Early on in my career as an executive coach, a CEO asked me to work with someone on his team who was extremely competent but didn’t project the kind of presence necessary to command the respect required for a more senior role. He wanted me to work with her so that she’d have a better chance of being promoted. It seems unfair that someone could be competent and deliver results and yet still be passed over for promotion – and yet it happens all the time.
Presence can be hard to pin down, but we usually recognize it when we see it. Your presence is how others experience you. Leaders who are thoughtful about their presence can inspire confidence in their ability, increase their credibility, and expand their influence. The trick is that presence is much more than merely “acting as if” or trying to imitate someone else. True presence is authentic and unique.
Webster defines authenticity as being “real or genuine; not copied or false; true and accurate.” Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, and whatever your presence communicates now, it can be enhanced and developed.
The first step in developing your presence is to be intentional about it. How do you want to be perceived? How do you want others to feel when they are interacting with you – Intelligent, Interesting, valued, included?
What are the values you hold most dear that you want to communicate through your presence? What behaviors would demonstrate these values most clearly? Integrity – aligning your words and action — is critical. As Don Miguel Ruiz says in his book, The Four Agreements, “Be impeccable with your word.”
Dress and Body Language
Others form impressions about you quickly, based on the way you present yourself through your dress and body language. Look professional and well put together. Style is no substitute for substance, but it does have an impact.
Make sure that your body language is congruent with the message you are communicating. The tone of your voice, your facial expressions, and your body language communicate more powerfully than your words. Demonstrate confidence through your body posture and tone of voice. Experiment with a confident body posture — feet planted firmly, chest up, shoulders squared, eyes looking ahead. Compare that with a less confident posture – eyes down, shoulders slumped, shifting your weight from one foot to the other. Notice how each posture impacts your internal state.
Slow down and be completely present when you are with someone. Give him or her your full attention and genuinely listen without letting your mind wander. When we give the gift of our attention, others feel seen and understood, and we grow our authentic presence and ability to influence.