We’re confusing presence with actual work

The latest buzzword in student affairs seems to be executive presence. In short, it means gravitas. Can you command a room and inspire confidence in others?

Executive presence can be coached. It can be taught. It can be faked.

The problem with ideas like presence is that they take on a life of their own, like a runaway freight train. They have momentum but lack purpose and direction. Who defines it? Who enforces it? And when? Does it apply to everyone? Or just candidates in a job search? Only new professionals and not mid or senior level people? Executive presence, IMO, is becoming about cis-gender, hetero-normative speech and dress, with little regard for individual behavior, intent, and impact.

Should we all have presence? Maybe. But I fear that we will continue to hire, promote, and sponsor all the same people. People who dress, and think, and act like us. That is not only completely counter to our supposed commitment to social justice and the common good, but it’s also dangerous. It leads to group think. It leads to heroes and zeroes. It makes us look silly. It will make us obsolete.

And this rhetoric is taking us away from the real work of our profession- students– and making it about us as “professionals.” We are becoming self-focused instead of getting back to our roots of service for and about others. When did we make our work about ourselves???

Presence is about perception, not performance.

Actual work cannot be faked.

Service to others cannot be faked.

I fear we have lost our way. I am becoming less and less enamored of this “profession” and less and less willing to tolerate these nuances of our profession’s “culture.” Twitter and blogging have given everyone a platform and a microphone, which in turn makes some people think they’re entitled to expert status. The proliferation of people and the veracity with which they speak is having the opposite effect- at least for me. It feels like noisy fluff.

I see people in our circles being put on impossibly high pedestals only to be cut down and shamed later for one mistake or one misplaced comment. And, those doing the shaming were the same people who made the pedestal. I see people being idolized for their clothes, while we turn a blind eye to their behavior.

Our profession used to be about impacting others. Our metric used to be impact on the students. I was (am) a successful administrator if the people/club/organization/individual with whom I have worked is/are better after their time with me than they were before. With your behavior did you make a positive impact?

If we all get back to our roots (myself included) and over ourselves, our work will speak for itself and presence will naturally follow. “Go to work today and do something for someone else.”

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