You are a whiz with numbers, a time efficient manager who knows how to delegate, and a creative thinker, but if the C-suite remains elusive, perhaps it’s time to consider executive presence training. The issue is this:
You could have a host of skills that easily make you executive material – but if you are not projecting the message you’ve got what it takes, how are you going to get ahead?
Executive presence is an enigmatic quality that is projected by you and felt by others. It’s a signal that you not only have the skills to be in charge, but also know exactly how and when to use them.
There are different ways to look at what constitutes executive presence. Fundamentally, it’s about how you express yourself. It’s a set of decisions that you make about how you act, look, and sound that projects your confidence and competence and sets you apart from the crowd.
Sure, some of us are born with an innate ability to command a room. But that shouldn’t stop you from developing your executive presence. Through executive presence training, you learn how to enhance existing skills and develop new ones, so that you become a leader who not only leads, but also inspires. Executive presence coaching helps you to identify the qualities you need to possess and project, and the best way to share those qualities in the words you use, the actions you take, and the way you present yourself.
First, let’s delve into the fundamentals: What does executive presence mean?
What Is Executive Presence?
Whether they are found on a factory floor, a construction site, a corner office, a research lab, or an academic institution, it’s hard to mistake individuals with executive presence. They command attention, motivate, and inspire others to follow their lead. They are leaders, yes, but they may not even have a leadership title. They are seen as supremely capable, competent, and confident in whatever situation presents itself. They are the embodiment of the answer to this question: “Who’s in charge?”
As to the attributes that signal strong executive presence, some experts cite three crucial elements – gravitas, communications, and appearance. Other researchers identify 10, including interpersonal integrity and the ability to put values into action. Still other sources specify three overarching themes – character, substance, and style – and the components that go into each, such as character, wisdom, and assertiveness.
It comes down to impressions:
- Are you credible?
- Do you appear confident?
- Do you inspire trust?
- Do you project authenticity?
- Do you demonstrate concern?
- Do you share where you fell short and what you learned?
- Do you engage colleagues and motivate others to create change?
- Do you look the part?
Executive presence training helps you to identify and hone your unique skills and talents so that when the opportunity to speak up and influence others arrives – everyone listens.
Why Is Executive Presence Important?
“(Executive presence is) about what you signal about your preparedness for the next big chance,” according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success. Who doesn’t want a shot at the next big chance?
Say you do want that next big chance, but something is holding you back. Is it a fear of public speaking? Do you project a lack of confidence in your abilities? Do you have great ideas, but struggle to get others to follow your vision?
When you possess executive presence skills, you make it easier for people to see, hear, and feel the value you can bring to your organization, company, or institution. You project confidence and credibility and are a compelling speaker who can quickly articulate and demonstrate a deep understanding of your expertise in an authentic and engaging manner. On top of all that, you inspire others to follow your vision.
The best executive presence training helps you to better understand the unique skills you possess, to tap those talents most effectively, and to supplement them with strategies and tips that help you to become the leader you always wanted to be.
Characteristics of Executive Presence
What defines great leaders? Is it their:
- ability to get others to follow their lead?
- knack for removing challenges and obstacles?
- innate understanding of how to get others to realize their potential?
- sense of humility?
- unwavering focus on a better future and what’s needed to get there?
- clear and compelling message?
- executive presence?
There are many qualities, skills, and talents that go into being a leader. Even among CEOs, definitions of leadership vary. Still, there are commonalities among great leaders:
- They are authentic.
- They inspire others.
- They project confidence.
- They communicate clearly and effectively.
- They garner admiration and respect, not because they are in the position they are in but because of the way they act in it.
Developing executive presence is a matter of identifying the talents and skills needed to lead others and then adapting and adjusting them to align with your personality. It’s about creating a personal brand that is clearly seen and felt in the way you present yourself and interact with others. It’s about believing you have the chops to be a leader and conveying that belief to others through your words, actions, and appearance. How to have executive presence is ultimately about how you see yourself and how others see you.
We’ve identified five attributes that are crucial to possess if you want to project executive presence.
We all know people who command attention the moment they enter a room. Perhaps it’s the way they dress or carry themselves. We may be drawn to them because of how they engage others through the stories they tell. They may be great listeners. Or, they have proven themselves, time and again, as a leader who unlocks potential in those who follow. Whatever their unique mix of emotional, social, and technical skills, they all add up to an undeniable charisma.
