Sep 05 2020| Leadership

Leading with Presence

A crucial approach for the new world we face

by Phil Eyre Founder

‘This has been the hardest, most pressured period of my working career,’ said a somewhat frazzled business leader recently. This was the sentiment I reflected on in the September issue of Business Brief. 


These kinds of comments have come up in other private conversations I have had with executives across the Channel Islands. 


What’s interesting is that despite feeling overwhelmed, tired and self-doubting, feedback from their colleagues is very complimentary, focussing on how brilliant their leadership has been.


However, in some other situations, business heads have been notably absent. ‘We heard nothing from them for three months’, ‘I know they’re busy, but I can’t get in even for five minutes’, ‘they didn’t even show up when [people] were made redundant’.


Present or absent?


The difference in impact between present leaders and absent leaders is immense. Those who choose to face challenges and inspire others - even when conditions are intense - will take their people and the businesses they lead to new heights. They, indeed we all, grow in the process; most of our learning springs from adversity, not from comfort.


Leading by example 


Highly present leaders don’t even need to always be in the room. They lead by example, setting the tone and conditions that enable other people to step up and lead. They support keenly from the sidelines rather than peering over every shoulder and the preservation of the company is what matters the most to them.


Evasive leadership  


Absent leaders take a different - and destructive - approach to challenges. They may be under huge pressure, but they use that as justification to pay little attention to their people, abrogate (rather than delegate) difficult conversations and evade situations that will be predictably emotionally charged. Self-preservation is what matters the most to them.


Leaders with presence:


  • Give their full attention to people and show it in their body language
  • Convey the purpose and not just the details of a task or project
  • Actively seek questions and challenges
  • Are assertive but not aggressive
  • Are physically present and take responsibility when the news is bad. They point to themselves and not just to the circumstances when the news is bad
  • Propel team members to leadership roles, communicating to them that ‘they’ve got this’ and supporting from the sidelines, not always from the front
  • Endorse colleagues at every opportunity
  • Encourage others; they are cheerleaders for other people
  • Give clear and actionable feedback personally, privately and regularly


Absent leaders stay behind closed office doors, their body language does not invite interruption and they use their immediate team as a barrier to block interaction with others in the business. 


Their behaviour does not only destroy morale and is costly in terms of human capital, but it also has a financial impact. By avoiding hard truths, absent leaders miss risk-signals and fail to act to head off a problem.


Lost opportunities


We have seen some examples in the last two months where absent leadership has resulted in good ideas falling flat, the leader not being willing to engage with the idea. In some cases, their literal absence has prompted good people to move elsewhere in the hope that they’ll work for a more interested and caring employer. Missed risk, lost opportunity and talent loss all have a detrimental effect on the bottom line. 


Business gains


Present leaders create a cohesive culture, bringing people together (whether virtually or physically) to achieve compelling objectives; not merely ‘getting through the work’ but pulling together towards business aims that deliver genuine improvement to people’s lives.  


Present leaders are able to adjust effort and intensity and are sensitive to the needs of their people: stretching but not breaking them, knowing when to push hard and when to take a breath. 


People working with present leaders are able to bring their ideas; we’ve seen examples of improvements in customer service, cost savings and new products all in the last few weeks. Present leaders can spot trouble ahead, not denying the truth but acting on it. 


All of this has a clear benefit to the financial health of the company.


Presence, not absence, is crucial.


To find out more of my leadership insights, you can find my leadership series in the last 8 months of Business Brief magazine.

About The Author | Phil Eyre

Phil is Leaders’ founder. He has an enthusiastic and inspiring style, drawing on his experience in business, academia and social sectors to help any leadership team to achieve phenomenal performance. Phil has significant expertise in sophisticated psychometrics and in the application of human data for individual, team and organisational success. He has trained with and been mentored by, global leaders in this field, notably Dr Chuck Coker in the US. Phil began his career in the UK offshore finance industry in 1994, working for a wealth management company, Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil was head of the company's Guernsey division, with a staff of 120 and assets under management of £4.5billion before resigning from executive responsibilities in 2008. Since launching Leaders in 2017, Phil has worked with many senior executives and boards primarily in the Channel Islands and City of London. He regularly writes for a variety of business publications and is often invited to speak at events for institutions such as the IoD and the British Army. Phil works closely with clients on focussed projects and long-term retainers to raise leadership standards. He is a popular and inspiring educator and coach who, with the insights gained from psychometrics, is able to accurately detect the strengths and weaknesses in leadership teams and boards. Phil has served on the boards of various charities, ran the Guernsey hub of a national theology college, received accreditation as a pastor in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and is accredited in various motivation and behavioural techniques.

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