The Presence of Women Leaders
Use silence. Don’t fear the pause, both when you are presenting or just speaking with a colleague.
As an Ariel facilitator, I have been privileged to lead several leadership presence programs for senior and high-potential women leaders. I find these gatherings incredibly inspiring and challenging; at this point in our history, only 27 chief executives of Fortune 500 companies are women. We’ve come a long way, baby, but we have a long way to go.
One of the questions that always comes up at these programs is “How do I present myself as a confident, credible leader?” (Men ask this question, too, but not as often.)
My answer is that we are always projecting a presence in whatever we do, whether we are passing colleagues in the hallway, answering the phone, or speaking in front of a group. And that presence is always being noticed. We as women have the power to present a high or low presence, and we can choose how we want to appear.
The good news is that there are some very specific signals that women (and men!) can give out that communicate high presence.
Signals of high presence
1. Look ‘em in the eye.
When you pass a colleague in the hall, do you maintain eye contact as you pass them, or do you look at them quickly and then look away? Steady eye contact signals high presence, even if you are “just in the audience.”
2. Plant your feet.
Some women stand with their legs crossed one in front of the other, signaling an unsteady or diminutive presence. This kind of positioning can spread to the rest of your body—your hands, shoulders, even your facial expression! Try standing with your feet planted under your hips. Your posture and presence will automatically improve.
3. Keep your breath deep.
There’s nothing that communicates low presence like a high-pitched, breathless voice (unless you’re Marilyn Monroe). Deep breathing will keep you and your voice steady and calm, signaling natural authority.
4. Use silence.
Don’t fear the pause, both when you are presenting or just speaking with a colleague. Handling silence with ease is a signal of high presence. Don’t feel the need to fill space with talking, explaining, or (the worst) apologizing.
I highly encourage you to practice, practice, practice these techniques. Start with low-stakes scenarios, say, when you are sitting in a meeting. Try making eye contact with whoever is speaking. Plant your feet on the floor (even when you are sitting—it makes a difference). Practice breathing deeply into your belly. If you are called on, pause before you speak.
All of these techniques will signal higher presence and help you to be more present which will, in turn, communicate to others that you are a confident, credible leader.
Let us know how it goes.
This blog was originally published December 9, 2011 and was updated March 7, 2018 for accuracy.