According to executive coach John Baldoni, one of the most popular topics he teaches is leadership presence, which he defines as “earned authority.” Leaders earn it by “example and by the trust others show because they believe you to be credible and honorable and worth following,” writes Baldoni. He says there is another side to leadership presence: demonstrating that you have what it takes to manage and lead at the next level. What follows is an edited excerpt from his most recent book, 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead, published by AMACOM Books.
Ever wonder why jerks get promoted and good guys get left behind?
That’s a question that resonates around the proverbial water coolers and one that I’ve heard in one form or another in my executive coaching. You most often hear it when someone that people really dislike gets promoted. Often that person is someone who looks good, presents well, and may be something of a kiss up.
The manager that everyone likes, or thinks could do a better job, is left behind. So why is that? Well one reason is because the manager who is perceived to be good is leading down, but not up, while the person who is promoted is doing more “leading up.” In reality, the empty suit executive is not truly leading; he’s merely showing off. The better manager is leading, but not doing a good job of impressing his bosses. And that can be a problem come promotion time.
One of the most common things holding good people back is an inability to demonstrate their competence. They are perceived to lack leadership presence. That is, they do not inspire confidence upward, nor give more senior managers a reason to believe in their leadership. Sometimes effective leaders are very good at guiding their teams but not very good at shining their leadership star. They are more focused on doing their work as well as empowering others and they overlook opportunities to make themselves shine.
Is it necessary to make yourself shine? In our management culture, absolutely. Here are some ways to augment your leadership brand.
• Be the one. Do your job first and foremost. You have to be good at what you do by meeting and exceeding your objectives. Specifically, good leaders enable others to do the real work; the leader plays the supporting role. Show-offs may micro-manage if the big boss is watching, but otherwise disappear when there is real work to be done. They spend more time schmoozing with the bosses than providing direction and support for their teams.
• Demonstrate initiative. Volunteer for the tough assignments. Make it known that when problems arise, you want to be one to trouble-shoot. One differentiator between the empty-suit executive and good leader is competence. Show-offs flounder when the heat is on; leaders simply get on with the job, and most important bring others to the cause.
• Show off. We live in a celebrity driven culture. As obnoxious as that may be, some celebs can teach leaders a thing or two about getting noticed. Dress well. Socialize appropriately. At the same time, unlike celebrities, be courteous to all and acknowledge your team. One of the best ways to brag is to talk up the accomplishments of your team. Your team is a reflection of your leadership style; their achievements are a reflection of your ability to get things done right.
No amount of polishing will make an empty-suit manager a good leader. In fact, one reason why there are levels of incompetence in management is because people have been promoted to positions over their heads. It is the Peter Principle, yes, but it is really the fault of senior management for not doing enough due diligence on whom they promote.
Decision-makers allowed themselves to be dazzled by a sharp dresser and a good talker rather than by asking questions of people who work for the empty-suit executive. Dialogues with direct-reports will reveal that the person does not really know his stuff, does not set good direction, nor inspire trust and confidence in others.
Grousing about incompetent people getting promoted is not the answer. If you want to move up, you need to demonstrate the things necessary to impress others. You need to radiate confidence as well as maintain composure. You also need to make it known that you are ready and willing to tackle new challenges. Doing these things takes time but when perform diligently and with a little style, you will be noticed and even promoted.
In short, you need to leverage your leadership presence to make yourself known, your influence felt, and your results count.
When these things happen you will be fulfilling your leadership potential and become the leader that your team needs you to be.