The Importance of Maintaining Leadership Presence

Leadership presence is an aspect of leadership performance that is often overlooked but can be the differentiating factor between two candidates of similar abilities. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation and the founder of Hewlett Consulting Partners LLC:

“No man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without this heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal. It’s an amalgam of qualities that telegraphs that you are in charge or deserve to be.”

Understanding your own strengths and areas of growth is critical in building your leadership toolkit. The three pillars of executive presence are:

  • Gravitas;

  • Communication; and

  • Appearance.

These three pillars inform the impression you make to those around you, both verbally and non-verbally. In this article, we will look at practical ways you can use voice, syntax, props, and gesture to establish leadership presence and improve personal engagement.


How do you signal your intellect to others? Do you know your stuff cold? As a leader, you need to tailor how you present to others to be at your most influential and credible in every environment. Having an influential voice among those at the table is what is often referred to as ‘gravitas’.

Key aspects of gravitas include:

  • Confidence and grace under fire;

  • Decisiveness and "showing teeth";

  • Integrity and speaking truth to power;

  • Emotional intelligence;

  • Reputation and standing; and

  • Vision/charisma.


Can you get your ideas across? Can you be heard? Is your message clear, simple and succinct? No matter how profound your gravitas, if you can’t convey your ideas, it becomes null.

A leader should communicate how his or her vision can be operationalised by the team. This includes closing the loop with staff and stakeholders about why a decision had been made, and communicating effectively through a variety of mechanisms regarding how the vision should be operationalised.

Key aspects of effective communication include:

  • Understanding your audience;

  • Anticipating feedback and responding;

  • Combining rational and emotional appeals;

  • Clear, simple and succinct messaging;

  • Creating momentum for change;

  • Rehearsal and role-playing;

  • Creating or reinforcing incentives for your audience to pay attention;

  • Using humour;

  • Persuading with stories or parables;

  • Using research and evidence to support assertions;

  • Body language and voice;

  • Dealing with hostility and apathy; 

  • Valuing silence; and

  • Listening actively.


It is important to be aware of the impression your appearance gives to those around you. Your dress, body language, and the way you stand and walk all create first impressions that either convey your ability - or detract from it.

For example, being well-groomed and polished communicates that you are someone who values and takes care of yourself. This also comes across as respectful and considerate of your colleagues and clients. People unconsciously respect someone who makes an effort, and your appearance can be an outward symbol of this.

Key aspects of managing your appearance include:

  • Adopting appropriate dress and styling for executive engagement;

  • Maintaining attentive and commanding body language; and

  • Ensuring strong physical positioning in meetings.

In order to be able to develop your leadership presence and influence in the workplace, it is important to stand back and make an honest assessment of your own gravitas, communication and professional appearance. You may even consider investing in leadership coaching to gain a clearer perspective on where and how to focus your development.