[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins are co-founders of Isis Associates, an executive coaching and leadership consulting firm. They are also co-authors of Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence.]
Think of a leader you know who has a commanding leadership style. Who comes to mind? Is it someone who drives to results, is decisive, and has a keen sense of urgency? Or is it someone who gets the job done but not without using his sharp elbows in the process? When it comes to those with a commanding style, you can’t help but wonder how much their presence contributes to moving the organization forward and how it also is what sometimes gets them and the organization in trouble.
Regardless of how you might feel about the person at an personal level, their approach begs the question: should we emulate their command and control leadership style or not? Those leaders who veer too much on the commanding side of presence certainly achieve results but often at the expense of relationships and connectivity to their stakeholders. Vice versa, those who overly focus on the needs of others and have more of an accommodating presence may compromise being able to effectively drive to necessary outcomes. Whichever way you lean, neither presence is sustainable in the long run. And herein lies the key: exuding leadership presence is dynamic – – it is not stuck in being one way, the same way all of the time. Leadership presence requires you to be adaptable to any given situation by being both commanding and supportive not swinging the pendulum between the two, not choosing “either/or,”, but instead integrating both strength and compassion.
When we see command-and-control leaders achieve results at the expense of their stakeholders it leaves many of us wondering if that is their only path to success. This is especially consequential for women who ultimately face what researchers at Catalyst termed the “double bind” – the quintessential “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” quandary as it relates to their presence when they are perceived in extreme ranges of either being too soft or too tough.
But rather than taking on the persona of leaders you see in the news or in your own office, your leadership presence has to start with what is unique to you. Too often, individuals will emulate the overly commanding style they see in others (especially in their bosses) thinking that is their only way to exude presence. By mimicking someone else, you will fail to build on your own strengths. Instead, focus on defining what your distinctive value proposition is to your role, your stakeholder and your organization. By keeping in mind what value you bring to the table and how others can benefit, you will be on your way to building a presence that is confident, engaging and authentic and resonates positively to those around you.
What attributes do you conjure up when you think about a leader that has effective presence? Authentic, engaging, trustworthy, visible, clear, decisive, listener? The fact of the matter is that an effective presence reflects all of those attributes. Having leadership presence requires an unfaltering ability to be authentic to yourself and your message while holding an awareness and attunement to others. In other words, leadership presence means having a voice for yourself, your vision and that of your organization while also giving a voice to others. This is the type of presence that ultimately engenders trust and followership.
One way or the other, a commanding leader’s impact will be etched in your mind one way or another. As you chart your own leadership course, you have the chance to exude your very own authentic presence that is aligned with the impact you ultimately want to make. What will it be?