Steps to Power Presence

Our Session with Team Jabong on Transition in New Role, helped me to identify Steps to Power Presence to “leaders who want to make a positive difference.” In this brief, readable primer on wielding power with grace, offers people in positions of influence a guide to fulfilling their leadership potential. It distills centuries of leadership advice into a dozen succinct lessons on developing the leadership presence necessary to achieve individual and organizational results.

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Being the titular head of a group or organization does not make someone a leader. To transform mere authority into leadership requires leadership presence, or earned authority. Titles and roles can confer the trappings of authority, but leadership presence must be earned through the approval of others. By approval, Baldoni means a positive response to the authentic beliefs and behaviors of leaders; people might do the bidding of bosses, but they will follow only those who prove themselves to be leaders.

A lucky but presumably small percentage of people are born with a natural mantle of leadership. Baldoni believes that leadership presence can also be taught. He recalls the 1969 management classic, The Peter Principle, in which Dr. Laurence J. Peter suggested that in meritocracies people rise to the level of their incompetence; that is, they tend to be promoted into positions of ever-greater authority until they reach a stage where they no longer possess the skills and abilities required to perform the work. An important part of leadership presence is that strong leaders never reach a level of “incompetence” because they understand the trusting, reciprocal relationship between leaders and followers; they know how to connect, inspire, delegate, and excel.


The key to leadership presence is authenticity, and the key to authenticity is character — the willingness to stand up for what is right. Leaders with presence reinforce character at every organizational level by holding themselves and others accountable. There are three ways to perpetuate character within an organization:

1. Think character. Leaders with presence develop internal moral and ethical compasses that help map out the shape and course of the organization. Strong, positive principles should guide both the leaders and those they lead.

2. Communicate character. Leaders with presence are active, engaged listeners who invite frank dialogue and earnest communication. They do not insist on having the first and last words in every exchange. When they do speak, it is with honesty, clarity, and authenticity.

3. Act on character. Leaders with presence are the personification of integrity. They do not just think good thoughts or discuss good intentions; they act, putting the needs of the organization ahead of their own.

Thinking, communicating, and acting with character allows leaders with presence to do the right thing at the right time (even when that means making hard choices), and to explain what needs to be done in ways that followers can understand and accept (even when a decision might include some painful results).


Earned authority has five attributes:

  1. Decisiveness
  2. Accomplishment
  3. Persuasiveness
  4. Courage
  5. Inspiration

Leaders with presence consider options and deliberate thoughtfully, but ultimately they make decisions and act. They focus less on talking about what they have done and making promises about what they will do, and more on actually achieving results. They communicate plans clearly and honestly; if plans include bad news (e.g., layoffs), they articulate why the actions are necessary for the good of the organization as a whole, not just for a select few. Leadership presence requires the courage to stand up to “bully bosses,” shareholders with tunnel vision, and unrealistic or uninformed public perceptions.


An intrinsic part of conferred leadership positions is power. Leadership presence means using that power in positive ways: to forge alliances, to inspire and encourage others, and to further the organization’s goals. Good leaders do not wield power maliciously or for selfish ends. Instead, they:

1. Find power: They use it to develop a network of supporters as dedicated as they are to benefiting all stakeholders to the greatest extent possible (e.g., customers, employees, and shareholders).

2. Demonstrate power: They use their authority to make good things happen and achieve positive results.

3. Share power: They connect, communicate, and delegate.

4. Influence power: They develop mutually beneficial relationships with those whose powers complement or support their own.


Leaders must consider strategic decisions that affect their entire organizations, but situational decisions are often best left to those on the front lines. Although excessive deliberation and endless research can lead to “analysis paralysis” (and not enough can lead to disastrously narrow or short-term thinking), good leaders seek facts and recommendations, ask questions and challenge assumptions, and weigh the best options. Then they act.

Leadership presence does not inoculate against the occasional bad decision, but good leaders hold themselves accountable regardless of outcome. They earn the trust of those around them by listening to critiques and taking responsibility — not just credit — and making amends when necessary.


