Next to securing a promotion or developing better time management techniques probably the most important quality my clients want to develop is “Executive Presence”. Ironically, while everyone has likely heard about it defining what it is can be elusive.
What is Executive Presence?
In its simplest form Executive Presence is an unusual mix of personal charisma, demeanour and communication. It is the ability to project one’s personality and style in such a way that it both commands attention and conveys confidence. It inspires others and asserts status while at the same time demanding respect. Those in attendance can sense leaders who have it, and those who don’t.
However, while Executive Presence may initially manifest itself in outward appearances that alone is not sustaining. Those who genuinely exhibit this skill will also demonstrate it at the boardroom, in meetings or conferences, or in one-on-one interactions. Dismissing it as simply a superfluous physical manifestation misses a crucial element.
Over the course of my career I’ve had an opportunity to interact with many executives. I now coach several individuals in CEO and COO positions. In no specific order here is what I think are the essential elements of Executive Presence:
1) Attire: Seldom have I seen someone with Executive Presence who is badly dressed. Like water and oil they don’t go together.
People with Executive Presence usually have an incredible sense of style. They dress with class. They know what to wear, they know what they look good in, and they dress to impress. Their clothes are of good quality and are usually expensive. They don’t wear loud or outlandish garb, and they don’t go in for the latest fad.
2) Physical Stature: Although not a causal factor those with Executive Presence are either physically tall, or else know how to use their physical presence to the fullest. They walk in the room and their persona dominates. People look up to them…literally.
However, it isn’t just height or girth that gives them stature. They know how to use their bodies to project. Invariably, they stand erect, have good posture, and have an ability to convey both strength and poise.
3) Well Spoken: Those with Executive Presence have a good command of the English language. They speak clearly, distinctly, and usually to the point. They don’t ramble. They don’t use slang, and they eschew profanity and distasteful terms. They know how to get their point across succinctly.
4) Emotional Intelligence: Executive Presence and Emotional Intelligence are closely linked. Those with strong Executive Presence understand themselves well, and have the ability to “read the room”. They are adept in gauging the mood and tenor of a meeting or event.
In my coaching practice I often use EQ I 2.0 Assessments. Those with strong Executive Presence invariably score highly on factors such as Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Expression, Interpersonal Relationships, Problem Solving, Reality Testing, and Flexibility. Their scores on other indices are also towards the higher end of the scale.
5) Depth of Character: Call it gravitas or intellect but whatever it is those with high Executive Presence have highly developed intellectual and analytical skills. They understand issues on both a conceptual and practical level. They know how to get to the essence of a problem, and they can distill facts from emotion.
6) Charisma and Magnetism: Strong Executive Presence manifests itself in individuals who exude charisma, and who have the ability to attract others to themselves. Everything about their body language from the way they walk to the way they shake hands to the way they move is measured and controlled.
7) Inner Calm: Those with strong Executive Presence exude a sense of quiet confidence. They don’t appear tormented, and they reflect a sense of inner peace which is reassuring to those around them. Their ability to radiate self-confidence and poise positions them well for success.
8) Social Graces: The personal charism and magnetism that persons with Executive Presence display is usually accompanied by superb manners. They are respectful of others, display great empathy, and are courteous and considerate. Temper tantrums, foul language and slovenly behaviour are not characteristic of them.
9) Focus: Those with strong Executive Presence have the ability to prioritize and focus. Their concentration skills are strong, and they don’t waste time dealing with minor factors, incidental issues or inconsequential events. This ability to “cut to the chase” adds to their leadership credibility.
10) Critical Evaluation: Those with strong Executive Presence have great skills in discernment. Their ability to examine, evaluate and re-calibrate enables them to pivot when and if necessary.
How do you develop Executive Presence?
Many of my clients are talented individuals who are high performing individuals at the Managerial or Director level. They aspire to an elusive C-Suite role, but recognize that this path doesn’t come automatically. They recognize that developing the right persona may not be a core requirement in their job description. However, they also understand that without Executive Presence their ability to attract the attention or influence the actions of those in authority will be limited.
For those aspiring to the next rung on the corporate ladder my answer to the question on how to develop Executive Presence can be summarized in several actions. First, find someone, whether in the entertainment sector, politics or business who, in your opinion, has Executive Presence. Second, watch and learn. See how they respond in different situations. Watch their body language. Listen to how they speak. Observe how they deal with different situations., particularly crises. Next, compare your behaviour to theirs and note the differences. Finally, and most importantly, emulate and practice. Like any skill, you don’t get better unless you can demonstrate it routinely.
Role Models are Everywhere
I am often asked by my clients who I think has great Executive Presence. While there are many great role models here are three who I think excel:
1) Barack & Michelle Obama – I’m probably a rarity in that I was never a great fan of the former U.S. President. However, I willingly acknowledge that both he and his wife exhibit amazing Executive Presence. They walk in a room and they immediately command attention. They exude poise, charm and empathy. Even after leaving office the President and the former First Lady display a celebrity status that draws people to them.
2) George Clooney – This well-known American actor is one of those individuals who people are immediately drawn to. He is handsome, well-dressed, speaks well, and easily attracts the attention of others. His presence has only grown more impressive with age.
3) Brian Mulroney – The former Canadian Prime Minister is, for me, the ultimate personification of someone who possesses extraordinary Executive Presence. Having found success in business and law before entering politics Mulroney was able to lead the country for nine years during an extremely turbulent time that saw the creation of the GST and the passage of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade deal. The fact that he was able to get both passed while holding his Party and caucus together and winning re-election in 1988 speaks volumes about his persuasiveness.
A Final Thought….
Executive Presence alone won’t guarantee you a seat at the boardroom table, and it won’t keep you there. Career success is a function of acquiring both technical and “soft” skills, and learning how to deploy them at the right time and to the appropriate degree. Executive Presence though is one soft skill ambitious people need to cultivate.