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Presence – In their presence

Maya Angelou said, “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It doesn’t take long after reading that sentence that people will come to mind. People who have said or done things that have left you hurt. Hopefully, also a few who have lifted or encouraged you too. As leaders, we have an immense influence on those we work with. I was working with a group last week where we were looking at leaders that we look up to and the characteristics they had. Core to each of them were values like integrity, honesty and compassion. Each one had a heart for others. Each person who recounted them also wanted to follow their example and lead like that. Each one, because of how that leader made them feel. Our presence, amongst those we lead, is influential. We set the temperature in the room.

Next step on the flow line

This month we are looking at the flow line of our presence as a leader. We saw last week that the starting point is to 1) know ‘your presence’. Being clear on your purpose, strengths and weaknesses, enables you to know who you are and what you stand for. This then allows you to know 2) what you want to model ‘in their presence’. This then helps you to 3) ‘be present’, listening to understand and be in the moment with them and to model 4) ‘your present’ of a box called learning.

Your minimum

Many of you will know, that my previous role was a headteacher. One of the things that became very clear when working with children, is that the minimum you accept becomes the standard. Children have this way, like water, of finding the path of least resistance. If they see something is possible, they will all quickly follow. One person brings in the latest game or craze and they all follow. The decision for the headteacher is whether it is ok. Show acceptance of it and it becomes the norm. The same applies to leaders in any context. What we allow to happen becomes the norm. So, if we accept a comment that is inappropriate in a meeting, that is then seen as acceptable. If we accept lateness from one person, then it is seen as then that must be ok, it must be part of the culture. There are proactive and reactive things that you can do as a leader to ensure you get the minimum that you want. Proactively, consider what is the culture that you want. Get clear yourself and then spend time with the team agreeing that together. Ask the team to hold each other to account on what is agreed. Ask them to hold you to account as the gatekeeper of culture too. Reactively, consider what you see and ask yourself:

  • Is this ok? Does it contribute to the culture that I want?

  • What is the impact if I don’t address it?

  • What is the best way to address it?

Sometimes, we can be hard on ourselves when we have not picked up on something immediately. It is ok to follow things up afterwards, in fact it shows thoughtful reflection and models that to our colleagues. Coming back to people with phrases like, “Yesterday, XXX happened. I have been reflecting on this and I think it is something we need to chat about and improve,” can be really powerful. The key issue is that we follow it up.

Encouraging to the max

I often remind people on my courses about ‘Meerkat Moments’. These are when you draw attention to the thing you want to see and then people, like meerkats, rise their head to see where the noise is. Drawing attention to what you want can be through praise, but can also be through what we model. Human beings naturally look for safety and one way we do that is aligning ourselves to what the leader of the pack does. If I behave like them, then it will be safe, I won’t get told off as I am aligned with the leader. Our presence can be influential. What we model, how we behave based on the values we hold, then becomes infectious. The powerful blend comes when we

  • Model – demonstrate what we want

  • Miranda – explain, like Miranda on the TV programme, what our reason or thinking is

  • Meerkat – praise it when we see it

If you really want the culture to grow, it is then about finding others who model that too, that can be fellow ‘guardians of the galaxy’. Identify them early and give them time and support to do that. That helps you to grow the presence exponentially.

The key steps are:

  • What culture do I want?

  • Engaging staff in agreeing the culture.

  • Following it up

  • Modelling it when you are present

  • Identifying those who can be your fellow guardians & developing them

What do you want to pass on in your presence?

Can we help you?

Sometimes it helps, particularly if you are an extrovert thinker, to talk issues through with someone. Maybe you want to create a better organisational culture. Maybe you have a particular challenge you need to address that require developing stronger ‘holding to account’ skills. A coach can ask you questions independently to help you gain clarity. Give us a call if you would like us to help you explore this and empower yourself.

Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you to do that If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy. Do let us know if we can be of help to you by contacting us on


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