Scroll Top

Leadership At A Distance: How To Be There When You’re Not There

Presence 2
How prepared are you to show up in this new world? 

Early in my career, I worked with a veteran tech salesperson who had the remarkable ability to connect with peopleNot only was he confident, kindsmart and enthusiastic, he asked great questions and listened with intentIn conversation, he spoke with clarity and elegance and made you feel like you were the only person on his agenda and in his worldIt was easy to see why he had a track record of success and an expansive networkI’ve since come to appreciate that he not only had a presence, but he was always present 

Fast forward to today. Organizations are bringing people back into the workplace in new and different wayswork shifts, alternating days or weeks and/or a mix of on-site and remote workers. Other organizations are continuing or committing to a work-at-home model. The days of everyone being in the office at the same time are simply over. Even when the pandemic passes, we’ve proven remote working is part of our future and people won’t easily give that up. Welcome to our new blended distributed reality and the world of leadership at a distance.  

For leaders, navigating this reality will require learning new skills and leaning into existing skills with more intention. And, according to Bob Johansen, a futurist and author of 2017 the book The New Leadership Literacies, leaders will need to develop their own brand of blended-reality presence: 

“Leaders will need a new leadership presence, through a wide mix of media and in-person meetings in varied combinations... sometimes they will need to feel present everyplace, every time – without feeling intrusive. 

What does it look like to have presenceAnd why is this important?  

Presence is known as many things: gravitas, commanding attention (not always in a loud way), holding court, or owning the room. Simply put, when a person with presence speaks, people listen and all eyes and ears are on themPresence is not bravadoIt comes from a place of credibility and authenticity. It’s earned and nurtured through experience and commitment. 

A leader with presence is not only influential, they experience greater productivity and higher engagement levels because they are trusted and respected by team members. Leaders with presence are genuine and enthusiastic and inspire confidence in others to achieve goals, model positive behaviours and deliver results. Who wouldn’t want to follow a leader like that?  

Having presence requires leaders to show up with a well-balanced combination of confidence, enthusiasm, humility, predictability, clarity and curiosity and the right tone-setting energy 

Many leaders are at their best when in person. It’s their sweet spot and many of them might be struggling in this new distributed world. The challenge going forward will be to develop presence through other multimedia so, even when you aren’t there, you are there 

What’s the difference between having presence and being present?  

To have presence, we first need to be present. When we fully engage in the moment and allow our attention to focus on what is before us without physical distractions, racing thoughtspressing deadlines or other pressures, then we are present 

Think back to a time where you were trying to have a meaningful conversation with someone who was distracted or not there in mindIt’s tough, isn’t it? You don’t know if they are listening, if you are being heard, or if they even care. I‘ve been both the distracted party and on the receiving endNeither are good. It wastes time, energy, erodes relationships and builds frustration that can last a good while 

You owe it to your people to show up in service of them and use the time wiselyIt requires you to be focused, alert and curious and to listen deeply. That’s being present 

As part of the research for the book, The Mind of the Leader, more than 1,000 leaders indicated that being mindfully present is the optimal strategy to engage their people, create better connections, and improve performance.  

Tips to become more present  

  1. Be Intentional: Becoming more present requires discipline and practice. Be aware of how you are showing up and think about introducing a mindfulness ritual into your day.  
  1. Prepare: Take a few minutes to think about and note what’s special about the person you are connecting with, what you want to cover, what questions you have. And make a note to invite questions and feedback too.  
  1. Remove distractions: Before you engage in a conversation (which these days is usually on screen), put away all other devicesput  a do not disturb sign on your door and turn off distracting notifications  
  1. Get Ready Before your conversation starts, build in time to take a bio break (hard to be present when you need to go), grab a glass of waterget the dial-in details and ensure your video/audio are on and working. Ideally, build in a minute or two to sit still and take a few deep breaths so you are fully prepared 
  1. Engage: Be welcoming, make and keep eye contact, break the ice, keep an open mind, listen deeply (don’t be thinking of your next comment), resist the urge to offer advice or solutions. Instead, just ask questions and see where you get.  

In a world where physical presence is no longer the norm, leaders will have to figure out how to use or develop their presence in new ways and be fully and intentionally present as they engage with their teams through a wide range of mediaHow prepared are you to show up in this new world? 

Coaching questions:  

How would you rate your leadership presence on a scale of 1 – 10?  

What aspect of your presence can you work on?  

How can you bring more presence to your Zoom meetings, phone calls, emails and social channels? 


Our new distributed workplace and ongoing uncertainty challenges leaders to lead at a distance and develop their own brand presence through multiple channels. Through coaching and counsel, we help leaders show up with a well-balanced combination of confidence, enthusiasm, humility, predictability, clarity and curiosity and the right tone-setting energyContact us at to learn more.  

Subscribe for Original Leadership Content

This information will never be shared with third-party companies

Name (First and Last)


Grow Your Leadership

Thank you for subscribing!

Read and Download our REFERENCE SHEET!