[January 11, 2019] You don’t need a chest full of medals, possess a fabulous resume, or have a handsome face to have it. Command presence is a leader’s projection to everyone present of an advanced form of authority, trust, and respect. Often described as an allusive quality, command presence is plainly noticeable when you observe someone firmly in charge of others.
Command presence is everything about the leader that combines into a mystical quality that is much more than the sum of the parts. U.S. Marine General Lewis “Chesty” Puller had it and is why I used his image as the thumbnail to this post. He once remarked that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” When Puller walked into a room, everyone knew he was ‘the man.’
“Command presence” is a conceptually old idea. The term itself was recently developed in the military to describe this age-old phenomenon in which a leader has the personal traits to lead soldiers into battle. Today, the term has been generalized to business and other settings and this is how I use it today.
I’m told by some that command presence is like art, hard to describe but you know good art when you see it. Command presence takes place when you walk into a room and realize there is someone in charge, even when he is not formally in charge.
Some political leaders, such as Winston Churchill were able to use it to help change the tide of history.1 All successful senior politicians have it; whether you agree with their political stance or not. For example, past U.S. president Bill Clinton had it and so did Ronald Reagan; both had it in spades.
We often associate command presence with charisma, strength of personality, self-confidence, and individual magnetism. These attributes are hard to quantify and thus hard to train. Leaders aren’t required to have a “presence” around others but all great leaders do. The path to greatness is carried on the back of command presence.
For those leaders aspiring to develop their command presence, I recommend they closely observe the behavior of those who have it and they ask for feedback from people they know and trust will tell them the truth. Chesty Puller is someone to emulate but unfortunately he passed away in 1971. The world, fortunately, has others who express it. But to really know command presence you must be there to see it.
Thanks to reader Len Jakosky for recommending this topic.