Developing and Displaying Your Executive Presence
Ever been in a meeting when an executive with real leadership skill walks into the room? Everything subtly changes. Voices quiet, smiles widen, backs straighten, and anticipation is heightened. That effect is less about title and more about the qualities others perceive in this executive. In the business world, those qualities loosely fit under an umbrella called “executive presence,” and while we may have trouble defining it, we all know it when we see it.
Many assume you’re either a natural-born leader, able to elicit that kind of a response in others, or you’re not. Those with strong executive presence however know this “soft skill” is no accident of personality. Those with executive presence understand the need to develop and display their leadership qualities so that they are obvious to ALL. For executive presence to have that kind of effect, it has to be obvious to even those who don’t work with you day-to-day. So what are the qualities we’re talking about when we speak of “executive presence” and how can we all hone and display these in the workplace, regardless of title? Keep the following tips in mind when building your executive presence in the workplace.
We all know leaders are supposed to be people with confidence, but it’s how they display that confidence that matters most. After all, many executives are supremely confident in their own opinions while getting it absolutely wrong! Those with real executive presence display confidence not by insisting they’re right, but by soliciting the opinions and views of others and clearly valuing those opinions, regardless of outcome. An executive who can look someone else in the eye and truthfully state, “I’d really like to hear your opinion on this,” is someone everyone can appreciate. Confidence is not about having all the answers, it’s about knowing how to get them. If you’re someone who lacks confidence, give yourself every tool you can to change that. Be the FIRST one at the meeting and give yourself time to settle in. Think about how you’ll speak up, and then prepare to do so.
Someone who displays executive presence is someone everyone can understand. Being clear isn’t about “dumbing it down.” It’s about lifting up your key points so that ALL can understand them and be motivated by them. Leaders are those who have the ability to make even the complex understandable and to do it in a way they know will resonate with others. Being persuasive isn’t about citing a long list of statistics until you’ve worn your audience down, or displaying how smart you are. It’s about tailoring your communication precisely based on what you know about your audience, their needs, and the best way to motivate them toward a conclusion. Think “I know what you care about,” instead of “Here’s what you need to do.” You can help others get there as well by offering help to a struggling colleague: “So let me understand your point. You’d like us to move ahead while we’re resolving this issue, so we won’t fall behind?”
There’s a reason you’re speaking to others. Whether you’re in a meeting with co-workers or briefing the boss, or interacting with clients, others are going to form ideas about you and your abilities. Regardless of the reputation you’ve built, or your accomplishments or resume, people are going to have their own opinions of you. We all have a good deal of trust in our ability to do so through interactions, no matter how brief or seemingly unimportant. If you want others to believe you’re someone with leadership ability, someone worth listening to, stay authentic. Show people who you are and what you’re capable of, rather than trying to mold yourself to what you think others want to see. Those with real executive presence are those who are authentically themselves and show it. Think “This is how I’d like to get there” rather than, “What do I need to do to get there?”
Remember, executive presence involves a large range of leadership qualities regardless of whether you currently have a leadership title. Clear away the barriers that prevent people from seeing you as a leader. Show them you are one.
Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com