Master Leadership Presence to Build Team Trust and Performance
We sometimes mistake cultivating a sense of executive or leadership presence with creating a false image, but that misses the mark completely. The most effective leaders use presence to represent themselves authentically and to connect with others in ways that earn their trust and respect. That includes being honest, sharing control, and communicating clearly and with empathy, even in challenging situations.
The real you
“Presence is knowing who you are, what you stand for, and what you want to be known for,” according to Patricia Sauer, a coaching solutions partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Blanchard is the leadership training expert and motivational speaker whose One Minute Manager blockbuster book sold more than 15 million copies.
Another definition comes from the book Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar. They describe leadership presence as “the ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others in order to motivate and inspire them toward a desired outcome.”
Rather than being a persona you adopt to build your own reputation, leadership presence is intricately woven together with authenticity. And, it can be practiced at all levels. You need it whether you’re leading from the C-Suite, or as an individual contributor striving for maximum impact. “Executive presence is a result of the head and heart working together to maximum capabilities,” Sauer continues.
Authentic leaders inspire others
Research in Frontiers in Psychology shows authentic leadership to be a significant predictor of employee flourishing because it engenders trust with others. In research conducted with employees in a manufacturing company undergoing a tumultuous restructuring, a relationship of trust between leaders and employees even enabled people experiencing job overload to continue to flourish.
“When leaders display an internalized moral perspective, self-awareness, relational transparency, and balanced processing in the workplace, they are likely to enhance employee trust,” the study authors share. Having trust in a leader can even enhance employees’ psychological, emotional and social well-being, they suggest.
How trust works
The researchers found several specific mechanisms through which a trusting relationship between leaders and their teams drives stronger results. These include:
- Shrinking the negatives. Especially during difficult times, from macroeconomic forces to company-specific issues, trusting relationships give employees confidence that their leaders will work to mitigate negative outcomes for the organization and for them personally. With this understanding, employees cope better with uncertainty and feel more comfortable sharing ideas for improvements.
- Increasing well-being. The researchers found authentic leaders to be positive and optimistic (while transparently candid) and that “these positive emotions tend to spill over to employees as if the emotions were contagious.” Authentic leaders also help employees identify what is within their control to manage and change, and external realities and threats that simply have to be coped with.
- Fostering a climate of inclusion. In environments where information is shared openly, and employees are directly encouraged to provide feedback, the researchers described trust as a “supplementary job resource” that could increase the influence of leaders and the ability of employees to share themselves fully. They saw greater organizational citizenship, higher levels of creativity, stronger team performance and increased feelings of inclusion.
Build your presence
To build your authentic leadership presence, consider these four strategies you can use now.
- Give others your full attention. Show genuine interest in others as whole people with full lives. The Teddy Roosevelt quote continues to apply: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” If you really need to check email or respond to a text, ask for a few minutes to do that first so you can listen fully to those needing your attention.
- Align words and actions. Employees do not need you to tell them everything is great if it’s not, or to promise what you cannot deliver. Say what you really think and what you’re planning to do. Be as honest and forthcoming as you can, telling people up front when you cannot share more information in the moment.
- Be present in your body. That can sound a little ethereal, but being present in the moment happens through your body. Take a minute to breathe, relax and feel sensations present in your body before rushing into your next interaction. Is your jaw clenched, shoulders tight, breathing shallow or brow furrowed? You might be sending mixed signals if you are trying to share openly with team members but your body is sending out signs of fear, stress and self-protection.
- Continue your journey of self-discovery. No leader is perfect, but cultivating an openness to ongoing learning about your strengths, limitations and how you process emotions will help you grow. The more you understand yourself, the more you can build authentic and transparent leadership presence.
The unique expertise and competencies you possess are table stakes to land a role at any level within an organization, but demonstrating executive presence that engenders trust in both your abilities and your character can transform you into a trusted leader.