Leadership Presence – Substance Powers Style

Leadership presence is an intangible factor that amplifies a leader’s effectiveness.

Leadership presence is earned authority and is comprised of two parts.  There is presence that is shown, emphasizing a leader’s style when interacting with others.  The other component is the presence that is felt, the expectation that the leader will make a difference based upon their track record of success. 

The conventional definition of leadership presence focuses on a leader’s style, i.e., how they show up.  Presence in this traditional perspective describes a leader acting decisively and confidently; having strong communication skills, especially in front of groups; and consistently showing up with a respectable appearance.

Showcasing these style qualities can be an important element in a leader’s growth and a significant gate in being rewarded with more responsible roles.   Projecting an image as a strong leader is important and according to some research may account for up to 26% of what it takes to accelerate a leader’s career. 

However, showing up and acting like a leader is only part of what it takes to be respected as a leader with presence. Presence that is felt has a disproportionately larger impact on a leader’s effectiveness and value to an organization.  The way a leader’s presence is felt is often referred to as the “substance” of their presence. The substance of a leader’s presence is like the keel of an iceberg, whereas the style of a leader is akin to the tip of the iceberg.

Both components of leadership presence, substance and style, are important and together and in proportion, improve a leader’s effectiveness.  Projecting the image of a leader that is not supported with a strong undergirding of achievement will appear contrived and soon fade.  Leadership presence that is earned through achievement, but not burnished with a leadership style will lack traction and underserve the leader. 

Learning how to show up like a leader is rather straight forward and can be mastered by emulating the behaviors of successful, admired leaders. 

Fostering and nurturing the substance of a leader’s presence requires a process that leverages the authentic qualities of an individual leader.

The Substance of Leadership Presence: Differentiated, Perceived, Relevant

Any and every leader will greatly benefit by focusing on the substance component of their leadership presence.  Getting credit for the substance that anchors a leader’s presence begins by understanding three practical principles of leadership presence that are often overlooked.

Leadership presence is not generic.   A leader’s presence is more a brand than a commodity. The attributes that define a leader’s brand set an expectation of how a leader will make a difference, i.e., how their presence will be felt.  The substance of a respected leader’s presence is known by a set of distinctive qualities, e.g., customer-focused, risk-taker, intelligent, tenacious, that differentiates them and gives credence to their achievements.  Leaders with a strong presence have a leadership brand that differentiates them from other leaders. 

Projection is not perception.  Presence is qualitative by nature and is based upon the perceptions of others.  Perception management and enhancing leadership presence go hand-in-hand.  Most leaders, to a greater or lesser degree, pay attention to projecting an image that positions them as effective and professional.  Projection is not always perception and in fact clinical studies prove that, on average, in more than 50% of the cases the nature of a leader’s presence is misperceived by others.  Without intent and focus, perceptions are created haphazardly and without purpose and practice the authentic qualities of a leader’s presence are likely to be unnoticed, misunderstood or under-appreciated. 

It is easy for almost anyone to recognize that a leader makes a difference, whether it’s in a meeting, managing a team or running a business line that delivers exceptional results. However, it is much more difficult to identify and   articulate the specific qualities, e.g., the leader’s strong analytical skills, that differentiates an individual as an outstanding leader.  When a leader’s outstanding qualities are accurately perceived by others, confidence in the leader’s abilities grow.

Although every leader will concede that perceptions are important, it is only the minority that have taken the time and effort to elevate their perception management abilities. Perceptions are the currency of every leader’s presence.  Developing a perception management competency is necessary for a leader to build and maintain a strong, authentic presence.  Creating a specific set of perceptions on a consistent basis is difficult and can be hit or miss but narrowing the gap between what is projected and what is perceived is very important for every leader to bolster their presence.

All leadership presence is not equally valued. Being perceived as having leadership presence is one thing, however being recognized as having the “right” leadership presence can be a different matter, all together.  Since leaders are the face of an organization, the nature of their presence matters.  A leader’s presence sends a strong signal to employees about an organization’s values. It’s no secret that the strength and uniqueness of an organization’s cultural values are key to its short and long-term competitive advantage. Therefore, a leader’s presence that amplifies the ethos of an organization’s character is highly preferred and valued.

Putting these three insights into everyday practice is not difficult and is more practical then you might imagine. 

Here’s a link to learn how to strengthen your leadership presence.