After you watch this video (or read this article just below), you’ll have a clear understanding of what important studies say is the most important skill and trait in both leadership and charisma.
This skill is also shown to be integral to, and inseparable from, peak performance in anything (not just peak performance in leadership).
Interestingly, this skill is also one of the most potent tools we have in optimizing our mental and physical health.
But let’s focus on the importance of this skill in leadership.
Management Versus Leadership
Management is setting, monitoring and (ironically and redundantly enough) managing processes, activities and outcomes to quantifiable outcomes in timing, quality and output.
Leadership is inspiring, and showing the way, to exceptional mindset, behaviors, actions and results. It's achieved through personifying within ourselves – while also facilitating for others – the beliefs, behaviors and actions necessary to achieve a shared mission or purpose.
To lead others, we must inspire them to be, do and achieve to their greatest potential, in pursuit of this shared vision. While we also act as the example of this exceptional way.
Exceptional Achievements Require Leadership
Managing people’s activities and numbers rarely, if ever, inspires us to exceptionalism. Managing well can succeed in consistently achieving a minimal hurdle of productivity, while occasionally achieving an exceptional result. But managing alone will not inspire – nor consistently motivate – the exceptional beliefs, behaviors or results leaders can achieve and all exceptional organizations demand.
Most managers are relatively ambitious, driven people, right? They’re typically promoted to management positions because they have gotten better and faster results than most of their peers.
And people, by nature, assume other people share are not too different from us in perspective and drive. Sure, we know others aren’t just like us, but it’s natural to assume others aren’t that much different from us. It’s human nature.
Clarity, Inspiration and Intrinsic Motivation
We want to achieve a specific and exceptional outcome, and we assume others are on board.
But are they?
Never mind that most managers aren’t good at clearly defining expectations and goals.
Never mind that even fewer managers are good at facilitating the skills and behaviors necessary to achieving those goals.
Even fewer managers are adept, or even competent, at inspiring the exceptional sense of purpose, that is necessary to achieving the consistent, sustained, long-term beliefs, behaviors and actions necessary to the exceptional results most organizations and managers want.
Great Results Require Great and Sustained Passion and Purpose
We must inspire people’s hearts and motivate their minds to emulate us and to follow us to our shared vision.
But first, we must clearly define that vision. Then breathe life into it through our words and deeds, each and every day for years.
Don’t Believe Your Own Press
Have you ever worked with a manager that assumed they were a leader? And they weren’t?
Or have you ever worked for a manager who didn’t even seemed to consider or care whether or not they inspired and motivated people as a leader should and would?
In fact, aren’t most managers like this? They’re some combination of over-confident, delusional and/or lacking self-awareness?
So, let me ask you: how are you different from these managers?
And, is it just possible that you’re not as good a leader as you believe yourself to be?
And are you willing to risk your career, income and future to potentially fallacious assumptions?
Self-Deception, Self-Delusion and Leadership
Now, I’m not casting stones in a glass house here. I’m just highlighting what’s known as Optimism Bias. (More on optimism bias in a moment.)
Surveys often show that over fifty percent of a company’s managers will rate themselves as being in the top-10 percent of management and leadership in their company. Often, the percentage is much higher than fifty percent.
But isn’t it true that only ten percent of managers can be in the top ten percent?
So, at least forty percent, and often a higher percentage, of managers delude themselves about their management and leadership quotient.
(Click here for a great, 30-minute radio interview with Chris on Transformational Leadership).
Before you sat “not me, I’m more self-aware than the average person,” think again. Because we are all prone to the psychological phenomenon called Optimism Bias.
In Optimism Bias, we tend to attribute more positive, and less negative, probabilities and actualities to ourselves than are actually true.
In any event, what matters in leadership, is NOT what we think of ourselves, is it?
What matters is what others think of us. Specifically, are they inspired, motivated and facilitated to follow us. And follow us to a clear, compelling, mutually-shared outcome.
Most Managers Aren’t Other- or Self-Aware
Most managers are swamped with meetings and other management responsibilities.
And most employees never experience leadership.
And everyone remains blissfully ignorant (or not so blissfully ignorant) that all parties are missing a great opportunity. The manager is missing the opportunity to grow, make their mark and make a difference. The employees are missing an opportunity to spread their wings and fly. And the organization is missing the benefit of an on-fire, passionate group of family-members, committed to making a difference within and for their organization and their customers.
Excellent management will allow you to consistently hit threshold benchmark results and occasionally exceptional ones. Excellent management alone, without transformational leadership, will probably never allow you to reach consistently exceptional results.
(Click here for more transformational leadership skills development videos).
What Traits and Skills are Crucial to Leadership?
Depending upon the leadership model, there are at least thirty-four specific traits that leadership experts have identified.
The famous leadership author, John Maxwell identified twenty-one key traits leaders exhibit in his popular book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.”
One study, by a top Management Consulting firm, identified thirty-four possible leadership traits.
This study found that if people perceive we are strong in only four of the thirty-four total possible leadership traits, that over eighty-five percent of people will see us as a leader.
