You may have experienced it. You’re sitting in an all-hands meeting or corporate town hall, and one of the speakers from the executive team has trouble connecting with the room. They falter, aren’t sharing compelling stories, or seem disconnected from the rest of the room. They don’t present themselves as a leader, and their message fails to resonate.
The audience leaves thinking, “I don’t trust that this person can get the things done that our organization needs. I’m not confident in their ability to lead.”
In my consulting life, I was often asked to help a leader with improving their “executive presence,” often as part of preparing to launch a new program or announce an acquisition. I was asked to help them build skills to carry themselves in a way that conveyed confidence and true leadership with a larger audience.
This might be a concern for you as well: How do I stand at the front of a room and communicate in a compelling way? How do I handle my image and reputation in important meetings, so I can persuade others in the room to agree with my perspective?
You might expect that my advice would focus on how to build rapport in the room—things like improving their public speaking style, or thinking about the needs of their audience.
I have a long answer that involves many elements, but it starts at the team level. You must develop a presence with your team first—truly being present on a day-to-day basis to understand them and their needs, and work with them to deliver high levels of consistent performance.
“Take care of the people, the products, and the profits – in that order.”
– Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Your ability to have influence at a larger scale within your organization starts with knowing how to connect and influence people within your immediate team. If you aren’t able to build an effective presence with your immediate team, you will struggle with broader presence as you move up the ranks and take on greater visibility within your organization.
We know that leaders who make an effort to connect with their team see higher levels of engagement and business outcomes as a result. Your team needs you to do more of this, in order to help them achieve more in their work.
There are lots of ways you can be more present with your team. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Take time to build connections and culture within your team.
Seth Godin recently wrote, “If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group.”
He mentioned the power of a group reading the same book and discussing it, to get your group aligned on common ideas and themes (yes, that’s Actionable in action!). Finding common ground and creating opportunities for people to connect, share ideas, and understand each other better becomes a solid foundation for achieving great things as a team.
Make coaching a priority.
Coaching isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Spending time in 1:1 meetings with each of your team members on a reliable, consistent basis is essential. It starts with knowing the right questions to ask. The individuals on your team need to know that they can connect with you on a regular basis for direction and guidance, and this time allows you to better understand their needs and the gaps that can impact their success and the success of your team.
This knowledge gives you a critical understanding of the unfiltered, true capabilities within your team, and a pulse check on a continual basis will give you far better data than survey analytics or other engagement metrics will.
Communicate regularly with your team.
As a leader, you have broader context that your team needs, so take time each week to connect them to what you’re seeing, thinking, and reading. I worked with a VP at one point who sent emails every Friday, blog post style, on what was on his mind that week. He included accomplishments, and called his team out to make improvements when they missed delivering on critical items.
Communication must be two-way, or you’ll never get a true sense of the issues that can become roadblocks. Ask your team to share their own observations with you and the rest of the team.
Be true to your word.
High ethical and moral standards ranked first on a global leadership study, where the author noted that some of the competencies are difficult to master because they run counter to our natural instincts.
Ronni Hendel-Geller wrote an excellent article about the need for leadership accountability. This is the fault line for leadership. Honesty and transparency have to be cornerstones of your leadership, always, and it needs to go beyond that to staying true to your word.
If you have action items your team has asked you to complete, be known as someone who delivers and can be trusted within your team.
You need to be a culture builder who understands people and knows how to deliver results. That’s the reputation that you want to precede you as you move through the organization. You’ll only achieve this by working closely with your team to understand them, and provide the leadership they need to be successful.
If you start by being effective and deeply connected to your team, you’ll gain the experience and wisdom you need for establishing a reputation as a strong, effective leader in your organization. That’s true and lasting presence.