Leaders are expected to be influential and impressive. In today’s world, the most admired and respected leaders can achieve results by enabling others rather than controlling them. They motivate and engage through the way they communicate and the way they make people feel. They have leadership presence.

Rosemary Moore-Fiander from Cirrus shares some insights and top tips to help you develop this valuable attribute.

What is leadership presence?

Your leadership presence is aligned to your personal leadership brand. Your leadership brand conveys your identity and uniqueness as a leader, and the value you offer. Together with your character, skills and competences, this forms your leadership presence.

In their book, Own The Room, Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins describe leadership presence as ‘the ability to consistently and clearly articulate your value proposition while influencing and connecting with others’. They suggest that leaders with presence do two things well: demonstrate their distinctive, authentic value, and connect to others in a positive way. And Sylvia Ann Hewlett, CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation, says in her book, Executive Presence, that to develop this elusive attribute you should concentrate on three crucial factors: how you act (otherwise known as gravitas, the most important quality), how you communicate, and how you look.

Developing leadership presence

In my work with clients, I have found that there is a widespread desire to develop leadership presence in order to engage the hearts and minds of others, inspiring and motivating them to work towards shared objectives. This requires leaders to communicate with authenticity.

Cirrus CEO Dr Simon Hayward talks about the importance of authenticity in his 2015 book, Connected Leadership.  Authenticity is a prerequisite for the quality of trust that is required for leaders to connect to others.  Authentic leaders have high levels of self-awareness, a strong moral compass, and the ability to make sense of information in a balanced way. They can build open and transparent relationships. They have presence.

At Cirrus, we know leadership presence can be learned and developed. Coaching is a particularly effective way to do this as a good coach will challenge and support leaders to explore their current behaviour and to effect change. Based on our extensive experience, we’ve suggested a few key things you can focus on to enhance your leadership presence.

Tip tips for building your leadership presence

1. Develop your emotional intelligence. Leadership presence is dependent on your ability to understand and manage your own emotions so that you respond rather than react to situations as they arise. Being aware of the emotions of others enables you to empathise and better able to persuade or influence them to a particular point of view.

2. Build trust and learn to trust. Integrate your personal values into what you say and everything you do. You will have a greater sense of presence if you are open, honest and transparent. People will listen to you and trust you more. Having a commanding presence is also about empowering others, so demonstrating trust in those around you is crucial.

3. Build rapport to enhance collaboration. The human brain is built to connect with the thoughts, emotions and actions of others. Observe how other people act, and respond accordingly. We all know it’s important to make eye contact, but we’re not always aware of our facial expressions or how we stand and sit, or how these things are perceived by others. Ask for feedback if you’re not sure.

4. Be present. An obvious thing to say when we’re talking about leadership presence, but ensure you are ‘in the moment’ by actively focusing on others, listening to them, and seeking to understand them.

5. Communicate with impact. Be clear and concise. Don’t waffle. Think about your voice. How quickly or slowly do you speak? How do you pitch your tone? How loud are you? A measured speaking style is a valuable asset.

6. Be confident. Assert yourself. Make your point firmly while being open to the views of others. Balance self-assurance with openness and empathy. Be positive and don’t listen too much to any negative voices in your head. Check your facts so you can speak with authority and credibility, and express your views and opinions with certainty.

7. If you don’t know the answer, just say so. Don’t damage your credibility by fudging the issue, avoiding questions, or pretending you know something you don’t. These are surefire ways to destroy trust and lose respect.

8. Dress the part. The clothes you wear send out a strong signal. Whether you like it or not, there is a connection between your personal style and how you are perceived. If you’re in a tech company where jeans are the norm, wearing a smart suit may alienate you from others. If you’re in the head office of a big bank, the opposite will probably be true. There will always be exceptions to this but our advice is to aim to be yourself, feel comfortable, and dress appropriately.

Rosemary Moore-Fiander is Head Coach at Cirrus Asia-Pacific. If you’d like to know more about developing your leadership presence, we’d love to talk to you. Please get in touch any time.

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