Know Yourself: How to Develop a Keen Leadership Presence


The concept appears either elusive or vague. What exactly, is leadership presence? I’ve seen definitions and attempts to explain, but much less on how to develop your leadership presence.

In the industry and culture I knew, there are four areas to place your focus. By understanding this context, I believe it will help you follow the correct behavior for your environment.

Leadership Presence

While the fundamentals remain the same, the context is critical because it affects how you are perceived. Will your presence make a difference if the environment calls for button down suits or a laid-back jeans? It all starts with your organization’s culture and values.

My example, of course, explains presence within an Army setting. However, I believe the explanation and examples will enable you to develop greater insights for what it means to you.

The 4 Areas of Leadership Presence

You convey presence by the image you project; your actions, your words, and how you carry yourself. Most important, is how your outward appearance is perceived, your reputation, and how your team responds to you.

There are four areas you can work on to improve your presence. They are:

  1. Appearance – we called this military bearing, the ability to project a professional image of authority. In every way, we were expected to set the example, to look and act the part, and to take pride in our appearance. This also included how you carried yourself, and how you treated others. Again, much of this was how you were perceived.

Today’s business leaders do the same by dressing sharply, staying well groomed, and also, how you treat others.

  • How does your appearance promote your presence?
  1. Health – for us, there was heavy emphasis on physical fitness because of the potential for combat. This meant not only maintaining your health, but being in good shape so that you had the strength and endurance to sustain conditions of prolonged stress.

If you are physically fit, you’ll feel more confident, be able to work longer and harder, and be able to handle the additional stress that serving in a leadership position demands. In general, you’ll appear more competent, attributes that are valuable in any environment.

As with anyone’s health, this meant regular medical checkups, exercise, sufficient sleep, and proper nutrition to achieve peak performance.

  • What are you doing to stay healthy and fit? Perhaps more important, what are you doing to promote a healthy lifestyle for the individual good of each member of your team to benefit the entire team?

We believed an ill or unfit member in our unit represented a potential weak link. I suspect you feel the same way.

  1. Confidence – demonstrating composure stems from self-confidence and grows from feeling professionally competent. It is your ability to perform despite stress. This is where your actions, words, and deeds – how you carry yourself – determine how you are perceived and whether you project outward calm.

When your team has faith that you will act properly, even when you are under stress, you not only project confidence and faith in your team’s ability to succeed, but you also inspire them to press on despite the challenges ahead.

Conversely, if you come across as bragging or self-promoting, you’ll have the opposite effect. Truly confident leaders are more concerned with spreading confidence throughout so that they build the strongest and most capable teams.

  • What are you doing to learn and grow, project confidence, and instill the same attitude in others?
  1. Resilience – the ability to recover quickly from stress or setbacks, and return your focus to the mission or task at hand; the attitude that you display despite adversity. When you convey an ability to keep going despite the conditions, you reveal an inner source of strength and instill the same spirit in your team.

When things go badly, you have to tap your inner reserves to persevere; appearance, health, and confidence all contribute to summoning this inner strength that will help you personally, as well as leading your team to press on and complete its mission.

Leadership Presence Metaphor

Just like the Army’s Be-Know-Do motto, in Grounded, by Bob Rosen, he uses different terms (Presence-Intellect-Character) and uses a great tree metaphor to explain the difference between leader presence and leader character.

Rosen suggests that your outward appearance, what others see from your actions that are on display (character), are your branches and leaves, but they can’t see your roots, what defines who you are, your presence.

  • Did you know that there are more than a dozen ingredients in the soil plants need to be healthy?

Like a tree, leaders need to nurture the presence ingredients to develop a healthy root system. The best way for me to share the impact is via this parable from the New Testament:

The sower went out to sow and as he sowed some seed fell on the path and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose it scorched and withered it for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and it produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded 30, 60, 100-fold.

Focus on these four ingredients – appearance, healthy, confidence, resilience – to develop healthy roots for leadership presence.

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