We speak of command or commanding in ways that have different and interesting connotations. The traditional way connotes hierarchy, ‘he commanded them to obey,’ and has little standing in the organizations of today, so distant are they from the immediate post-WWII years when such terms echoed the nation’s success on the global stage. Today they are approved only for emergency use. When a crisis hits, we want someone in charge.
All the other uses, however, have utility in discussing an important leadership intangible: presence.
Leaders are by the simplest definition those who have followers, and the best followers are those who do so of their own volition. How is our volition swayed? Most essentially, of course, by what those who purport to lead say and do, but initially I would argue by how they appear.
Visuals are the first impressions we in the sighted majority register. When we say someone has a ‘commanding presence,’ or ‘she commanded the room,’ we are not referencing traditional notions of hierarchy, but rather volunteering that a positive impression has been created. We are intrigued, attendant, even hopeful, anticipating a next something to happen with openness.
The CEO with his team above is trying to evoke just that. Okay, it’s a bit stagey, but hopefully you get my point.
How does one create this important precursor to followership, this commanding presence? First of all, is it a requirement of leadership? Answer: in some instances. Jeb Bush was successfully elected governor of the state of Florida, but faltered and faded from the national scene, tagged indelibly ‘low energy’ by the winner of the Republican debates. For those with longer memories, Ted Kennedy’s 1980 shot at the top job was hampered by a similar diffidence on the presidential campaign platform. Although he consistently championed causes popular with his constituents, developed mastery of the legislative process and became, in due course, ‘the lion of the Senate,’ he too faltered in his highest quest.
We didn’t entrust either of them with the ultimate command. Why? All things being equal, we favor chief executives with that special something, that presence, that sense of command that engenders hopeful positive anticipation.
Which leads to a second question: If you don’t have it, can you get it? Can creating positive presence be learned? Psychologist Amy Cuddy makes the case in this compelling TED Talk that learnable ‘power posing’ doesn’t just create positive impressions on others, it engenders real feelings of confidence, comfort and authenticity in you.
You can create not just the appearance, but the actual feeling, of being ‘in command.’ You don’t just pretend; you become.
Check out her talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are
Go to her author’s page at TED for more context and commentary: https://www.ted.com/speakers/amy_cuddy
Look again at the two photos at the top. She’s got it too, no?
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