Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose...."
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., "Where Do We Go From Here"
"Presence" can be tricky to define, and "leadership presence" trickier. Google searches produce thousands of pages and hundreds of thousands of hits. We're interested, it seems, in knowing what they mean, whether we have them, and how to acquire them.
Fact is, we all have presence--a quality of mind, body and spirit that is us. Sometimes our presence is more evident to others, sometimes less. Sometimes we feel big, sometimes small and contracted.
When we walk into a room, we influence the people and the environment in that room by our presence in it. It has changed because of us. And we are changed by our experience of what is already there.
If you're aware of energy flow, you'll observe these changes when people enter and leave, and you'll gain awareness of how you can be more intentional about the influence you have.
Your Unique Presence
How would you describe your unique presence?
How would others describe your presence, do you think? Take a moment and write down a few adjectives.
Centered presence is how I hope others might describe mine, and you never know (unless you ask, of course, which is not a bad idea. This kind of feedback from a trusted source is a gift).
Leadership presence adds a dimension, doesn't it? Leadership presence is connected to a higher purpose or vision--we shift from "this is about me" to "this is about something bigger." Leaders accomplish purpose by concentrating and directing the energy of others toward a common vision. And we begin by connecting to center, the quiet source of being within each of us.
The more we practice that connection--that ability to return to center--the more intentional we can be in developing awareness of our presence and our ability to lead others.
Finding Center, Accomplishing Purpose
Some commit to a daily centering practice like meditation, prayer, or other form of quiet sitting that creates mindfulness and expands our ability to observe and make conscious choices under pressure. I become more attuned to what's going on, physically and emotionally, so that I can notice and manage my emotional energy. Leaders get angry like everyone else, but the awareness they've developed allows them to re-direct that anger energy toward problem-solving.
Leaders also get nervous before a presentation or important meeting. And they've learned through experience to take a deep breath, center, and re-focus on purpose. They connect with the people in the room, look them in the eye, and use their energy to become present. They know the presentation is not "about them", it's about "something bigger"-- like serving others and accomplishing purpose.
Some say leadership presence is about commanding attention, having confidence, composure, and charisma--characteristics of many leaders to be sure. Yet these noble qualities may more accurately be seen as the outward manifestations of someone who has taken the time to get to know themselves and what drives them, their work, and their life purpose.
The skills a martial arts master and a transformational leader must learn are, in essence, the same: to be calm under pressure; to maintain balanced power; to perceive the whole; to concentrate; to concentrate the energy of others; and to direct the forces around them to positive ends.
Whether you are a leader in the "official" sense of having a title and managing people, or you lead by example by concentrating the energy of others and directing it toward positive ends in your workplace, your family, or your sphere of influence, I hope you'll let me know what has worked in your leadership journey. Please send me a note or comment below, and let each opportunity to lead bring you closer to understanding your presence, your power, and reason for being.
If you're looking for more on this topic, I also found wisdom in the following articles:
- Leadership Presence: Define it, Develop it, and Use it
- Demystifying “leadership presence”
- The 5 Cs of Leadership Presence
PS -- Leaders around the globe have found the skills of applied improvisation to be useful in developing leadership presence. Colleague and friend, Beth Boynton, RN, MS, CP, leads Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab (PILL), and is offering a series of virtual classes for anyone thinking about trying improv. She's done a great job of bringing in-person training to the Zoom screen. Her classes are about having fun, meeting people, and developing 'soft' skills like confidence, trust, creativity, assertiveness, and listening. Learn more here.
PPS -- I'm offering a scholarship for one person. Please mention this to Beth, if you decide to sign up (and you're first in line)!