How Leadership Presence Transforms the Way You Lead


Here’s a transformative goal I want to suggest for all leaders in 2023:  cultivate extraordinary leadership presence.

Presence is the capacity to pay attention wholeheartedly by being aware of the whole of your experience – body, feelings and thoughts – and aware of other people.

When you show up in your leadership with this type of presence, you will begin having a leadership presence that is substantial and noticeable. This is because leadership presence enables you to connect deeply with people by making the authentic you visible, and being fully available to others. This inspires confidence in you as a leader and motivates people into action.

If you think about what the opposite of leadership presence would look like, it would be a state of distraction and overload. This increases the time pressure you’re under as a leader. If this is you, you might be thinking “if only I had more time!”

You’re not alone. In fact, what leader isn’t under time pressure? I don’t know any leaders with time to spare. And just when time is short, and the pressure is on, the temptation of distraction draws you in, and you find yourself actually wasting your precious time. To find out how to work more effectively and save time, see my article from 2022 on getting into flow.  

If time pressure continues to be an issue you need to address, your development focus right now should be developing presence. The impact for you personally, and for the people you lead, will be greater capacity to focus and to work in a calm and methodical way, doing one thing at a time. The benefits in terms of productivity, as well as your own wellbeing, are obvious, as your mind will be calm and your body relaxed. You will also bring a sense of calm to your team, which will address the anxiety that is often palpable when the whole team is under time pressure too.

Choosing presence instead of distraction

At any moment, you can choose whether to be distracted or not. Making a conscious choice to stop indulging in your distractions takes self-awareness. I invite you to choose to stay with your experience – even when it is painful – instead of habitually moving towards your distraction. This takes practice, just like coming back to the breath when your mind has wandered away. It always helps to remember to breathe!

When you get past the distractions, and choose instead to practice presence, the authentic you will become visible. As an authentic leader, you will be true to yourself and what you stand for. If this is different from what others want or need, you might not always be popular.  But taking a stand and being yourself is ultimately unavoidable. You can only be some-one you’re not for so long before the cracks begin to show. In fact, I see authenticity as a great achievement – think instead of the real you shining through!

Some leaders may find authenticity challenging. How much of yourself is it appropriate to show? At the end of the day, you can only be who you are, but you also need to be professional. Decide where that line is for you.

When you show up with presence you will feel confident, relaxed and authentic.  People will notice that you are curious, humble and friendly.  You will speak with clarity, conviction and respect. Your leadership presence will enable you to connect authentically with the people you lead, to inspire confidence in your leadership, and motivate people into action. 

Imagine how much greater your leadership impact could be with this kind of leadership presence? When you have extraordinary leadership presence, time really will no longer be an issue!

Most leaders have some learning to do to get to the point where they have extraordinary leadership presence, but presence is a capacity any leader can learn, cultivate, and master.

Practising Presence

I teach a simple Presence Practice that will help you cultivate leadership presence in the midst of your busy day. It only takes 3 minutes.  If you’re not able to do this practice right now, I invite you to come back to my article later and actually try this practice.  If you notice resistance arise when I invite you to do this, remember you are free to choose to move through your resistance. 

1. Make a Conscious Choice
Begin by making a conscious choice to pause and bring your wholehearted attention to this practice. Consciously commit to being still and quiet for the next three minutes as you do the practice. 

2. Be Fully Present as You Breathe
In the first stage, take your focus to your breathing. For one minute, follow your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Without controlling your breathing or judging what you’re experiencing, bring your attention to your breath throughout the whole of the breathing process, in and out. 

3. Be Fully Present in Your Body
Next, be aware of what’s going on in your body. What bodily sensations do you notice? Rather than judging your experience, simply notice how you are within your body. Even if you notice discomfort or pain, that is just what you’re experiencing right now. Maintain attention on your bodily sensations for one minute.

4. Be Fully Present to Feelings and Thoughts
Finally, tune in to what you’re feeling. Simply notice what you are feeling right now, without judgment. If any thoughts arise, leave these to one side as you give yourself fully to experiencing your feelings for one minute. Feel your feelings fully and wholeheartedly.

5. Return to Activity
Close by returning to whatever you were doing before the Presence Practice. Maintain awareness of your breath, body and feelings as you do so. What do you notice? What is different about your experience of yourself as you return to the activity of your day?

Do this practice every day or – even better – do it several times a day so that you are consciously pausing from the busyness of your day. With regular practice, you will grow in your capacity to be fully present to your experience. This is an essential pre-condition for the development of extraordinary leadership presence.

Maria Brett
The Growing Edge

Maria Brett is a former CEO who has been a practitioner of mindfulness for more than 25 years. Maria’s Courageous Leadership Program helps participants make deep and lasting to the way they lead, including how to lead culture change.  To find out more, contact Maria.

© Maria Brett, 2023