7 Must-Have Characteristics to Achieve Leadership Presence

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.
Leadership PResence

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.

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How to Know if You’re a Leader or Not

What makes somebody a leader? Is it a position or a title? Is it the nameplate on the door or maybe a spot towards the top of the organizational flow chart? I think I have some answers for those questions. But first, a story.

leader or not

I’ve never been terribly athletic. My parents didn’t push me into sports. My love has always been music. I started band in the 4th grade, but because of my size (I’m 6’4″ – in the top 3 percentile of the entire planet. Really!), by middle school the coaches started pursuing me for football and basketball. Here are the results:

  • I went out for spring training in football and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Guys half my size bulldozed me like I was a feather in the wind. It was painful – physically and emotionally. I decided I better get out while I still had a life. Death was imminent. I was just sure of it.
  • So next, I went out for the basketball team. The coach said I hustled like nobody he had ever seen. He said they could use somebody of my height on the team. But unfortunately, hustle and height weren’t enough. I was cut from the roster.

So fast forward 30+ years. I’ve been training extra hard for triathlons over the last year. When I finished my first half-marathon a few weekends ago, I was thanking my coach for guiding me along. I told him that I’ve always been a band geek and not an athlete and I was grateful to him for helping me with this transformation.

His response to me was, “Dude. You ARE an athlete.” Now wait a minute. I know athletes. They’re those guys that play football or basketball and don’t get cut from the team before the season ever gets started. Read more and see if YOU are a leader.

How to Live on the Edge of Laughter

If you open a container of spoiled yogurt, it really stinks. I found that out the hard way! I was in the third grade, walking home from school. My route took me through the back parking lot of a grocery store. Like most young boys, I played “kick the can” with about anything that came across my path. This day – it was a full container of yogurt. In my home, we had never eaten yogurt, not that I could remember anyway.

Laughing Boy

Intrigued by this unknown substance, I picked it up and opened it. Ever had the dry heaves? Oh my goodness! It had spoiled and rotted inside the container and when I lifted the lid – the most horrendous stench you can imagine over took my entire little third grade body. I threw it as hard as I could and ran all the way home. I was mad and sick all at the same time! Traumatized for life, I couldn’t stand the thought of yogurt for decades.

It occurred to me a few months ago that many of us may have a primary emotion that sits just under the surface. We’re not much different than that spoiled container of yogurt. We’re just waiting for someone to come along and open the lid just a bit to let it out.

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How to Love at Work and Not Feel Totally Awkward

(This is a guest post from Rodney Mills, a leadership coach and speaker and close friend of Leadership Voices. You can read the original post on his blog or find out more about his services by clicking HERE. Sign up for his blog and get his latest eBook – The Personal Mastery Resource Kit – absolutely free!)

You know how a fish looks when you take it out of water? That’s how I look when I’m in the water! No kidding. So what am I doing signing up for a Triathlon?


That’s what I keep asking myself over and over. I’ve been running and cycling rigorously for a couple of years now, and I’ve even done a couple of duathlons. This triathlon thing has been on my bucket list for a long time, so I thought now is as good a time as ever to get it done.

But I can’t swim. Well, I can swim, it’s just not a very pretty sight. As I’ve been trying to explain my plight to family and friends, hoping for some sympathy, it dawned on me the reason I’m so uncomfortable with this skill.

Swimming is not a natural thing for me to do. I didn’t grow up around pools or lakes. For a few weeks, in the sixth grade, the school loaded us up on busses once a week to take us down to the local YMCA for swimming lessons. Then, one week each summer, I’d go to camp and get about an hour a day in the pool. That’s about it for me. No wonder swimming isn’t natural.

We learn to run fairly quickly. My mom says when I was two, I was so efficient at running, I scaled a ladder leaned up against the house and ran up and down the roof line, evading my dad’s best efforts to rescue me, while my mom nearly died of heart failure. Running is natural for me.

Now, riding a bike? That wasn’t very natural at first. But it didn’t take much time until the training wheels came off. Before long, I joined the other Evil Kenevils of the world, screaming out, “Look Ma! No Hands!” Cycling is very natural to me now.

The reason I’m not comfortable swimming yet is because I haven’t done it enough. I’ve got to work on my breathing and my stroke. I’ve got to be okay with keeping my face down in the water. I’ve got to stop worrying about what everybody thinks of how I look in my Speedo. (Okay. I don’t wear a Speedo. I promise you: I never will!) 

Why am I telling you all this? Hang in there with me a minute and I think you’ll get it.

In my last post, I talked about the Four Pillars of Trust: Integrity, Humility, Gratitude, and Generosity. If you didn’t get a chance to read that, click HERE to go back and check it out. My argument is that trust is the “currency of leadership” (or any relationship for that matter). Trust is the basis of permission-based leadership as opposed to positional leadership which relies on command and control.

In that post, I also promised we would talk about the Foundation of Servant Leadership. It’s a very simple concept – just one word – yet it is profoundly difficult to fully grasp. That foundation is: love.

Since I first started studying servant leadership several years ago, one thing has puzzled me more than any other: What is the motive for servant leading? Other than believing it seems like a noble way to lead, how could it ever be natural? Well, the answer is found in this foundational truth of love.

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How I Found Life in the Cemetery

Have you ever found yourself going through life, day after day just going through the motions? You sense inside that you were meant for something bigger and greater, but you just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe you’ve dabbled with the ideas for a while: a blog, a new career, a healthier lifestyle, a fulfilling relationship. Perhaps it’s time for you to take the leap and go all in!

Life in the Cemetery

I sometimes like to find new places for my prayer times. Being outside often helps me feel somehow more connected to God. I was exploring the campus of a nearby Catholic college for such a prayer-place and came across a cemetery for the Jesuit priests who had served faithfully at the school. The dates went way back into the early 1800s and as I walked among the grave markers, it felt like such sacred ground. Looking more closely at the tombstones, I noticed that instead of simply engraving a birth year and death year, there was a “middle date” or in Latin – Ingressus.

As I thought about it, I quickly deduced that this was the date they entered the priesthood. I thought about how at this moment in their lives, everything changed. They left their old life behind completely to enter into the life they were created to live – a life in service to God and others. This was no flippant decision, no small choice. It was an abandonment to immerse themselves into this life-choice. It was clearly the defining moment of their life – memorialized on their tombstone for generations of people to see.

How about you? Do you have a defining moment? Would you have a “middle date” that was so important it would need to be inscribed on your tombstone? What’s keeping you from going “all in”? Obviously, I’m not talking about going into the priesthood. (Unless, of course, that is your calling!) I’m talking about you making the decision to become your best self, to not hold back any longer, to abandon yourself to become everything you were created to be, using your gifts in service to God and others. Perhaps you’ve dreamed of a life like this, but you are just waiting for the right moment. Well, here are a few things I’ve discovered about the perils of waiting.

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Being a Servant Leader – A Theme

Servant Leader - A Theme - 3My theme for this year is simply one word: Serve.

It’s an ideal I want to pursue more than anything. Still, I have to admit – serving is also the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to get my head around. Here are just some of the reasons I’m struggling. Maybe you can identify with me:

  • Being a servant requires sacrifice
  • Being a servant requires more time with people
  • Being a servant requires me to be selfless
  • Being a servant may require me to give up my own agenda
  • Being a servant requires me to be more observant
  • Being a servant requires me to be more vulnerable
  • Being a servant requires me to listen more carefully
  • Being a servant requires me to know people beyond a surface relationship

Servant Leader - A Theme - 1Traditional leadership styles can avoid almost everything on the list. Managers can sit in their office and simply order people to do what they think needs to be done. I don’t want to

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