9 September 2014 0 Comments

Leadership Part 3

Continuing with the elements of Presence found in a leader.shutterstock_82371157

Eye Contact

This hardly seems like a topic that requires comment.  When you meet someone, when you’re talking to them, look them in the eye.  Simple enough.  But that’s not always what happens. A few years ago I was conducting a class at a local high school on how to present yourself in a job interview.  This wasn’t your everyday high school.  It was an Alternative High School that catered to young people who had special challenges in keeping to a regular school schedule.  Gangs often had a major influence on their lives.

One of the things I talked to them about was the importance of eye contact with the person conducting the job interview.  I tried some roll playing, but wasn’t having much luck in getting across my point to one young man.  He just wouldn’t look me in the eye.  After the class, the school principal told me what the problem was.  Looking at someone square in the eyes in a gang related incident can be viewed as a threat or challenge.  This teenager was taught not to have eye contact unless he was looking for a confrontation.

What I learned from this is that the expression in the eye contact must also be considered.  If your intent is to intimidate, then the eye contact can convey that.  But, if you’re looking to open a line of communication, then the eye contact can be friendly and inviting.  If your face is smiling then that’s what your eyes will reflect.  Use a mirror to see what you are communicating with your eye contact and accomplish exactly what it is you want.


Voice can be a very strong element of creating a presence.  I’m not talking about what is said.  I’m talking about how it’s said:  pitch, tone, flair, cadence and grammar.

Public leaders who were in the spotlight prior to 1955 depended much more on voice than those who came later.  That’s because, except for the printed media, radio was their primary method of communication with the public.  Voice told the entire picture.

Edward R. Murrow, the famed CBS news anchor, was a wartime correspondent radioing his message from London to the U.S. during the WW II blitz.  What a voice!  He turned out to be much more than just a voice, but it’s the voice with which he gained acceptance.  He was a leader and, in fact, almost single handedly convinced CBS to take on Senator Joseph McCarthy with what was the beginning of the end of the Senator’s intimidating infringement on First Amendment rights.

FDR’s fireside chats during the 30’s and 40’s drew U.S. families together around the radio anxious to hear the voice of their leader.  Churchill rallied a nation with the confidence of his voice over the BBC.  Ronald Reagan started his public life as a radio announcer using the talents of his voice to convince listeners that he was broadcasting “live” from a baseball park when, in actuality, he was getting the “play-by-play” descriptions from a teletype hundreds of miles away from the park.  These leaders all had presence and they all used their voices as one of the elements of that presence.

One of the best ways to determine how you sound to others is to listen to your own voice.  Pick up a favorite novel and a recorder and read the book as though you wanted to entertain someone.  Be as dramatic as you can.  Play it back and see how you like it.  You probably thought you were really emoting, but when most people go through this exercise they are surprised at how flat their delivery was.  How can you improve?  Vary the pitch…the pace.  Speaking from the diaphragm will present a more vibrant, in-command voice, eliminating any nasal twang that can suggest whininess unbecoming to any leader.

Speaking too fast may suggest that a person has command of their subject, but it also portrays a person who has no interest in using a delivery that is easy to follow.  Slowing down, so long as that slow down is not the result of your trying to figure out what to say with  a lot of “umm’s” and “aah’s”, tells most listeners—here’s a person who is talking to me.

Voice can be a very important part of a leader’s presence.


Those who expect to have followers must deliver what they promise.  If they can’t deliver, then they must be honest in their assessment of what went wrong and admit any mistakes that they made.  Those who follow a leader can be forgiving as long as forgiveness is not called for repeatedly.   A leader need not, and should not, make a promise just to gain popularity if reality defies deliverance of that promise.  Leaders are often called upon to deliver unpopular decisions.

Dependability and Integrity can be feigned for a while, but in the end, truth will prevail and the presence of the leader will be damaged if not destroyed.  Think of what might have been had Richard Nixon admitted early on that he made a mistake in not paying enough attention to the Watergate matter.  The situation could have been defused and his presidency concluded.  The incident was not nearly as grievous as the cover-up.  Dependability and integrity are inextricably intertwined with the presence portrayed by a leader.


Steadiness can be found in the presence of most great leaders.  The ability to take their followers through tumultuous times without breaking stride can be most notably found in history’s military leaders.  Eisenhower prepared his troops for D-Day with a calmness that belied the slaughter that he knew was about to transpire.  Had he equivocated, those about to hit the beaches at Normandy might have faltered in their assault.

Phil Jackson, former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, displayed the most serene façade while leading some of the world’s greatest basketball diva’s through the fastest paced game in sports.  In the best of times and the worst of times steadiness assures followers that their leaders are in charge and will get them through whatever lies ahead.

Steadiness, on the other hand, cannot be so intractable as to cause a stubborn denial that a course of action that has gone awry requires changes.  Steadiness includes a trait that allows the strong leader to amend plans in a steady, deliberate and self-assuring manner when that is what is required to assure the success of an endeavor.  Change is inevitable and must be dealt with.

 Wrapping up the elements of Presence in a leader is my next entry.

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