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Leadership is Presence


This article is Part 4 of an 11 part series of reflections on Patrick Duignan's book, "Educational Leadership".


“Leaders influence others through authentic presence in their relationships.” (Duignan)


Influence is related to being fully present in relationships that are authentic and have a clear and mutually beneficial moral purpose. Presence has a number of facets and qualities that help to enhance the purpose, quality and depth of relationships and can thereby greatly increase the potential for leaders to influence what really matters and make a difference. 


The power of influence in leadership is significant, and being fully present in authentic relationships is at the core of influence. So being able to learn, practice and improve the quality of presence is good news for leaders. Duignan reported that almost all the leaders he interviewed said that they had learned how to be present, and most had worked hard to improve the quality of their presence in their relationships and leadership (Duignan). Leaders can also greatly strengthen their influence in relationships by conceptualising them as fields of influence as they encourage and support authentic teaching and learning in their schools.


Understanding how to use influence in leadership may at first seem manipulative or somehow ‘passing the buck’ to others, but when understood correctly it cannot be accused of either of these faults. Presence has an ethical imperative for leaders to be sensitive to the needs and aspirations of others and take responsibility for what is happening in their spheres of influence, which in turn helps to transform others to higher levels of motivation, morality and performance. This involves leaders also taking responsibility for inequitable or unjust policies and practices. In doing this, leaders raise the ethical bar for all those they touch through their relationships and build cultures of respect and trust. 


Presence also activates the authenticity of the leader and the authenticity of others. It is exercised in the service of others for the common good and aligns actions with beliefs. It allows webs of meaning to be created based on a common purpose and direction and is pursued through experiences within teams and networks of relationships.


Presence means getting to know yourself, as this is essential when developing authentic relationships. This includes listening with attentiveness, acting with moral courage, creating no-blame environments that are secure and safe for reflection, critique and feedback; encouraging others to take informed risks and, when mistakes are made to learn from them; respecting others and behaving as if you are leading leaders. (Patrick Duignan, 2012, pp. 146–157)


In summary, presence means coming down from the balcony from where you observed others and joining them, risking spontaneity, and responding to the authenticity of others.


Publication Bibliography

Duignan, P (Unpublished). Leadership Presence and Influence Relationships: building collective efficacy and professional responsibility for quality learning and teaching in schools.

Duignan, P. (2012). Educational Leadership (2nd ed). Melbourne, NSW: Cambridge University Press.


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