A colleague recently accepted his first leadership position. In the new role he found himself not only in charge of a global staff of subject matter experts and a series of customer deliverables, but also setting the group’s strategy and aligning it to the larger organization. While no stranger to people management and project deadlines, he was concerned about his ability to flourish in the new environment. Specifically, he asked, “How can I be the man and still ensure my employees have the courage to take initiative?”
The question was not surprising. New leaders often wrestle with how to balance their desire for personal recognition with their responsibility to develop the team. The good news is that being perceived as a leader (the proverbial man) and having confident, outspoken, ambitious employees are not mutually exclusive. Actually, given the pace and complexity of work, you’d be hard pressed to find a good leader who didn’t encourage this behavior. After all, a team is only as strong as its weakest player.
The trick to the balancing act is to develop a productive executive presence. While poor leaders tend to announce their alleged importance via chest pounding and bravado – actions that limit conversations and reduce team input – great leaders subtlety employ their natural presence (knowledge, experience, style, charisma, etc.) to inspire employees to do their best work. The difference is instantly noticeable and magnetic.
So how can you develop or enhance your executive presence? Start by resisting the urge to hyper-focus on it or your individual aspirations. Selfish leaders are easy to spot. But when a leader focuses on something bigger such as their employees, customers, the company mission, or even making an impact to the profession or the world at large, it can be inspiring. This simple, selfless act can enhance your presence and allow you to, over time, develop a professional brand that transcends personal ambition.
People want to work for and learn from those who have something to offer. Sometimes it’s formal skills or experience. But sometimes, especially when leading those who have greater content knowledge, it can be the chance to make a difference.
The best leaders don’t have to seek recognition. The people they help sing their praises without request.
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