Executive presence sounds like one of those often-touted buzzwords that no one quite seems to understand, yet we all keep hearing about it from leadership gurus and corporate bosses. Do you have to be an executive to have it? Are you born with it or can it be acquired?
To put it in simple terms, executive presence is how we show up every day. It’s our ability to inspire confidence, engender trust, and let others know we’re reliable and capable. It’s sometimes described as charisma or the ability to own a room.
Our executive presence determines opportunities, opens doors, and helps us climb the corporate ladder of success. Whether it’s a decision about a promotion, a role on an exciting new project or leading a high-visibility team, our executive presence will influence the outcome based on the confidence we’ve inspired in decision-makers, even when we are not in the room.
When it comes to developing our executive presence, the good news is you don’t have to be born with it. Executive presence can be developed and learned.
Understanding executive presence is as simple as knowing your A-B-C, which make up the three elements of executive presence:
Executive Presence = Appearance + Behavior + Communication
It takes less than 3 seconds to make an impression. We convey volumes by the way we look, even before uttering a single word. Our brain is hardwired to make judgment calls based simply on what we see. How we package ourselves creates a visual impression of who we are – and in the work setting, instantly conveys to others how professional, serious, and capable we are even before we prove ourselves.
There are two components to your appearance – your look and your body language.
Though your look is never a substitute for substance, it can make a difference to your success. As the famous adage goes, “Dress for the job you want not the job you have.” So put your time, effort, and money into training, grooming, and encouraging YOU.
Your body language is the silent communicator. According to behavioral psychologist Albert Mehrabian, only 7 percent of what we communicate is what we say - in other words, our verbal content. 38 percent of our communication is our voice, tone, intonation, etc., while 55 percent of our communication is visual. That includes our body language, facial expressions, gestures and postures. Think about it - you’ve already made a good or bad impression even before you actually say something. As such, paying attention to how you carry yourself -- are you open and inviting or are you arms crossed and close to your chest -- conveys volumes and indicates to someone how self-aware, confident and approachable you are.
Three key pillars form the basis of behavior: Empathy, Composure, and Confidence.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft once said, “Empathy makes you a better innovator.” Empathy is the ability to understand or share the feelings of others. Research suggests that empathic people tend to be more generous and concerned with others’ welfare, and they also tend to have happier relationships and greater personal well-being. Empathy can also improve leadership ability and facilitate effective communication.
To truly develop empathy, we need to be genuinely curious about people and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes even if our backgrounds, cultures, and situations are completely different. We need to set aside any preconceived notions and judgements we may have about a person to understand their perspective.
Merriam-Webster defines composure as a calmness or repose of mind, bearing and appearance or a state of self-possession. We all deal with tough situations every day – in the subway, stuck in traffic, when things don’t go our way, rude people, disagreements…our stressors go on. How you keep your cool and handle yourself in these difficult situations is a measure of your composure.
The third pillar, which typically tends to dominate someone’s executive presence is confidence. Confidence is a belief in ourselves and our ability to succeed in any situation. Striking a healthy balance between too much and too little is key as it helps us gain credibility, make a good lasting first impression, deal with pressure and meet personal and professional challenges head on. We project confidence in how we look, what we say and how we say it.
The “C” of Executive presence is Communication. While this is a huge topic,
Three areas that often trip up people – the ability to read a room, clarity, and conciseness.
An important skill I would recommend for anyone is to be able to read a room. Even before you open your mouth, be aware of what’s happening in the room – whether it’s a room full of people, a small group or just one person. Learn to read the energy, the mood, the body language of people around you. The best way to do that is observe and truly listen. Make your experience about someone else rather than yourself.
Clarity is an effective communication skill. From the showroom to the boardroom, our ability to deliver a message with clarity has a major impact on our success. Remember, if you can’t communicate your message in 10 words or fewer, you’ve lost the receiver. Be crisp and to the point. Keep it simple. Know what matters to your audience and say it.
The other side of the clarity coin is conciseness. Less is more. In today’s world, attention spans are rapidly decreasing and if we cannot communicate concisely, we just aren’t communicating effectively.
To recap, executive presence is how you show up everyday -- from the boardroom to the living room -- and in the process, engender trust and inspire confidence in your abilities.
Remember, executive presence can be learned at any stage in your life.
To develop executive presence, you need to become self-aware about and work on your A-B-C: Appearance, Behavior and Communication.