Professional presence: How do you get it? : Nursing Management

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Professional presence: How do you get it?

Lachman, Vicki D. RN, PhD, CS, CNAA

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Nursing Management (Springhouse) 32(10):p 41-42, October 2001.
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Need to show strength and savvy when the pressure's on? Try this guide.

FIGUREIndividuals who exude confidence, comfort in uncertainty, integrity, optimism, passion, and empathy-the six characteristics of professional presence-shine as managers. Now, it's your turn. The following information further defines each characteristic.


1. Self-confidence. To become a leader rich in self-confidence and self-esteem, assess yourself realistically. Balance both the positive and the negative and remain focused on what you are, not what you aren't. Seek feedback: Ask your colleagues what they appreciate about you. Play up your strengths. If someone asks, "What's your major asset?" you should feel comfortable answering.

Self-confidence is a feeling of knowing who you are. It comes from taking a risk and doing it often, until you reach a comfort level-the courage to understand the challenge and still move forward. Sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. If you don't feel poised, you need to act poised until you do.

Peace of mind is the ability to think clearly and quickly, which comes from experience and the willingness to be wrong. Avoid believing that you must always be right. Perfectionism can stop you from taking risks because you fear being wrong. If you can't admit that you're wrong, or you can't admit that you don't know something, then you're going to stunt your confidence development.

2. Comfort with uncertainty. Most of us like to be in control. But there's a difference between self-control and control of others. The more self-confidence we have, the less we feel a need to control others. If you can remain open to feedback, then you can tolerate ambiguity.

Those with internal control accept what they can't change. But individuals who have trouble coping with uncertainty continuously try to control things that they can't. Look at what you can control, then build your self-confidence by taking charge of those aspects. Stretch yourself. Consider managing a unit that's more difficult than the most recent assignment you accepted. To grow more comfortable with uncertainty, don't plan everything. Practice behaviors where you can demonstrate more openness to change. Arrive at the airport for a trip without a ticket. Too risky? Buy a magazine you've never bought before. Go to a new restaurant. Take a new course. Tackle tasks that challenge you to cope with ambiguity and uncertainty.

3. Integrity. Leaders with integrity reflect upon their behavior, asking, "Was that true for me?" "Did I handle that situation appropriately?" "Was I too gruff?" "Too passive?"

To develop your integrity, say "no" to impulsive urges. A good rule of thumb: If you feel you have to say something right away to get it off of your chest, don't. Those with integrity take a minute to reflect before giving into an impulse.

They also maintain a collaborative stance; they're cooperative, by nature. Although it's our natural tendency to first point out how different we are, this doesn't build collaboration. In every communication you make, try to find a point of agreement. Those with professional presence use collaboration and cooperation whenever they can as they work with others.

Leaders with integrity are trustworthy, open, respectful, and honest: They don't lie, exaggerate, or omit. And they don't play favorites. They're consistent, too: If they say that they're going to do something, they do it.

4. Optimism. Leaders with professional presence display a "can do" attitude. They're motivated, proactive-and it shows in the way that they present themselves.

Increase your sense of optimism by remaining positive and persistent in the face of setbacks and failures. Find humor in difficult situations and be willing to laugh at yourself.

5. Passion for work. Leaders with a passion for their work set expectations that they can achieve-and they love what they do. Are you always looking for ways to improve yourself or the situation? This is a mark of a high achiever.

When we develop a deeper sense of compassion for ourselves and others, then we enhance our self-confidence-both of which will help you to develop more of a presence.

6. Empathy. As caregivers, we know the importance of empathy. Trying to understand another person's perspective is critical to our profession.

Increase your ability to be empathic by honing your approachability. Practice solid listening skills, use direct eye contact, and maintain an open stance.

Ready for action?

To gain and enhance your professional presence, try these tips.

1. Conduct a realistic self-appraisal. Get as many new opinions as you can-360-degree feedback. Consider eliciting feedback from co-workers, your spouse, friends, and so forth. Audio and videotape yourself. Look for patterns to overcome when trying to develop a certain trait. For example, if you're working on honesty, ask yourself: "Whom do I tend to not own up to?" "Does it happen more when I'm stressed?" "Where does it occur?"

2. Don't lose sight of the positives. Say to yourself, "Well, it's true that I'm not self-confident in that situation, but I am self-confident in this situation." Focus on your strengths whenever you're trying to change an undesirable trait.

3. Find-and imitate-role models. Watch, look, and listen. If you want to be confident, identify individuals who are confident and watch what they do. Follow them around and ask questions. Talk to people who have what you don't and find out how they got it.

4. Learn new behaviors. First, determine how you learn best-visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. This will minimize the time it takes you to absorb something. Then, choose a source to facilitate the new behaviors you wish to adapt. But remember, the key to deep learning is practice, even if you're not primarily a kinesthetic learner.

5. Stretch. Expand the boundaries of your personal comfort zone. Do something out of the ordinary. Make the uncommon common.

6. Seek feedback. Examine any differences from when you began. If you have an audio and videotape of yourself, review them in 6 months. If you took a personality profile, examine how you've grown after a few months.

Your quest for professional presence will require patience. Although you might not feel as though you've changed, your actions may be speaking volumes.


1. Noer, D.: Breaking Free: A Prescription for Personal and Organizational Change. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997.
    2. Ryan, K., Oestreich, D., and Orr, G.: The Courageous Messenger: How to Successfully Speak Up at Work. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996.
      © 2001 by Springhouse Corporation