Is There One, Most Important, Leadership Trait?
Interestingly, of these thirty-four total traits, only one trait was found to be absolutely necessary to leadership. So, if a person possessed this one trait or skill, as well as three others from the total pool of thirty-four possible skills, then over eighty-five percent of people would see them as a leader.
The consulting firm focuses on a person’s three most natural leadership strengths, among thirty-four total possible leadership skills. And this model states that we must possess one, single skill or trait, in addition to three other strengths from the total of thirty-four.
This is a good beginning and general focus, because it makes developing baseline, minimal leadership accessible and relatively simple. Take our three natural strengths, further develop them, while we also develop the one, necessary skill.
Because studies indicate that individuals and organizations succeed by capitalizing on their strengths. So, generally speaking, we should invest most of our intention, activities and time on our strengths.
The One, Necessary Leadership Skill
So, what is the one leadership skill we must be strong in, or the majority of people will not view or follow us as a leader?
It goes by different names, but they are mostly synonymous, with some slight variations. But the terms used include: presence, mindfulness and centeredness.
Whatever terminology is used, at the core, they all refer to our ability to remain centered, present, mindful and masterful in managing our inner story; that is, our perceptions, our emotions and our behaviors and actions.
Emotional intelligence, which is shown in study after study to be profoundly important to effective leadership, has presence and mindfulness at its core.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage emotional states in a manner that facilitates positive behavior, communication and outcomes and mitigates or eliminates negative or unproductive behavior, communication and outcomes.
Transformational Leadership Skills Development
In the training I produce for UCLA and corporations, I train you in the PVC3 leadership model.
PVC3, because transformational leadership has nine core skills, three beginning with the letter P, three with V and three with C. Briefly, those nine skills are Presence, Passion (or Purpose), Personal Power, Vision, Values, Velocity, Care, Communicate and Cultivate.
Some of these nine traits are foundationally necessary to leadership at virtually any level.
And some may not be necessary to a low or limited degree of leadership, but they are foundational to transformational leadership. That is, leadership that transforms individuals, teams and organizations into consistently peak performing and peak achieving ones. Organizations that make a significant and consistent dent in their world.
Presence and Mindfulness
What is meant by presence?
Presence is remaining focused and intent in the here and now. With our immediate inner and external environment and in our current activity.
Mindfulness includes presence, but also with a somewhat detached observance and acceptance of our thoughts and feelings.
That said, when we call a person “mindful,” don’t we also often extend our definition of mindfulness in that observed person to include their apparent self-awareness and intention to behave in accordance with their higher intentions, values or virtues? That is, they aren’t just mindful in their self-awareness and self-acceptance, they are also mindful to perceive and behave in alignment with their highest values and virtues.
Our Brains Aren’t Predisposed for Presence or Mindfulness
Neuroscientific studies show that, on average, the human brain wanders about fifty-percent of the time.
And each time our mind has to re-focus, we expend more energy from our brain. And each subsequent mental refocusing cumulatively fatigues our brain and can take slightly longer.
Have you ever had an unusually hectic day when you’ve had to make multiple, high-stakes decisions and changed focus throughout the day? And by the end of the day, it seemed literally impossible to make one more decision? Even the simplest of decisions seems mentally impossible, doesn’t it?
This is because each decision we make, and each re-focus we experience, costs us significant brain energy (glucose), with the impact being cumulative throughout any ongoing period of time.
Our brains account for roughly two-percent of our bodies, yet utilize over twenty-percent of our bodies fuel. As such, our brains are constantly trying to conserve fuel, because they are fuel guzzlers.
Our brains evolved to instinctively and habitually wander almost certainly as a survival adaptation over the hundreds of thousands of years of our species’ evolution.
Historically, the mind that naturally wandered, as opposed to focusing, was one that was more likely to identify and avoid a potential threat. Whereas a mind that focused too long or intently on one thing was more likely to miss a threat and meet with an accident or be eaten by an animal.
But in modern society, our wandering minds most often, though not always, work against us.
Presence, Mindfulness, Inspiration and Motivation
How do you feel when you’re communicating with someone and their mind is clearly elsewhere? They’re not focused on you or your conversation?
And how do you feel when you communicate something and the other person clearly doesn’t understand or get you? Or worse, they don’t even seem to care to understand or get you? And it shows in their lack of attention and intention with you.
It doesn’t build trust, respect or rapport, does it?
On the other hand, how do you feel when someone, especially someone who has power and authority over you, is very present with you? They are focused and intent in the moment on and with you?
You feel appreciated and valuable, don’t you? Respected, safe and important, right?
And this is especially true with someone who had power and authority over us. Because we have so much at stake with them, right? It’s simple neuro-biology. It’s survival. Our brains are above all else, survival instruments. Predisposed to be concerned with our survival.
And when someone with power is present with us, their presence generally confers caring for us. When someone with power cares about us, our brains perceive and believe that we are safer.
