When working in these unique times, we need to be bold and brave in spite of all that is happening around us. Boldness requires us to not be afraid of the difficult situations before us. Brave requires us to have the courage to face the challenges of this time. Bold and brave leaders are transformational leaders.
When I think of transformational leaders, I think of the work of Bennis and Nanus who say that these kinds of leaders are managers of meaning, attention, trust, and self.
But, when I reflect on the transformational leaders I have met and worked with, I have observed that they role model executive presence and compassion on a daily basis. Executive presence begins with self awareness about one’s appearance, words, physical health, and body language. However, it is greater than just self-awareness
Leading with executive presence means being confident and calm in spite of external circumstances. Having inner clarity creates confidence in others to follow. It also means leading with inner clarity rather than external ego.
Leading with executive presence starts with showing up and being clear on the inside. It requires us as leaders to give our complete attention to others and being mentally present when we do it. It also means understanding that others read our reactions and actions very carefully, not just our words. In essence, executive presence is that rare combination of being confident and calm plus being present and attentive.
Upon further reflection, I believe there is a relationship between executive presence and compassion. Compassion from Latin means “to suffer with.” It is an emotional response of sympathy and a feeling and desire to want to help. Compassion arises from an open heart. It requires us to show up and pay attention to all that is needed.
Executive presence also requires us to understand the difference between self-help and self-knowledge. Self-help is being able to achieve something on one’s own. Self-knowledge is understanding oneself or one’s own motive or character. For us to stay humble and role model executive presence as leaders, we need to know the limits of our knowledge and to realize we can become misguided by incomplete information.
It also requires us to recognize that there are always two models at work in the world of leadership. The mechanical model sees everything as systems and replaceable parts. The gardening model focuses on the culture/environment around those serving and tries to create a more favorable environment for proactive growth. From my perspective, leadership and management based on a mechanical model has the potential to result in leadership and management without a soul. There is the potential for no presence, attention, kindness, or compassion.
When leaders embrace the gardening model, then leadership becomes a craft from German word, kraft, which means “the power that comes from knowing.” Here, leaders learn to be leaders not only by being taught, but by doing it, and by being mentored. This is where you have to get “a feel” for it.
Furthermore, this kind of leadership requires people to be a part of a community, namely a group of knowers who pass along their knowledge in a step by step way from simple to complex.
Finally, leadership also is an art, because like true art it is based on the interaction between the artist and the subject/object, i.e. the follower. It is learned by knowing when to speak up and when to be quiet, and by knowing where to look and what to avoid.
This week, reflect on executive presence, compassion and the gardening model of leadership. Find your community of fellow leaders and embrace the journey of sharing, listening and reflecting. It will make a world of difference.