Presence and Inspiration: Why leadership is also about 'being there'
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
Ask yourself: when you come in to meet your team in a meeting or for a discussion, do you lights-up the room when you're coming, or do you switch them off?
The best scenario is of course that you light up the room, and any good leader with good intent would definitely aim for it. Goes without saying, it all starts with good intent: it is the basic ingredients of trust that you are building with your team. Without it, the people you are leading will spot it, and either they will not be on board with your plan, or they simply pretend to be onboard but will not spend their best efforts to help you. In many failed leadership stories, team members who can't trust their leaders are 'leaving them'. Those who have marketable values usually resigned, and those who are not so marketable will continue to stay but unconsciously damage the team's morale in various ways such as creating unproductive gossips and rumors, or spreading negative energy around.
Now, how to create the best scenario when your presence lights up the room?. Here are proven practical insights based on my experience with key examples.
Speak your good intent out loud.
Start with good intent, and share that good intent with your team, over, and over, and over again. Most new leaders who came in to lead a team is given the task to drive changes, as that is the nature of management where the 'sky is the limit': regardless of how well-established things are, context and market changes mandate organization to adjust (and disrupt) themselves to future-proof their existence. Most of the leaders, especially the introverted ones, have great vision and statement of intents but struggle to communicate and activate it so that the team grasps that ambition to propel them forward. The fact of the matter is: your team doesn't have the telepathic ability where they can read your minds. So, communicate and activate it big, according to any style that fits you the most. I have once partnered with a very introverted R&D Director, who is a brilliant Ph.D. scientist leading a regional Southeast Asia team. When he has to lead the integration of two Categories regional innovation center, he was challenged to put across the message on why the merger was logical and very positive from resource and talent integration, and ideas alignment as the two Categories has so many similarities. I helped to consult him to come up with an activation titled a "Perfect Emulsion Day" -- where we announce the integration, yet, through various team-bonding and team-development sessions to bring out all the positives. The day was successful, and the changes he has to drive resulted in the happy-ending story. Many leaders, when tasked to drive changes decided to struggle with it themselves. The key to leadership is to let yourself be vulnerable and say to yourself: "I don't have the answer to everything, I need help". And do reach out to your trusted confidant - ideally, your HR Business Partner.
Be authentic: the best you, are the real you.
Being present is not about playing charismatic and trying to be charming, it's about being authentic. I once saw a transition of leadership from a big function that was initially led by a charismatic leader who played in a band, highly inspiring just from the way the person talked, etc: a rock-star type of leader. As expected, when an opposite-style successor came in, many expectations that the team has from what they "expect a leader to be" were not delivered. Yet, the new leader plays his strength very well to lead his team: inspirational and mind-changing 1-on-1 mentoring that the previous leaders didn't have. Every leader needs to realize that everyone is unique, so do you. Be authentic, show good intent, and plays your strength (and talk to your HR business partner in creating an ecosystem that helps you thrive as a leader). You decide the Culture of your team, you have the 'magic wand' to condition the team according to your best engagement platform. What would the team says if you're changing the ecosystem: let's say, from 'rock-star style' big and massive corporate event type of engagement, into a 'coaching-style' one-on-one based type of engagement?. Funnily, but true: they might quarrel a bit if they lose a bit of fun, but when they finally experience you for who you truly are, and feels the care that you have given to them through those inspiring one-on-ones, they will shift. Leaders set direction, including how the engagement is being done in your team. It also works the other way around: if you are a 'rock-star' type who needs to step into the shoes of a great 'coach'.
Very few of you then ask: what if, I can do both 'rock-star' and 'coach' roles equally best? Then you are lucky, you can choose which style to play!
Food, Fun, Foto.
Spend time with your team, for things that are 'not about work'. Now, here comes the Indonesian (or probably, most of Southeast Asian) culture touch to what defines presence is. Just like one of my blogs talked about the importance of 'engaging the heart' first before the mind, this is what makes engagement is unique for this part of the world. Work, for us (including me), is what defines us as a person. It is an identity, things you are proud of yourself. Great leaders who built a strong relationship with their team go beyond 'just work': they spend time to show care of who they are as a person. Let's start with basic: remembering their names. You might laugh: how this is important? Well, when you lead hundreds or thousands of employees, you might think names are not important, but it is otherwise: by simply doing your homework to know 'who's who' you'll be meeting in a site visit and call your employees by names goes a long way. When there's an opportunity to fund a team event (gathering of any sort), I have a simple credo of three-Fs to do to maximize your presence there: food, fun, and foto (take a lot of photographs). And you might be surprised how small things are, but how important those seemingly 'small things' are for people. More advanced engagement is by taking time to know them as people, and if possible, come and spend time with their family.
Leverage Social Media.
As HR Director for Sales functions, employees that I managed as HR, spread thinly across Indonesia from Aceh to Sorong in Papua. When I get a chance to do an area visit, I deliberately spend time visiting their family, simply talk to them, and ask if there's any input to the company on how we can help them settle well when they move places due to assignments. When I tracked, none of those employees whose homes and families were visited resigned. Most of them contacted me in person, simply sharing happy news such as when they celebrate newborns, or their kids graduating, etc. Even better, with social media platforms available for you to engage as leaders, you can show this appreciation to them by genuinely feeling happy for great things that happen with their life by commenting on their Instagram status.
In a nutshell...
Again, the key is being genuine, and not faking it. So, spend time with your team, on them as a person. It might sound counter-productive as you have many "to-do-list" to get it done on work matters. Trust me, by investing time with your team beyond work, you will build their energy that will shorten those work 'to-do-list' as your team's morale will lead to higher performance, hence less-and-less crisis to manage. Back to examples: this is also why, every year in the last four years, I sit with Sales Directors meeting their team (function, to function) through dozens of Open House, each 2-hours long, as it is the 'moment of truth' in an engagement where they can feel the genuine presence of the Leadership (that is the Director, and me as his/her HR Business Partner).
So, those are four simple things you can do to build your presence as a leader - point number three is specific for Indonesian culture. Try it, be present, be inspiring, and you'll see how people will start seeing you as the 'lamp-lighter' leader, whom they trust with their hearts, and dedicate their best efforts for.