Executive presence is the key to strengthening your leadership brand

Hard work and results alone are not enough to put you into the corner office

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Sep 12, 2017 10:04:12 AM UTC
Executive Presence is a learned leadership behaviour with several different facets, that can be strengthened through intention and practice. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Have you ever been in a room where when a person walks in, all eyes are drawn to him/ her? They carry within them an air of leadership, authority and/or charisma. When they start talking, you know immediately that this person is in charge. What is it that makes you feel this way? Is it something in their stride or in their manner of speaking?

Being a good leader requires more than just knowing how to do your job. You have to be able to command a presence of respect and buy-in.

Executive presence can be hard to define and explain precisely. One description could be that it is the ability to exude a strong sense of poise, confidence, decisiveness and authority. Someone with Executive Presence brings to mind a leader who works well under pressure and can communicate clearly and efficiently, observe a situation or dilemma and know exactly how to handle it. It is a persona that lets everyone around the person know that he or she is in charge, confident and capable of taking others forward into a desired future.

Another way to define executive presence is demonstrating a set of attitude, behaviors, and skills which, when combined, inspires and influences others leading to driving results. It is a combination of communication skills, technical competencies, perspective, and temperament that instills a sense of confidence in people. When you develop powerful Executive Presence, you automatically strengthen your leadership personal brand, which means - the way others perceive, think, and feel about you as a leader, which is a critically important foundation of success.

Most senior leaders have proved their technical skills, several functional skills, business acumen, and all-around smarts to get to a certain level of success in an organisation. What many need is Executive Presence to push them to the top of their game. It is such an important characteristic that a study conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation, a non-profit research organization in New York, surveyed 268 senior executives who said that it makes up 26% of what it takes to be promoted, however 81% executives are unclear on how to build on their Executive Presence. Only 5% was attributed to appearance.

Can Executive Presence really be developed? Undoubtedly!
Executive Presence is a learned leadership behaviour with several different facets, that can be strengthened through intention and practice.

I would classify the traits of strong Executive Presence into three categories. You need to identify where you are at in each of these areas and then work with a coach to build your 'Executive Presence'.

1. Personality: It is the more easily observable aspect of Executive Presence. It is what people see and experience about you quickly if not immediately. It constitutes the impressions people form about you based on your image, mannerisms, and behaviours. You demonstrate your personality in the way you carry yourself, interpersonal interactions and while communicating with and addressing groups. Very often your passion for what you believe in is also demonstrated through your personality.

2. Authenticity:  No matter how charming and charismatic your personality is, if your authenticity does not come through, there will be dissonance and people will judge you as ineffective. It is your inner core - the personal traits and values that define you and are unique only to you in the entire world. This is the foundation of the persona, and only observable through consistent behaviour. Helping deal with your own fears helps build this authenticity. As Akshay Nanavati explains in his book Fearvana - "Only when we engage fear to come up against ourselves do we ultimately discover who we really are. Embracing fear is the doorway to discovering our true self and expressing it with authenticity."

3. Substance: It is the mix of "knowing your stuff", clarity of purpose, and living your values. If leaders have personality and style but no substance, they may be perceived as 'empty suits'. Many leaders that have worked hard tirelessly through the years automatically build their presence through the substance of their work.

Regardless of title or status in the corporate hierarchy, everyone has the ability to develop Executive Presence through coaching over time. When you do, you will enhance your professional reputation and improve your chances to move to the desired next level in your career.

This is a powerful but often overlooked strategy that can truly shape the future of your career.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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