Each situation at work is different inherently, but … why is it that some leaders seem to have influence and persuade others virtually regardless of context, and some struggle to do the same no matter who they’re talking to? Those who can influence have got leadership presence or what I call the X Factor.
Consider a quick popular culture example. A Google search on February 24 of Prince William and Princess Kate, equaled 3.6 million results. People seem to adore them. Their wedding was one of the most-watched TV events of the last half-decade. Almost everything their son or daughter does seems to go viral.
Now consider William’s dad, Prince Charles. A similar Google search showed 700,000 results for Prince Charles and Camilla. And last year The Daily Beast called Charles “the monarch nobody wants.” (Harsh.)
Charles and William are both in line for the throne. They’re both nobility and they’ve both been raised as such, and the English (and the world) have had context for them for decades each. Why is there such a difference in perception?
Let’s be honest quickly: William is more conventionally attractive than his father, and attractiveness is an element of this X Factor concept. But it’s more than that. William has mastered leadership presence, even at a young age. His father is a great dignitary, but hasn’t seemed to master presence to the same degree.
In fact, both William and Kate exude presence. They make everyone they meet feel that they matter. They leave a lasting positive impression. They know how to communicate through various channels from strategically planned photos of their children to Prince William’s compassionate speeches about his mother. They understand how to positively present themselves no matter what the situation. They can hold their own with anyone from a five year-old to a world leader.
You can do this too.
Through years of research and working with different leaders across all industries, as well as reading everything I can get my hands on, I narrowed the idea of leadership presence down to five major concepts in my book LEAD ADVANCED:
Substance: If you don’t have the knowledge of your core area, you’ll never be seen as a present, deeply effective leader. People can sniff out BS. You need to have a track record of success and build your reputation in your industry and beyond. People might’ve questioned Steve Job’s leadership style but they didn’t question his expertise.
Relational Authenticity: This comes down to making people feel as if they matter. Have you ever met someone famous or of perceived importance, and they spoke to you like you were the only person in the room at that moment — even though thousands of people might want their attention? That’s leadership presence. If you read almost any bio of Bill Clinton, people will say he has that.
Style: This is how you show up. I call it ACE of style: Appearance, Confidence, and Energy. Appearance matters. You need to dress the part for your role, but most importantly appear pulled together. Unkempt clothing is a presence-detractor. Being viewed as confident derives from a combination of your substance (see above) and your body language. Researcher Amy Cuddy explains it beautifully in her Ted Talk ‘Your body language shapes who you are.’ Energy is about how you focus your energy toward your audience, not on yourself. It’s dancing with your audience in a mutual energy exchange. Patsy Rodenburg, one of the world's leading voice coaches, calls it honing in on the ‘Second Circle of Energy.'
Communication: This is a major problem in most offices, and is one of the biggest aspects that always shows up in the “negative” ledger on employee reviews of a company. Very few seem to communicate well, which is often the result of unclear, frequently-shifted priorities. Communication for me is about the intersection of three ‘rights:'
- Right way
- Right time
- Right people
In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is a cookie-cutter approach to communication. That doesn’t reach people where they’re specifically at, and that’s a loss. Instead, slow down and determine the outcome you are seeking from your communication. Get clear on the message you need to articulate and the best delivery method (phone, in-person, social media) required to generate awareness, adoption or action from your intended audience.
Situational Agility: Each client, each employee, each situation is going to be different. Some want hard facts all the time. Some are comfortable working from gut. Some use Microsoft products; some use Google. Some love email; some only want to call you. There are thousands of ways where Client A can be different from Client B. The most present leaders respond to each client as an individual and respect their needs while having empathy for how they like to work. The least effective leaders try to shoehorn everyone into what they are comfortable with. Those leaders also end up losing a lot of business.
If you want to boost your X Factor and exude presence, start with building up your relational authenticity. Your first objective is to make someone feel like they matter.
Go visit a co-worker — someone beside, below or above you — and only talk to them about their workload, how you can be of value, and what else is going on in their life. No office gossip, no “I’m so slammed,” nothing like that. Just a quick pop-in conversation that wasn’t scheduled, wasn’t related to deliverables, didn’t mention KPIs, or anything else. Just be human and go and interact.
Do that with a few colleagues in the next week or two. See how your relationships, and the perception of you, begins to shift even in less than one month. But remember: no scheduling. No emails saying “Hey, got 15?” In the immortal words of NIKE, just do it.
It’s small, quick, and simple — but it will work.
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