Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coaching Lessons: What Does It Mean to Have Presence?

Woody Allen famously said that: "80% of success is showing up." And showing up means being present... when and where you are supposed to be. If you are present at 12th and Vine when you are supposed to be at 4th and Main, you are absent.

One's first experience of presence used to occur in the classroom. Your teacher called your name. You raised your hand and announced that you were present or here. If you respond present when the teacher calls someone else's name, that makes you too present, which means, present as a theatrical persona.

I wouldn't want to guess whether this practice is still in use, but it is a place to start. It is part, but not all, of what John Baldoni means when he says that you have to have presence if you want to be a leader. Link here.

Having presence, Baldoni says, means having good character. People who have presence work on building their character. How do they do it? By establishing a record of good behavior.

Good character will make you feel good about yourself, but feeling good about yourself does not mean that you have any character at all.

Presence is also your good name.

A child has a name. It designates him as a member of a group. He did not choose it. He may not even like it. Still and all, it is the means through which other people know who he is. And if no one else knows who you are, then you are not very likely to know it either.

An adult has a name that may or may not be good. When you show good character in your dealings with other people you establish your good name. When you defend yourself against slander and libel, you are asserting your good name. When you work hard to accomplish something you are building goodness into your names.

Obviously, presence is a good thing to have outside of the office. You do not want to enter a room filled with friends, family, or colleagues and have no one notice. You do not want people to treat you as inconsequential to whatever is going on. You do not want to be ignored or shunted to the side.

Above all that, you want people to respect your word. When you say something, you want people to listen, to pay attention, and to engage with you.

People who have presence are respected because they have accomplished things. Baldoni calls this kind of presence: earned authority. Your word about the project is respected because of your track record of accomplishment on similar projects. Your name is good because of your consistently good behavior.

Having presence means being able to get things done, to make things happen, to move the world. In order for you to be the one who makes things move, you need to be unmoved yourself. Whether or not Aristotle was right that the world was set in motion by an unmoved mover, the concept certainly applies to effective leaders. Emotional serenity, the ability to remain in control and composed when receiving criticism, contributes mightily to presence.

When Baldoni calls presence earned authority, he is distinguishing it from charisma. Someone who is charismatic is in constant motion, in constant emotional turmoil. True enough, he might get other people to do things, but most often he has to force them to do it.

Like our current charismatic president, he spends far too much of his time bad mouthing other people, calling them out, and treating them with disrespect. A charismatic leader uses his emotional intemperance as a means to draw other people into his drama.

A charismatic leader inspires love and devotion. He is not respected. He did not work his way up through the organization. He is far better at explaining why things go wrong than making them go right.

Presence involves achievement, but the achievement must be accompanied by humility. When you are present you have the quiet dignity that allows you to stand a little straighter, to speak more clearly and directly, to look people in the eye, to pay close attention to what they are saying, and to remain confident when faced by an emotional storm.

Presence requires self-control. Charisma involves emotional displays.

Presence matters for effective leaders because leaders are too often absent, remote, and distant. They act as though they are too good for the cafeteria, too important to rub elbows with the staff, too powerful to listen to the concerns of whose they lead. Moreover, their absence suggests that they are hiding from the world.

To offer examples of leadership presence, Baldoni writes of the CEO who eats lunch in the cafeteria, or who has a desk on the trading floor, or who spends time every day chatting with the workers on the shop floor. And he adds the telling example of the school principal who walks the hallways greeting his pupils by their names.

By making others present to you you make yourself more present to them.

If you are confident of your authority-- and this means, as Baldoni suggests, that you have earned it-- then you do not worry that lunch in the cafeteria will cause you to lose your aura. You will not think you are lowering yourself when you put your desk on the trading floor; you will know that you are elevating everyone else.

If a leader shows up once in the cafeteria he is not showing presence. He is looking like he is doing something someone told him to do.

If he shows up regularly, and establishes a rapport with his staff, to the point where they are comfortable talking to him, he will have asserted his presence, and he will probably have learned important things about his company.

If he is too distant, remote, and absent, he might have to go on a show like Undercover Boss to connect with his staff, but it is probably easier to spend part of every other day chatting with staff, learning their names, listening to their observations and ideas.

The more presence the leader gives to others the more he will have himself.


Anonymous said...

"Just showing up" is the same thing, to me, as "not quitting"

If the quote was: "80% of success is not quitting.", it wouldn't be as funny, but it would still be a pithy and trenchant observation. It was one of my Dad's favorite quotes.

I always took it to mean:
"Even if you don't feel good, even if you are unprepared, even if you think you will lose, or even die, just show up." but don't kid yourself, it takes a lot of courage sometimes to just show up.

If you don't show up.... Well, that's just one more death of the thousands of deaths of a coward.

>>The more presence the leader gives to others the more he will have himself. <<

In the Army we called that LBWA: "Leadership By Walking Around"

It's remarkably effective, and works everytime it's tried!

You have an uncanny knack for posting The Good Stuff....


Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the observations, Gray. I very much like the idea that just showing up involves perseverance... especially as you understood it... because showing up takes real courage when you do not feel like it, think you will lose, or think you might lose your life.

Career Coach said...

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Career Coach