A recent Gartner survey asked business leaders which leadership skills they thought made the most difference in the business world. “Executive presence” came in second on a list of 20 options. A study by the Center for Talent Innovation, a not-for-profit research firm, found much the same results. Twenty-six percent of the 268 executives surveyed believed that executive presence was a significant factor in getting promoted into a leadership role.
The term executive presence is relatively new, and it is not even found in most dictionaries, but it is, nonetheless, a “buzzword” that has gained much attention in business circles in recent years. Good synonyms might be “personal presence” or, better, “leadership presence.” The basic concept is that your demeanor and actions leave the impression on others that you are a “true leader,” who is worthy to be respected and followed.
There is a popular misconception that executive presence is purely innate, something you are born either with or without but can never develop. While the skills involved in projecting a strong executive presence are more natural to some than to others, they can certainly be learned and developed over time. To help those who are in–or who aspire to–leadership achieve better executive presence, we offer a look at 10 of its main goals.
1. Verbal Communication: Using strong, clear, and concise language can increase the impact your words have on others. Being a good public speaker who knows how to use language to educate and inspire others is a major part of many leadership roles. In the case of a teacher, it is virtually the whole job description. Using an authoritative tone, an “educated vocabulary,” proper pitch, sufficient volume, and appropriate pace will all affect the way the message is received. Staying on topic, offering real content, and avoiding filler words will also improve the effectiveness of your verbal presentations.
2. Non-Verbal Communication: Body language will also affect how influential you are as a leader. Proper posture, eye contact, appropriate and timely hand gestures, a firm handshake, and facial expressions that match your intended message are all crucial. Being careful to give others your full attention when talking to/with them will show them you are focused on them instead of distracted. This is especially challenging when addressing or conversing with a group, but with sufficient practice, it can be done.
3. Feedback: Those in leadership positions should be willing to seek out feedback from both those under them and those over them in the interest of improving their job performance. It may be surprising sometimes, or even upsetting, to learn how your leadership attempts were perceived by others, but without feedback, progress will be impossible. Sometimes, false or offensive feedback may be given, but that is a risk a leader must take in the interests of his own future and the company he serves.
4. Confidence: A leader cannot afford to be perceived as weak, for that would be an invitation to chaos and insubordination. He or she must project strength, confidence, and decisiveness. A confident leader can inspire confidence in others and help them to rise to leadership roles themselves in the course of time.
5. Courage: Every leader, in the business world and elsewhere, will find himself in situations that are trying and even frightening. However, the courageous leader remain calm, cool, and collected even under intense pressure. This “presence of mind” in the face of difficult circumstances is a key component of executive presence.
6. An Approachable Demeanor: While it is not uncommon for leaders to adopt a sharp or detached attitude toward those under them, an overly formal approach may make it nearly impossible for employees to feel comfortable in their presence. Executive presence seeks to create greater “warmth” and approachability to set others at ease.
7. Empathy: By keeping control of his own emotions, a leader forces himself to make the best decisions regardless of how he is feeling at the moment. However, this does not mean he should not take note of the emotions of others around him and feel sympathy and empathy. He can respond appropriately to the emotions of others and still show compassion.
8. A Balanced Focus: Rodenburg’s famous definition of “stage presence” is that it is a “give and take exchange.” Being too focused on our own thoughts, feelings, and concerns will leave us isolated. Being constantly “in everyone’s face” and always wishing to be the center of attention will not endear us to many. A kind of a balance must be struck.
9. Authenticity: Executive presence is focused on having a strong sense of who you are and what your values are, and then leading others accordingly. This ought not be a matter of mere show or utilitarianism, but leaders should instead be genuine, “authentic.”
10. Presentable Attire: Too much focus has sometimes been placed on the need for appropriate dress in executive presence discussions. This is not the most important aspect to consider, but it is a part of the equation. Poor grooming habits and unkempt or provocative clothing will detract from the esteem a leader is held in.
Being perceived as a leader is the key goal of executive presence, but the best way to accomplish that is simply to actually be one. Employees will note true “executive maturity” and grant respect, customers will appreciate it and help grow your company, and those over you will note it and give you that long-awaited promotion. You don’t have to be overly “gregarious” or naturally aggressive to develop executive presence, but you do have to be willing to learn and “willing to lead.”
Many companies now provide executive presence training for existing or potential business leaders. PB Talent is one that is willing to work with its clients to tailor its programs to their desired goals. They have deep experience in providing executive presence services to a wide range of business types.