Leading with presence -1

When Amy Cuddy, psychologist and teacher at the Harvard University School of Business released her book “PRESENCE” in 2016, it became an instant New York Times bestseller and has since been translated into over thirty languages. In it, Amy advanced some principles on the power of presence in leadership as relating to exemplary personal comportment, body language, manner of speaking or presentation skills as the hallmarks of powerful presence. This resonated so well with the corporate world and it was taken to the level of a science where people had to deliberately learn certain skills designed to produce in them a certain type of personality or set of nuances that ‘command’ attention. It taught people that they need to make a statement by their poise when they enter a room and rule their stage when making a presentation. The focus was on building confidence, communication and what she called power-posing.

To my mind, the reason why the corporate world found it so easy to identify with Amy’s posit is because of its predilection for appearance above relevance. So much attention is on image, in the misguided notion that if you can keep people sufficiently attracted to your charisma, you can literally sell them snake oil! For a business that is only in the game for the money, that rings so true. The terrain is filled with glib talkers who are trained to talk you out of pocket even if the value proposition doesn’t justify what you are being asked to expend on it. I have made a few purchases and investments in life in response to ‘power-posing’ that I almost immediately regretted when I later discovered that there was an almost total disconnect between the offer and the experience. I don’t make the mistake in the same place twice. I am sure you too can relate with the feeling. Don’t wonder how a fool and his money are soon parted. Be concerned with how a fool got the money in the first place!

Good as it may seem, power-posing may attract people to you or your business but it would take more than that to keep them as customers or followers.

Late 2019, I attended a social event in Lagos. It was a gathering of the crème de la crème of the Lagos social circuit. When I was ushered to the table where I sat, there were some people already seated. I greeted every single one of them personally with a smile. I did the same as others joined us. Some I even motioned to their chairs. I wasn’t doing this for any attention. I didn’t know any of them in person anyway. I didn’t even remember it until someone recalled it five months later! Little did I know that someone was watching me and taking note. When the event was about to kick off, I was introduced and invited to the podium to give the Opening Prayer. That was when she heard my name. When I returned to my seat, she told me how delighted she was to see me and how honoured she felt sitting on the same table with me. She reminded me of the fact that I had come to preach in her church about eleven years prior to this date. She also said that she actually had one of my CDs that she bought at that programme playing in her car on her way to the event! She couldn’t recognize me until she heard my name because I was wearing a new, bearded look different from the clean-shaven look I had when I visited her church. We exchanged contacts and she got added to my mentoring platform. Here is how she narrated the event of that evening in one of the sessions on the mentoring platform. She titled it; THREE LESSONS I LEARNT FROM YOU…

“Firstly, on the 22nd of December (2019) before I was added to this platform, I attended the Lagos State Man of the Year Awards, and as I made my way to sit down, someone greeted me with a smile, and I noticed that he greeted everyone as they joined us at that table. Although I greeted the people I met on the table but I was forced to also greet others because the person beside me would call the attention of people as they joined us just to welcome them. I didn’t know it was you until you were called to lead the Opening Prayer.

I engaged you afterwards and one of the things I took away that night is that no matter your intellectual or spiritual content, be intentional with courtesy. Ever since then, apart from greeting people I meet in a place, I make sure I greet as they join us.

Secondly, the attitude of gratitude should be intentional and verbal. It is not enough to appreciate people in the heart, but we must let them know that they are appreciated through SMS, phone calls, ‘Thank You’ notes, etc. as soon as possible. Never wait until you see the person again before you thank them, except you don’t have a means of sending a ‘Thank You’ across!”

The third lesson is outside the orbit of this write-up, so will leave that out. I narrated this story here not as an ego-massaging narrative but to show that, contrary to what the corporate world has so far projected, true presence is not about gait or power-posing deliberately orchestrated to draw attention to SELF. The presence of a true leader is never about him but about others. Great leadership is not about what a leader did or will do for people. It is about what he does with them, their emotions, their talents and their self-esteem. It is a DOING, not a DEED or an INTENTION. It is more attitudinal than aptitudinal. It is about presence in the present, a.k.a, present tense leadership. It is about the fragrance of your persona that people choose to take with them, not the one you impose.

The lady didn’t talk about the sartorial elegance of my attire (even though I tried my best – that day was my birthday too! – but I definitely wasn’t one of the most expensively dressed at that event – or even at the table) She didn’t talk about how ‘cool’ I looked. To her, I could have been on that table and just be another figure in the statistics of attendees who attended without being present.

The present tense leader goes everywhere with his soul. He is powerful because he influences. He influences because he impacts. He impacts because he serves. He serves because he connects. He connects because he is authentic. The present tense leader gets attention precisely because he doesn’t seek attention. His intrinsic value makes it impossible for him to be ignored. Presence in a leader has nothing to do with “notice me, I am here” braggadocio. The apparatus of the power-pose, like the trailer of a movie, may command an initial attraction to a person or enterprise, but just as in the movies, would the experience justify the hype of the trailer? … continued


Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!





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