“You can pretend to care, you cannot pretend to be there,” wrote Texas Bix Bender in his book Don’t Squat With Yer Spurs On! It is one of my favorite lines for characterizing a vital feature of leadership—command presence. I first heard that label in the military. Officer school candidates were drilled on the power and practice of the manner of a leader—focused, attentive, and most important, in attendance. Command presence is not about arms-length control, it is about a live, up close and personal connection.
Davy Crockett had command presence. “David Crockett seemed to be the leading spirit. He was everywhere,” wrote Enrique Esparza, eyewitness to The Alamo in a newspaper article following the legendary siege. “He animated his men to duty.” Leadership is about animating others and animation is about spirit…that is, being, not just doing. Great leaders focus on being there, everywhere, not in absentia. And, when they are there, they are all there…present and accounted for.
Leadership textbooks laud superstar leaders for their zeal to get outside the rarified air of mahogany row. Great leaders hunt for genuine encounters. They upset the pristine and proper by inviting vocal customers to boardroom meetings. They spend time in the field and on the floor where the action is lively, not in carefully contrived meetings where the action is limp. They thrive on keeping things genuine and vibrant.
So, if a biographer was writing a book about your leadership and you agreed to allow the writer to follow you around for a week, what would that writer learn about where you spent your time? What would the writer conclude were your top priorities–based solely on your actions, not on your words? Role modeling–a tenant of great leadership–assumes those who are supposed to emulate you can actually witness you in role, not discern it from an e-mail or some “to all employees” message.
Hold your next big deal staff meeting on the move–while making rounds visiting front line employees. Or, hold it in the company van in between stops to visit the people who are doing the work in the field. If an employee needs a meeting with you, get out of the office and meet that employee on the move. Need a private sit down space? Find a quiet corner somewhere where work is happening.
Effective leadership is the application of influence, instruction and inspiration. Make your leadership a mobile app—one laced with “presence.”