Minisode: Leadership Presence with Jenn DeWall

Minisode: Leadership Presence with Jenn DeWall

Jenn DeWall:

Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall! And on this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit, we’re doing a minisode on leadership presence, which is actually something we just discussed in Crestcom’s monthly webinar! You’ll have to go to to check those out! Today the topic is leadership presence—projecting confidence with authenticity.

And as we start this, I want you to just reflect on when you first learned what leadership presence was. Was it something that someone sat down to tell you about? Was it something that you observed or you learned throughout your life? For many people, it’s actually something that we learn on the job. This means that we can often make some mistakes, errors, and missteps before realizing we weren’t supposed to do that.

How Do You Define Leadership Presence?

I want you to also think, how do you define, how do you know whether someone has leadership presence or they don’t? Because over 50% of HR practitioners believe that executive presence is difficult to define, meaning that we all have different expectations or different ways that we actually assess presence.

And here’s the other statistic from those HR practitioners over 80% believe that it’s easy to spot. So even though they might think that it’s hard to define, it’s actually easy to spot. I like to describe leadership presence as our shadow. It’s what is always with us. It’s what people see, and leadership presence is a felt presence. And whether we like it or not, perception is reality. And again, I think this is important to know– that presence may be easy to spot, but we have to be mindful of the role that our own experience and bias can play that can give favor to someone’s presence.

But what is leadership presence? It is defined as the ability to connect authentically on both an intellectual and an emotional level to motivate and inspire others toward a desired outcome. It is leadership. It’s also the ability to project confidence and composure under pressure.

That means someone might make marks against your leadership presence. If, for example, you are in a meeting and you disagree with what someone is saying or maybe the direction it’s going to go. And instead of having a productive conversation, you might shut down, and your body language might move inwards. Your communication might actually be rude or condescending, or defensive. And people again are looking at that to determine, is this a leader I want to follow? Can I trust them?

Why is Leadership Presence Important?

Why do we need to care about what leadership presence is? According to the Center for Talent and Innovation, CTI, leadership presence accounts for 25% of what it takes to get promoted and impacts our individual success. It impacts whether we get promoted and whether we communicate in a way that makes people want to work with us, collaborate and do what we need them to do! It can also impact employee engagement and turnover.

When employees are working with a leader they might deem as a bully or insensitive, or overly authoritarian— you’ll likely find that they shut down and look for a more supportive and productive workplace culture. Workplace presence also impacts our productivity and our ability to be resilient. And even how we treat our customers.

The Four Pillars of Leadership Presence: Gravitas, Communication, Appearance and Character

Now, there are four main areas of leadership presence. First is gravitas, and that’s essentially how you act and project your confidence— your actions. And that really plays into perception is reality.

The second area of leadership presence is communication. Not only how we communicate verbally but also non-verbally. What’s your body language saying about a conversation? Are you engaged, or are you shut down?

And its also appearance. But I would again say that there’s an asterisk next to this one. Because it depends on the industry that you’re in and the workplace culture in terms of what the expectations are for dress and appearance. Many companies have different expectations. And this poses a unique challenge as it relates to leaders in bridging the gap.

So, for example, let’s say that you’re onboarding a new employee, and this employee came from a more casual culture. You might notice that they come in, and as far as their physical appearance, they come off as more casual. And you might find yourself judging them. Like, don’t they take this work seriously? Why aren’t they dressed like a professional? But you see, if you didn’t have the conversation with them, they dress based on what they know success looks like. And so, again, remember that appearance is something that we need to challenge.

And then, of course, the final area of leadership presence is our character. You can think about that as our values, what we stand for. And, of course, what we fall for.

The Center for Talent and Innovation actually describes this mix in three parts. Gravitas— how you act— accounts for 67% of your leadership presence. 28% is communication. And again, that’s both verbal and nonverbal, and then only 5% is appearance.

What Can Harm Your Leadership Presence?

But what do you need to watch out for? These are the things you could do that would negatively impact your leadership presence, or they’re eroding whether or not people want to trust you or follow you. One- the blame game. Hey, did you see what happened here? It’s all your fault. I’m not taking any responsibility for it. No, it’s their fault. They didn’t send the email. They didn’t do this. When you can’t take responsibility. It says that I can’t trust you. The second pitfall of leadership presence is inconsistency. People want consistency. Our brains actually operate better when we understand what’s expected of us. If you find your emotions change day to day, meeting to meeting, and that you aren’t consistent in how you react to problems or challenges, or maybe some days you actually go off the deep end when someone makes a mistake. But for others, you might have more empathy. Chances are, someone is going to assume your worst is your best. And then they might say, I don’t want to follow this person.

Another pitfall of leadership presence is closed-off nonverbal cues. I know you can think of this person in a meeting with their arms crossed, and there are 20 other places they would rather be. If you are that individual, it’s telling people I’d rather not be here, or I don’t have any interest in this conversation or entertain me. And again, it’s creating this perception that you’re distant, disengaged, and maybe not even worthy or willing to collaborate with others.

