What is Leadership Presence, why you need it & how to build it

I decided to write this post to breakdown what Leadership or Executive Presence means. The content of this post is a combination of my research & my conversations with my clients.

The purpose of this post is to help you suss out if these concepts resonate with you & if that’s what you are looking to explore for yourself.

I am using the word Leadership Presence for purposes of consistency.

What is Leadership Presence?

Capacity to influence & inspire people. Reflected in outcomes like, are you able to convey your thoughts with gravitas to your team & in the conference room with senior stakeholders? Are you able to identify when to intervene & shift conversations to get the desired results? How effective are you at getting work done through other people especially when stress levels are high? Are you the choice for running cross-functional projects? Are you able to get key stakeholders to see the merits of your suggestions or ideas? Who would choose you for solving a work problem? Do you know what it’s like to work with you?

Leadership Presence is not a personality makeover. It’s expanding your capacity to create a positive future for yourself (& others).

When do you need Leadership Presence ?

Transitioning from an Individual Contributor to a people management role.Any type of work transitions:

  • Interviewing for a job outside your company.
  • Changing teams within your current organization.
  • Transitioning to a senior role
  • Merger or Takeover & you have to position why you are the best person for the job that you do.
  • Wanting to build a network of trusted cheerleaders.

Within your current role:

  • When speaking with senior stakeholders.
  • Wanting to become a better leader/manager for your team.
  • Pushing back, insisting more from your peers without alienating them.
  • Being accepted & respected by colleagues you work with.
  • Your own personal development for professional growth.

Why do you need it – The 2-dimensions to Leadership Presence?

You need Leadership Presence so you don’t undercut your performance.

Leadership Presence has 2 dimensions.

The 1st is External & relates to other people – Do the people you work with look forward to your meetings, calls & emails or do they tiptoe around you, dodge, avoid, bypass or are indifferent toward you? Do they actively engage with you, bounce ideas off with you, choose you to find solutions or are you often the last one to know about things?

Answers to these questions will help you determine the type of experience people have in working with you.

Often leaders tend to say things like ‘I am not here to make friends’ or ‘I want my work to speak for itself’ or ‘other people’s feelings are not my problem’. Such a thinking style overlooks the numerous ways in which you can influence the experience you create in working with others. That’s how influence works through subtle daily interactions & feelings exchanged.

Leaders who fail to recognize their role in the experience they create, miss out on nurturing & sharpening a crucial component of their professional success.

The 2nd relates to your internal world – How you feel on the inside about your current state of work permeates into how you come across. If positive developments at work have you in an upbeat more, then you will experience vitality in how you go about your work interactions. But if you feel undervalued, overworked or uninspired, it will show up too. When these feelings surface, they cut you off from your creative capacities. The limbic brain takes over the neocortex.

In reality, this means, you might be defaulting to certain behaviours to cope with the anxiety & stress work might bring. Your default style might be lashing back (visible to others), you might go quiet or you might default to a behaviour in between the two. Default behaviours themselves are not a problem. But they become a problem when you don’t notice them or if they become everyday behaviours. Because then they undercut your competence.

Let me illustrate with an example.

A peer interrupts you in a meeting. In your inner world, you feel angry but you choose to not react. The interrupter carries on making their point. Whilst it may appear like a commonplace scenario, people in the meeting walk away with a subtle observation, that it is okay to interrupt you. So whilst you may feel that you held a calm exterior even though it felt hard, other meeting attendees won’t applaud you for that effort. This is how your competence gets undercut.

Leaders with Presence carve out a sharp definition of how they want to come across. This does not mean being an ideal leader or keep everyone pleased but strategically choosing which people’s opinions matter & having a plan B when you fall out of leadership so you don’t undercut your competence.

How do you build your leadership Presence?

There are 5 steps that I use with my clients:

1. Dive into the type of leader you want to be.

2. Uncover your obstacle points.

3. Locate sources of ineffective behaviours.

4. Co-create strategies that help you position your experience strategically.

5. Build a plan with metrics that you can track.

These steps usually range from 6-8 sessions. The purpose is to build a solid foundation & shift attention to forward-looking steps. When these two things are done systematically, the 5th step is a natural outcome.

We can slice & dice Leadership Presence in numerous ways – what is crucial to understand is that each person’s version of Presence is different. Rooted in your values, past experiences & future plans requires that you get personalized coaching at least once, so you can go deep into nooks & crannies that you may have not accessed before. Once you have your future leadership identity carved out & metrics to stay on track – you become unstoppable.

Get Strategic about you rprofessional success with Personalised Coaching

  • Fastest way to tackle your problems – than reading books or listening to pods.
  • Authentically Integrated to who you are – You don’t change what you value as a leader.
  • Tailored to your Personal Style – so they feel easy & doable.

Magic Lies Within provides Leadership Coaching to new & established Leaders to systematically & strategically build their Leadership Presence. It is built on the belief that your magic “lies within you”, I support you in leveraging it so you can create the Professional Success you want for yourself.


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