I’ll never forget my dad trying to help me with my first church job. I was still a kid, green out of college, and didn’t have a clue about Leadership Presence. I was still wearing my old sneakers and he wanted me to start wearing penny loafers or wingtips. At the time, I thought he was an old fogey. Now I see his point: he didn’t think people would take me seriously as a leader.
It’s tough enough for a young kid to gain respect from adults twice his age due to immaturity and missing many other elements listed here in this article. Those sneakers weren’t my main problem, but my dad knew I needed to start somewhere!
When you walk into a room, what adjectives do people unconsciously write on the whiteboard of their minds? In other words, what kind of Leadership Presence do you have? Do people take you seriously as a leader?
Presence is different from charisma, though charisma may be a part of your Leadership Presence makeup. Presence, as I see it, is more related to the persona of a leader—the credibility and character issues. Perhaps another way to say it is that Presence is how you are perceived.
I’ve grouped these seven must-have characteristics into two primary areas: your Visual Image and Abstract Elements.
1. Appearance. Whether you like it or not, your appearance has a great deal to do with perception. That is not to say that there is one particular way of dressing or grooming your hair that works in every situation. Your appearance requirements may be different if you work primarily with children or students as opposed to bankers and lawyers. Still, visually, there is definitely a psychological factor that comes into play when you step into the room.
These may be over-generalizations to you, but have you stopped to think about what your appearance communicates to others? If you are unkempt and un-groomed, does it communicate that the rest of your life may be the same? If you enter the room as the most casually dressed person, does it suggest that you don’t take the meeting or the topic seriously? Then again, does dressing down a bit help others feel more comfortable and relaxed, more authentic?
One statement that helped me early on has stayed with me for years: “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.” That has helped to keep me on my toes. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on $3000 suits and shoes. But you do need to take your appearance seriously as perception either helps or hinders your potential for influence.
Even with the case for appearance being established, the rest of these Leadership Presence ingredients may carry even more weight.
2. Energy. This one is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. In my way of describing it, it has to do with many of my list of Winning Actitudes, the intersection of attitudes, action, and winning outcomes. (Click HERE to get a FREE Winning Actitudes Cheat Sheet.)
It could be the outward manifestations of confidence, positivity, and optimism. Or it could be related to your overall demeanor—do you smile, do you speak up, are you affirming, are you engaged in conversation, are you sleepy-acting or alert and focused? Which leads us to…
3. Body Language. This communicates a tremendous amount towards how people perceive you. How do you “carry” yourself? Take mom’s advice: don’t slump your shoulders. Make eye contact, don’t stare off into space (it’s a clear sign of boredom). Express openness by not crossing your arms. Head nod in agreement, lean forward into the conversation to show engagement.
Abstract Elements. It may take a few more minutes for people to pick up on these next elements as opposed to the issues of Visual Image, but understand that they are making these assumptions and assessments fairly quickly. Here are a few to consider. You could easily add to the list.
4. Competence. Do you know your trade? Is it obvious to others you are pursuing growth? Do you know how to lead? Competence comes not only from knowledge, but experience.
5. Substance. Armed with your competence, it should show up as you speak with authority and confidence, but not arrogance. People know if you’re just an “empty suit.” Leadership Presence shows up in your wisdom, composure, and gravitas.
6. Humility. How open are you? Do you sincerely listen to the ideas of others? Or do you act better than everyone else or intimidate with your intelligence? Often, in trying to exert authority or prove superiority, leaders are too quick to shut down the opinions or suggestions of others.
7. Providing Hope. Do you help your followers to see a brighter future or are you focused on impending doom? You can still talk about the realities, difficulties, and challenges your team is facing, while still leaving them with a sense of potential, possibilities, and optimism. That’s part of your job!
Final Thoughts. Leadership Presence is not any one thing on this list. It’s the total package. You can help people to write better adjectives about you on the whiteboards of their minds by taking more responsibility for your Leadership Presence. It might be time for you to put away the sneakers, too!
This article originally appeared HERE on RethinkLeadership.net.
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