The goal of leadership is to produce superior results on purpose, making leadership a results contest. The challenge of leadership is to persuade and motivate those being led to produce the leader’s desired results. When people voluntarily and enthusiastically do what their leaders ask them to do, achieving the desired results, leaders are considered effective and successful! The question is, How do leaders really get others to voluntarily and enthusiastically produce the desired results? There are many parts to this puzzle, but there is none greater than a condition I describe as strategic presence.
Here is a great story that illustrates strategic presence and illuminates its effect. A student from a foreign country was enrolled in a new school during the middle of the school year. During the first day of class, the other kids in the class were doing what kids do. There was a lot of giggling and staring and posturing for the new arrival. The new student was dressed in a way that did not meet the expectations of a few of the children, and eventually one of them (the class clown) began to make jokes about the new student’s appearance.
As the scene was progressing toward chaos, the teacher was about to intervene when a girl stood up and told everyone to stop picking on the new classmate. The girl reminded them that it was scary to be new in a school and that they needed to be kind to the student and make them feel welcome. She reminded them they should treat this new person as they would want to be treated if they were in a new country and a new school. After class, the teacher called the girl aside and said, “That was a very brave thing you did. Why did you do that?” The girl replied, “Because that is what my mom and dad would expect me to do.”
This story powerfully illustrates the essence and the effect of strategic presence. The girl had merely done what she knew her parents would want her to do. Her parents had succeeded in creating a positive presence in her mind, giving her the willingness and courage to do what she did. Most important, the presence of her parents was so authentic that they did not have to be physically present to inspire their daughter’s good behavior.
Leaders create impressions that exist in the mind of every person they lead. It is a presence that defines the perceptions people have of their leaders and what they believe about them. It is this overall persona that I am referring to when I use the term strategic presence, and there are two types: positive and negative. Leaders are constantly creating and presenting images of influence that produce both types of results.
The most important fact about strategic presence is that it evokes two possible reactions in others, either voluntary cooperation or various forms of resistance. If leaders generate a positive strategic presence, people will be more likely to support what they want most of the time. However, if perceptions of leadership are negative, people will substitute resistance for cooperation. The possibilities of how people will respond to strategic presence are limited to cooperation or resistance. There is not much middle ground between them. As someone once said, “You are either for us or against us!” It is easy to see why creating an authentic, positive strategic presence is critical for the execution of a vision.
Creating positive strategic presence is not a strategy of manipulation. The positive strategic presence leaders project must be authentic. Failing the test of authenticity means that the very image leadership hopes to establish will be perceived as deceptive and disingenuous—or worse. People are very perceptive and will see through efforts to project a phony persona simply for the purpose of manipulating their behavior. So why shouldn’t a leader’s strategic presence just be allowed to be what it is? That is a great question, and the answer is simple. Many leaders are misunderstood and create perceptions that really don’t match their intent. Understanding how strategic presence is created will minimize the possibility of being misunderstood.
So, how is strategic presence created? What are the things about leadership that speak the loudest about it? What creates the perceptions that combine to produce strategic presence? There are two components that contribute to strategic presence: values and behavior.
Our values are established by what we believe to be right, wrong, true, false, acceptable, unacceptable, appropriate and inappropriate. Let’s face it: We have all developed deep, strong opinions about many things as we live our lives. Opinions spring forth from your values, and your values influence what you do.
Our values and beliefs impact five categories that drive our behavior, and it is our behavior that creates strategic presence. The five categories are:
- Work ethic
- Willingness to help others
So, if you want to be a great leader, you need to have great values, which must be demonstrated in the actions you take. This is the essence of strategic presence, and it is truly the power that fuels leadership.
Tony Jeary—“Coach to the World’s Top CEOs”—is a prolific author, presentation strategist and executive coach known for helping others create better and faster results. Reach him at