Developing Leadership Presence

Leadership Presence: every leader wants it, but most people have a difficult time defining it. It’s been described as an “illusive ‘we know it when we see it’ quality,” the ‘X’ factor,” and “a blend of personal and interpersonal skills that when combined send all the right signals.”   Although it may feel undefinable, researchers have identified two qualities that when balanced lead to an influential presence: strength and warmth.  A leader who projects too much strength and not enough warmth turns people off. A leader who projects warmth but lacks strength fails to inspire confidence. Most leaders are unbalanced in one direction or the other: the challenge is to project both strength and warmth. In addition, a leader needs to communicate them in the right order: warmth must come first, to allow a foundation of trust to form.

Once you’ve identified which quality you need to develop more, the challenge is not only to express it, but to do it authentically. You may be familiar with the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it,” but the problem with faking it is that people can tell you’re being inauthentic. There are, thankfully, things you can do to shift your internal state to develop your inner confidence and/or warmth; through these exercises you can authentically increase your inner strength or warmth. One way to cultivate inner confidence is to strike a “happy warrior” pose: think Wonder Woman or Superman standing with their legs apart and hands on their hips.  When you are face to face with others, you probably don’t want to stand in quite that way, but you will want to retain the good posture. To develop genuine warmth, try finding a something in another person that you can validate – and share it with them. Or focus on any reason to be happy, and smile about it. Standing up straight and smiling – well, that’s the winning combination of strength and warmth. Practice it in the privacy of your own space, and it will become more natural in the company of others, enabling you to project the leadership presence that will influence others to follow you.

[1] Carol Kinsey Goman, “5 Ways to Instantly Increase Your Leadership Presence,”, January 18, 2016, and and Anita Campbell, “11 Steps to Help Develop Your Leadership Presence,” Open Forum, October 9, 2015, downloaded from

[1] Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger, “Connect, Then Lead,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 2013.

[1] This and other tips compliments of Cuddy, et al.

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