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The Elusive Power of Executive Presence

What it is and why it’s vitally important     

Executive Presence isn’t about holding a particular title or developing an impressive resume. It’s about how others react to you and to your ability to fill them with confidence. Inspiring others is a hallmark of leadership skills, but it isn’t necessarily an automatic attribute of everyone with some level of experience.  It’s even possible after all to be well-liked and even admired, but still not be someone who inspires confidence from others as a leader.

Executive Presence, that ability to be seen as someone others want to follow, is one of those leadership skills that’s hard to define. Most of us, however, can recognize it when we see it. We know what it’s like to be in the presence of someone others recognize as a leader worth following, someone who can inspire whole groups of people to take action, or accept a way forward.

So what are the traits that others are recognizing in someone with real executive presence?  Consider someone you’ve met, who doesn’t just know a great deal about a subject, but who can persuade and inspire others.  These are people who are at minimum recognized for:   

While many may be supremely confident in their own opinions, those with executive presence display that confidence differently. Rather than insisting they’re right, they welcome discussion and varying opinions, while building toward a consensus. Confidence is not about having all the answers or insisting others bend to your version of an answer. It’s about knowing how to ask the right questions and light the way through a problem, illuminating a path for others to follow. If you want to build other people’s confidence in you and your abilities to lead, know what their concerns are and how to address those concerns. As the saying goes: a flame loses nothing by igniting the flame in others.   

No matter how complex your subject, a leader knows how to be understood. Someone with executive presence is someone who can make even difficult concepts understandable by finding ways that ideas will resonate with others. Persuasion isn’t just about numbers, data and statistics. It’s about relating those facts in ways that others can understand and connect with. When you tailor your proof points and all of your communication to the audience in front of you, you make sure your audience not only understands your point but that it’s relevant to them. When that happens, you become seen as someone who understands the motivation or lack of it in others. You become someone who searches for and finds they key to helping others have confidence in what you’re sharing.

None of what you say can be divorced from who is saying it.  To be believed, you have to believe what you’re saying yourself and have an accurate picture of how others view you. If who you are doesn’t align with what you’re saying and the way you’re showing up in the workplace, those listening and assessing you will be able to tell.  This is what people mean when they say they want to “see for themselves” . We all trust our own ability to tell whether people are being genuine,  and are showing us who they really are.  Authenticity then means dropping the showmanship and illusion of the ideal of yourself you may have and opening a window for others into ourselves. That vulnerability can be very difficult for emerging leaders to display, but it’s absolutely a necessary trait of executive presence.       

Remember, executive presence takes in a whole spate of leadership qualities apart from title or resume.  Understand the barriers you may have erected that prevent others from seeing you as a leader. Those with real executive presence aren’t without flaws, they’re just the leaders who guide others to look past them. 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

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