Friday, May 27, 2011

Do you have leadership presence?

Jim Collins challenged the notion of leadership presence when he defined a level 5 leader as "one who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will."

He rattled our traditional belief that effective leaders must have a charismatic, extroverted and take-charge confident presence. In fact, Collins went on to discover that a common thread of these high-achieving level 5 leaders was that they contained a "compelling modesty."

This modesty is described with words like quiet, humble, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing and understated.

These are not attributes we normally associate with leadership presence; in fact, we often think of attributes that are antonyms to these words. And yet, according to Collins, these attributes are the makings of great leaders.

Yet most of us continue to mistakenly believe that having leadership presence is like playing a role in a play, requiring an elaborate costume and a personality change. As if we need to be on center stage, in the spotlight, with all eyes and attention upon us, in order to have the presence of a leader.

Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to developing your leadership presence.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was addressing the professional women at my former employer, The Coca-Cola Company. Another speaker, a current executive at the company, was talking about the issue of work/life balance and she said an important thing related to leadership presence. She said "it isn't about balance, it is more about presence. When you are at home, you must be present with your children and family, not feeling guilty about work obligations. When you are at work, you must be present and be at work fully; not feeling like you should be tending to family concerns."

You see, when you are going through the motions and are somewhere else mentally and emotionally, you can unwillingly communicate arrogance which does not allow you to connect with others as a leader, nor will you be perceived by others as a leader.

The "presence" she talked about was about being in the moment and available to the people with whom you are leading, at home or at work. When you achieve this level of presence, you exude humility. It is also from this place of presence that you develop trust with others and the ability to connect.

With presence, you are also in a grounded state allowing you to meet the challenges as they arise, rather than being out of step with those around you. You meet people where they are.

While many types of people struggle to develop this "presence", ironically, I have found that people who exhibit traditional leadership presence attributes like charisma, extroversion and take-charge confidence, are usually the ones who are most challenged with being in the moment. Present company clearly included in this observation.

So, if you are like me, your tendency might be to always be three steps ahead of yourself and especially ahead of others. This poses a challenge for you to be in the moment to effectively develop leadership presence, as it did for me. As a result, you might be inclined to go at it alone, rather than bringing others along with you, simply because you aren't in the moment and you are in a different place than they are.

If you find yourself in this camp, remind yourself that getting to the end of a problem in record speed doesn't always provide the best solution. Plus, if you get there alone, it often will take more time and effort to go back to get others on board, than if you had gotten them with you from the start. Been there, done that, and certainly have the t-shirt on this one.

All kidding aside, as I have personally worked these past several years at gaining more "presence" for being in the moment and in essence growing my humility, it is the one thing that I attribute to my continued and growing success.

It can be for you too.

Using the play as an analogy for the business stage where leadership presence unfolds and you are either in that role of the leader, or aspiring to be, here are a few tips to keep in mind about developing your "presence" for leadership.

1. Lose the costume and personality change. Above all else, bring the best of you.
2. Resist the temptation to move towards the center of the stage where the spotlight is the brightest.
3. Be in the moment to bring calmness and a grounded, quiet confidence.
4. Refrain from taking too much attention; shine the light on others whenever possible.
5. Get comfortable with silence and looking to others for answers, especially when all eyes are upon you.

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