The greatest leaders in the world have a powerful leadership presence. And, that presence is not about the right clothes, the firmness of their handshake, their tone of voice, or their cosmetics.
What is the real key to powerful leadership presence? It is the capacity to be fully present.
True leaders are present for a task, for a conversation, for the moment, for an opportunity. Present for their larger purpose in the world.
This isn’t easy in today’s high-high- intensity, technology-saturated, 24‑7 work environment. Multiple responsibilities can scatter our attention. Home, as well as work, requires professional skills, which can make every day feel like a marathon you just need to get through. And for women, who have the ability to notice a lot of things at once, it can make it tough to focus.
Yet even as the capacity to be present grows more challenging, the benefits of doing so increase. This becomes truer as you move to higher levels in your organization.
For example, being present is the most powerful way to connect across cultures, which makes it valuable for leaders in a diverse global environment. People from very different cultures can immediately read whether you are fully available to them, because your body language lets them know.
The capacity to be present requires freeing your attention so you can show up where you are.
So what can you do to free your attention so you can fully inhabit where you are? You might start by pushing back against compulsive multitasking. The fact is that doing two things at once makes it impossible to be present for either because your attention is by definition fragmented. And fragmented attention is a highly effective minimizer.
Multitasking also diminishes you by giving the impression that you’re overly responsive to random events. If you see someone constantly checking her phone in a meeting, you don’t think, Wow, she must be important. And you certainly don’t think, What a strong presence she exudes. Instead, you’re likely to conclude that she isn’t in control of her own time or schedule and is therefore incapable of showing up for what’s actually going on. By demonstrating over-responsiveness, she minimizes both her importance and her presence.
The good news is that permitting your attention to be fragmented is not a character flaw. It’s just a habit. It doesn’t necessarily betray a deep-seated insecurity. It’s just a way of responding you’ve grown accustomed that will undermine you as you reach higher by making it impossible for you to manifest—or enjoy—serenity and influence.