Leadership Presence is More Than Just Being There

Now I’m not knocking charisma. It’s useful and people tend to be attracted to it. And, from the leader’s perspective, it’s kind of easy. You just show up.

Problem is, that approach only works for the already-successful, guru-ninja-rockstar leader. The rest of us need to do our homework before that big day arrives.

So here’s your assignment. It’s in three parts because really, increasing your leadership presence is complex and the factors are interrelated.

1. Identify and clarify your vision of the future, not only for yourself but for those you lead, or want to lead. Document your vision (in writing!) and then communicate it in a way that inspires people to follow it.

2. Consider how you appear to others. Give at least a passing glance at body, mind, and soul (or however you think of that intangible part of you that projects your values.) Do something to improve at least one, today and every day.

3. Get some practice leaving decisions to other people, especially to those who really want to contribute in the way that decision requires. (This sounds easier than it is. People who want to lead generally like to be in control.)

Before you try to send in your homework (or send me a note saying your dog ate it), understand this: I am not going to grade you. You are going to do it, using your own standards. (This is an old professorial strategy to discourage cheating, even though I know you weren’t even thinking of doing that.)

Here’s how to score yourself:

Your score on the first part of your assignment is achieved by calculating the number of your followers. You can do a headcount of people who report to you or just use the number on your Twitter or LinkedIn. Then throw that number out and ask yourself the real question. If I stopped talking about this vision tomorrow, how many of my followers would still try to achieve it? (That’s the true measure of the enduring leader.)

Your score on the second part is a little trickier. The fact is, some people rise closer to the top purely because they focus on obscuring who they really are and spend all their time buffing their image. Only real change counts for this one. For one, it’s an important part of your leadership presence to be a role model for self-improvement. (And no, losing five pounds is not scored a five.)

Your score on the third part is calculated on an even more esoteric basis. You enumerate the other team members who you ceded decision-making to, and then ask them, one by one, if they feel you butted in on their decision in any way. (Look them in the eye when you ask this, and for leadership’s sake, please smile!)

You can add your scores together and put them on your office wall or use one of those refrigerator magnets you scored at the dentist, if you like. 

Or you can just plan on doing better tomorrow.

Because, after all, leadership presence is a path, not a destination.

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