One of the most important, yet often overlooked leadership competencies is one that many call leadership presence.
This looks different from leader to leader because everyone brings unique experiences and sense of self to the role.
Regardless of individual influences, I find that extraordinary leaders share four common practices that add up to an effective and commanding presence. They are clear on their purpose, they act authentically, they elicit respect and they act with confidence.
Effective leaders have a clear sense of purpose that also aligns with the organizational mission. This serves as their compass when tempted to deviate from the mission and purpose in order to please others. They also accept that in the process of holding to their purpose, they will have to make tough choices that can result in losses and casualties.
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Authenticity has two parts: staying true to who you are as you lead others, and bringing forth those parts of yourself that influence others to follow you. Environmental forces will test your ability to stay true to who you are. An executive I once coached felt pressured to change his reflective and quiet style to match his company's fast-paced and competitive culture. Yet when he relaxed into his own natural style of leadership, others began to rely on him for his unique approach and often referred to him as "the voice of reason."
Authenticity also involves encouraging others to follow you by playing up the parts of yourself they can most relate to and that meet the needs of a situation. In other words, you want to manage which face you put forward in a given group of people. This is not about acting in a fake way, but instead knowing about which parts of yourself serve you best and which to play down at any given time.
Leadership presence is magnified when respect is earned from colleagues at every level. When people don't take you seriously, they are not likely to follow your lead. Another client, a director of operations, heard from his colleagues that the passion he expressed regarding the goals he was promoting led him to lose his objectivity in team discussions. As a result, his colleagues reported having lost some respect for him and even tuning him out when he tried to enlist them in supporting his goals. Those with leadership presence have mastered the ability to deliver their message in a way that is in sync with their intentions and that ultimately elicits respect.
Gathering feedback from those around you can be a great way to identify how you are perceived and help you determine how to best adjust your style so that you generate the respect and buy-in that great leaders are able to inspire.
Finally, individuals who possess real leadership presence portray an air of confidence. They manage any self-doubt behind the scenes so they can promote a face of certainty to others. If your confidence is lagging, consider how this ambiguity might affect people's comfort in following you. Finding a trusted confidant can provide you with an opportunity to sort through your concerns and avoid de-motivating the people you hope to lead.
By managing your leadership presence and making and implementing intentional choices about your style, you can keep others invested in your mission and inspire them to be engaged and productive contributors.