Authenticity in the presence of power


In a recent leadership event that I attended, there was a segment on Executive Presence. The speaker addressed the importance and impact of a strong executive presence. He also shared ways to develop an effective presence.

Executive presence is one of the most invested in leadership development area today. After all,  as Ken Blanchard says, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

While there is much written about leadership presence, it is interesting to see that not much is said about how strong leaders react to another person’s power presence. Although having an effective executive presence is important, the true mark of leadership is to be able to sustain that presence in the company of a perceived stronger presence.

It all about purpose

One of my clients Prakash once told me about how being in the presence of his MD made him nervous and he would start stuttering while communicating with him. Prakash was otherwise a very confident and mature individual who was known in his organization for his excellent business results.

Being in the presence of someone who exudes power and charisma can often be intimidating and can leave people feeling unsure of themselves. We have all met another person whose power presence puts us on the back foot and makes us feel hassled.

While working with Prakash on his career plan we explored the reaction he had to power presence. He realised that he felt the fear of judgment and worried that he would be found lacking. He wanted to get everything right when speaking to his MD. This created so much pressure in his mind that he lost focus and started stumbling on his words. When we looked at the interactions where he did well (with his team members, peers and customers) we found that he was operating from the need to resolve problems, help customers or support employees. He was focussed on managing the situation at hand and not worrying about how he was appearing. This difference in purpose between the two types of interactions led to the two different outcomes. In one he appeared to be fumbling while in the other he was totally in control.

Shift your purpose in order to shift your outcomes

Prakash realised that he could do better in interactions with a senior leader by focussing on how he could help or support them rather than worrying about what they thought of him. This shift in purpose allowed him to be more present in the conversation and gradually he saw his confidence grow in managing such interactions.

We all react to environmental changes and how well we can hold on to being ourselves with changes around us is a true test of leadership. Whether we work from being true to ourself or becoming what you “think” the other person wants you to be is critical to measure your authenticity and deciding whether you have it in you to be a strong leader.

If there are things that cause shifts in your power presence the first step is to understand what those factors or situations are and what about them causes you to feel less powerful. Understand how these situations are different from those that make you feel powerful. How is your intent different? What beliefs come into play that throw you off? What identity shifts occur in the moment? Once you can narrow down on the factors that impact you,  you can then look at replacing them with those that support and empower you.


Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.   – Lance Secretan

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