Good leaders do not gain followers by telling people what they want to hear, but instead by sharing with them what they need to hear. Authentic communication is essential to leadership presence. Baldoni suggests that the best approach is to “slay the dragons first” — that is, acknowledge the big issues and then move on — and to be forthcoming about the reasoning behind complex situations. He suggests that when the news is bad, good leaders offer “redemption,” something positive that might remain or result (e.g., job retraining, severance packages, offices elsewhere). Regardless of the content, leaders deliver messages with compassion. Empathizing with others’ pain, as well as describing the difficult choices complicating a decision, will humanize leaders and earn listeners’ respect for their honesty.


Developing leadership presence requires establishing a positive relationship with followers. Part of this is projecting authority, self-possession, and professionalism, and being aware of several important components, including appearance, facial expressions, and radiating authority.

People gravitated to Ronald Reagan and his movie star appeal. Not only did he look the part, but he was approachable, a great storyteller, and a good listener. Although leadership presence is similar in some ways to charisma, it relies less on charm and more heavily on earned authority, which can be gained through active listening and engagement.


Good leaders are proud of what they do. They feel good about themselves, and about the organizations they represent and their accomplishments. Baldoni calls this “pride of purpose,” and he believes it is essential not only for leaders but followers as well.

Good leaders clearly explain the various roles and responsibilities involved and communicate their expectations. They articulate how each person’s contributions fit into and provide vital support for the organization; they compliment individuals and teams for doing well and encourage them to take pride in their work. Arrogance alienates, but genuine pride motivates.


Assertiveness is essential to good leadership. Assertiveness does not mean domineering, overbearing, or tyrannical; it means self-confident and fully engaged with the organization. Sometimes it involves stepping to the front and volunteering to accept new or greater responsibilities, and other times it means enlisting others and wielding influence as part of a larger team. It always means acknowledging the contributions of others, participating and leading by example, and never shirking accountability.


Good leaders ensure that their followers understand that what they do matters. Leaders can encourage optimism by projecting it themselves in these ways:

*Explaining why and how what followers do benefits the organization.

*Engaging everyone in problem solving and improving efficiency.

*Keeping things light and positive.

Telling the truth encourages optimism. Withholding bad news instills false hope, whereas honesty strengthens bonds and sparks hope and creativity. Leaders must model resilience and determination while discouraging fruitless perseveration. Effective leadership requires action. Forged in optimism and tempered by reality, action can give people hope, which is essential for achieving results.


Since leadership presence comes not from titles or position in a hierarchy, good leaders can “manage up” as well as “manage down.” By providing valuable feedback, leaders can help their bosses become better managers. Bosses must be open to critique and welcome honest assessments, but coaching up does not mean criticizing, going above, or kissing up. When coaching up people should:

*Open with a positive. Set the tone of the conversation by beginning with something that the boss is doing well.

*Share honest feedback. Being diplomatic but truthful, tell the boss how the team is doing, and where problems may have arisen.

*Offer assistance. Volunteer to assist or provide support in working through the issues.

Coaching up demonstrates self-motivation, which empowers all parties. Leaders need to make sure that they understand their bosses’ needs and expectations, however, lest this motivation be mistaken for ruthless ambition.


Baldoni notes that a common complaint in organizations is that “jerks get promoted and good guys get left behind.” This can happen when people who are good leaders concentrate too much on coaching or leading down — that is, managing followers — while “jerks” spend a greater percentage of their time showing off, acting the part, and “kissing up” to their bosses. Good leaders understand that in addition to managing people and projects, they must inspire the higher-ups’ confidence in their abilities and demonstrate their competence. They can do this in three ways:

  1. Meet and exceed their objectives by providing adequate direction and support for their teams
  2. Demonstrate initiative by volunteering to take on unpleasant tasks and troubleshoot critical problems
  3. Promote themselves by praising their team members and celebrating their achievements.

Self-promotion should not include denigrating the skills or accomplishments of others. Instead, good leaders ensure that they can and do excel in their own roles; prove that they can answer tough questions with composure, competence, and confidence; and work diligently and conscientiously — with a dash of élan. Leadership presence is all about “making yourself known, your influence felt, and your results count.”


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