Several years ago, I worked in an organization where the hashtag #LeadershipMatters was a top-down message communicated in everything we did. I certainly agreed and echoed the “Leadership Matters” message, but I added a dimension to the Leadership Matters hashtag:


I always considered myself a leader who was present and engaging. I was much more effective once I became more thoughtful and intentional about engaging with others. By having an intent, I was also able to provide clarity of our mission, share lessons learned from across the organization, and, most importantly, listen to leaders and employees on the front lines. By listening to these leaders, I was able to bring their insights and concerns front and center in all forums, driving us closer to the organization’s goals.

Engaged leaders: a voice for the front-line.

Being present means showing up in three spaces:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Emotional

Physical presence

Physical presence is about showing up. Showing up prepared at the right time and place is crucial to an effective engagement–just as showing up unprepared at the wrong time or place can have a negative impact.

Intellectual presence

To achieve intellectual presence, we must be competent and capable. Competence + experience = credibility. We all want to be credible leaders. Technical competence is increasingly critical the closer we are to the front-line worker. As our leadership responsibilities grow, experience becomes more important. This experience allows us to influence and communicate across the organization’s breadth more effectively.

Emotional presence

The emotional component of presence is often overlooked and frequently the hardest to identify and develop. Too often, companies promote individuals who have the greatest technical expertise. Sometimes these individuals struggle to develop and motivate their teams due to a lack of emotional intelligence. EQ is a talent.

Positive employee engagement is motivating and can lead to a 25% increase in productivity.

A few of the lessons I’ve learned include:

  • As leaders, we are responsible for moving our employees physically and emotionally.
  • Presence matters, but what we do as leaders while engaging employees is critical. If I pull out my cell phone during an engagement, I signal to my employee that what is on my phone is more important than what they are doing. When I realized this, I started leaving my phone in the car, my bag, or handing it off to someone else.
  • Consider a purpose and intent for each engagement.
  • Listen. Too often, we get so caught up in trying to share all of our incredible knowledge that we fail to learn from our employees, peers, and clients.
  • Employee engagement comes at a cost. That cost is usually at the employee’s expense in time, productivity, or additional work. Always leave more than you take!
  • Exercising emotional intelligence is powerful and leads to trusting relationships. Being good will only get us so far. The power of EQ can take us to the next level. Emotional intelligence is the sum of self-awareness, self-control, social awareness, and relationship management.

So far, I’ve been addressing the physical aspect of presence in leadership engagements. A few years ago, I came across a TED Talk on presence by Dr. Amy Cuddy. She authored a book titled, Presence, a fantastic read. In Cuddy’s talk, she addresses the state of presence: “Presence stems from believing in and trusting yourself – your real, honest feelings, values, and abilities.”

The elements of presence include:

  • Confidence
  • Comfort Level
  • Passionate Enthusiasm

In sports, we call it “the zone.” The best example that comes to mind is when Michael Jordan scored 35 points in the first half of a playoff game versus the Portland Trailblazers in 1992. You may have seen the iconic photo or video of Michael shrugging his shoulders as he’s running up the court after hitting a three-pointer.

“Presence is confidence without arrogance.”

The state of presence only reveals itself when we can be completely honest with the people we are engaging. Often we don’t even realize we’ve achieved this state because we’ve forgotten about everything outside the conversation and have connected with the individuals involved in the exchange. Presence is about intimacy, not intimidation. It requires transparency, clarity, vulnerability, and compassion. It’s what builds trust—the foundation of all great relationships. Leadership presence is essential for thriving organizations.