PRESENCE: 4 Ways to Take Control of Your Leadership Brand

Co-authored by Justin Foster & Sara Canaday

Have you ever noticed that almost all the coaching advice (solicited and unsolicited!) you receive is about how to deal with other people, workplace situations or a variety of outside factors that you don’t have direct control over? While this counsel is necessary and helpful, you may be looking for something that you have dominion over that impacts YOUR life and career. The one thing you have minute-by-minute control over is your brand and presence as a leader.

So what is “presence”? There are actually two elements to presence:

  1. What you exude. When you walk into a room, you create an impression even before you utter a word. This includes physical appearance, non-verbal cues, demeanor and energy. A common myth is that these elements are related to a natural charisma. While some leaders are innately blessed with these attributes, the rest of us certainly have the capacity to embody and exude presence in any situation. Remember this: What you exude is an external indicator of your confidence and competence.
  2. Being present: Have you ever been in a conversation with a leader that was present in body but not in spirit? How did you feel? Of course, we all have busy schedules, work overload and a myriad of distractions — this is why being a 21st century leader requires true discipline to be present in the moment. You can take all of the attributes from above and still not be in the room; limiting your impact and influence. A simple but highly effective practice is to leave your phone in your pocket not on the table. Not only is this a sign of respect, it eliminates the #1 source of distractions!

While what you exude and being present are the the foundation of presence, your leadership brand actually start with four areas you have daily control over:

Being consistent. Nothing erodes your credibility like inconsistency. Many leaders suffer from a form of plurality where they appear to be different depending on who they are engaging. While being flexible is an admirable trait, being a pretender is not. To be truly respected, your demeanor, approach and reactions — and even opinions — must be consistent and in alignment with your core values and behaviors. In particular, being a leader should never depend on the mood you are in. People shouldn’t have to guess which version of you will show up. This inconsistency is often the result of trying to serve others from an empty cup. While you need to put on your game face in every situation, that game face is much easier if you practice consistent self-care.

Controlling your impulses. Yes, it is hard to remain calm and in control all the time. Especially in a climate of constant change and unpredictable circumstances. However, the more you can manage your emotional reactions, body language and facial expressions the more you are going to be viewed as credible. To control impulses, you must create space between the ego and the mind. This space allows you to pause and let the rational mind catch up with the emotional mind. Similar to the 7 second delay in a broadcast, a little space prevents impulsiveness from taking over.

Owning your value. Many leaders focus on their reputation first, when they should start with their own sense of value. Insecurity in a leadership position is always amplified — especially when leading millennials. The key is to never cede control of your value to someone else. This means having a consistent plan for personal and professional growth, proactively investing in your market value and evolving to meet ever-changing expectations.

Taking charge of your reputation. If you don’t take charge of your brand, others will fill the vacuum with their own biases and perceptions. Instead, you need to be intentional about how others experience you as a leader. Reputation is not just about your technical skills and know-how, it is about how others speak of you, how you make other people feel and the efficacy of your influence. You own your brand, but you don’t own your reputation because it is already in the hearts and minds of others. As such, you need to find out what they are saying and feeling. So ask them! A simple 360 survey will reveal any gaps between what you intend and how others experience you.

Having original thoughts. Karaoke night is fun, but a poor practice for a leader to constantly be singing someone else’s song. This is a too common practice for many leaders who become quote machines for the latest book they’ve read or the latest strategy deck. While continuous learning and strategic alignment are important, applying your own views and perspectives on these ideas is what will set you apart. Being an original thinker allows you to translate ideas, data and information in way that is unique to you and the people you are leading.

When you focus on exuding presence, being present and apply these four principles, people will notice! You will begin to own the moment and own the room. Some may even want to know your secret. And the secret is essentially this: you are taking charge of what you have control over rather than let your reputation and leadership brand be left in the hands of others. This new found confidence will create an aura that will attract new opportunities for career growth.

About Justin Foster: Co-founder of the branding firm root + river, Justin is a relentless and optimistic advocate for unleashing the power of truth and authenticity — and the systematic elimination of all that is boring and stale in organizations.

About Sara Canaday: As a keynote speaker and leadership consultant, Sara works with rising leaders that want to be taken seriously and be ideally positioned for senior executive positions.