I’m coaching several youngish brilliant leaders who are passionate about their work. They suddenly find themselves with a great level of responsibility, sitting across the table from more experienced leaders in high-stakes conversations. To me, their Coach, they express a desire for more leadership presence. “I want people to trust me, to see that I’m solid.” “I’d like my opinion to be taken seriously and carry weight, while still having fun with the challenges.”
The word presence is a good one. It’s a reminder that we live in a physical world and in a body. When you see my body, I am present. Except, most of us are not. In the Western world especially, there is a historic denial of the body (it gets in our way!) and a disembodied view of the mind. Although our body allows us to do many things, it has seemed primitive to focus there. Many intellectuals have despised the body.
Our current love affair (many say addiction) to smart phones moves us further out of our body. Hence, the distracted pedestrian falling into a fountain. Teachers are noticing that their students can’t make eye contact with ease.
Leadership presence is felt by those around you. When your cognitive intention takes up residence in your body, and you direct your attention to what is most important, others might describe you as “calm, focused, attentive”. They might say, “When I spend time with her, no matter how busy she is, I always feel seen and heard.” Or “Even when he just sees me for a few minutes, he sits down and really listens to me. I don’t feel the time is wasted.”
How do you grow your leadership presence? Start with a focus on your breath, which is always available to you and almost always happening unconsciously. Pay attention right now to your breathing. Then extend your awareness – can you feel your feet on the floor? What about your hands – can you feel them on the keyboard, holding the phone or steering wheel, resting on your desk?
Your body can be an anchor. The leaders I am coaching begin to inhabit their bodies – first in small ways and then for longer periods of the day. They might use a meditation app or their nightly walk-with-the-dog to practice presence. Soon they are able to get grounded physically in meetings where their mind (and hearts) are racing.