Executive by windows

Executive presence: What is it and how to get it

Executive presence has everything to do with the way that people perceive us. In an organization, it impacts how those that report to us view us and how those that lead us view us too. Our executive presence can make us or break us. When you say the words “executive presence”, who comes to mind? What place does this person hold in your life? How are they sitting or standing, and where? Who are they with? Now picture yourself as that person in the same position and environment. Are you comfortable or uncomfortable? How do you feel in your body?Understanding body language and how we use it to communicate it is critical to developing executive presence.  There are estimates that body language is 55% – 70% of our communication.  The Dictionary of Body Language: A Field Guide to Human Behavior, by Joe Navarro is an excellent reference to help you become more aware of messages you may be unknowingly sending through your body language (see Tools).

Why is executive presence so important? Your executive presence determines whether you gain access to opportunity.  How you are perceived determines decisions that will be made about you in the organization.  Most decisions about you and your future are made when you are not in the room. How you are perceived, viewed and recalled are critical to the trajectory of your career and your glide path into the future.

Before we delve more into how to expand executive presence, let’s look a little bit more at what it is and what I think the three key elements of executive presence are:

Confident Presence – Leaders with executive presence usually exude confidence. They can be extremely charismatic. Some of the extraordinary leaders I have worked with are energetic and personable.  These leaders are incredibly adept at connecting with others, at all levels, and their greatest gift is making others feel special. They can make you feel like you are the only one in the room that matters. It’s an extraordinary skill set, and it instills confidence in you. These leaders blend confidence and positive, welcoming body language which attracts others to them. Confident leaders with a strong executive presence are generally verbally eloquent and have a unique ability to communicate their vision and rally people around them to move that vision forward.

Calming Presence – Think of Incredible leaders in the public eye or some that you’ve worked within the past. Even if they are high energy, they exude calm. They come across as very self-assured (so let’s assume they are) and centered.  You have the sense that they were just sort of born that way.  Which probably isn’t true.  There is, however, a very likely chance that they have a high level of emotional intelligence. That is, the ability to identify, understand, and assess not just their emotions, but those of others. They can adjust how their emotions are outwardly reflected because they are acutely aware of how they come across.   Leaders who have emotional intelligence are often compassionate, self-aware, authentic, and can be very intuitive. These traits allow them to be calm and present which makes their interactions to be more impactful.

Conscience Presence- When you read about executive presence or you hear people talk about it, the word humility is often used. You can’t have humility without a conscious.  I’ve known a lot of leaders that have executive presence and are not particularly humble. And you probably have too. I think that it’s a great trait to have, but I don’t think it’s a prerequisite to having an executive presence. However, another component of having a conscience is transparency.  You cannot build trust without transparency, or be supported over the long haul if you’re not trusted. Leaders with executive presence are transparent, they call it like it is, including calling themselves out.  That’s part of what gives them greater credibility.

Calm, confident, and conscientious leaders cast a wide executive presence.  They have the cognitive, emotional, and physical (body language) traits that help them be successful in supporting their organizations, colleagues, teams, and themselves. Some of the things you can do now to increase your executive presence are:

  1. Learn about body language and begin to modify yours to align your body with the message you want to send.
  2. Focus on comportment – how you sit, sound, and engage.
  3. Review your active listening skills and enhance them.
  4. Practice your charisma. How can you make the person you are speaking with feel like they are all that matters?
  5. Improve your presentation skills.
  6. Ensure you can manage your stress effectively.
  7. Genuinely ask for feedback – regularly.
  8. Create a system for communicating up your success and your teams’ often.

Executive presence is not something that can be developed overnight. It can take a great deal of effort to cultivate.  There are plenty of books and articles on executive presence. The best way to get it, or improve upon it, is to watch leaders that have to convey it in your organization or community and model their behavior. Working with an executive coach to understand yourself, your leadership style, your barriers, emotions, fears, and prejudices are the most prescribed method.  It is used by corporations that are grooming leaders and individual businesspeople alike.

If you would like to learn more about executive presence and how to get it, please contact me for a complimentary advisory session.





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