Charisma is not an innate ability. As researchers from the University of Lausanne discovered, there are about a dozen “charismatic leadership tactics” that effective managers employ, which enables them to influence others to help them to achieve their goals. This shows that charisma can be developed through education and practice. Whether you are considering executive presence training for employees or yourself, training can help you to identify the strategies that work best for you and your organization.
The fundamental power of executive presence is that it creates a perception in others that you have leadership potential. It helps you to be heard and recognized for what you bring to the job now and what you can contribute to it in the future. Confident people – or those working to build that confidence – tend to accept a challenge, apply for that promotion, seek feedback from their boss, and, in general, believe they can achieve what they set out to do. You can also build confidence by instituting daily pep talks that focus on where you shine and where you want to improve. And don’t forget to take care of the whole you – eat better, get more exercise, and don’t skimp on the sleep. Take a look at your wardrobe, too. Maybe it’s time for an update.
Researchers discovered that higher levels of confidence can be a big career booster. Those who are more confident in who they are, tend to earn better wages and are promoted more quickly. (Here are some tips on how to overcome doubt over your expertise.)
Some call this executive gravitas – a quality that convinces others that you are to be trusted and respected, and that your ideas, opinions, recommendations, and calls for action come from a place of authority and credibility. What you are asking others to do is something you have done yourself. A large body of research has shown that we tend to trust and be persuaded by people who we believe are credible and knowledgeable.
You want to be a leader with impact. And you recognize the importance of executive presence for inspiring and motivating others. You know what you think, how you express yourself, how you look, the gestures you use, the expressions you make, and the emotions you display must be aligned with the message you are trying to share. But perhaps you don’t know where to start, or don’t trust yourself to know enough to look and feel the part. So, you model yourself off someone who has executive presence. When we work with clients, we find that approach typically will not work. Rather than learning how to build executive presence gravitas that is distinct to your talents, skills, abilities, interests, communication style, aspirations, and leadership approach, you come off as inauthentic. Through executive presence training courses, you can discover how to weave strategies and tips into your style and personality so that you build an executive gravitas that is an enhanced version of who you are, rather than an adopted persona of someone who you are not.
Whether you call it relatability, approachability, empathy, accessibility, it all flows from the notion of connection. Are you a business leader who connects easily and meaningfully with the people around you? It is through these connections that you inspire your employees to take on challenges; draw clients to your product or services; and persuade investors to invest in your business. Relatable business leaders typically possess a high emotional intelligence quotient. They have a solid knowledge about their own emotions, motivations, and needs, and understand what makes others tick. They can read a room and seamlessly adjust their tone or approach. They are not afraid to share examples of times they failed or experienced doubt – and the steps they took to overcome them. They also tend to be likable, and research has shown that those who are likable, as well as skilled, are more likely to be hired or promoted.
Executive Presence Examples
Have you ever wondered why someone else was promoted when you were just as qualified? Does a peer seem to earn a higher level of respect than you do – even though you possess greater expertise on the subject? Do you sense that your contributions are not as valued as others, so you don’t bother asking for the extra bucks you deserve?
Is it possible they exhibit executive presence, and you don’t? Have they had executive presence training?
Possessing the elements of executive presence not only enables you to inspire confidence and enthusiasm in others – which is a reward in its own right – but they also can help you to get ahead.
Here are some of the professional scenarios where they matter:
- You seek more responsibility.
- You want a raise.
- You are up for a promotion.
- You have been asked to give a presentation.
- You have agreed to a media interview.
Here are specific tips on how to leverage the work you do, the expertise you possess, and the skills you demonstrate to move ahead in your career.
Asking for More Responsibility
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. But, if you want to garner attention for your contributions and indicate future potential, don’t talk yourself out of asking for more responsibility. In their study on executive presence, researchers Gavin Dagley and Cadyrn Gaskin found that courage was among the key characteristics of executive presence – and a predictor of C-level potential. As you tackle the challenges and meet the goals of your new responsibilities, you also are gaining other core attributes, such as gaining greater confidence in your skills and building the reputation that you can be trusted to lead.
Requesting a Raise
Executive presence is largely about impressions. And among those impressions that carry weight is your communications skills. In Hewlett’s research, she found that executives valued a concise, compelling speaking style – one that was friendly in tone but also clear on purpose and to the point. Are you clear about the value you bring to the company? Can you present a compelling case as to why you deserve greater compensation? Finally, if you can’t convince yourself to ask for more, how will you learn to ask others to follow your vision?
