What does it mean to have presence?

Great leaders and great teachers have it; but what is it? It doesn’t flow from size because there are many great teachers and leaders who are diminutive. It doesn’t flow from intelligence because there are plenty of smart people who have no presence. It doesn’t seem to have its roots in a social personality because there are many people who are funny, and glib, and social that don’t have the kind of presence that would draw us to follow them. Maybe its like the definition of pornography, we know leadership “presence” when we see it.

Perhaps the reason why so many people believe leaders are born, not made, is because the orgins of leadership presence are so difficult to trace. There is no doubt that having “presence” is one of the most important ingredients of effective leadership. The question of the day, however, is can we develop it? and if so, how?

There are thousands of books, classes, and seminars dedicated to developing leadership effectiveness, so there are a fair number of people who hold the belief that leadership can be developed. How many of these books, classes, and seminars set out to develop our leadership “presence”?

To me, the mystery of “presence” seems to indicate a centered alignment of our body, our mind, and our spirit. This is not a common view of leadership; the role of the body is rarely mentioned in leadership development. Even more rare is the focus on our spirit, and our hearts. Spirit (not religion and religiousity) and heart have been compartmentalized out of the world of work. These are things to pursue in our personal lives, not our professional lives. But how do we inspire others? How do we win their “hearts and minds” if we do not bring our whole selves, body, mind, and spirit, to the endeavor?

I believe leadership presence can be developed; but it is done by following a road less traveled; a journey that isn’t only a cognitive exercise where insight rules. I believe that with the right teacher, the right focus…mind, body, and spirit; motivated by a purpose larger than ourselves; and a commitment to sustained, lifelong practice; each of us can step into our greatness.



4 thoughts on “Presence

  1. Take an acting class. Seriously. Acting can help you tap into that wellspring of spiritual presence that is so elusive. Public speaking classes and leadership seminars are all very dry and soulless.

  2. Robert,
    That’s one great way to develop “presence”. I have a good friend that is an actor and an acting teacher at NYU and we’ve talked about this many times.

    The bigger issue for me is how do we change our idea of leadership development from the mental/cognitive model (I read about leadership, I talk about leadership, I take notes about leadership,I have insights about leadership, I use tips and techniques of leaders, I memorize leadership recipes..such as love your staff); to a more bodily and spiritual model of leadership development.

    There are very few people, in my experience, who are open to anything but the traditional approach to leadership development…”make me smarter about leadership”. Having alot of information does not enable one to lead.

    It seems to me until we create a new vision of leadership development; one that is grounded in personal change, and persistent practice, (and whenever possible monitored by a knowledgeable coach); we are going to keep the status quo.


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