In the realm of influential senior roles, there exists an intangible quality that sets apart those who truly thrive. It’s known as executive presence, the X factor that propels leaders to new heights.
While most people can recognize it when they see it, they often struggle to define it or articulate how to cultivate it, leading to the misconception that it is an innate trait possessed by a fortunate few.
The good news is that this is not the case. Regardless of where you currently stand in terms of confidence or interpersonal skills, it is possible to improve your executive presence, become more influential and have greater impact as a leader.
Executive presence is about being able to inspire the trust and confidence of those around you in your ability to engage and empower people so that collectively you get the job done.
It is about commanding attention and influencing others to make things happen, even when under pressure. When you have executive presence, people sit up, listen and feel inspired by you.
The significance of executive presence
Great leadership is about the ability to empower people to do their best work and to create strategic value in organizations. You can bring all the technical brilliance in the world, but if you are unable to inspire and empower others in the organization, you will never achieve the results you are seeking.
Great leadership is about the ability to empower people to do their best work and to create strategic value in organizations.
Leaders are change agents within organizations, and executive presence will both reassure stakeholders that they have the capabilities to deliver what is required, even when the going gets tough, and also to persuade them of the value of major transformation initiatives and long-term investments that are necessary to future-proof the business.
As a leader you need to:
- Stand up and confidently articulate your purpose
- Have the humility to truly listen to the people around you so that you can see multiple perspectives
- Communicate in a compelling way which enables you to connect
How to cultivate your executive presence
I approach cultivating executive presence through three major elements, which you can work to improve by reflecting on the following questions and trying out my top tip for each.
- How well do you articulate your vision for your team or the organization?
- How do you value what you bring to the table?
- What is your purpose as a leader?
- Who do you want to be as a leader?
Tip: Carve out time in your schedule for self-reflection so that you can develop your self-awareness. I know that you are busy and have a million things that need to get done, but this is all about slowing down to go faster. When you create time for a strategic pause, you connect more deeply with your own values and motivators, you embody these in a more compelling way and you speak with greater conviction.
- How present are you when listening to the contributions of others?
- In what ways do you invite and welcome their contributions?
- How do you demonstrate compassion in your interactions?
- How tightly do you hold on to your desire to be ‘right’ as a leader?
Tip: Although executive presence starts with building a self-awareness of the value you bring and cultivating that inner confidence, it must also be balanced with humility, allowing you to see and welcome the value which others can contribute. That requires you to listen more deeply by listening to understand rather than listening to respond. You can do this by asking more questions and inviting others to share their perspectives before delivering your own opinions.
- How well do you know your stakeholders, not simply in terms of their title or position, but as people?
- How frequently do you engage with your stakeholders outside of formal meetings?
- How are you building your networks beyond your own organization?
- When did you last refine your communication skills?
Tip: Executive presence is created in the space between people as they interact, and we can all achieve much more when we have formed deep connections, enabling us to collaborate more effectively. You can both seek out and create more opportunities to engage with your stakeholders so that you broaden your understanding of their key motivators and hone your communication to connect your goals with theirs.
The value of executive presence
As you progress in an organization, executive presence becomes increasingly key to your ability to be an influential leader who has a positive impact on the strategy and direction of the business, as well as the lives of the people who work for and with it.
Each step up the ladder requires greater enhancement of your executive presence.
Surveys have shown that a lack of executive presence will hold you back in your career, and without it you will become frustrated at feeling invisible, isolated or ignored.
Surveys have shown that a lack of executive presence will hold you back in your career, and without it you will become frustrated at feeling invisible, isolated or ignored. The organization also will lose out because every business benefits from leaders who can drive transformation and keep the business moving forward.
Taking time to cultivate your executive presence using the questions and tips above will establish you as a committed, confident leader who leads with courage and compassion – and you will feel more fulfilled.
Sue Rosen is an accredited executive coach with extensive experience coaching professionals in national and international organizations to be courageous, compassionate and curious leaders, elevating their executive presence so that they increase their leadership impact. Prior to her career as a coach, facilitator and speaker Rosen had many years of experience in senior finance roles, including as CFO, in both private and publicly listed companies. She has a deep understanding of the challenges facing leaders in the complex corporate world of the 21st century.