Ten Questions To Power Up Your Leadership Presence
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recently asked to coach a senior-level manager from a technology firm
in Silicon Valley. I learned that this man’s work was of the highest
caliber and that his advancement had (up to this point) been
fast-tracked. But now his career was stalled.
I asked why this high performing manager needed coaching, here’s what I
was told: “He doesn’t look like a leader.”
like a leader, being perceived as a leader when you interact
with customers, peers, or executives is the essence of leadership
presence. Since it is totally dependent on the impression you make on
others, enhancing leadership presence requires a deep understanding of
the impact of your appearance, your body language, your emotional
state, and how well you to communicate your key messages.
you want to power up your leadership presence, here are ten questions
Are you a clear communicator?
communication isn’t always easy, but it is an essential part of
leadership presence. A simple outline I encourage clients to follow is
the “head – heart – hands” model. Organizing your messages in this way
helps to clarify your “end game,” your desired results.
– What do you want your audience to know? (What
facts/data/examples do they need to hear for you to get your main
– What do you want your audience to feel? (What specific emotional
reaction are you after? Do you want them to feel
– What do you want your audience to do? (What action step do you want
them to take? Do you want them to buy your product/try the new
software/give you suggestions?) And, BTW, whatever you want your
audience to do, remember to ask for it in your closing comments.
Are you a concise communicator?
spans are so short today that you have to express your point of view in
a way that’s both compelling and brief. Simplicity isn’t just a “nice
to have” communication skill. It’s a necessity. If you ramble or beat
around the bush, any hope of holding people’s attention is lost. A good
tip is to ask yourself: “In 10 words or less, what is my key message?”
If you can’t state it succinctly to yourself, you are not ready to
communicate it to others.
Do you speak with conviction?
the smallest word choice can have a big impact. Leaders who speak with
conviction use words that carry a sense of ownership and self-reliance.
They say “I won’t” (which indicates they have decided not to do
something) rather than “I can’t” (which implies they don’t have the
skills or talents for the task). They say “I choose to,” not “I have
as important as it is to use self-assured phrases, it is equally
important to eliminate qualifiers, fillers, and minimizers. People will
judge you as lacking conviction if you use qualifiers such as: “To the
best of my knowledge . . . “ “I could be wrong . . . “ “If I recall
correctly . . . “ As far as I know . . . ””This may not be a good idea
but…” Fillers like “um” and “uh” make you seem unprepared and
uncertain. (BTW: Many fillers can be eliminated if you just pause
between thoughts.) And minimize your use of minimizers – eliminating
words like: “Maybe, “sort of,” “kind of,” “somewhat” – if you want to
Do you tell stories?
stories are more powerful than plain facts. This is not to reject the
value in facts, of course, but simply to recognize their limits in
influencing people. Facts are neutral. People make decisions based on
what facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves. Facts aren’t
influential until they mean something to someone. Stories give facts
is another difference – and it explains why so many effective leaders
are great storytellers: Trying to influence people through scientific
analysis is a “push” strategy. It requires the speaker to convince the
listener through cold, factual evidence. Storytelling is a “pull”
strategy, in which the listener is invited to join the experience as a
participant and to imagine acting on the mental stage the storyteller
creates. Stories resonate with people in ways that encourages
open-mindedness – and make them less resistant to experimentation and
Does your body language project presence?
a body language perspective, leadership presence is comprised of two
sets of nonverbal signals. The first set of signals conveys status,
power, and authority. You display those through your posture --
standing or sitting tall with your feet hip distance apart, head
straight and shoulders back, and by expansive hand gestures, typically
around waist level. The second set of nonverbal signals conveys
empathy, likeability, and warmth. These include smiles, positive eye
contact, open palm gestures, and (most of all) giving people your
you project both power cues and empathetic body language, you have a
winning combination for being perceived as confident, influential and
presence is diminished, however, whenever you assume a submissive
posture in which your shoulders are rounded, your chest is concave and
your head is tilted down. Holding your body in a condensed position not
only makes you look vulnerable and powerless, it makes you feel that
Do you dress for leadership success?
friend Joyce is a successful entrepreneur. One of the secrets of her
success is the way she dresses. Even when traveling on vacation, Joyce
is in a business suit and heels. Her motto is: “Wear great clothes. You
never know whom you'll meet!”
for leadership success doesn't necessarily mean that you have to wear a
suit when you travel -- or even when you go to work, since many
workplaces encourage more casual attire -- but it does mean that
whatever you wear should reinforce people’s perception of you as a
polished and competent professional.
Do you tailor your content for different audiences?
can’t be at your influential best as a communicator unless you know
your audience: the challenges they are facing, what they want and need
to know, how they feel about you, and what they already know about your
topic. But different audiences have different challenges, needs,
emotions, and knowledge, so your task is to find ways to be relevant to
whomever you are speaking.
CEO told me, “My greatest leadership skill is an ability to tailor and
craft messages that resonate whether I’m meeting with truck drivers in
the backroom or executives in the boardroom.”
Do you stay poised and positive under pressure?
optimism under pressure is an impressive display of leadership
presence. Like the common cold, emotions are literally contagious.
During any high-pressure situation, your team will be on
alert—constantly looking to you for emotional cues. So take a deep
breath and instead of wondering how you are going to get through this,
ask yourself “How can I take charge of the situation and use it to
achieve positive results?”
9) Do you have a plan for self-promotion?
know, I know – you don’t like to “blow your own horn.” But if you
believe that working hard, keeping quiet, and waiting for your talents
to be discovered is the answer, take a tip from a savvy leader I
interviewed: “If you want to be evaluated as having leadership
presence, then being a legend in your own mind is not enough.” Instead,
you need to make sure that executives in your company are aware of your
work and accomplishments (and you need to do so in a way that is not
seen as boasting, but as informative and helpful), you need to promote
yourself by volunteering for projects, giving speeches, writing blogs,
and taking an active part in professional organizations. You need to
network within and external to your industry, and you need to find
mentors and sponsors who will guide and help promote you.”
10) Are you inspirational?
best leader I ever worked for combined a deep understanding of
organizational dynamics with an exceptional talent for dealing with
people. At meetings he would pose questions that left us curious,
energized, engaged, and highly motivated. We couldn’t do enough for
him. Sometimes I wondered if we were all hypnotized. I’ve never seen
people work so hard for someone and still want to do more.”
is typical of the responses I get when I ask people to describe their
most inspirational leader. The power to inspire others is a byproduct
of your ability to connect
emotionally with your objectives and to make people feel like valued,
collaborative, and trusted partners in achieving those goals.
Inspiration is not only something we all want
from our leaders; it’s at the
heart of leadership presence.
presence may be intangible, but it’s far from mysterious. At its core
is a set of practical skills that you can learn, employ, and improve.
Doing so will not only make you look like a leader,
it will help you become an even better one – and help position you as a
viable candidate for that next big promotion!
About the Author
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an international keynote
speaker, leadership presence coach, expert on the impact of body
language on leadership effectiveness, and author of "The Silent
Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You
Lead.” She can be reached by email: Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com
or phone: 510-526-1727.
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