A leader’s most important call is the capacity to influence others positively and rally them around a worthy goal, at home, at work, and in the community. In episode # 1 of the Resilient Leadership Podcast, Bridgette Theurer says, “a leader can lead from any seat on the bus.” This article explores the importance of an effective leadership presence and how to calibrate it to remain resonant for better results, impact, and well-being.
What is Leadership Presence
A positive leadership presence is a blending of expertise, personal and interpersonal skills, projected in a way that positively impacts others. Presence is also the quality of a leader to show at their best and to exude a grounded calmness with a clarity of thought and action that inspire others to follow. In Primal Leadership, the authors assert that some leaders resonate well with others, transmitting emotional tones that often resound in a positive register. Many people downplay the emotional component of someone’s presence for not being rational. Yet, it is a crucial differentiator for those who can balance systems in disarray with their reassuring presence.
Why does it matter?
Because of the place of a leader in the organization, how they show has a significant impact everywhere. The quality of the leader’s presence depends upon many factors. It is unrealistic to expect a leader to always be at their best, especially given the high volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that organizations and systems face now days.
“To be impactful and practical, a leader must learn to self-regulate to command a calm presence that can help balance the organization’s emotional system.”
Too much stress and anxiety interfere with creativity, problem-solving, and effectiveness. Stress activates negativity which triggers saboteur behaviors in the system. While it is impossible not to experience stress at work, an emotionally intelligent leader, knows how to inject enough positive energy to mitigate the impact of stress.
In Resilient Leadership 2.0, I learned that organizations have rational and emotional systems. Shirzad Chamine, founder and author of Positive Intelligence, says that organizational leaders balance the rational and emotional systems. They get great results while creating a positive impact and wellbeing, the entire package.
What does a positive leadership presence be?
According to Dugan & Theurer in Resilient Leadership 2.0, a resilient leader can lead with calm, clarity, and conviction in anxious times. A leader with a positive leadership presence has cultivated an inner-outer approach. This is how I describe it:
- Focuses on their functioning first, practicing self-care habits with enough sleep, good nutrition, and exercise.
- Notices what triggers their anxiety and mood swings and what assumptions support them.
- Intercepts negative thoughts that cause stress, regulating their mental process to weaken their inner judge.
- Leads with courage, doing the right thing inspired by clear convictions, principles and values.
- Is aware of own strengths as well as areas of improvement. Seeks feedback knowing that they are a work in progress.
- Seeks to be a positive influence knowing the impact having in others and in the system.
- Dresses apart displaying a professional image.
- Possesses a sense of vitality and enthusiasm that is contagious.
- Smiles and look approachable. Uses humor to break the ice when needed.
- Sits and walks tall, with spine straight, using gestures, volume, and voice inflection to project confidence and clarity.
- Observes the system and intervenes to regulate it when it matters.
- Is audience-centric, crafting relevant messages clearly and concisely.
- Establishes and maintains healthy boundaries, making others accountable instead of over-performing or micromanaging.
- Connects with others to build rapport, maintaining positive relationships, streaking a balance between closeness and distance.
- Authentically cares for the well-being of others, creating psychological safety and trust for others to thrive.
How does a Negative Leadership Presence look?
Do you recall being in a place that feels ‘heavy’ with anxious energy permeating the environment? We all have known leaders that display a poor quality to their image. They show distracted, nervous, and edgy. I once met a leader with dark circles around his eyes from working long hours through the night. He frequently yawned and looked tired. I remember being impacted by his exhaustion. I wondered how sustainable it was for him to keep functioning that way in the long term, without falling sick and or declining performance. A recipe for burnout!
Recognizing Reactivity in Self and Others:
We all have times when experiencing a personal crisis or some other event at home or work that causes us to feel and show different to others. Because we are all interconnected, when we experience a setback, it has a ripple effect on the systems where we operate. Anxiety is contagious. And when pressure spreads out, it turns into reactivity. There are predictive behaviors emerging when anxiety rises. When leaders notice those patterns in themselves and others, they can better respond to the reactivity with a calmed leadership presence.
Here are some examples of reactivity:
- Lacking vitality, looking tired.
