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How to Show Powerful Leadership Presence

leadership, affective leadership,

How to Show Powerful Leadership Presence

Phil was frantic. He was a manager in a mid-sized bank, and a recent meeting with his director was very unsettling. 

Phil recognized that employees in his department sometimes seemed to ignore his comments, and the quality of their work continued to decline. However, he was not prepared for this meeting in which he learned that unless he turned things around, the CEO would replace him with someone who could.

His leadership ability was in question.

In a meeting with his new executive coach, Phil considered a variety of approaches to his dilemma. He discussed greater penalties for low performance. He thought about increased accountability and oversight of his employees' work. He wondered which of his employees he should replace with more skilled and willing workers.

After observing his tone of voice and demeanor, his coach asked him to consider his own skills. He asked specifically about his interaction with clients, colleagues and employees. He asked Phil to discuss how he conducted meetings and what roles he played in the organization. 

Sensing that the problem was associated with how he came across to others, the coach began to ask questions about Phil's physical presence. 

How did he stand when discussing expectations? How did he sit in meetings? What did his voice say about his level of confidence and leadership? Did he convey that he was capable and in charge? 

Phil's coach discussed the Six Positions of Power and Leadership: Stability, Resolution, Flexibility, Connection,  Nurturing, and Mindfulness and explained that each emotional and physical disposition conveys a different attitude and produces a different response in observers.

After some discussion, Phil and his coach decided that Phil needed convey greater confidence and control, the Presence of Stability, which makes observers feel safe and protected. This physical presence is the one most often associated with power and leadership.

In the Presence of Stability, a leader is concerned with order and structure. Posture is erect. Shoulders are back. Eyes survey the surroundings while making sure that all are safe and protected. The voice is strong, confident and caring. Physical energy and awareness extend from the physical center into the distance.

In this and other manifestations of leadership presence, leaders must be physically and mentally present (centered), and they must be relaxed and able to speak with assurance that they and potential followers will meet whatever challenges lie ahead.

Effective leaders use this and the other body dispositions in appropriate settings, and they must realize that each physical presence has potential pitfalls if used inappropriately or to the extreme. Effective leaders also recognize the need for authenticity...for being who they say they are.

Margaret Thatcher- public domain image

I will use two friends, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as outstanding examples of this Position or physical presence.

Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, had to modify her presence and her voice. If you saw the excellent movie Iron Lady (link to my article about the movie), you see a woman who started with a shrill voice and an uncertain demeanor. As Prime Minister, she became one of the most powerful people in the world as she showed tremendous strength, poise and decisiveness.

After some practice, she displayed the determination and sense of purpose required to lead her country through some very difficult circumstances.  Her calm and controlled manner contributed to her success.

The other example of the Presence of Stability is her friend Ronald Reagan. I disagreed with many of his policies, but few can argue his impact on world affairs and U.S. politics even today.

"President Reagan speaking in Minneapolis 1982" by Michael Evans - This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 198527.

Unlike Mrs. Thatcher, Ronald Reagan seems to project calm and grace under pressure from the beginning. Whether he grew up with this ability or he learned it as an actor, his Executive Presence conveyed confidence, caring and control.

In these pictures and others, notice how each of these leaders stands and sits. Notice their eyes and facial expressions. If you have the opportunity to hear their voices, consider what attitudes they conveyed.

As you observe them and other leaders who exert a sense of authority and protection, what do you see?

In executive presence workshops, participants practice each of the positions to powerful music such as “Like a Rock” by Bob Seger, processional music such as Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, or other marches or processionals.

They are encouraged to practice at home until they are comfortable in each physical presence.

Most people feel comfortable in two or possibly three of the positions, but they are not comfortable in the others. The goal is to have each of these body dispositions available and the ability to take on each role authentically in the appropriate situations.

The following practice helps leaders become comfortable in the Presence of Stability:

  • Take a deep breath and center your body.
  • Consider and/or alter your attitude to demonstrate confidence and control--even if you don't feel it. 
  • Stand erect with chin up and look around with a somewhat regal posture.
  • With shoulders back and eyes kind and caring, survey your kingdom.
  • As you practice, hold your hands out slightly as if protecting people around you.

After some independent practice, go to a shopping mall or other busy location and assume this attitude and presence. Do not be surprised if someone approaches you to ask for assistance.

Individuals instantly form opinions of one's authority and ability. When one stands this way and assumes this physical presence, she is immediately picked out as a leader.

Because of coaching confidentiality, Phil is a composite of colleagues and clients I have worked with and observed. I have encountered this situation a number of times with otherwise very qualified individuals.

The previous information is adapted from my book, CONNECT: Affective Leadership sm for Effective Results with permission. This topic is covered in much greater detail in the book. 


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