Does leadership depend on a special kind of person or a special kind of action?
This is the question that hooked a colleague and me last week while we were running a corporate leadership development seminar. I found myself disagreeing with the formulation of the question, which forced our conversation in to an unhelpful polarity. Instead of staying with either/or thinking, I wondered if leadership is more about a special kind of Presence…
Presence is an inner orientation that has an outer effect. It has nothing to do with communication skills, or raising our profile, or managing people’s perceptions of us – as an enactment of our values and purpose, it is more deeply connected with our essential authenticity than this… One of the special things about leadership presence is the access it provides to our natural authority – literally, our ability to author something. Leadership Presence is nothing to do with power over, but with power to… My colleague Amanda Ridings, who offers courses in developing leadership presence, says that, “Presence provides access to perspective, creativity, ethics and other higher-order functioning.”
How do we cultivate such authority? I think that it takes time. Presence is not uniform – it shrinks when we’re under stress and pressure and it expands when we feel at one with ourselves. What can help develop our Presence is that we learn to pay attention to our embodied experience – something that is often counter-cultural in organisational life, yet fundamental to developing the kind of intuitive judgment that enables us to work with complexity and earn people’s trust, respect and followership.
When we truly embody our authority, we can lead effortlessly.