Leadership Presence

The same water that floats the boat, overturns it. 
Everyday communication failures can overturn the boat.

When we think of presence, we often think of a charismatic person that commands a room. Individuals like Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King Jr, and Winston Churchill are just a few. These leaders have developed a ‘signature voice’; a unique leadership presence that is confident, authentic, and effective across a variety of situations and with diverse audiences.

Not that long ago I met my fiancé’s work buddies over dinner. The last to arrive, new how to command the room. He has a larger-than-life personality; he is easy to talk to and puts everyone at ease. And he is a wonderful storyteller. He had us captivated and laughing all night. In contrast, I have also worked with leaders who are quiet and unassuming. I recall a CEO I worked with, he was quiet, we often didn’t see him slip into his office, when I needed to speak to him, he gave me his undivided attention. He was present with the discussion and was great at making connections with people.  These quiet leaders have equally made an impact on me. Regardless if a leader is charismatic or quiet, they all have developed their leadership presence.

Leadership presence is defined by four behaviors:

  • Being present
  • Connection
  • Expressing
  • Self-knowing

Being a leader takes commitment and effort to improve your skills. When people try to improve their leadership presence, they adopt one of two styles: “fake it until you make it” or the “take it or leave it approach”.

Three elements of developing Leadership Presence:

ACE: Assumptions, Communication Strategies and Energy


Includes the beliefs we have about ourselves, about others, and about the situations that surround us.

Leaders must believe in their own ability to lead. When you are confident, you are willing to take risks, accept the failures, and then learn from the missteps. In order to demonstrate confidence authentically, you must be knowledgeable. Leadership presence is about how you communicate, your level of self-control, and your attitude and outlook, as well as your appearance and level of expertise.

Your appearance doesn’t mean you have to wear business suits, but the appearance has a lot to do with how you carry yourself, your confidence, and your ability to communicate. Take Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. When he first launched Facebook, he was a young college kid who wore jeans and t-shirts. He doesn’t wear Armani suits and his style would still be considered college casual. What Mark does exhibit is confidence and expertise in his field.

  • Communication Strategies:
    • Connection is the behavior that makes the greatest impact on people.
    • The techniques and tools you use to engage, influence, and inspire others.  The old proverb stands true “the same water that floats the boat overturns it” Everyday communication failures can overturn the boat, these include things like forgetting to listen, talking without providing context, sharing details rather than the big picture, undermining our point by saying too much or too little, and talking around an issue rather than addressing it.
    • One of the most difficult leadership presence skills to develop is the balance between talking/leading and listening/observing.
  • Energy
    • Managing the impact of nonverbal and emotions on others. Be aware of the actions and reactions of others.

My first leadership opportunities came at a young age. I struggled with my own confidence and wondered what I had to offer others. Over time the leadership traits developed. My preferred leadership trait is to lead by example. I like to “walk the talk”. Your leadership presence needs to be rooted in your basic values, knowing your strengths, weaknesses, talents, and biases is crucial to aligning people’s impression of you with your best authentic self. Great leaders have laser clarity and vision.  Don’t try to be someone else. Be true to yourself.

By; Cheryl Viola, Executive Director, MBA


Mockler, S. (2018, August 31). Leadership presence: Define it, develop it, and use it. Retrieved from https://www.vantageleadership.com/our-blog/leadership-presence-define-develop-use/

Su, A. J., & Wilkins, M. M. (2013). Own the room: Discover your signature voice to master your leadership presence. Harvard Business Press.