3 Things That Determine Your Executive Presence

3 Things That Determine Your Executive Presence

What is executive presence? It’s one of those things that can seem too intangible to grasp, which often means it can be hard to develop and embody this critical leadership capability. But once you know what it is and what the components are, it’s then possible to build the skills that are required to create true executive presence.

At its core, executive presence is about your ability to inspire confidence in those around you: confidence in your team that you’re the leader they want to follow; confidence amongst your peers that you’re capable and reliable; and critically for your career, it’s inspiring confidence among senior leaders that you have the potential to do great work and make a significant contribution to the organisation.

Let’s be real: many important decisions at work happen when you’re not in the room. Discussions about you, your career and your potential are often taking place between leaders, human resources, sponsors and mentors. This is one of the reasons why you need executive presence, because it can play a huge role in determining which opportunities you get access to. We also know that the more significant the opportunity and the more senior you are in your career, the more important executive presence becomes.

Building executive presence

The good news is, executive presence is not a personality trait that you either have, or don’t have. It’s a set of skills that can be cultivated and built.

Dr Sylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist, author and the founder and chair of the Centre for Talent Innovation. She is one of the world’s leading experts on executive presence and a researcher and teacher we reference in the Women Rising program. According to her work, there are three key components of executive presence, ranked in order of importance:

  1. Gravitas - how you act
  2. Communication - how you speak
  3. Appearance - how you look

When it comes to gravitas, research from the Centre for Talent Innovation shows the most important aspects are:

  • Confidence, poise and grace under fire
  • Decisiveness
  • Integrity and speaking truth to power
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Reputation
  • Vision and charisma

The second way to develop your executive presence and enhance your leadership skill is to become a powerful communicator. You need to be able to inspire your colleagues or team with clarity and confidence. It’s one of the most critical ingredients for getting your point across and managing your agenda with your peers and senior leadership, as well as with clients and partners.

The communication component of executive presence is about following the 3 C’s:

  • Be concise
  • Be credible
  • Be compelling

You can read more about developing your communication skills in our recent article 5 tips to communicate with power.

Then there’s the third part of the executive presence equation: appearance. It’s important to note that appearance may not be what you think, and this comes up frequently in our Women Rising program module on this topic and in the coaching calls. It’s not about showing up in a way that makes you feel inauthentic or uncomfortable. It is about making sure your appearance is appropriate for the situation you are in.

For example, you might show up for a Zoom call in a t-shirt and jeans, but the next day you likely wouldn’t walk into a leadership meeting of general manager’s in suits, wearing the same jeans and t-shirt. It’s about appropriateness for the situation. But it doesn’t mean you can’t be authentic and appropriate at the same time. It’s also not only about how you dress but also how you hold yourself, your posture and your body language – which also impact your confidence and communication.

What does it look like to you?

When it comes to learning how to cultivate executive presence, it helps to look at examples in your own workplace. Look around your organisation. Who are the leaders who display executive presence? Watch respected leaders and note:

  • How do they dress, behave and talk?
  • What qualities and characteristics do they exhibit?
  • What energy do they exude?
  • How do they communicate?
  • How do they connect and interact with those above them, with their peers and with their team?

As you reflect and make a note of these things, think about how you can build upon these skills and traits to cultivate your executive presence.

If you’re looking for more pathways to executive presence, consider the following tips:

  • Be calm
  • Be self aware
  • Create a clear vision
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Active listening and focus
  • Manage your body language
  • Appropriate appearance
  • Invest in relationships
  • Powerful communication

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