Other pitfalls of leadership presence would be: listening to respond. Leading from the tower, pretending that you are above it. If you want to have a productive and appropriate leadership presence, you must be willing to get your hands dirty and do the work, not just point and look down at others, especially in a time of crisis.

And of course, another pitfall is a lack of professionalism, not understanding what you’re saying or how you’re saying it and how it could be construed by your audience. And this is what I want you to pay attention to. When are people determining or essentially judging your leadership presence?

Well, one— first impressions! Are you meeting people with a nice, positive greeting, or are you indifferent to their presence? Maybe you don’t even look them in the eye or show them that you care that they are there. So first impressions when you’re first meeting a customer, a potential business partner, or even a new employee during that interview process. If they get the impression that you are not supportive or not open. That might signal to them that that’s not the right fit for them, which is important to pay attention to, especially where many companies compete for top talent.

Leadership presence can also be undermined by your dress and attire. Are you wearing clothes with stains on them? Because you know, sometimes we have to take care of ourselves a little bit, or are you wearing really wrinkled clothing in your industry? Again, depending on what people are used to, they may want to see you in a different way. And so it’s very important to understand who you’re trying to influence and what their expectations are. And again, I understand that this can also be latent bias or that bias can be attached to appearance. But it also is something that we have to pay attention to.

Presence is also determined by your communication style. How do you communicate what you say? Are you condescending? Or do you offer respect? And taking that one step further, even what you put online. What you’re putting on LinkedIn or your social media, if people can see that they’re making assessments about you, leadership presence is also determined in the face of crisis. Are you the leader that’s going to help us whether and navigate this crisis? Or are you the leader that might actually take us down?

How to Build Your Leadership Presence

So, how to build a leadership presence? First and foremost, understand this communication is a strong piece of leadership presence. And 70% of our communication is nonverbal. So it’s not always what you say, but it’s how you say it. An example of nonverbal communication is the tone that you use. Whether that’s an email or text message, or even just in a regular conversation. Also, your posture. Is your posture up? Are you slouched over? How are you moving your body? What are your facial expressions? Are you rolling your eyes? Are you smiling at inappropriate times? Eye contact. Now, of course, this is cultural. Is it appropriate to make eye contact when first meeting someone or communicating with someone? And hand gestures touch and, of course, physical distance.

But let’s talk about the six ways to build a presence. It starts with intentional communication. Number two is consistency. Three is practicing empathy, and four is emotional intelligence. Five is connecting with others, and six is owning your value.

Intentional Communication

So let’s talk about intentional communication. The tip for developing your leadership presence through intentional communication is to make sure that you’re doing your research. What level of knowledge does that audience have? Do they, are they in the meetings with you? Meaning they’re very familiar or are unfamiliar with it. And are you adjusting your communication appropriately also? So when you’re going into a meeting or a presentation, or maybe you have something important to say to your boss, are you trying to talk about multiple topics? Or are you focusing on one topic? When we have a tendency to stack topics, it can actually confuse our audience. So make sure that you’re thinking through how much time I have, what I want them to know, and creating a structure accordingly. Also, understand less is more, especially if you are crunched for time. You want to make sure that your message is heard, but make sure that you’re eliminating filler words or things that actually have nothing to do with what you’re talking about.

And one of my favorite tips, and many of you have likely heard this before, is when you are communicating, pretend that your words, the language you use, whether it’s in your email or in a conversation, will be placed on a billboard. Would that be something that you would want put on a billboard attached to your name? If the answer is no, it’s best that you rewrite or think of a different way to say something. And, of course, the final piece of rounding out intentional communication— always, always, always think before you speak!

Now, if you’re going into a presentation or a meeting, consider these tips, the power of the pause. When you pause, you allow your audience to actually process what you’re saying. However, sometimes this can be difficult if we don’t prepare, or if we’re nervous, we might have a tendency to increase our rate of speech.

And we might just jump over their pauses, which makes it more challenging for the odd to follow our conversation. More communication tips for a meeting or presentation, always explain the why. If you’re asking someone to do something, make sure they understand how it relates back to them. Or, to say it in a different way— what’s in it for me? The WIIFM! I like to also practice the rule of three. If I’m going to a meeting, I like to think what are the three things that I want them to walk away with. To do, think or know? And then, I’ll structure my conversation and presentation around those three things.

And the other piece with communication is to consider what words and phrases you want to avoid that can negatively impact your presence. Filler words! Just like I’m sure that you’ve heard some of them in my speech already. We all have them, but if we want to have clear communication, this is where practice and preparation can help us reduce the filler words. Another phrase that I absolutely wish everyone would get rid of is,  “does that make sense?”Does that make sense signals to your audience that you might be confusing, and it also signals to yourself that maybe you’re not communicating clearly when we asked. Does that make sense? We’re assuming that the audience didn’t hear a message. So instead, wait for people to ask questions. Another phrase to avoid. I don’t know when we say, I don’t know. Yes, it’s forgiving. But another way to say that might be, let me check into that for you instead of, I don’t know or let me think about that for a little bit longer. Other phrases to avoid. I haven’t prepared much. Well, then why are we here? Or I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It can weaken your confidence and, then again, make your audience turn away from you. I hate to bother you. I might be wrong but avoid those phrases. If you want to come off confident.


