Accessing the Heart of Leadership

Editor’s Note: This post is part of the “Leadership Presence” series, a weeklong effort co-hosted by Switch & Shift and the good people at Keep track of the series here and check our daily e-mail newsletter for all posts. Don’t subscribe? Sign up.

Presence is often equated with charisma. One definition of charisma is “a personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people”.  It can be one of those things that you “know it when you see it or feel it.”  It’s one of those things that some people seem to be born with more of than others.  It can even seem elusive to the every day leader, especially if they believe some people have it and others just don’t.

Positional power can even fuel an illusion of charisma.  After all, we assume the person in any high level position has something we may not, so we listen for them to stand out in some way.  If they are quiet we might assume they are just very observant.  If they speak eloquently we assume it comes natural to them.  If they get angry we might infer that they must be passionate and have a good reason.  If we don’t understand them we must just not understand or see what they see. Position can indeed enhance a person’s presence.

We assume the person in any high level position has something we may not, so we listen for them to stand out in some way.

Yet as organizations have become flatter and the need for positional leaders to be more connected and present, at least if they hope to ignite the level of engagement that makes the organization of today thrive, presence must be generated from a source of power other than positional power.

Consider that ultimately the most potent source of a person’s presence comes down to one thing – authenticity.  In fact, I’ll suggest that in the modern organization authenticity is the “new charisma”.  That’s because authenticity brings access to the heart of your presence – your ability to engender trust.

We no longer trust that our leaders will act in our best interests.  The reality is we are more likely than ever to mistrust positional power.  We are reticent to trust those who are more charismatic no matter how much we feel compelled to fall under their spell.

So if you want to establish your presence forget the smoke and mirrors of charisma and instead focus on keeping it real.  You must of course start by being qualified, bringing competence and reliability in delivering results to the table.  What will elevate your presence, however, comes down to how you interact with people.  You can’t just do the work.  You must be able to bring your whole self to doing work that matters to you and others.

Authenticity brings access to the heart of your presence. @SusanMazza

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Here are three questions to ask yourself if you want to leverage authenticity to fuel your presence.

  1. Am I sharing what is truly important to me?
  2. Do I demonstrate that I care about what is important to others?
  3. Do my deeds consistently match my words?

These of course are only a place to start.  What questions can you ask yourself to ensure you are leveraging your authenticity to build your presence?

To establish presence, forget the smoke & mirrors of charisma, instead focus on keeping it real.

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CEO of Clarus Works, Susan Mazza works with leaders and their teams to create exceptional performance, relationships and work environments. She has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America/Trust Around the World in 2013/2015 and has also been named a 50 Top Thought Leader in Leadership and a Top 100 Conference Speaker in Inc. Susan is the author and founder of the highly acclaimed blog, Random Acts of Leadership™, named a top 50 leadership blog and one of the top 100 most socially shared Leadership blogs in the world. She has also co-authored two books, The Character-Based Leader and Energize Your Leadership. Her soon to be released Leading In Action System™ offers a refreshingly simple yet potent method to developing the leadership mindset and skills essential to effectively and authentically leading to make a difference where you work and live. For more information visit

  • Sue Elliott

    Beautiful, Susan. I especially love your three questions. They are valuable on so many levels, including staying true to our purpose, both individually and as a company.

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