Leadership is not just what you do; it is who you are. Think about all the roles you play during a day: manager, organizer, consoler, decider, mentor, etc.
I remember one day as a high school principal. After a contentious meeting with some parents in my office, I headed toward the cafeteria to supervise lunch activities. In the hallway outside my office was a teacher who wanted to tell me about a fun lesson she taught that day.
While talking and laughing with her, I received a call on my walkie-talkie to come to an assistant principal’s office where a student was having a psychotic episode and hiding under a desk. The staff members wanted my opinion about how to take care of the difficult situation. When I looked down, the boy looked so much like my own son of the same age that I had to stop in another office to compose myself.
I went from there to the courtyard where scores of students were sitting on benches and on the ground enjoying the beautiful Florida sunshine. They wanted to share their views and concerns with me, and I enjoyed the opportunity. All of this within twenty minutes.
Each of those episodes evoked different emotions and required different types of energy. Each demanded appropriate yet authentic presence. This is why I began this series on presence with centering and mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to manage awareness and attention in each moment and respond appropriately.
In my book, Connect, I offer two definitions of the word presence: “(1) being in the place and in the moment (being present), and (2) how other people perceive an individual (a powerful presence). The first meaning relates to being in a location both mentally and physically, which is required for leaders to connect with other people. The second meaning is the bearing or carriage that shows poise, confidence or distinction.”
Being mindful and centered allows a leader to be more authentic and more productive. It increases focus, creativity, intuition and clarity. It reduces thought patterns that lead to fragmentation and stress. Mindfulness increases your ability to genuinely connect with other people. If you have not reviewed and practiced centering, please do so. You will thank me.
Once you have become more centered, what do you do next? What gives you the physical and emotional presence to lead—to influence other people?
We will discuss other body dispositions in the next few days, but let’s start with the physical presence most closely associated with strong and powerful leadership—what I call the body of STABILITY. If you take on this presence in a store and remain in one spot for very long, someone will invariably approach you to ask for information. I promise. It has happened to me.
In the body of Stability, you are protective…with your head up and your shoulders back. You may take a slightly regal pose. You are not so much interacting with other people as you are physically showing that you are in control of the situation.
Your energy is focused out from your body and around you. Your eyes are completely aware and possibly looking in the distance as if surveying your realm. You are obviously in charge, and others feel safe.
I use the images of friends Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to demonstrate this physical presence. If you saw the excellent movie, Iron Lady, you will remember that Margaret Thatcher had to learn this skill. I do not know if Reagan naturally took on this presence or if his acting career allowed him to take it on as needed. However, it served him very well.
If this is not yet in your repertoire, I invite you to practice this body disposition first in the privacy of your home and then in a public place. Practice it until it feels natural. And then, consciously choose this physical presence when the situation calls for a calming and powerful presence—even if that is not how you feel in the moment. Adopting the presence of stability allows you to feel that required sense of calm and control.
PRACTICE: Center your attention and take a deep breath. Stand erect with shoulders back and feet flat on the floor evenly supporting your weight. Hold your head high with chin level with the ground. Relax your face and look around you as if you are aware of everything in sight. Extend your energy to the farthest corner of the room or out to the horizon. If you find it helpful, imagine you are a king or queen surveying your kingdom. When you are fully comfortable in this body, practice using it in situations that call for your strength, power and calming demeanor.