- Lowering grooming and personal appearance standards.
- Getting frequently sick. Gaining or losing weight.
- Gestures such as jittery body, tapping their feet.
- Looking impatient, having a hard time sitting still.
- Feeling edgy, snappy, and short with others.
- Turning pessimistic. Feeling victimized.
- Being distracted or scattered. Procrastinating.
- Often complaining and blaming others and circumstances.
- Creating pockets of conflicts with team members.
- Ruminating about mistakes, feeling worried all the time.
- Becoming passive-aggressive, cynical, and critical of self and others.
- Distancing by becoming silent in meetings and not sharing information.
- Disconnecting emotionally from others, isolating, or not participating in group activities.
- Taking things personally, feeling suspicious, gossiping.
- Acting impulsive and making hasty decisions without considering all the angles of a situation.
- Impaired performance. Missing deadlines and making frequent mistakes.
- Over-performing or over-controlling, micro-managing others.
Steps to Calibrating your Leadership Presence
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that a leader’s presence is contagious because of where the leader sits in the organization. Calibrating your Leadership Presence means making adjustment when feeling impacted by the external forces around you. Here are four steps to consider.
1. Become More Self-Aware
Various times during the day, create moments of self-reflection and thoughtfulness. Having time to reflect on what is going on will allow you to think things over rather than being impulsive. Here are some questions to guide you in this inner exploration.
- What is going on?
- What is impacting you?
- What is your inner voice telling you?
- How are you feeling?
- Where in the body does sensation sit?
- How do you want to show up in this situation?
- What matters?
- What do you need now?
- How does self-care look?
- How can you rebalance?
2. Rebalance Your Energy
Recharge. Find a quiet place to pause from the busyness of your day. Establish daily routines to recalibrate the quality of your presence by connecting with your body.
- Sit quietly with your eyes closed.
- Pay attention to your body sensations; what is calling your attention in your body?
- Become aware of your breath as it goes in and out.
- Move your attention to the center of your chest and be aware of your heartbeat.
- Fill your feet flat on the floor.
- Notice the weight of your body in the chair as you breathe with your spine straight.
- Tune in to the the sounds in your environment.
- Fill the texture of the objects in the surface where you are working.
Duggan & Theurer, Resilient Leadership 2.0, in Chapter 2, recommend six-second centering exercises before and after important meetings that include breathing and posture as described above.
Shirzar Chamine created PQ reps or 10-second routines to shift attention to the body to activate the right part of the brain. He developed a six-weeks program with an interactive App to strengthen self-command and increase neuropathways for more calmed and focused action.
Mo Gawdet, in his book Solve for Happy, describes similar exercises to tune in to the present moment and calm your nervous system down.
3. Observe with Curiosity
Become more intentional about monitoring your environment by zooming out with curiosity. Exploring more can help you intercept reactive behavioral patterns as yellow flags before is too late. For instance:
- What is happening?
- Who is involved and why?
- What questions can you ask to get more information?
- How does this situation look from afar?
- What structure is helpful to introduce now?
- What element of your presence is most beneficial?
- In the long run, what does matter?
4. Decide the Course and Act with Conviction.
Once you have checked with yourself and the environment, it is time to lead with courage. Duggan & Theurer in Resilient Leadership 2.0, assert that a resilient leader act boldly in the face of increasing complexity and escalating change. Consider:
- What do you know is the right thing to do?
- What convictions, rationale and values support your clarity?
- Who is involved, and how to better approach them?
- What are essential needs and aspirations to consider?
- What delivery method communicates more effectively?
- What resources are available to help you keep a balanced presence?
Realize that leadership is intrinsically stressful, primarily when operating in a VUCA world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. A leader’s presence is an energetic quality that conveys confidence, stillness, and transparency. An emotionally intelligent leader commits to calibrating their presence, adjusting as needed to respond most effectively to the environment.
While it is impossible always to show your best, you can incorporate few routines to help you keep in check. I invite you to follow these four steps to help you better guide and inspire others in difficult times 1) Self-awareness, 2) Rebalance or self-regulation, 3) Curiosity, and 4) Clear-headed Focused Action. You will be better up and your team too!