Leadership Presence - Why you need it and how to get it.

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What is leadership presence?

Baldoni (2009) characterizes leadership presence as ‘earned authority’. Su and Wilkins (2013) characterize it as the “ability to consistently and clearly articulate your value proposition while influencing and connecting with others.”

Definitions aside, people immediately recognize those who have leadership presence. It is about having that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that others respond to. Leaders require at least a certain amount of it in order to be successful in what they do – build relationships, lead people, make sales, and deliver on promises.

Four components of leadership presence

Leadership presence consists of four components: gravitas, interpersonal skills, appearance, and attitude; all interrelated. Leaders with true presence exhibit all four!

Let's take a look at each component.


Gravitas is projecting confidence and poise, even in high pressure situations. This confidence needs to be backed up with substance. If the leader is talking and no one is listening, it is likely the leader is not communicating with gravitas to support his or her leadership presence.

Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills include thoughtfulness, sincerity, and warmth. But that's not enough! These qualities must be supported by being an excellent speaker, an active listener and demonstrating assertiveness. Communication, the central component of sharp interpersonal skills, is about speaking clearly and conveying the substance of one’s ideas and the sense that you are someone that is worth listening to.


Appearance (looking polished, well groomed and put together) isn't about wearing the latest high-end clothes; rather it is about looking appropriate relative to the situation at hand. Appearance “opens the door and gets you invited in,” according to a Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) survey conducted in 2012. The CTI survey found that 83% of senior executives believe that “unkempt attire” detracts from a woman’s executive presence, while 75% of senior execs believe it detracts from a man’s.


Attitude is the final component of leadership presence. It goes hand-in-hand with the three qualities already noted. It is about exuding passion to inspire and lead others, while being calm and thoughtful when necessary. The key is developing the skills and knowledge to constantly assess your context and surroundings. Executives who are known as “loose cannons” typically are not seen as having leadership presence. There is an element of predictability about the leader’s attitude and subsequent behavior in various situations.

This combination of four elements doesn't come naturally or easily for many people; it is something that they work at.

Do you have presence?

After self-assessment, you may be wondering what you can do to increase your presence.

10 tips to help you increase your presence

Most of us are not born with presence. It is something that is created through conscious intention, practice and experience.

  1. Develop your interpersonal skills. People with leadership presence put others at ease. They do this by including everyone when conversing in a group setting and focusing exclusively on the person they are speaking with one-on-one. They communicate clearly and effectively, but more importantly, listen carefully.
  2. Be genuine and know who you are. Know what your values are and be true to them. Character is important. Others can tell when you’re faking it.
  3. Show warmth. Leaders often feel the need to formalize their style as they move up in the organization. Being approachable and engaging will help relationships flourish at all levels.
  4. Be fully present, engaged and don’t hog the spotlight. Show others that you’re interested in what they have to say by asking for feedback, maintaining eye contact and leaning toward them when they speak. Don’t, metaphorically, suck the air out of the room when you enter it.
  5. Develop executive maturity. Know what your triggers are and how to identify them so that you can stay cool and composed, even in the face of extreme stress. Executive maturity is about knowing yourself and the impact that you have on others. Be aware of habits and behaviors that derail you and consciously plan responses to challenging situations.
  6. Master presentation skills. Leaders are required to make presentations to peers, clients, employees, stakeholders or higher level executives. The ability to deliver audience-appropriate messages with confidence and clarity is a fundamental skill.
  7. Consciously set your attitude. Each of us has the ability to shape our day through adjusting our attitude. Become very good at setting your intention for the day. We can’t control what others do, but we can control our reaction to them. And, we know that people respond to the attitude we bring with us.
  8. Dress appropriately for the situation. While it is superficial that others judge based on appearance, first impressions make all the difference. Research has found that it takes between eleven milliseconds and five minutes for people to make lasting and unchanging judgments.
  9. Act with intention. Understand why you are taking a particular action or behaving the way that you are. Know what assumptions you’re making going in to a situation and consider how these assumptions will help or hinder you.
  10. Seek feedback. Ask for feedback from trusted individuals as to the perceptions that others have of you. This will help you take steps to manage those perceptions. Voltaire once said, "The only way to truly see yourself is in the reflection of someone else's eyes."

As a senior executive, manager, team leader, or individual contributor, you have the power to create the presence you desire. You can make the choice to improve upon the four components of executive presence - gravitas, interpersonal skills, appearance and attitude – to become the leader you want to be.

What is your experience with establishing leadership presence?


Baldoni, J. (2009). Developing your leadership presence. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2009/10/developing-your-leadership-pres

Fortier, M., and Hicks, K. (2012). “Executive presence” is key to corporate advancement; New study from the Center for Talent Innovation reveals how to get promoted now. Retrieved from: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/10/prweb10050433.htm

Su, A.J., and Wilkins, M.M. (2013). Own the room: discover your signature voice to master your leadership presence. Harvard Business School Publishing: Boston, MA.


About Wilma Slenders, PhD

I'm a strategic advisor, executive coach, and management consultant. I've completed a Master’s in Management, a doctorate in Leadership, studied CEOs and their trusted advisor relationships, and have founded four successful companies in four different industry sectors.

My passion is to help individuals and corporations grow to reach their full potential. A lifetime of business experience has given me the ability to effectively support my clients to grow faster, perform better, and achieve more.

To maintain balance in my life, I spend my time outdoors, travel, and take photos, some of which will be featured in my blog posts. Follow me on Twitter: @TranscendMgt

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