American Management Association
LEADERS PROJECT POWER through their presence.
You can define leadership presence as the presence of author-
ity imbued with a reason to believe. What matters to us most is
authenticity. That cannot be faked, but it can be amplified.
Leadership presence is more than style, more than communi-
cations. It is the projection of the leader’s authentic self. That
authenticity is made up of a person’s beliefs and convictions and
reinforced by behavior. That is, it’s not “talking the talk” that
matters, it’s “walking the walk” that makes the difference. It is
what leaders do to convince people to believe in them as people
and as leaders.
Leadership presence is the outward manifestation of leader-
ship behavior. While leaders project their leadership, followers
authorize it with their approval. Leadership presence is “earned
authority.” Those two words are important.
Earned means you
have led by example. Authority means you have the power to lead
others. While organizations confer management roles, it is up to
the leader to prove himself or herself by getting others to follow
his or her lead. A leader must earn the right to lead others. Title is
conferred; leadership is earned.
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12 Steps to Power Presence
While leaders project power through presence, it is followers
who authorize it with their approval.
Consider these examples:
The plant manager who holds meetings on the shop
floor to be close to the work
The school principal who walks down the hallway
greeting by name the children, who grin and send him
a cheerful greeting
The military officer who stays with his troops when
the action gets hot and provides a voice of calm when
all hell breaks loose
The coach who shows players how to play the game
right and in the process demonstrates what it means
to succeed in school and in the community
The research director who asks questions to stimulate
new lines of inquiry and genuinely listens to responses
The quarterback who steps into the huddle and has
every player look to him not only for the play but also
for direction
The mayor who holds weekly meetings with staff
directors and encourages them to present their ideas
about how best to serve the city
The CEO who works in an open-plan office and eats
in the cafeteria so she can stay in touch with people
and listen to their concerns as well as their ideas
You can think of many more examples from your own life.
Whichever example you consider, it is important to understand
3Step 1: What Is Leadership Presence?
American Management Association
that just as leadership is a reflection of earned authority, leader-
ship presence, which enhances the leadership moment, is derived
from the support of others. It cannot be assumed through birth or
heritage, though many kings and queens have acted as if they have
it and don’t. Leadership presence is a form of communication and
as such can be taught and put into practice.
Some of us have presence; others must develop it.
Watch how leaders we admire carry themselves. See how they
enter a room and engage other people. Look at how they interact
with others, both above and below them in rank and authority.
Watch how they build coalitions and are able to get things done.
Often such leaders are the ones who tackle the impossible tasks
and somehow get them done. How? It is because they have creat-
ed a strong team of people who believe in themselves and their
mission and will do whatever it takes to get things done right.
Leadership presence, the power to lead, does not come auto-
matically with rank. While many CEOs and generals may hold
heavy titles and their presence may seem lofty, the proof of their
leadership is in what they accomplish. People get put into high
positions and often don’t succeed, a phenomenon documented by
Dr. Laurence J. Peter in his 1969 book
The Peter Principle.
failures often stem from a lack of leadership presence. These man-
agers fail to build rapport with their people. They assume it is “my
way or the highway” and do not accept the counsel or opinions of
One of the clearest indicators of leadership presence is the
silence that occurs between leader and follower. No pomp. No cir-
cumstance. Just being there. This leadership presence occurs on
the factory floor when a new hire is schooled by a veteran. You
4 12 Steps to Power Presence
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