You may have heard that some people can light up any room that they walk into or have a style that can charm and build rapport with anyone they meet. Sometimes this quality is referred to as the “it” factor, as in, “I don’t know how to describe what they have, they just seem to have ‘it’. Although many movie stars and celebrities seem to be born with this quality, it’s a mistaken notion to think that leaders must possess “it” to be successful.
It’s often misunderstood
Often referred to as charisma, the “it’ factor is mistakenly considered to be essential for leaders. Jim Collins, Stanford professor and author of the business classics “Good to Great” and “Built to Last,” has researched the subject of leadership extensively over the years. Surprisingly to many, he found that the best leaders aren’t necessarily charismatic. As a matter of fact, Collins’ research shows that there can be a negative correlation between having charisma and being successful as a leader. Those high in charisma sometimes tend to place too much focus on themselves and not enough on the organization, neglecting to build a powerful bench of leaders. The concept of the “it” factor for leaders has also led many who are introverts to believe that they can never be as good of a leader as their extrovert colleagues. However, this is wrong on two fronts; all extroverts are not automatically charismatic, and these specific personality traits are a superficial evaluation of what it takes to have leadership presence.
Real “leadership presence” is defined simply as the ability to inspire confidence in others and is a combination of traits that go deeper than just charisma. It takes more than charm to inspire devotion in others in a sustainable way. And the good news for all of us is that those traits can be learned.
What are these traits? Research by Gavin Dagley, an authority on the subject, identifies the following characteristics as the top five that drive leadership presence over time:
- Values in action. Do you walk the walk? It’s less about what you say, and more about what you do. And what you do should be focused on a deeper cause than just what’s in it for you as a leader. Communicating and living why you do what you do allows others to clearly determine if they are willing to support and follow your direction.
- Interpersonal behavior. What are the patterns of behavior that you apply consistently? Can people rely on you for a level of authenticity in their interactions with you? When people can trust that you will support, listen to, and develop them, it draws people to you.
- Demeanor. Do you show confidence in what you do and the actions you take? Are you comfortable in your own skin and demonstrate a level of self-assurance and confidence in your abilities and strengths? People want to be led by someone who is confident, and this belief in themselves creates a base of security for their teams. And remember, you can be self-assured and remain humble; confidence doesn’t equal arrogance.
- Communication. Are you clear in how you express yourself so that you minimize misunderstanding? Building devotion requires effective messages that are clearly understood and easily acted upon.
- Intellect and Expertise. Are you able to navigate challenging concepts even if you don’t have specific expertise in a subject? Can you help others navigate the complexities they are dealing with by asking the right questions? People want to see that you can think clearly and add value to the conversation even when you’re not the expert.
It’s just not true that you must have the “it” factor to be a great leader. That is a myth that has been dispelled by research and experience over and over. Implementing the top five leadership presence characteristics can be learned if you are open, get effective feedback, and are willing to work on improving. In this way, anyone can build up their individual capacity to inspire devotion in others.