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Leadership Presence: An Interview with Former Ariel CEO Sean Kavanagh

3 min read

Leadership presence (n): a leader’s ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others in order to motivate and inspire them toward a desired outcome

Since the beginning, Ariel has preached the power of presence and its ability to help leaders connect with the hearts and minds of others to establish authentic connections. And while we’ve seen hundreds of leaders leverage this concept to show up with impact and inspire their teams towards success, the term “leadership presence” can be elusive. To provide you with a deeper, more concrete understanding, we sat down with Ariel CEO and contributing writer of Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate, and Inspire, Sean Kavanagh, to clarify this important business concept.

What is presence?

Presence is the ability to make an authentic connection with your audience. That audience can be one-on-one with a colleague across the desk or across the country, or one-to-many with an audience in an auditorium. Regardless of who’s communicating or who they’re communicating with, presence allows for connection on an intellectual and emotional level that motivates and inspires a desired outcome.

Why is presence so important for leaders to develop today?

Now, more than ever, leaders need to be able to connect in an authentic way with the people around them–the key word here being “authentic.” There are so many messages today being delivered with clever, well-researched phraseology, often at the expense of authenticity. Leadership presence is important because, in a business environment of nonstop disruption and change, presence can help you break through the noise to create authentic connections. It helps your audience

  1. understand what you’re talking about
  2. believe and trust you as a messenger
  3. tune in to your words and tune out the thousands of other messages they receive on a daily basis.

What’s the biggest misconception about leadership presence?

The notion of leadership presence is distinct from just having great stage presence. There are plenty of people out there who can command a room. That’s certainly part of the equation, but leadership presence goes beyond presentation skills and applies to whomever you are communicating with. The connection needs to be a two-way street, not just a one-way broadcast.

Leadership presence also goes beyond the spoken word. It can be applied to the way leaders communicate through the written word, internally within their organizations, as well as externally to build relationships with their clients. The notion of making authentic connections through presence purveys all three.

What area of business is most lacking in leadership presence?

I think presence is most absent in sales situations. Think of the stereotypical used car salesman, for example. The salesperson is so interested in selling you their product that they spend the majority of their time talking about themselves and their product versus learning about you and what you really need. A more enlightened salesperson can use their presence, natural curiosity, and empathy to get to the heart of a customer’s needs and build a long-term relationship of trust.

Can employees at all levels develop this trait?

Absolutely. Presence is not exclusive to professionals at a certain level or function, and its principles can be used across the organization. From an entry-level employee to a senior executive, the principles of leadership presence can help professionals at every level exert influence.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a group of college seniors who were getting ready to enter the working world. I told them that, while a degree could get them an interview, it is their presence that will get them the job. No matter where you are in life, if you show up fully, listen with empathy, and tell a good story that reflects who you are and what you stand for, you’ll have the power to make authentic connections and succeed at every level of business.

Don’t let your people’s brilliance be hidden behind an inability to make authentic, human connections. Learn more about Ariel’s leadership presence programs and how they can move the needle for your organization right here.



Virtual Presence Guide: How to Help Virtual Teams Create Authentic Connections

Download this guide to discover tips and best practices to help your teams be productive and engaged when working virtually.

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