Executive presence is a term that gets talked about a lot in coaching circles but seems to evade precise definition. I’ve heard people say that although they can’t describe it, they know it when they see it. Well, I’ll take a stab at defining it.
Executive presence (EP) is more than just a great wardrobe and a firm handshake. It’s a blend of decisiveness, skills, and temperament that positions someone for leadership. People with executive presence are influencers, who are approachable and exude confidence. Leaders with EP are competent public speakers, who can easily connect with others. Two well-known executives with presence are Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines).
Despite the fact that executive presence can be difficult to pin down, it’s often a key behavior that determines C-suite promotion potential. In a survey of CIO’s, executive presence was second on the list of the top 20 leadership traits that make a difference. Interestingly, technology skills ranked 12th. According to an article by Jun Medalla, entitled “7 Traits of Executive Presence, The Key to Winning People Over,” these traits are: composure, connection, charisma, confidence, credibility, clarity, and conciseness.
Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett says that executive presence involves “what you telegraph about your abilities” to others. The ability to stay calm under pressure and command respect, something that is often referred to as gravitas, is an important ingredient of EP. Leaders with executive presence can speak the language of business and remain professional, poised, and calm.
Contrary to popular opinion, leaders aren’t born with executive presence, although it may come more naturally to some people than others. Some experts believe that when it comes to executive presence, women are held to a higher standard. Consultant John Beeson says that executive presence can be developed “if you have a baseline of self-confidence and a willingness to deal with unpredictable situations” that are inevitable in executive leadership positions. Executive presence involves an awareness of how you act, how you communicate, and how you look. Leaders with executive presence are authentic and able to put people at ease. They realize that actions really do speak louder than words.
Listening attentively is a skill that is critical to developing executive presence. Leaders also need to be able to think before speaking and develop good presentation and writing skills. Leaders with EP have developed strong emotional intelligence, meaning they possess self-awareness, self-control, and empathy. According to communications expert, Karen Friedman, people who exhibit EP exude a “wow factor,” or a type of personal magnetism. For those working to create an executive presence, remember that first impressions should never be left up to chance.