We know instantly when somebody has it. And we know when somebody doesn’t.
Our brains are programmed to pay attention to whatever someone with command presence says or does. It does not matter much if this person is your doctor, plumber, teacher, or president.
Chances are those who possess such presence have somehow earned it, although when it falls into the wrong hands (or minds!), it may be put to terrible use. Bernie Madoff comes to mind, but we all know other examples of people unworthy of our trust when their false intentions are revealed.
Animals waste no time establishing their command power, or pecking order. For those who challenge, it will either be death or ostracism.
Human beings know these aspects of behavior exist in our own kind as well. In that way, we are not too different from the animal kingdom. But we usually deny these aspects — not that denial makes them go away.
One of Norway’s leading experts on complementary medicine told me about his experience with an especially gifted practitioner of the healing arts. He said when she looked at him, he felt as if she was looking right through him; he felt her attention like a force field. When he attended one of her client visits, he observed how quickly she found the real cause of the visit, how that brought on an extraordinary emotional response, and how she worked to rebuild the client’s life after the catharsis. She was an authentic and effective healer, and her skills are not easily taught.
In business, a good CEO, sensing that something may be wrong with a trusted employee, will ask the simplest of questions: “How is the family?” The World Health Organization has found the best way of starting a conversation about health is to ask, “How do you feel?”
The single most effective weapon here is to know the right questions, and to listen to the answers. And I mean listening in the broadest sense: language, body language, tone of voice, defensiveness, agitation — all communicated by the human voice, or by gestures, micro muscle movements or body position.
Let’s now turn the question around. What are the qualities that characterize people with command presence?
If you talk to them, you have their full attention. They listen to what you say. They accept your point of view, and your right to say it.
They establish a common bond — usually by touching you — physically or with words, and you now share a degree of intimacy.
If you discuss a personal problem with them, they will offer to help, and the good ones will find a way to actually do so. If you then accept their help, and it works for you, they will be genuinely pleased on your behalf.
Now think about this. They have influenced you in a manner that is likely to change your life. You may or may not have command presence, or the power that goes with it, but you may choose to behave as if you do. Remember, you have seen how people with command power act.
Command power is a great responsibility. But there is no nobler quest than to help people in the best way that you can.
So here is the secret question that opens the world to you: How can I help? Then help.
You will find that life does not get much better.
And you will have earned your command presence.