Command Presence

It was a one-year celebration dinner for the transition of a state-run hospital to a private entity. In attendance were the medical leaders in the various practice areas as well as the Board of Directors of the hospital.

In the middle of a presentation by the hospital’s president, one of the directors of the hospital collapsed on the floor. As you can imagine, every doctor in the room rushed to see what was the matter.  Then suddenly, the crowd of doctors dispersed. One doctor remained by the side of the fallen director. The other doctors implicitly agreed that the director was in good hands, and that they were no longer needed. The doctor who remained at the director’s side was the chief resident, the least credentialed of all of the doctors in the room.

The chief resident may not yet have the credentials, but he had what is called command presence. While command presence may seem to apply to just military or other hierarchical organizations, it is actually a trait that is universal. Those with command presence have an aura of competence that is especially relevant during a crisis or unexpected situations. They don’t actually command anything. What they do is inspire confidence that they can lead others through this difficult challenge in front of them.

Those with command presence don’t proclaim their competence. They lead by being calm but resolute when the circumstances create panic in others. After the challenge has been met, they shun all acclaim.  While their efforts may become legendary, their only desire is to resume their normal life.

How does command presence develop? Is it an innate trait or something that can be developed? How do you identify someone with command presence before they are called to action? Are those with command presence the best persons to lead others in normal times? All of these are questions that have no answers.  And that’s a good thing.

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“Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react.  If you’re in control, they’re in control.”
-Tom Landry (Hall of Fame coach of the Dallas Cowboys)

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