4 Ways You Can Create A Leadership Presence

Have you ever met someone who’s physical presence is a little underwhelming? Their demeanor says they don’t matter and their handshake leaves something to be desired?

This reinforces the notions it’s not what you know that really matters. There’s more to leadership than our knowledge. Our presence in leadership matters just as much, if not more.

Image by Sip Khoon

Image by Sip Khoon

Think back to the man you’ve met who left you underwhelmed. Why did you feel this way about this specific person?

I can think of a few reasons:

Their lack of confidence showed in their body language.

We read people by the way they carry themselves.

A lack of energy can often be felt by the other party.

These are but a few reasons you may feel underwhelmed by the presence of another person. As a leader, you need to be aware of the way you’re carrying yourself. Your body language can speak much louder than the words you speak.

Leaders should have a presence that draws attention to the work at hand. You should be drawing others into the fold and getting them excited about what they’re going to do!

Let’s take a look at four ways we can boost our leadership presence as we interact with those around us.

1. Make frequent eye contact: When we’re communicating with others, eye contact conveys much to the other person. Eye contact tells the other party that you’re interested, there’s a level of respect between the parties, it creates a sense of connection, and can convey feelings that words alone cannot.

Now, don’t go getting all creepy with the eye contact. Don’t stare them down like you’re hunting wild game. Instead, break eye contact once in awhile and regain it when you feel like it’s appropriate. Mastering eye contact can change the way people perceive you.

2. Learn the proper way to shake hands: Let’s be honest. We’ve all experienced someone who has a “limp fish” handshake. The handshake may come off as dainty or unsure. There’s no firmness behind the handshake. You’re left feeling like you didn’t shake a hand but a limp fish.

The good news is we can learn how to properly shake hands. It’s not that hard. Head on over to The Art Of Manliness and check out their illustration on how to give a proper handshake. You can check it out here.

3. Get physically fit: One of my core beliefs is that leaders should be willing to get physically fit. When leaders take control of their own bodies and bend it to their will, it shows that they have greater self control than most. Knowing this helps me to follow them easier than someone who’s unwilling to take care of their physical health.

As your level of physical fitness increases, your body begins to change. You begin to stand up straighter, walk with more purpose, and persist with more endurance. Fitness doesn’t affect just the body, it affects the mind as well.

4. Learn to control your voice: You can create a large leadership presence if you’re able to control the tone and volume of your voice. Learn how to move the volume up or down, raise or lower the pitch.

Our voice control can either draw people towards us or push them away. It’s learning the ways to use your voice that can lead others to have a better impression of your leadership.

Question: How do you create your leadership presence? Please share your tips in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • These are EXCELLENT tips, Joe. Presence is so important to leadership. I’ve witnessed some leaders whose presence is underwhelming and some whose presence is OVERwhelming. The trick is to split the middle! Nobody wants to be in the presence of someone whose eyes are burning holes and who’s constantly posturing to be “bigger” than their audience.

    In those leaders I most admire, I’ve also noticed a comfort with quiet and questions. Sometimes, the conversation would trail without falling flat. Maybe the leader sensed I needed a minute to think or that the conversation needed a space. They probe with questions to help me figure things out and give me the silent space that I need to formulate an answer. All the while, their posture and demeanor is supportive.

    Just some rambling thoughts on the presence of those I most enjoy learning from.

    • Justin, you hit on something important. There’s the middle ground, and it’s where we really should be striving to hit. We’ve got to exude power but we’ve also got to exude openness and comfort.

      Thanks for taking the time to share some of the thoughts the post inspired you with. Keep leading well!

    • That’s a great point about being overwhelming. For me a great leader is approachable, someone who I would feel comfortable talking to rather than intimidated by.

      • Yes, Jan! Absolutely. Male and female leaders are both guilty of the “alpha” mindset. But someone who has to maintain power through fear will not be a leader long. A leader’s presence should be one that is reassuring, his or her goal to guide others to a place of leadership.

  • Wow. These are great tips. I know # 1 is something I need to work on as I have a habit of breaking eye contact when it gets too “awkward.” It’s something I’ve been making a conscious effort to change.

    The physically fit part is a good point too. Good exercise and habits affect EVERY part of our lives. I’m glad you could see the wisdom in applying it to leadership.

    • Thanks Mike. Eye contact is a hard one. Sometimes it feels like you’re staring and glaring. Other times you can feel you’re not having enough. What have you done to work on making eye contact better?

