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  • Writer's pictureFred Petito

Executive Presence – What is it and How to Get it?


What is executive presence?

Executive presence is the combination of personality and character traits that make an executive dynamic and effective. It's the ability to inspire others to be committed and energized in their roles through the consistent demonstration of confidence and clarity.

It also is someone who understands the needs of their team members in relation to the needs of the business and is able to harmonize them in a way that gets results

What’s so important about executive presence, and why is it more important than ever?

There are three main reasons:

  • One - there is so much flux and competing demands in organizations today between changing work attitudes, cross-generational expectations, DE&I and ESG initiatives. These are all positive developments, but they put a lot of competing demands on executives, and there are often no simple answers or solutions. This raises the stakes for leaders to embody the qualities of what we call executive presence.

  • Two - in the past, when organizations were more hierarchical, influence was positional - we listened to what the boss said because of their title or position. As more organizations transform from being hierarchical to more of a system of self-management (or a holacracy), leaders must inspire or lead their teams and others in a more dynamic way that is based on skills, knowledge, and credibility.

  • Three - as teams become more distributed and decentralized because of the hybrid work arrangements that are common today, the traditional sources of authority (positional, top-down, etc.) become more distributed and weaker. For leaders to be effective, they now need to influence people by aligning disparate teams, building trust, and empowering them to get the work done in their particular area of expertise.

You mentioned that executive presence are character traits – what are some of the traits that make give an executive presence?

I like to think of executive presence as the consistent delivery of what I call the 5 C’s or characteristics of executive presence:

  • Composure - Comprises self-awareness and the ability to present yourself in a disciplined yet engaging manner. It's the ability to control your emotions and respond to situations professionally. Composure in the workplace is an important characteristic for managing unexpected situations and managing the emotions of team members.

  • Connection - Connection refers to the interpersonal skills that leaders use to develop professional relationships and encourage commitment. These relational skills can foster teamwork and help a leader identify differences in communication styles.

  • Confidence - This is your ability to engage in daily responsibilities in a self-assured manner. This includes exerting boldness and composure when leading or attending meetings, conducting presentations or interacting with team members. There are many factors to confidence, including nonverbal communication skills and consistency among mannerisms when communicating with team members of all levels.

  • Credibility - Credibility refers to the method by which you communicate messages to others. It's the language and resources that you use when giving information or direction. Credibility also includes the processes by which you gather information and credit sources. People listen to an executive not only because of their powerful communication methods, but because they believe they're qualified to present the information.

  • Character - Character refers to your inner traits and values. It includes an executive's beliefs about themselves, others and the world in which they work. Those with an executive presence often have high emotional intelligence, which can help them connect with team members of all levels. Character also includes the ethics and morals you hold and how they influence your work.

Why is executive presence hard to develop? Aren’t people just born with those qualities?

Developing executive presence can be challenging for a few reasons:

  • Subjectivity - Executive presence is an abstract concept that can vary from person to person and context to context. What one person perceives as executive presence may differ from another's opinion. This subjectivity can make it challenging to know if you're making progress.

  • Personality Traits - Some with personality traits such as introversion may require more effort to develop executive presence. However, it's important to note that executive presence can be cultivated by individuals with various personality types.

  • Cultural Differences - Executive presence can also be influenced by cultural norms and expectations. What is considered authoritative and charismatic in one culture may differ from another. Navigating these cultural nuances can add an additional layer of complexity.

How do you coach a client who wants to enhance their executive presence?

Developing executive presence is a gradual process that involves self-awareness, practice, and ongoing growth. Of course, every client and situation is unique, but here are some steps I typically take to help a client enhance their executive presence:

  • Self-Assessments - Start by assessing their current strengths and weaknesses when it comes to executive presence. Reflect on their communication style, confidence, body language, and other relevant qualities. Ask for feedback from mentors, peers, or supervisors to gain a more objective view.

  • Set Clear Goals - Define what executive presence means to them and consider the specific qualities and behaviors they want to develop. Then set clear, achievable goals to guide their efforts.

  • Develop Confidence - Confidence is a cornerstone of executive presence. To boost your confidence, practice positive self-talk, focus on your strengths, and work on overcoming self-doubt. Public speaking classes or workshops can also help improve your self-assurance.

  • Improve Communication Skills - Enhance your communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal). Practice articulating your thoughts clearly and concisely. Work on your tone of voice, body language, and gestures to convey confidence and authority.

  • Emotional Intelligence - Develop your emotional intelligence by understanding your own emotions and those of others. Learn to manage emotions effectively and use them to build positive relationships and navigate challenging situations.

  • Authenticity - Be true to yourself while adapting to the professional context. Authenticity is an essential element of executive presence because it helps you build trust with others.

  • Observe Role Models - Observe leaders and executives who possess strong executive presence. Study their behaviors, communication styles, and how they handle various situations.

Do you have any final thoughts on developing executive presence?

Yes, enhancing executive presence is an ongoing journey and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It's essential to adapt your efforts to your unique goals and the specific requirements of your industry and role. By consistently working on these aspects, you can enhance your executive presence and become a more influential and effective leader.


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