communicating ‘worth’ is a three-dimensional process. It should be communicated in ‘what we do’, ‘how we do it’, and; it should be communicated physically: with body language that conveys self-respect.
A professional appearance: Presence can be underlined, or undermined, by appearance. A mismatch between an individual’s appearance and their role attracts attention. This is distracting for two reasons. The first is that the discrepancy creates discomfort. If someone looks ‘wrong’ in their role, it’s harder to trust what they say – this undermines their presence. The second problem caused by a mismatch between appearance and role is that people start focusing on appearance. Anomalies attract attention. If people are focusing on how someone looks, they’re not focusing on what they’re saying. Again, this diminishes presence. ‘Looking the part’ is not a replacement for ‘being the part’. But unless someone ‘looks the part’, they will struggle to be accepted ‘as the part’
A sense of ease: both in yourself and in your surroundings: ‘Ease’ grows from self-esteem. When someone is comfortable with themselves and comfortable in the environment in which they operate, it conveys strength and confidence. This inspires trust in other people.
The ability to be fully present in the moment: The word presence means ‘being present’. Being fully present in the moment is a simple – and vital – way of achieving presence. When someone is fully present (focused; attentive; responsive) they are communicating a number of things. It communicates that they value the people around them: because they are giving them their time and their full attention. This positive message of value is one that is likely to be reciprocated. It also demonstrates control. A leader is able to be fully present when they can manage their time effectively and avoid distractions.
A clear sense of purpose: When we are clear about what we want to achieve and commit our physical, emotional and mental energy to achieving those goals, our actions are purposeful. Acting with purpose shows that we have direction. It shows that we have the capacity to think and plan for the future. It also allows us to use our time and our resources effectively. Purpose feeds our ability to be fully present on a minute by minute basis in the workplace.
It can help to think of presence in terms of an actor entering the stage. What makes the audience focus on them? What allows the audience to suspend their awareness of the ‘real world’ and get caught up in the world that’s being brought to life? The answers are simple: The actor demonstrates confidence in their role and has a purpose for being there that puts them at ease on the stage. This ease allows the audience to relax. Their costume fits the role they are playing and helps to build authenticity for the part they play. Once the audience has identified who they character is, they’re ‘freed up’ to listen to what the actor has to say; and the actor knows what they want to say, believes it is worth saying, and is fully focused ‘in the moment’. They are confident in their part and have presence.
In the same way, leaders can develop a presence that leads others to want to listen to them; not because it is their job to listen, but because they are genuinely interested and want to know what the leader has to say.