Executive Presence

We all know people who have that undeniable ‘pizzazz’, an attractive flair or charisma to them that is appealing. They walk into the room and know how to command attention, as well as how to empower others. They instill confidence in teams and clients – confidence in their own abilities and the broader vision. These people have what we like to call executive presence.

The good news is that executive presence is a learned skill – meaning anyone can develop it! And yet, it can be a nebulous buzzword that is oft spoken but rarely defined. So, without further ado – let’s define the term and lay out steps for you to improve this critical skill.

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What Is Executive Presence?

What is executive presence? Forbes refers to it as the ability to inspire confidence in others. Even though the executive presence definition is not set in stone, most agree that it’s that certain “something,” a secret sauce that can’t be overlooked. It’s the leadership quality all successful leaders possess.

There are 7 traits exhibited by someone with executive presence:

  1. Connection. Individuals with executive presence know the value of interpersonal relationships -and understand these relationships are the currency of the business world. Executive Presence means having the ability to find a connection point with most people and making sure they leave the conversation feeling better about themselves and their work.
  2. Composure. Public anger and frustration are the antithesis of executive presence. People gravitate toward calm leaders, especially in times of crisis. A hallmark of executive presence is understanding there is a solution for every problem.
  3. Confidence. A “can do it” attitude is attractive – and is what every client and employee needs to see. A relentless positivity is also a hallmark of executive presence.
  4. Charisma. Charisma isn’t a black box. Maintain eye contact, smile, and give everyone in the room the attention you would give to a CEO. Do this, and you’re well on your way to being known as a charismatic leader.
  5. Clarity. Clarity is the calling card of someone with executive presence. These individuals speak at the right pace and ensure they are understood before proceeding. They are able to clearly communicate their thoughts in a structured way.
  6. Credibility. When you say you will do something, do it. It’s as simple as that.
  7. Conciseness. Rarely does it take someone with executive presence very long to communicate a thought or idea. They are brief and to the point – they communicate clearly and can get their point across in a quick elevator ride. Practice focusing on what is most important and communicating that first. The Pyramid Principle is a great tool to get you started.

Developing Executive Presence

Developing executive presence is a lifetime commitment. You must be open to candid feedback from others, including coworkers and leaders, to see where improvement is necessary. This can be awkward, but it is well worth it.

Learning how to convey executive presence is important to your professional reputation and success.

Here are our top 5 tips for improving your executive presence:

  1. Listen well. Listen to understand, not to develop a response. Share what you heard them say and ask any necessary clarifying questions.
  2. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Volunteer to present a deck or explain a tough client recommendation. Learn how to engage different kinds of stakeholders and deliver unwanted news in a palatable manner. You must be able to maintain your calm and credibility under pressure in order to truly convey executive presence.
  3. Be prepared. The success of most interactions is determined before you ever step into the room, so do your homework! Know the numbers and speak in numbers. The more specific and action-oriented your interactions, the more productive you’ll be and the more you will assume a leadership role inside of a conversation.
  4. Be Self-Aware. Being aware of how you come across to others is a crucial skill in developing executive presence. Pay attention to how different kinds of people interpret your tone and body language – over time, you will find yourself naturally adjusting these things to maximize the chances of your audience receiving your message.
  5. Develop Your Communication Skills. Ensure that your verbal and written communication is concise and structured. Again, your communication should be action-oriented, with clear reasons underpinning the recommended next steps.

Executive Presence Examples

The following executive presence examples help you to “see” it in action, beyond a definition:

  • Sally is always attentive in meetings and knows just when to interject her suggestions. Everyone at the table listens when she speaks because she is known for her contributions. She always remains calm during stressful conversations and is a peacekeeper for all involved. Sally may not be the most gregarious one in the room, but she is trusted and credible.
  • Cam stands tall with perfect posture and always leans into the conversation with his body language. He asks clarifying questions and makes a point of connecting with everyone in the room. Cam speaks at just the right pace and at the right volume so all can hear him. He is interesting to listen to as his tone of voice grabs the attention of the room.
  • Lisa is always impeccably dressed and on time to meetings. She honors everyone else’s time and is clear on what she wants to accomplish in her meetings. She looks people in the eyes as she speaks to them and listens attentively.

Learning How to Have Executive Presence – Worth the Effort

We all want to make a good impression and stand out as a candidate for promotion or be viewed as a trusted leader. Ensuring you have strong executive presence is a big factor in ensuring success – both short and long term – in your career.

Many of the middle manager and analyst teams we work with in the Fortune 1000 have trouble conveying executive presence. Learn more about our communication curriculum to help you up-skill your teams.

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Filed Under: Consulting skills, Corporate Training