  • Joe – I like that you focused on the voice tone & body langauge parts of the message. Too often the focus is on what is being said, and not how it is being said. Popular research attributes only 7% of a message to the actual words we use – it only follows that we need to concentrate efforts on the “who” behind the “what.”

    • Jon, our body language is so vitally important to what we’re saying. And, like you said, the research shows it.

      It’s funny if you ever stop and watch people. You can tell the tone of the conversation by the body language of those speaking. We’ve got to be mindful of that as well.

  • Remembering names is not mentioned here. It’s tough to do, but is a HUGE compliment to others!

  • I agree with your point having a good physical appearance along with quality voice supported by quality talks really turns you into a good leader gradually.

  • PeggyNolan

    Good leaders recognize the people who are following them – one of the things we learn as black belts and leaders in our dojo is to recognize people three different ways, three times each. 1. Make eye contact, 2. Say their name, and 3. Make appropriate physical contact (high fives).

    Peggy (from UBC)
    Peggy Nolan

  • Sophie Bowns

    I’d have to admit that I’m not a natural leader! Learning names is something which I find very difficult!

    • It will get easier with practice, though it may take a few months. Try saying their name back to them. For example, “nice to meet you, Sophie” instead of “Nice to meet you.”

    • Ellory is right; repeating the name right away helps a ton. I have a real problem with names. I used to resort to those easy, go-to generalities (i.e.: bud, friend, etc.) Don’t get sucked in! It’s an addiction. I AM very good with faces, so I often simply apologize and ask them for their name again. I don’t act ashamed and move on in our conversation. Often, having them repeat the name is enough for it to catch and associate with the face for me!

    • Sophie, most leaders aren’t natural at it and have to continue to work to build up the quality of their leadership.

      Keep practicing at learning names. It can be really tough at the beginning but the more you do it, the better you get at it. One suggestion, if I might, is to use their names in the conversation after you’ve first met them.

  • Joe, I read the story of an executive who would walk into every meeting and set down his water cup and notepad. His water and notes would tell the room where he was sitting and establish his “place” in the room. Guess who now brings water to ever meeting!

    • I almost invariably do the same thing! In a sales situation, this positions you in the right spot for your presentation or sales conference. In a business setting, it eliminates any apprehension your team members may irrationally hold about sitting in the “wrong seat”. Great example, Ellory.

    • Huh, that’s interesting Ellory. That leader was establishing his area and presence. I can see that being a great way to notify others of your presence.

  • David Tumbarello

    Love the post, Joseph. It has been said that 70 – 90 percent of communication is non-verbal, and I would put nuances like using a name and eye contact into that category. It may not be the “content” of what I want to get across, but those non-verbals tell about my attitude, my investment, and how I want to be connected with the other person. I really like the comment below about the goings on in a Dojo. Thanks for the discussion, all.

    • David, glad you enjoyed it and I thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

  • Francene Stanley

    This advice would apply to anyone, whether they want to lead or not. Returning the visit from UBC.

    • Thanks Francene. That’s so true, it’s not just leaders that can benefit from this advice, anyone looking to advance would do well to heed it.

  • Great post, Joe. I’ve had lots of experience with the importance of verbal and non-verbal messages in my previous job as an FBI agent….that handshake thing is really significant. Remember how Bill Clinton used the technique: when he really wanted to create intimate experiences during meet and greets, he’d give the two-handed version, where during the handshake he’d grab the upper arm with his left hand. It pulls the person closer and signifies warmth and trust.

    • LaRae, thanks for sharing the example of how Bill Clinton used the technique and shook hands. His way of greeting definitely had an impact on the way others viewed him.

  • I’ve been trying to master my hand shake for a while now. I try and have a mild hand shake, not limp or too hard. A good hand shake can leave a positive impression. Thanks for this practical post.

    • Dan, thanks for sharing! Handshakes can be a very tricky thing to get just right.

  • One thing that can help is to hold the handshake an extra second, look him/her in the eye, and repeat his/her name. The other person thinks you are genuinely interested, and you have a better shot of remembering!

    • Tom, excellent recommendation for helping to remember the person’s name and leaving an impression.

  • One area I can work on is: I need to smile. A simple smile can spur our teams to great heights.

    • Yes, smiling is a huge factor in leading, even if it doesn’t seem like it. What’s holding you back from smiling more?

      • Honestly, it’s just a lifetime of frowning. Ever since I was a little kid, I was known as the kid with the “serious” face. Trying to correct that after 40 years is easier said than done. It will take a lot of practice. 🙂

        • Bummer, but thankfully we can always take steps to correct bad behavior. Keep yourself mindful of the frowns and before you know it, you can turn that frown upside-down (-:

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