Resilient Leadership: Leadership Presence

The third element of Resilient Leadership is Leadership Presence: This is when you have ‘presence’ even when you’re not in the room. It’s about being true to yourself, your values and ethical code and being in service to others.

It was only when I reflected on the biggest setback of my sporting career that I truly begun to understand how we develop leadership presence and why it’s so important.

That setback happened in April 2003 when I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a serious illness that rendered me in a near permanent state of exhaustion, devoid of all energy. The muscles in my body ached to the degree where it became painful. Those were just some of the physical symptoms.

The doctors said there was no treatment or cure, all I could do was rest. They said I would never race again. I was scared, what if the doctors were right and I never got better? What would I do?

It was a rubbish situation and yes, I wallowed in self-pity and misery for a long time, I felt sorry for myself, asking why me? I was at the peak of my career, I couldn’t help but think life was so unfair!

However, I needed to find a way out and I realised that feeling like a victim wasn’t going to help me.

Eventually after 12 months I discovered a treatment called Reverse Therapy and finally I was on a road to recovery. The first and most powerful step that I took was opening up to the people closest to me, sharing what I was experiencing with them and exposing my weaknesses. Allowing people to see my struggles and vulnerability and letting them help me began to make me stronger. This was a big departure for me, I’m not someone who accepts help easily, but I learnt to ask for help and I ask for help a whole lot more now!

Demonstrating Vulnerability

I learnt that being vulnerable enough to ask for help is a huge part of our resilience. We need to find the courage to ask for and accept support from others.

I now know that taking off the mask and showing vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s actually the boldest act a leader can make. It fuels trust and the strongest of relationships and that couldn’t be more important right now as we lead remote teams. The most resilient leaders are constantly building and reinforcing relationships and they do this when the urgency is low, it pays dividends when the urgency ramps up.

Authentic Leadership

People will naturally want to build a relationship with you and follow you as a leader when you’re an authentic leader, because they know what you stand for and they know that you will do what you say you will.

To help you stay true to yourself and your ethical code, you need to first be clear on what your values are. Your values are deep within you and define who you are and what you want in your life. What values matter most to you? I spend a lot of time with clients really delving into this question because once you have identified those values, then you can articulate them, live them and breathe them and only then will people experience you as authentic. In times of crisis people will already know what you stand for and be ready to follow you, you’ll have leadership presence.


With that leadership presence, others will be able to anticipate your actions and act accordingly. I worked with a Hungarian coach called Miki and he had presence even when he wasn’t there. If he was not able to be at training, we knew exactly what he’d say and how he would want us to run the session. When you’re not in the room do people know what actions and decisions you would want them to make?

Whilst we operate in this virtual world, leadership presence is crucial and unfortunately it is more difficult to build and maintain relationships, so I encourage you to consider what else can you do to be more open and develop your authenticity as a leader.

To summarise, as a leader when you are authentic, serving and intentional this is the impact:

 ‘You have “presence” even when you are not in the room. The best person takes the lead and is fully supported by all around them, leading to greater effectiveness and better results. People know each other well enough to anticipate other’s actions and act accordingly’.

If you would like to understand more about your own strengths and areas of development in relation to the 4 elements, I encourage you to take this free RLE lite assessment.

For more information on this subject and our Resilient Leader’s open programme, please visit The Resilient Leader’s Toolkit | Beyond the Barriers or get in touch.

Published: Monday 1 February 2021
Written by: Anna Hemmings, OLY, MBE.