Grow Your Executive Presence

Business people waiting for job interview

In 2000 I  left the fashion industry behind and I began my new career as a  professional speaker.  Coming from a Ralph Lauren  inspired  fashion industry my first presentations were focused around professionalism  and dress. I soon found those subject very limiting and changed my area of expertise to  Change, Workplace Trends and Generations in the Workplace, and I put the professional presence presentations on the shelf.

Well…guess what?

Presence is back and it is stronger than ever under the name of Executive Presence.

Executive presence has a lot to do with the way you carry and convey yourself, including confidence, gravitas,  decisiveness, authenticity and the ability to communicate in a clear and  articulate manner. I realize this may seem  a bit shallow or “old school” – thinking that people might judge you as not being “executive material” just because you look, act or sound a certain way, but people do make judgments on an unconscious level all the time. If you look and act the part, people will give you the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, not having executive presence can be a deal breaker.

In today’s competitive business environment, executive presence can make or break your ability to lead and influence others. Executive presence encourages people to seek you out and opens doors.Yet, with the acceptance of a more casual and laid-back workplace many people mistakenly underestimate its importance.

Leadership potential isn’t enough to launch men and women into the executive suite. Leadership roles are given to those who also look and act the part.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Executive presence is a combination of certain qualities that successful leaders exhibit. The truth is that you may have all the experience and qualifications of a leader, but without executive presence, advancement/success is not guaranteed.

I recent read a great book  EP by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. In it she states  that today as in the past, professionals are still judged on their presence (how they act, speak, and look) as well as their performance.

The good news is you don’t have to born with executive presence . If you have a bit of self-confidence and a willingness to be open to feedback and change the executive presence skills are learnable.  If you practice you can transform your ability to connect, engage, and inspire others.

Here are several tips on expanding your own executive presence.

1. Appearance and dress do matter.   Looking the part is the first step in getting your foot into the leadership door.   Executive Presence Guru, Sylvia Ann Hewlett says this about appearance,  “We found that leadership roles are given to those who look and act the part.“ Notice the “uniform” of your organization and make sure you are dressing to fit the look the part of one who leads rather that one who follows.  Focus on being well groomed, hair and nails count – Simple stylish clothes and accessories trump bold and flashy. Don’t wear wrinkled, soiled, or seams coming open clothing. Take time and invest in a career wardrobe that fits your body, your style, and your business environment.

2. Focus on building your character. The one word that continues to show up on every definition of executive presence is GRAVITAS-, which is the ability to project gravitas–confidence, poise under pressure, decisiveness, integrity, build your reputation, and show compassion.

3. Communication matters. Notice your communication style. Do you have empathy? Can you walk in another’s shoes and see their point of view?  Are you open and a good listener?  Are you clear in what you say? Do you communicate in a concise, compelling manor? Is your voice strong? And what about the non-verbal communication?  How are people reading your body language and do you have the ability to read other?

4 Are you inclusive? The other day I was waiting for a client in the lobby and I noticed a diverse group of people standing in a circle headed by an attractive man who appeared to be the group’s leader.  He was commanding,   energetic, and had many of the qualities mentioned above. I felt his executive presence, but I noticed that he was talking to only one other man in the group, ignoring the other six. Several were trying to listen and a few even tried to add something to the conversation, but the leader ignored their efforts.  He needed a lesson on inclusion. People who have executive presence are approachable and engaging, whether they’re talking with a new hire, receptionist, or the CEO. They are inclusive, they exude warmth and they show a genuine interest in those around them..

5. Here’s my favorite-  Become a master of presentation skills – face to face, teleconferences, virtual meetings, and webinars – Never underestimate the value of a great theater! Practice, get a coach, and practice some more- Learn how to connect with your audience, tell stories (I teach my students make them “Right and Tight”) and let your authenticity and personality shine through – Yes, you need to video yourself  (If you need help in this area email me.)

6. Lastly you have to be open to receive feedback. Those who are oversensitive to feedback will not make the grade-We are talking “product development” here and YOU are the product.  There will be moments where improvement is necessary.

There is a very thin line between authenticity and conformity.  As you explore your executive presence and your ability to connect and lead, more of who you are will shine through. The first step is getting you in the leadership line.

The rest will follow

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ellen Delap

    Lots of important parts to growing executive presence. It’s especially important to be open to feedback. It’s all about learning and growing.