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Effective leadership starts with presence

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A variety of factors shape leaders' effectiveness, but one of the most undervalued qualities might be leadership presence. Whether you are in a senior leadership position in an organization or own your own company, your leadership presence can be the differentiator between you having management missteps or fully realizing your business goals.

This criterion — how you are perceived and accepted by others — can open limitless career opportunities, or derail even the most talented people from reaching their leadership goals. In essence, it's about your attitude, character and behavior when no one is looking, transcending other measuring sticks such as technical ability and emotional intelligence.

Therefore you cannot underestimate the importance of increasing your awareness of the behavioral nuances that may impact the perception of others and learning strategies for strengthening your leadership presence.

Three essential elements

Perfecting the following three elements is the key to enhancing leadership presence:

Be fully aware and present;

Lead from the middle;

Communicate effectively.

Being fully aware and present means having strong self-awareness, understanding how others see you, and realizing they start judging you the moment you enter the scene. It also includes successfully navigating the business culture of your company — knowing what's normal and expected versus what's not well tolerated — as well as the official and unofficial hierarchies. It is important that you take time to observe the senior leaders of your company to determine their core values and expectations of your behavior. If you are the owner, you need to clearly define your behavioral expectations.

For example, one company I consult with does not feel comfortable with management socializing outside of work with their staff. Having strong boundaries is important to their culture. However another company feels that creating personal camaraderie is essential to creating loyalty and employee engagement and encourages its senior managers to take their teams out socially. In both of these examples there is no explicit instructions given, but rather it is expected that strong leaders will observe and “get” what is expected of them.

Leading from the middle means leveraging your power and influence through your interactions with subordinates, peers and superiors. Your success can hinge on the trusted relationships you make by ensuring your actions are predictable, consistent and accountable. Developing mutual respect, aligning your goals, and being authentic are critical behavioral currencies that will enhance your value and influence in an organization.

Communicating effectively means knowing the importance of verbal and non-verbal communication. Only 7% of communication is accomplished with actual words; a far greater percentage is based on body language (55%) and vocal qualities such as tone, pitch, and pace of delivery (38%).

How you communicate has a lot to do with how you are perceived by others. The following are critical aspects of both types of communication:

Verbal communication:

Understanding differing communications styles, i.e., detail-oriented or big picture;

Listening strategically, understanding others' priorities and “hot buttons;”

Asking questions;

Honing your conversational skills;

Knowing which topics to avoid.

Non-verbal communication:

Establishing 70% eye contact;


Using open gestures, i.e., palms up;

Sitting or standing erect;

Using a lower pitch;

Speaking slowly and distinctively;

Being aware of your entrance into a room;

Giving a solid handshake.

The good news is that you can increase your leadership presence by focusing on your verbal and non-verbal communications skills.

How do you measure up?

The first step in strengthening your leadership presence is accurately assessing your current status. In my work with business leaders I have found there are 10 key areas that determine an individual's influence and ability to effectively manage up, across and down.

Take a moment and assess your Leadership Presence Rating by asking yourself how you measure up in these following areas. Remember that most behaviors are not “all or nothing” but rather on a continuum. Look for patterns in your behavior to identify areas you need to strengthen.

My physical presence (including body language and attire) projects confidence.

My communication skills are excellent/ (presenting ideas clearly, effective listener-respecting others opinions — not interrupting).

I engage in activities that allow me to network within the company.

I engage in activities that support my networking within my industry.

I understand my direct reports needs/concerns/career objectives.

I connect with my peers in the company.

I understand needs of senior management and/or clients.

I manage transitions/change well.

I understand my value to the organization.

I comfortably can promote my “brand” and market myself to others in an appropriate manner.

When you become aware of all the nuances in your own behavior as well as others', you can use this knowledge to modify your leadership presence, and that can go a long way toward enhancing your career success.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]


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