Strategic leaders need to have a positive (executive) presence to be successful in delivering on their purpose and strategic goals. Positive presence is something that is sometimes difficult to describe but we know it when we see it. I have worked with great leaders in my career who are able to influence others to follow their purpose and strategic goals independent of whether they have direct control in a reporting relationship with the follower. In fact, they are able to influence not only their direct reports but also their peers, their bosses and external collaborators. These leaders achieve this by being self-aware and managing their positive presence.
Why is positive presence so important?
So what is positive presence and why is it important? Positive presence is the way a leader intentionally acts, communicates, listens, manage how they show up and manage trust. The impact of positive presence is to ethically influence others (whether under your direct control or not) to buy into and deliver on your purpose and strategic goals. I would suggest that there are three aspects to positive presence: contributing content, how you show up and leadership behaviors and skills.
From a content perspective, strategic leaders with positive presence manage what they contribute to discussions and frame their thinking. They tend to display enterprise (system) leadership; they are interested in the whole organization not just their part. They also display strategic thinking and are interested in the big picture and long-term success and have a clear vision and purpose. Through their communication they develop a strong credibility with people at all levels. The most successful leaders have credibility that comes from what they are willing to talk about.
Strategic leaders with positive presence also manage “how they show up”. They display an appropriate level of self-confidence. They have quiet confidence that comes from knowing what they know and, as importantly, what they do not know. They are not afraid to appear vulnerable at times. This confidence is displayed by also being open to the ideas and the views of others. They are also not afraid to be generous with their praise. They display passionate enthusiasm for what they are trying to achieve and this can be infectious to others. They are comfortable with themselves and do not appear overly stressed or even under pressure. They understand the importance of being authentic and people tend to trust them. They are present in the moment and are not distracted. Finally, they are optimistic, positive and create an environment where people can have fun – people tend to like them. Leaders with positive presence know how they show up and understand the impact of their behavior on others.
Finally, strategic leaders who have positive presence display behaviors and have skills to create positive energy with the people with whom they interact. Some examples include behaviors that demonstrate their empathy and a willingness to learn. They are focused in the way they act and actively listen to those around them. Their behavior demonstrates that they understand their audience through the way they dress and their body language. They communicate with intention, align with the audience and speak with a cadence and at a level of detail that is right for their audience. They have the ability to tell compelling stories and appropriately use humor.
Positive presence is important for a strategic leader if they are to deliver on their strategic purpose, strategic goals and day to day goals. It is important to inspire others to buy-in to your ideas and inspire them to follow your vision. It is important to have leadership presence to motivate and engage your team to deliver. It is equally important to inspire your key stakeholders (peers, senior managers, collaborators) to support you and be aligned with what you are trying to achieve. Is positive presence just a “nice to have” or is it critical? I would suggest that it is critical to achieve their goals and to ensure others are engaged.
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