The second thing you can do to develop your leadership presence is be consistent, which means you need to be present. Do what you say. You will practice what you preach. Don’t just talk about it. Be about it. You must be the one that leads by example. And to do this, to help you, you might want to create a personal mission statement to guide you. That can determine what behaviors, words, or how you want to show up.


The third thing to build leadership presence is to practice empathy. To be an empathetic individual requires us to be foundationally curious. Every single person is both our teacher and our student. We can learn something from everyone, and you know what? Sometimes we make really bad assumptions, and these assumptions can not only create conflict. They can create and damage our relationships and erode our communication. But when we lead conversations with curiosity, we likely will come to a different solution because we’re letting go of the judgements we had walking into it. Another way to practice empathy is to be flexible. Understand that your way may not be the way that works for everyone. And that’s okay. As long as you’re getting to that same destination that you both need to get to another tip, assume positive intent, assume that people actually want to work hard. They want to do well. And that they aren’t actually trying to erode or diminish or thwart your efforts assume positive intent that goes hand in hand with curiosity, you go into a difficult conversation, and you lead with I’m sure there’s something I’m missing. Assume positive intent. And then practice curiosity. You might be surprised at the direction that conversation goes. And of course, give, give, trust. Often our ego says, prove to me that I should trust you. If we want to give empathy, we want to assume positive intent. So we’re going to give trust to people.

Emotional Intelligence

The fourth area of leadership presence and how to develop it is your emotional intelligence. Your emotional intelligence consists of multiple parts. Your self-awareness of who you are, your ability to manage yourself, and how you perceive your relationships. And then, of course, how you react and interact in your environment. So if you want to exercise emotional intelligence, which is actually the foundation of presence, you want to understand who you are. To do this, you could think about your triggers. What things can get under your skin that you might then have an emotional reaction that you don’t want to have?

If you, once you’ve identified that trigger, let’s say if someone’s late for a meeting, that triggers you because it says that in some way, they’re not respecting your time. Once you identify that trigger, I want you to ask yourself, what’s another to look at it. Maybe that person was stuck in traffic. Maybe they were derailed because they had to talk to a teacher after dropping their child off at school. Assume positive inten! Other ways to build your emotional intelligence— maintain our composure, practice deep breathing, make sure to get feedback on how others see you, but also be receptive to feedback. Sometimes our ego will say, there’s nothing wrong with me. I do everything. This is their issue. Well, there are two sides to every story.


And remember, with presence, perception is reality and, of course, understand what the needs of others are. If you want to know how to navigate the environment you’re in, including the team you’re on, you need to listen and pay attention.

Who are the individuals that you’re working with? What are their strengths? What are their opportunities? How do they like to be rewarded? The fifth is to connect with others. If you want to build your presence, be a human being! Incorporate water cooler talk into your meetings and ask non-work questions such as what’s your favorite karaoke song or what’s your favorite color? I know this might feel like it’s a time-waster, but it’s actually a time-saver because it’s improving the relationships and communication and collaboration abilities of those that you’re influencing. And if you want to connect with others, know that we are all more alike than we are different and work to find common ground.

One favorite activity that I love is to just have maybe groups of three or four, sit together and time them. And they can have five minutes to come up with something that they actually all have in common. It’s a quick way to see again that we’re all more alike than different and to get people talking. And the last piece that’s so important with connecting with others is to make sure that you’re creating psychological safety. Are you creating an environment where people feel free from retaliation and discrimination and feel free to be themselves?

Own Your Value

The final piece of building leadership presence is to own your value. And to do this, we want to see everyone as human to know that we can learn from them. And that just because they may be great doesn’t mean that we’re less than others, so we need to stop comparing ourselves. Stop comparing yourselves. The fastest way to erode your confidence is to try to be someone you’re not. And that’s often what happens when we compare ourselves and assume that that’s the person we need to be like.

So to build your own confidence, create a great list. Write down all of your accomplishments or noteworthy achievements that you are proud of. And use that when you might not be feeling great, or you might feel discouraged, to remind yourself of how great you actually are. And, of course, check in with that inner critic. The inner critic always has a way of telling us that we’re not smart enough and not good enough. And here’s the thing about our thoughts. We always get to choose them.

Where to Learn More

So this was our conversation today on how to develop leadership presence. And just remember this— people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Thank you, until next time. And please check us out for our monthly webinars. Talk to us about bringing our webinars or leadership skills workshop to your team. We would love to come in and help to develop your leaders. Thank you so much for listening today. Bye-bye.