On the other hand, when someone with power over us either doesn’t care or, worse, we perceive that they have it in for us, our lives are threatened. Quite literally, our unconscious brain perceives this as a potentially mortal threat.
Which is why we so often exaggerate the slightest slight from others. It’s because our old fight or flight brain isn’t concerned with rationalizing or contextualizing the actual threat. It simply seeks and responds to any and all possible threats as being potentially mortal.
Presence, Mindfulness and Leadership
So, maintaining authentic and consistent presence with our people is imperative to leadership. To develop trust, communication, leadership and followership.
And remaining mindful of our own perceptions, feelings and behaviors, as well as those of the people around us, is also imperative to leadership.
Presence and Peak Performance
In addition to being imperative to leadership, Presence is also a foundational trait inseparable from peak performance. Peak performance in anything, not just leadership.
Studies by the top peak performance experts going back to the nineteen-sixties, show that whenever we peak perform, we are, by definition, in a highly present state. And, in fact, high presence is inseparable from peak performance.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s, the author of the seminal book, called “Flow,” found that presence as inseparable from and foundational to flow. Flow being that peak zone of experience AND performance we have when we are totally absorbed in something highly meaningful, challenging and for which we are peak performing in the moment.
Presence and Charisma
Presence is also identified as the primary foundational trait, and one of three traits necessary, to charisma, as identified in studies by Stanford University professor, Olivia Fox Cabane.
Finally, presence is also the central trait and goal of meditation, which studies show is highly beneficial to our psychological and biological health.
In my leadership training, what I call PVC3, because leadership has nine core skills, three beginning with the letter P, three with V and three with C.
And presence is the first, and foundational skill, we work on in our training.
The Harvard Business Review, June 11, 2019 edition had an article entitle Self Improvement. In it the author, Jennifer Porter, discusses how both acute Self-awareness AND self-management are necessary to leadership.
Her first step in cultivating greater self-awareness and self-management is, you guessed it, greater presence.
Presence is obviously necessary for self-awareness because, if our mind is in the past, future or another location, we obviously will not be self- or other-aware within our current time and place.
Presence is also inseparable from self-management because we can’t manage ourselves ten minutes ago or ten minutes into the future, can we? The only time we can manage ourselves, is in this moment. And the only place we can manage ourselves is within our mind and body.
Now, while this is self-evident, it’s also difficult to practice. Because our brain’s predisposition is to wander and to seek and imagine any potential threats. Our brain is not engineered to seek or maintain presence.
But, with repeated practice, presence becomes easier and more instinctual.
So, here’s where the rubber meets the road. How then can you practice being more present? How can you develop your ability to more easily and more often live and act from a heightened state of presence? Well, as with anything, it’s a matter of taking information, applying it, and repeatedly practicing it.
So, here are some ways you can practice increasing your presence. And, as a result, improve your leadership skills, peak performance skills, communication, charisma and mental and physical health.
(Click here for the Harvard Business Review article on Self Improvement)
Techniques for Increasing Your Presence
Presence and mindfulness are the simplest of concepts but, much more difficult to put into practice. The following exercises, tips and techniques will help you develop your skills in presence and mindfulness.
Get Out of Your Head and Connect with Your Body
- Breathe deeply. Hold your breath for a count of two. Release fully.
- Focus your attention on one spot in your body: your forehead, eyes or chest.
- Imagine breathing into that space and focus on them relaxing. Melting. Dissolving. With each inhalation and each exhalation.
- Identify Your Current Emotions and Feelings.
- Identify what you feel and where you feel it. Don’t judge it. Simply observe it. Breathe into it. Allow it in a disconnected, dispassionate, observational manner.
- Then watch it float away, like a puffy, white cloud on an autumn day.
- Identify Your Intentions.
- What intentions are likely driving your current emotions and feelings? Again, simply observe them without judgment.
- Separate your higher self from your intentions. Allow your intentions, but back away and watch them from above and behind wherever they exist in your body and mind.
Connect with Your Environment
- Connect with the Your Surroundings
- Breathe deeply.
- Gently, in your mind, one at a time, identify and name objects surrounding you.
- Identify what materials the object is made of.
- Name the color of the object.
- Name the actual and potential functions for the object.
- Imagine what the objects’ texture would feel like against your face.
- Imagine it transforming to a different color or texture.
- Identify the people around you.
- Describe them to yourself.
- Their height. Hair color. Eye color. Clothing style.
- Focus on their life energy. How they seem to kinesthetically experience and express life.
- What’s attractive, fascinating or interesting about this person?
- Describe them to yourself.
- What life challenges might they have experienced?
- Mirror them.
- Pace them. Slowly adopt their speech patterns: their cadence, rhythm and tempo. Also their usage of language.
Ultimately, Connect with Your Highest Values and Life Vision
After watching yourself non-judgmentally for a while, also become mindful of your highest values and goals in life. Remain mindful and present, as you continue working or communicating with people, of your highest values and goals, in addition to whatever issue you currently focus and work on. Be sure whatever beliefs, perceptions or actions you take are in alignment with your highest values and goals.