January 8th, 2014 | 6:00 am

14 Tips For Developing “Leadership Presence”

filed under Expert Answers

John Keyser (1)By John Keyser

Quite frequently in my leadership consulting and coaching practice, I am asked about “leadership presence”, specifically how to increase our “executive presence” or “board room presence”. Coincidently, many of the men and women who bring this up are people whom I believe already do, in fact, have significant leadership presence.

This may not be surprising as we all have some degree of insecurity, that inner voice in our mind that often whispers negative thoughts to us. The key question is how much insecurity do we have and how do we manage it? While there is a wealth of good information about this subject on the Internet and in books, articles, and videos, let me offer my ideas gained from my experience.

Our leadership presence stands on the shoulders of our character – our values, how we carry ourselves, how we think, what we say, and what we do.

Here are basic principles that will help us a great deal:

1. Have a positive attitude, be encouraging and helpful to others, and never – I repeat, never – speak critically about someone behind their back. (Doing so reflects poorly on you.)

2. Be an attentive listener. Listen to understand and learn. Lean forward. Let people sense your interest and that you care. If appropriate, take notes. It is a sign of respect.

3. Use your soft skills, being friendly, warm, and welcoming.

4. Don’t talk about yourself. Realize that your listening is your gift to others. Be curious. Try to listen 80 percent and speak 20 percent of the time.

5. Want to impress someone? Ask helpful questions that show your leadership presence. For example, “What first step could you take to help you achieve that goal?” or “What is holding you back?”

6. Appearance is important, dress neatly and for the occasion. Being well groomed and smiling helps, as do comfortable eye contact, a firm handshake, standing tall, shoulders back, and walking purposefully like an athlete. We can all do that.

7. Try to always be early and remember names, which is very important and a simple way to impress people.

8. Speak with clarity. Clarity is a sign of your strength.

9. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, which is attractive to others and a sign of strength, as well as a pathway to trust. Remember: it’s not about you; it’s about others. True leaders genuinely care about others and their success. Show that you are comfortable with yourself by asking for feedback and advice, accepting that you have areas for personal development, as we all do, and that you want to help others learn, grow, and succeed. This shows how we all should strive for continuous improvement.

10. Don’t seek personal credit or the spotlight. Share credit with others and celebrate their success, even small successes.

11. Give helpful and timely feedback, even critical feedback in an encouraging manner. True leaders genuinely care about others and their success.

12. Try to maintain your composure, even under stress. Recognize that as a leader, you are a signal sender. What signal do you want to send? How about, “We can do this”?

13. Take the time to have conversations. I know you’re busy, as we all are. Way too busy. Figure out how you can “unplug” so you can have conversations, even short conversations, and develop and maintain relationships. Business is about relationships, the quality of our relationships and trust. This means less time in front of your computer and in meetings. Develop your strategy, do what works for you.

14. Handle problems gracefully and promptly. You’ll be respected.

Our leadership presence, how we are perceived and accepted by others, is founded on our attitude, our character, and how we act when no one is watching. It’s about our positive energy, being there for others and helping them, being a giver. It’s about our being genuine and comfortable in our own skin.

Earlier I mentioned that a leader is a signal sender and that we must think about the signals we want to send. It’s about keeping our composure, remaining calm, letting our team members, all of them, sense that we have confidence in them as well as ourselves, and sending the signal: “Let’s do our best and we can succeed.” That’s leadership presence.

Remember, we are all leaders. It’s how we carry ourselves and what we say and do to help others.

Leadership presence is what you bring to others!

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About The Author
John Keyser is the founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership, www.commonsenseleadership.com. He works with executives helping them develop organizational cultures that will produce outstanding financial results.

12 comments

  1. Tom Wachowski

    Excellent (and accurate) action list for leaders to use in self-auditing their own leadership presence in their efforts to serve. It should go in every leader’s inbox today as a must-read, must-execute action item!

    Tom Wachowski

  2. Kal

    Very good article- love a the points you made

  3. Pancho Pantera

    I would like to maintain composture under stress and handle problems promptly and gracefully, but how can I do this if I am in a pickle trying to figure out what is best for the business when my superior is on a trip, unreachable by any means, and giving signals of possibly changing his mind and not wanting me to take the actions that I should be taking if I proceed with his original request?

    I have to figure out what is best for me and for the business, which may not be the same, and what will be better to do. It feels like walking on a minefield, or even worse, like trying to disconnect a bomb when you have two cables and if you cut the wrong cable, the whole thing explodes.

    The way my mind works, I need to spell it out and that means probably talking to someone I trust, but sometimes if I am too desperate, I just talk to the first person that comes across and that may be a member if the team. Is that a sign of weakness or is it going to be seen as a sign of being honest and allowing myself to be human?

    I feel fatigue, mental exhaustion, headache, hyper focus on thinking possible solutions, and when I look back to reality, there is my team still waiting to be told what to do. Fortunately, I have reliable team members to which I instructed to keep going with the regular work while I sort this out.

  4. Deborah

    Leadership presence like this is a rare gift. I think these comments are invaluable. I think of the people who these comments describe and they are the true leaders of our society. When I have talked behind people’s backs I always regret it. A positive spirit and a positive outlook always describe a true leader.

    I also think that a true leader speaks less and listens more. Makes decisions with the majority in agreement before the actual meeting begins.

  5. Timo Marquez

    Excellent points! I am aware of some and need to work on others. Completly agree on the last sentence “Leadership presence is what you bring to others!”

  6. Kelly

    Great topic, John! Your actions as a leader speak louder than words. How you carry yourself sets the tone for your team.

  7. Venkataraman

    Good tips which are very essential for all aspiring leaders.

  8. Sami BENDHIAF

    Indeed a very good advices by having experienced some along the road. The difficulty is that managers nowadays don’t find – take enough time to manage and behave as leaders. It needs a strong focus and some daily dscipline. I like much a learned lesson when I was young : “a good word is like a good tree, it stands strongly by developping deep roots and its branches shows pridly in the sky. A bad word is like weed…”

  9. Nancy

    This is an excellent reminder of the way leaders approach and act in their day to day interactions with people. I aspire to embody these qualities.

  10. Melody

    Great article. Leadership presence is how we interact in society. It is our character (morals and values) and our attitude. I see many of these traits in our leaders and many traits that I need to work on. I specifically liked tip #4 Don’t talk about yourself. Listening is a gift to others. I also liked tip #7 to remember names. Thanks for the great tips. I will work on these. Melody

  11. Ron Radetich

    Outstanding learning and refresher points that reverberates through all age groups and career fields: Corporate, Military, Sports, Education, Trades, Business, Governments, Politic’s to name a few. They are great to keep close by as reminders

  12. Jeff Ellis

    Clarity is very valuable. I have found that those who understand complex systems the most are able to explain them simply, with clarity.

    I am reminded, too, that the greatest leaders are the greatest servants.