The first thing I noticed when I recently sat down to interview New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young was his strong leadership presence, which grabbed my attention and earned my respect before he even opened his mouth to speak.
What was it that pulled me in? It felt like what I said was important and that I should focus and choose my words carefully because here in front of me was someone solid and larger than life.
This is leadership presence.
We can all identify leaders with strong presence but how conscious are we about what this entails? We tend to not think about the signals we send out or receive in leadership on a physical level, instead focusing more on our verbal messages.
We don’t consciously think about the degree of tension around somebody’s eyes, how deeply they breathe, whether they sit on the edge of their chair or the fluidity with which they walk.
But on an unconscious level, we are taking this in and its largely how we determine how we feel about someone; whether we trust and respect them, how included or accessible we feel they are, whether their words inspire us or not, and how much presence we perceive them to have.
We all have an innate ability to read the physical language of others and change our beliefs about ourselves through our own body positioning. We just need to make this a leadership focus.
It is not surprising then how powerful it can be for leaders that do focus this way. Who understand the importance of nonverbal communication and ensure that their words are congruent with their body.
Leaders that have a strong presence almost magically attract people towards them; they have a heightened awareness of their own body state and they understand who they are in a physical sense and work to bring their whole self to any interaction.
Some leaders seem to be born with a natural ability, awareness and charisma. But leadership presence is a skill that we can all learn.
I was intrigued to hear Jonathan Young had learnt to initiate - to take the first step to meet and engage with others - as this does not come naturally to him. He has over his career, he said, worked to develop this skill.
Jonathan also spoke of having a strong sense of who he is and why he does what he does. He described this as having congruency between his head and his heart and continually reminds himself about what is important. He spoke about how easy it is to be distracted in politics and to fall away from your underlying values.
And I think this is relevant to all of us trying to achieve anything in any profession.
With this in mind, I wanted to share with others the three key focus areas on how to develop a stronger leadership presence.
Your role as a leader is not to dominate, rather connect and facilitate a process for others. You create presence by including and connecting others wherever you are. This could be in a team meeting, a client presentation, on the sports field, or even in a Skype call. By connecting people, you help them feel they are part of something bigger than themselves.
Strong presence requires the capacity to actually be present. This means being present in the moment - for others and for the task at hand. There is a fundamental difference in being accessible in the sense of physically being there and possibly distracted, and really focusing body and mind on what is happening in the moment. This is true accessibility.
Being grounded involves being in your body. Having a strong sense of who you are and why you do what you do. Being grounded in yourself means to continually reconnect to what is important to you and actioning your values on a daily basis.