Command Presence

By | January 11, 2019

[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.

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  1. http://westsidetoastmasters.com/resources/master_presenters/lib0056.html
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Command Presence

  1. Janna Faulkner

    Command Presence is founded on the associations with an appearance of authority, so it helps when you actually do own that authority. But it is also about how you look. I don’t mean looking tough or handsome but you cannot possess command presence if you’re a bag lady. So, take a look at the physicla image you project. Do you dress appropriately, do you have your shoulders back and stand up straight, etc. If you do, your command presence will grow because it’s so often about non-verbal cues.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      Spot on comment. Thanks Janna. I too think appearance makes a difference. Just look at the thumbnail of this blog topic today. It has Chesty Puller, the now famous US Marine General from the Korean War. If he stepped into a room, everyone’s eyes would be on him without saying a word.

  2. Doug Smith

    In the early 1700s, the City of Boston developed a plan to control the chaos that occurred during a fire by appointing individuals Firewards. They were described as “prudent persons of known fidelity,” and each was given a 5-foot red staff topped with a bright spike to “distinguish them in their office.” This, they later called, COMMAND PRESENCE.
    https://www.firerescue1.com/cod-company-officer-development/articles/233922-Command-Presence-Presentation-is-Everything/

  3. Nick Lighthouse

    Someone once said that ‘”Walking with INTEGRITY” is the essence of Command Presence.’

  4. Dennis Mathes

    The vast majority of time, command presence is expressed as a non-verbal communication to those around you and is determined at first glance or through your first instructions, interactions or comments.

    1. Fred Weber

      I agree. Your appearance, including your posture and personal presentation in how you walk, speak and the gestures you use all project your personal “Command Presence”.

  5. Army Captain

    While many civilians have not heard of the concept, believe me, it’s real.

    1. Army Captain

      Oh forgot to add, that Command Presence is ALWAYS a positive perception projected to those around you.

  6. Len Jakosky

    Another great article to start my day. Thanks.
    I like the idea that you take information from your military days and transition it into info for us in civilian life.
    Well done and please provide us with more articles like this one.

  7. Maureen S. Sullivan

    Good article on ‘command presence’. Thanks. I never heard it called that before and it makes sense.

  8. Yusaf from Texas

    I live in West Texas, where men are men and women are women. We are unashamed, happy, and productive. We don’t “diss” on gays or anyone else and we expect the same respect from others.

  9. Max Foster

    Although not totally associated with masculinity, command presence certainly has the attributes of manhood and all those things good with it. I liked your “favorites” section today that also had two articles about the APA claiming masculinity is harmful. Hahahahahah

    1. Darryl Sitterly

      Good point, Max. The Amer. Psy. Assoc is, like Gen. Satterfield notes, a bunch of girlie men and dominant women. THe women are likely making their APA men kiss their butts.

    2. Albert Ayer

      Ha Ha. Please stop, I nearly snorted my morning coffeee.

      1. Anita

        Thanks guys. Us ladies still love masculine men. Just because the “men” of the APA can’t get their act stratight (well, maybe they'[re gay) is not relevant to me.

    3. Georgie M.

      I agree with you all that command presence does have something to do with masculinity but I will also say it’s not required. When someone is clearly in charge, then they have it in spades.

    4. Wilson Cox

      Good to see you seeing the logic behind the concept. Thanks Max.

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