One of the great secrets of succeeding and advancing in your career is your level of “Executive Presence”. Fellow Executive Coach and Speaker Gerry Valentine penned a very helpful article on the concept of Executive Presence in 2018 for Forbes.com. Gerry’s insights are still relevant today so we wanted to share them with you. As a business leader, we encourage you to include Forbes.com as a resource for fresh ideas to equip you as you influence others.
“Gerry Valentine is an executive coach and public speaker with 25 yrs. Fortune 100 experience. He advises business leaders and entrepreneurs
“Executive presence!” It’s a term that’s often shrouded in mystique, whispered as if it’s something magical, and many people struggle to understand it. Executive presence is critical, but it doesn’t need to be mysterious. Most importantly, executive presence is a skill, not a trait — that means it’s something you can cultivate and build.
Here’s a straightforward demystification of executive presence — what it is, why you need it and how to get it.
What Is Executive Presence?
In its simplest terms, executive presence is about your ability to inspire confidence — inspiring confidence in your subordinates that you’re the leader they want to follow, inspiring confidence among peers that you’re capable and reliable and, most importantly, inspiring confidence among senior leaders that you have the potential for great achievements.
Why You Need Executive Presence
Your executive presence determines whether you gain access to opportunity. There’s a saying in leadership, “All the important decisions about you will be made when you’re not in the room.” It’s true. Whether it’s a decision about an important opportunity, a promotion to a critical role or an assignment to a high-visibility project, you won’t be in the room. The opportunities you gain access to depend on the confidence you’ve inspired in the decision makers. And, the more significant the opportunity, the more important executive presence becomes.
How To Build Your Executive Presence: Seven Key Steps
As with any other skill, some people are naturally more gifted at executive presence than others. However, everyone can improve their executive presence with focus and practice. And, perhaps most importantly, the more senior you become, the more executive presence is required, so everyone needs to continually focus on improving his or her executive presence.
Here are seven key steps to build and enhance your own:
1. Have a vision, and articulate it well.
One of the most important parts of inspiring confidence is having a compelling vision— a well-conceived notion of what you’re working to accomplish. It should be appropriate in scale for your level of seniority, and you should be able to communicate your vision flawlessly in any circumstance, whether it’s a three-minute elevator ride with a senior executive, an offsite with your team or a dinner with important stakeholders. A robust, well-articulated vision is ultimately how you make your mark — it sets you apart, and it’s a powerful tool for inspiring confidence.
2. Understand how others experience you.
People with excellent executive presence have a keen understanding of how they’re perceived by others. That’s important because, as you ascend to more senior levels and your span of control expands, you become increasingly reliant on others for your effectiveness. And, before you’ll get access to the most senior opportunities, decision makers need confidence that you can handle yourself well in all settings. Gain an understanding of how others perceive you. Consult with mentors, and get feedback from supervisors, peers and subordinates. Make sure to include people who see you in a variety of situations.
3. Build your communication skills.
Good leadership is ultimately about communication, and people with great executive presence are excellent communicators. Get feedback on your communication, and invest the time in building communication skills. You need to be an excellent communicator across every medium — in-person, written or virtually — and in every situation.
4. Become an excellent listener.
Here’s something a lot of people forget: One of the most important communication skills is your ability to listen. People with great executive presence are exceptional listeners. They engage with their full attention, they ask great questions, and they use listening as a way to engage others and explore important ideas. And there’s another benefit: The ability to listen effectively demonstrates self-confidence, another critical part of executive presence.
5. Cultivate your network and build political savvy.
People with exceptional executive presence recognize that organizational politics are neither a good thing nor bad. They understand that companies are composed of complex relationships and that there will sometimes be a diversity of opinions and competing agendas. Organizational politics are simply the natural dynamic that arises when people work together. People with strong executive presence are good at cultivating a network of relationships and developing the political savvy to influence challenging situations in a productive direction.
6. Learn to operate effectively under stress.
How do you behave when the stakes are high? Do you ever appear rushed, flustered or overwhelmed? Do you lose your patience, or do you have a reputation for being temperamental? Many people make the mistake of believing that looking frantically busy indicates their value to the organization. It doesn’t — it just indicates that they’re frantically busy, and perhaps that they can’t be trusted with any more responsibility. No one wants to see a leader who’s overwhelmed. People with good executive presence present themselves as calm, even-keeled, composed, well-prepared and in control at all times. That inspires the confidence that they’re ready to take on even more.
7. Make sure your appearance isn’t a distraction.
Your kindergarten teacher may have told you that neatness counts. It’s true. Visual appearance makes a first impression, and first impressions, whether conscious or subconscious, are powerful. You want to ensure that your first impression inspires confidence. That doesn’t mean trying to look like a fashion model. Rather, make sure your appearance is appropriate for the setting and the company culture, and that it is consistent with others at the level you aspire to. Pay attention to your clothing choices, tailoring and grooming, and make sure there’s nothing about your appearance that will distract from the impression you want to leave.”
We trust you have enjoyed these recommendations from Gerry Valentine and Forbes.com. Our team stands ready to equip you and your team to go to the next level in your leadership. You can send us a message using the form on this page. We look forward to hearing from you! – Chuck