In times of crisis people always look for inspirational leaders. What makes for inspiration is subjective, but there is one common element when speaking about leaders who inspire: they have a strong leadership presence.
By presence we mean "earned authority." That is, people follow your leadership because you are a proven quantity, whose credibility rests on your having gotten things done. Every leader must aspire to demonstrate presence in order to inspire; this is a theme I explore in my new book, 12 Steps to Power Presence: How Leaders Assert their Authority to Lead. Let me outline a few key points:
- Know the score. Executives who talk a good game may appear to have presence but what they really have is a silver tongue. If you seek to inspire, you need a deep knowledge of the situation. Communication that directs people to strive for big goals must be reinforced with a process and with information that support achieving those goals, otherwise it is just empty rhetoric. Leaders with presence know their business.
- Radiate command. A leader with presence wears authority like a well-tailored suit. Others notice the good fit and feel comfortable in her presence. A leader who cannot radiate authority is one that will struggle to create followership. Authority stems from strong self-awareness; leaders with command presence are confident because they know what they are capable of achieving by themselves and through others.
- Be humble. Exuding authority doesn't mean overlooking personal limitations. Good leaders are those who know their flaws. A sense of humility affects inspiration in one very direct way: the leader acknowledges that he will succeed only with the help of others. A humble leader draws people to him not because he has all the answers, but because he recognizes that others have good answers, too.
- Provide hope. When people seek inspiration, they are often really seeking hope. Leaders need to deliver it to them. With hope there's a sense of possibility — that if we do what the leader asks, we will succeed. At the same time, hope must be reinforced with a sense of reality: having the right resources used by the right people at the right time. It is a leader's job to deliver on both sides of that equation by providing what employees need when they need it.Let me draw a distinction between presence and charisma. Charisma is the aura leader projects; very often it succeeds people see reflections of themselves in that sheen and therefore are more disposed follow the charismatic person. They are following their own intentions, if you will. Charisma enhances one's presence but it is not essential.
Presence, as noted, is earned authority, or "street cred." For leaders to inspire, they need such presence; it transcends looks and words and reflects not simply intention, but action. Leaders with effective presence are men and women who use their authority to effect good things for the organization.