Leadership Presence

Ever work with someone who had the ability to command everyone’s attention? Someone who could own a room even without saying much? Someone who could make you feel good by being around them?

If you have, you may be wondering what’s that special “wow” factor they have, and how can you get some of it? It’s not their job title or seniority. We’ve all worked with plenty of senior managers that had the personality of a hermit crab.

What this small group of individuals have is leadership presence.

Leadership presence is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Amy Cuddy, known for her “power pose” TED talk defines presence as “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, value and potential”.

I like Amy’s definition of presence, but this isn’t exactly what I’m referring to. She’s talking about being present in the moment and authentic. This is important, and it’s a part of leadership presence, but I’m talking about standing out.

In short, people with leadership presence look and sound like a leader. They are great communicators, both verbally and non-verbally. Most importantly, they evoke trust because they ooze authenticity. These are people with strong emotional and social intelligence.

Some people may naturally have more leadership presence than others, but we can all make improvements.

Below is a list of 10 ways to immediately improve your leadership presence:

1.     Dress the part – Mark Zuckerburg can get away with wearing a tee-shirt and jeans, but you can’t. Take inventory of your current attire and if needed get some new digs. You don’t have to look like you belong on the cover of Forbes, but you do need to show that you care about your appearance.

For guys, this means you should be well-groomed and your clothes are appropriate for the office. One common mistake guys make is not taking care of their shoes. Having terrible looking shoes is a major foul. It makes you look like you don’t pay attention to detail.

Your shoes should be shined and they always must match the color of your belt. When it comes to socks, never, and I mean never, wear white socks with dress pants and shoes.

I’ll stay clear of making any dressing recommendations for the ladies. From my experience, it’s usually the guys who struggle in this arena. The point is, dress like a leader.

2.     Improve your posture – If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language, check it out. When you have good posture, you not only look more confident, it’s actually proven to make you feel more confident. Be mindful of your posture when you’re in meetings. Do not slouch in your chair. Slouching makes you look less confident and less like a leader.

3.     Speak up with confidence – For natural introverts like myself, speaking up isn’t always easy. If this is an issue for you, you have to address it. There are great public speaking courses you can take like Dale Carnegie training or Toast Masters.

Being vocal is so important not only for you and your career, but also for the greater good of your team and company. I’m convinced that a some of the greatest ideas never get heard because people are too afraid to speak up.

If you still struggle to speak up, even after training, you may need to be evaluated for social anxiety. If you are diagnosed with a disorder, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and there is help available.

4.     Know when to be silent – The opposite of speaking up is knowing when to be silent. This can be difficult for extroverts. Sometimes people in leadership roles feel they have to talk when they’re in a meeting. They are not comfortable in silence. The problem is that speaking too much makes you appear less confident and poised. Sometimes it’s okay to let there be silence. Let whatever was last said marinate. Take your time and be thoughtful before you express yourself.

5.     Exercise regularly – Aside from the countless physical benefits, exercise also improves your mood. By working out you stimulate chemicals in your brain that make you feel happier and more relaxed. For this reason a lot of people choose to work out early in the morning, before they go to work. Regular exercise increases your leadership presence because you’ll look and feel good.

6.     Be humble – Most people in the office hold all their cards close to their chest, scared to display any sign of weakness. A sure way to stand out as a leader is to show vulnerability and own up to your mistakes. Not only will this improve your leadership presence, it will also send a message of trust to others, letting them know it’s okay to make mistakes.

7.     Be authentic -The minute you put on a persona you turn people off. People can sense when we are not authentic. Even if you have a confrontational personality, if you are authentic, people will appreciate it. They’d much rather get to know the real you than have you act fake.

8.     Address people by their first name – This may sound like it’s not a big deal, but it is. When you address people by their first name it shows that you care about them. Dale Carnegie said that a person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Next time someone addresses you by your first name, especially someone in a leadership role, take note of how it makes you feel. Don’t you want to pass along that same feeling to others? Do your best to remember the first names of those that you interact with.

9.     Increase your self-awareness – Self-awareness is one of the traits that make up emotional intelligence. It is arguably the most important aspect of leadership. It means you have a deep understanding of who you are, including your strengths and weaknesses. When you have self-awareness, you can put your strengths to work which will improve your leadership presence.

One of the most effective techniques to increase your self-awareness is to get feedback from others. Anonymous peer reviews are a great tool. For more on improving self-awareness, I recommend this post by Bill George.

10. Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness means being present in the moment. When we become mindful, we become aware of our internal and external experiences. It helps us slow down and become centered. In today’s day and age, we need to practice mindfulness more than ever.

Between political divides, juggling work life balance, and the distraction of social media, practicing mindfulness lets us get off the hamster wheel. An easy technique to use is to just take a few minutes either at your desk at work, or at home, close your eyes and focus on your breath. As thoughts enter your mind, don’t fight them, let them pass and bring your attention back to your breath. By doing this for just a few minutes, you will enhance your presence.


If you aspire to advance your career as a leader, you need to work on your leadership presence. By taking the time to invest in yourself and work on the steps outlined, you will begin to look, sound, and feel more like a leader.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.