How to Develop Leadership Presence

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A variety of factors shape leaders’ effectiveness, but one of the most undervalued might be leadership presence. 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.

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—knowing what’s normal and expected versus what’s not well tolerated—as well as the official and unofficial hierarchies.

Leading from the middle means leveraging your power and influence through your interactions with peers and superiors, managing across, up, and down. Your success can hinge on the trusted relationships you make by being predictable, consistent and accountable; knowing technical expertise will only take you so far; developing mutual respect; aligning your goals; and being authentic.

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 like tone, pitch, and pace of delivery (38%).

How you communicate has a lot to do with how you are perceived by others. The good news is that you can increase your leadership presence by focusing on your verbal and non-verbal communications skills.

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
  • Smiling
  • 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

When you become aware of all the nuances in your own behavior as well as others’, you can use them as a way gain respect and trust—two byproducts of leadership presence that can go a long way toward enhancing your career success.


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