Pursuing a Promotion
When surveyed, senior executives cite executive presence as a quality they look for when deciding who to promote. Perhaps it’s someone who remains calm and composed under pressure. Or it’s an employee who demonstrates strong commitment to the job and the energy and enthusiasm to encourage others on the team to get results. Are you decisive in your decisions? All these qualities can reveal you have executive presence. They signal to your boss that you are not only qualified, but also ready for a new role.
Executive presence presentation skills certainly can come in handy during a keynote address in front of hundreds, but it can be as potent and effective in a small group meeting. It is during these everyday interactions that you are building a reputation as someone who values and respects others, who can be articulate and successful in being heard, and can convey a vision or goal in a way that brings others to the cause. (Here are some additional tips on how to gain greater confidence in your public speaking.)
Addressing the Media
Great media spokespeople often share the same traits associated with executive gravitas. They are authentic. They are compelling. They are clear and concise in their messaging. They also exude energy and a competence that makes them appear to be credible and an authority on the topic. (Learn The Six Traits Every Media Spokesperson Should Have.)
Tips for Developing Executive Presence
Before you get to the task of mastering executive presence, know this: It’s hard to master something that – by its nature – is hard to define and unique to the skills, values, and strengths of each person who hopes to develop it.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s research, for instance, revealed that women and multicultural professionals struggle with the concept, as the feedback they receive on how to develop executive presence is not always clear. It can be difficult for women to express decisiveness, she says, as the act of being assertive can sometimes be perceived negatively in women. But they may have strengths in other areas that help them to develop that “it” factor.
When coaching for executive presence, it’s important to provide a few highly memorable pieces of overarching guidance which allow our clients to incorporate their personality into our advice. If they don’t feel or appear authentic, they will come off as someone they are not.
Here, we focus on five ways to build executive muscle. The way you approach these executive presence tips will be unique to your needs and skills.
Assess Your Habits
Are the decisions you make about the way you look, sound, and act keep you from being seen as executive potential? Perhaps you’ve developed some habits and routines that make you go unnoticed. Do you put in the energy each day to look good and dress the part? It indicates respect for yourself and your co-workers and clients. How about something as simple as sitting up straight at your desk? Not only has research found that people who sit up straight feel better about themselves, but also face stress and challenging moments with less angst. And that is noticed. They tend to have more positive feelings about their abilities, too.
An effective executive is a resilient one. Studies have found that practicing mindfulness – a form of mediation – can help to reduce stress, boost the immune system, help us to focus, make decisions, and help leaders become more confident. When you are mindful – and many CEOs tout the benefits – you work to maintain a sharpened focus on what is happening presently, rather than becoming distracted by your thoughts of what happened or will happen. It can help you to become a better listener and a more engaged participant, both traits that can help you to develop executive presence.
Get out of Your Comfort Zone
“I believe that one of life’s greatest risks is never daring to risk.”
– Oprah Winfrey
What’s a risk worth taking? One that promotes creativity and breeds innovation, for instance. Don’t be afraid to test the status quo or suggest changes that you believe will lead to improvements or a better product. Perhaps you see a flaw in the design or the rollout of a product. In the work of Dagley and Gaskin, study participants indicated “values-in-action,” or the act of speaking courageously, as one of the top characteristics that signified leaders with executive presence. Beyond risks, breaking free of your comfort zone means learning about other aspects of your company or institution. A broader understanding of how you and your work fit into the bigger picture can help you to see how you can increase your value and worth.
Appearing flustered, agitated, or impulsive does not broadcast executive potential – particularly if such behavior corresponds with making decisions, commenting in a meeting, or addressing a crisis. Cool, calm, and collected is a trio of attributes that shows you are up to the task of a job with more responsibility and accountability. You can get there when you learn to relax. That may require learning some breathing exercises, as well as making sure you are well-rested, well-fed, and engaged in physical exercise. These choices help to reduce stress, which, in turn, can make you more relaxed.
Practice Makes Perfect
In addition to learning skills and practices through executive presentation training courses, you can enlist friends and trusted colleagues to help, too. Run those new ideas and suggestions past them before raising that hand in a meeting. Seek feedback. Practice your public speaking so that when the opportunity to present is given, you are ready to be heard. Finally, if you have the chance to record yourself while presenting, embrace it. Ask for a copy and evaluate your performance. Pick the areas where you did well and identify where you can get better.
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