The Gathering Influence of Presence

The Meaning of Presence

I developed the first research-based assessment of executive presence, which is now used by a number of Fortune 100 firms. In the process, I applied theories of situated assessment and leader development as identity development, which I had been formulating over the past 20 years of my career as a psychologist. What I’ve learned is that projecting one’s personal presence into a live social-organizational context, in the service of leadership, is a complex, constructive expression of meaning. 

Indeed, more than individual expression of meaning by the leader, the leader’s presence constitutes a gathering force, a port for others to gather, refuel, and acquire a common sense of purpose, direction, and mission. In that process, the agency of all is stimulated. They are not mere compliant actors; rather, they become active centers of translating directional ideas, practical imperatives, and purposive zeal into collaborative leadership action. Now, let’s see how a poet might imagine this gathering force. 

From a Poets Point of View

In this poem by Wallace Stevens, we see the imagined effect of placing a cultural object in a natural setting; it’s a simple object, a ceramic jar. It was put there through the purposive agency of a human being, and it changed the place in which it was placed. 

The jar tamed the wilderness. Its geometric shape and its purpose – to contain something – lend structure to the environmental surrounds of the place. Its presence there was plain, “gray and bare;" still it asserts “dominion” over the natural beauty of “bird or bush.”  

For better or worse, when an intervening, agenic, organizing act asserts its presence, there are effects. And this is one way of thinking about our personal presence as leaders and agents of change. We impose an ordering influence upon the scene, hoping that it gathers, aligns, and engages. A new constellation of intelligent action is formed.