Do you practice leadership presence?

By Diane Sieg | 08/13/2015

Answer five questions to find out!


In a recent meeting with a chief nursing officer of a large hospital system, I was understandably impressed with her creative initiatives, low turnover rate, and high scores in patient satisfaction. But what really intrigued me was her overall demeanor. Despite the chaos of health care today, she made great eye contact, listened intently, and asked more questions than gave canned answers. She practiced leadership presence, and I left feeling seen, heard, and understood.
Sieg_Diane_ID_embed_SFWThere are many definitions for leadership presence, but I really like what Sally Helgesen says: “Leadership presence is rooted less in a combination of skills and characteristics than in the capacity to actually be present. This is being present for the moment, for others, for the mission, and for the task at hand.”
Being present is such a simple concept, but it requires a critical skill, and that is mindfulness: paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, without judgment, as if your life depended on it. Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment. It gives us the space to lead by responding instead of immediately reacting. The present moment is so valuable because it is the only time we get to think, create, listen, decide, act, and lead.
Leadership presence is no longer just nice to have; it’s essential in our challenging climate of health care. A recent Gallup study supports this perspective: 50 percent of workers leave their jobs because of their managers, 70 percent of employee engagement is directly related to management, and fewer than one-third of employees are currently engaged in their work.

Do you practice leadership presence? Answer these five questions to find out:
1. Do you run late? (Yes, five minutes late is not on time!)

Learn to say no. This means creating boundaries for all the requests of your time and energy, including committees, meetings, phone calls, and emails. You need to say no to anything that will jeopardize your existing commitments, or else say no to some of those commitments. Start and end meetings on time, and leave if you need to get somewhere else, aiming to arrive at your next destination five minutes early! As a recent Wall Street Journal article notes, when you are late, you create a culture of frustration, disrespect, and dismissal.
2. Do you pride yourself on multitasking?
Unplug and connect. Multitasking is a myth. You literally cannot give full attention to more than one thing (or person) at a time. Practice doing one thing at a time, and really connect with whatever it is, whether it’s eating, driving, or participating in a meeting. When you arrive at your next meeting—five minutes early—unplug from your phone and, face to face, connect with someone in the room.
3. Do people comment on how busy you are?
Slow down. Sometimes we wear our busyness like a badge of honor. To draw attention to our importance, we rush from one activity to the next. When people sense this, they are less likely to feel safe in approaching us, especially in a difficult situation. Slow down your pace of walking, speech, and interactions, and you may be surprised the difference it makes in your ability to connect with everyone.
4. Do you finish other people’s ____________________?
Listen. Most conversations take place with us talking—either verbalizing aloud or thinking about what we will say next—instead of listening. The practices of mirroring, validating, and empathizing still work. Statements such as “What I hear you saying is …” or “That makes sense to me because …” or “I imagine that makes you …” are effective responses because they require you to listen intently and allow the other person to feel heard.
5. Do you jump out of bed with your hair on fire, feeling overwhelmed before you even start your day?

Take five. Instead of rushing to your email first thing, take five minutes (set a timer) and focus on breathing deeply, letting go of whatever is making you feel anxious or overwhelmed. Send loving kindness to yourself or someone you feel challenged by. This practice will leave you grounded, focused, and calm, ready for your day. It can also be done p.r.n., whenever you feel like your hair is on fire!
In nursing, we are all leaders, from the boardroom to the bedside. While we can’t always change policy, avoid budget cuts, or ignore a conflict, we can practice leadership presence with staff members, colleagues, physicians, and, most importantly, patients. Leadership presence is not a skill to perfect, but a way of being, a state of mind to practice. It helps people remember you not just for your skills and accomplishments, but for how you made them feel.
Diane Sieg, RN, CYT, CSP, is a former emergency room nurse turned speaker, author, mindfulness coach, and yoga teacher. The author of STOP Living Life Like an Emergency and other books, she is also the creator of Your Mindful Year. For more information, visit

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