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Leadership & Presence

Can you be a true leader without possessing presence? In my experience, very rarely…I’m not referencing the wannabe leaders oozing bravado, false confidence, arrogance, or self-delusion spun as confidence. Nor am I referring to the weak, innocuous or timid, who while viewing themselves as leaders, are perhaps the farthest thing from a leader. Rather I’m addressing those true leaders who inspire and motivate those around them to achieve things well beyond that which they thought themselves capable of. In today’s post I’ll address the value of developing the presence of a leader.

The term “command presence” is a military phrase which describes someone whose demeanor, nothing more than their mere presence, leaves no doubt they are someone to be respected. As a leader, have you developed this type of presence? When you walk into a room does anyone notice? When you speak does anyone listen? When you give direction is it trusted, respected and followed? Do you inspire confidence and engender credibility with those whom you come into contact with? Are people not only willing to be led by you, but proud to be led by you?

Developing a presence as a leader is far more than just the attitude you bring to the game, it’s about the combination of trust, charisma, character, integrity, knowledge and experience that separates true leaders from the masses. Again, to be clear, leadership has little to do with needing to be the center of attention, but it has a lot to do with being able to attract, direct and maintain attention when needed.

I have either been in leadership positions and/or advising leaders for as long as I can remember. During the course of my career I’ve observed all kinds of leaders good and bad…however I’ve never been around a great leader who doesn’t possess strong command presence. Great leaders display an air of calm about them regardless of the situation at hand. Great leaders show co-workers that they will always maintain control, even when they don’t have an immediate solution. Great leaders don’t lose focus, they don’t cower, and they never waffle. The best leaders can inspire hope when needed, and the willingness to accept a lack thereof when necessary.

Today’s business leaders have literally hundreds of interpersonal interactions each and everyday. Any leader who fails to instill confidence amongst peers and subordinates will lose their loyalty, harm their morale, and cripple their ability to execute. The impact of command presence is not only limited to your co-workers, but to everyone with whom you come in contact with. Your command presence or lack thereof will also impact the success of your relationships with investors, lenders, partners, suppliers, vendors and other constituencies.

Leadership, good or bad, is a contagion. One of the primary benefits of strong, sound leadership is the ability to spread it. There is a lot of talk about the importance of culture, and rightly so. An intentional focus on creating culture by design produces the glue that holds communities and organizations together and allows them to thrive. Most people won’t debate the importance of culture, but they vehemently argue over how culture should be built. My premise about what the major construct of a cultural ecosystem should look like is more than hypothetical – it’s undeniable by anyone who studies successful organizations with an open mind. My advice here is simple: create a culture based upon an ethos that empowers, attracts, differentiates, and sustains. The ONLY culture that flourishes over the long haul is a culture of leadership.

Some leaders come by command presence naturally, while others have to work very hard to develop it. While there are many things that lead to developing a strong command presence, a focus on developing the following three areas will have an immediate impact enhancing your command presence:

1. Be Trustworthy and Show You Care: When you closely examine the core characteristics of what really makes for great leadership, it’s not power, title, authority or even technical competency that distinguishes truly great leaders. Rather it’s the ability to both earn and keep the loyalty and trust of those whom they lead that sets them apart. Leadership is about trust, stewardship, care, concern, service, humility and understanding. If you build into those you lead, if you make them better, if you add value to their lives then you will have earned their trust and loyalty. This is the type of bond that will span positional and philosophical gaps, survive mistakes, challenges, downturns and other obstacles that will inevitably occur.

2. Develop Excellent Verbal Skills: As odd as it may sound, this begins with developing excellent listening skills. You must seek to understand before you’ll be understood. When it is time to speak, say what you mean and mean what you say. What you say, when you say it, and how you say it will either instill confidence and serve to motivate and inspire, or it will take the wind right out of your sails. You don’t have to be an overly verbose person, but you must be measured and articulate. Don’t speak just to hear yourself talk and don’t ramble. If your verbal communication skills are not up to par get help and correct the problem. You cannot lead if you cannot communicate.

3. Make Excellent Decisions: Nothing is more difficult to overcome for a leader than a poor track record. Solid decision layered upon solid decision is the key to creating loyalty. Making excellent decisions not only engenders confidence, but it’s perhaps the best way to lead by example and to model leadership for those whom you lead. A track record of excellent decisioning doesn’t take long to become part of your reputation, which provides you with a heightened level of trust and respect even prior to entering a room.

Bottom line…If you develop strong command presence, leadership while never easy, will in fact become easier.


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    Twitted by mikemyatt

    September 8, 2011 at 9:19 am

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    September 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Hi Mike, when I first started reading, I was a bit confused. I guess I have a false perception of military leadership being only command and control. However your 3 points at the end put flight to those thoughts. If you had 2-3 other point that contribute to a command presence, what would they be? Do you feel that someone with a preference for introversion is disadvantaged in creating a command presence? Another awesome post, that’s for your contribution.

      Mike Myatt

      September 8, 2011 at 4:21 pm

      Hi Bruce:

      Thanks for your comment and your questions. I believe a number of people have a misperception in regard to the value of presence. While I think many people tend to stereotype military leadership as one-dimensional, both my direct and indirect experience have consistently shown military leadership to be very advanced, and very effective.

      With respect to introversion being a leadership disadvantage, it doesn’t have to be, but it can easily become a hinderance if not understood and addressed. Not all leaders are extroverts, and not all extroverts are successful leaders. It’s rarely a person’s hard-wiring that determines their success or failure, but their understanding of how to best use their natural tendencies, and how to develop well beyond their natural giftedness. Great leaders never stop learning and are very purposeful about development. 

      With regard to adding a few more tips, being likable, while not necessary, never hurts. It’s simply less of an uphill battle when people like you as a person in addition to respecting you as a leader. I’d also suggest that having a good sense of humor never hurts either. Lastly, and this may touch a few nerves, but appearance matters. I’m not talking so much about what you wear, but how you wear it. The best leaders have a bit of spit and polish whether they’re dressed-up or dressed-down. They are comfortable in their own skin, and make others comfortable as well. I hope these thoughts help.

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    Kevin Vranes

    September 11, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Mike, this is exactly right. It was only after I had been told by enough people that I had “command presence” that I started thinking about what “natural leader” really means and how to teach leadership to people who are not natural leaders.  I think a big question in coaching leadership to not-natural leaders is when to encourage a development of command presence, and when to urge growth in other areas (other leadership traits).  Not everybody needs command presence, and for some it will never work.

    Can a person learn command presence?  Sure, to an extent. But to make the change effectively, the person has to first understand what comes out of the other side of the process and accept that he/she will become a different person. For some that is welcome change; for others it is not.   

      Mike Myatt

      September 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm

      Hi Kevin:

      Thanks for sharing the astute observations. Your comment speaks to three distinct areas: underlying motivation, understanding, and application/outcome. As long as these areas are addressed properly, and aligned with core values, the change should be a welcome one. Thanks again for stopping by Kevin.


    October 4, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Very well said,

    I have been fortunate to work with great (and some not so great) leaders. The great ones exhibited the trust, character, integrity, etc as well as the calm confidence that makes you proud to be a follower. This is the position that all aspiring leaders can aspire.

    Thanks for the post

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