Communication and its contents play an important role in leadership. In the same seam, a leader’s actions, the way they are perceived and their impact upon people has equal significance. The implications of whatever is said and done by a leader has positive or negative consequences. These are widely discussed leadership principles that are well known. Making Room For Leadership: Power, Space and Influence by MaryKate Morse discusses and describes a lesser known, rarely discussed but important element of leadership: the leader’s presence; not necessarily the leader’s ‘charisma’ or personality, but just presence. Morse point out, “Presence is intuitively perceived by a group. A person brings it with him or her into a group, and it is acknowledged by the group. Both elements are necessary. A person expects it or seeks it or cultivates it, and the group responds to it. People notice presence.” Further quoting Marshall McLuhan , she goes on to add, “The medium is the message,” but in leadership the body is the message (Morse 2008, 81).”
Presence is an issue that I have often struggled with in groups outside of my work and leadership context. Being a rather physically diminutive person and hailing from an eastern culture, passive, and introverted, I carry elements that go against the grain of leadership from a popular standpoint. MaryKate talks about ‘shadows’, people with almost no presence and ‘sponges’, people who soak up all the space in a room (Morse 2008, 143); walking into an unfamiliar and new gathering, I would see myself leaning more toward being a shadow. Recently I was invited to a consultation along with Christian leaders from India and several other countries. I remember how difficult it was to find a few people to converse with, prior to the start of the meeting. Later when I was introduced and following my presentation, it changed with people approaching me to ask questions and to introduce themselves. This is not an unusual experience for me as it happens more often than not.
MaryKate’s presentation during the London Advance was the first time that I had heard anything indepth in relation to this dimension of leaderhip, and this reading provides more thoughts on how Christlike presence can be established and positioned as a leader s through which I have gleaned some understanding and practical guidelines. Some popular notions of presence and influence are challenged.
We see the most poignant description of our Lord in the prophet Isaiah’s narrative:
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa 53: 3-6 NIV).”
Nevertheless, Jesus is the epitome and embodiment of leadership, power, space and influence.
Morse’s words are apposite: “Ultimately it doesn’t matter what we look like. It matters how we handle ourselves in a group (87)”; it matters what our life is about, what we are committed and given to. As a follow up to this reading, I am trying to identify the visual markers I use to mentally evaluate and position people in various settings and also constantly bear in mind I am God’s image-bearer first and foremost.
Morse, MaryKate. Making Room For Leadership: Power, Space and Influence. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2008.