Executive Presence is difficult to define but is unmistakable to witness. The leader that embodies all the quintessential elements of leadership and acts decisively and takes command of a room with ease and style has cultivated his or her executive presence. By taking the time to work on your executive presence, you are positioning yourself to attain the best opportunities and realize your leadership potential. Every leader has to chisel off their rough exterior, hone their skills, and find their signature style that makes them memorable and powerful. The investment can pay off when you find yourself leading impactful high-visibility projects and being given a seat at the decision-making table. Breaking out of middle management and climbing to the next level of executive leadership will require leaders to stand out and project confidence and charisma.
This article aims to elucidate some of the elusive elements of executive presence.
A Clear and Compelling Vision
Some of the most memorable and charismatic leaders in history were able to craft and articulate a clear vision for the future that inspired their followers. As an aspiring leader, ask yourself what you truly believe in and are passionate about. Passion is contagious and attracts people. Share your own leadership journey and the lessons you have learned with others so that they can relate with you. Not being afraid to expose your vulnerabilities also helps people to connect with you.
Review your leadership style. What impact do you have on others? Are they motivated and inspired by you? Do you project a confident and positive attitude? There is nothing more unattractive in a leader than a negative, pessimistic attitude. Sharing your passion can boost productivity and raise morale. Championing the passions of others will also help you to keep your followers engaged. You may be tempted to always play devil’s advocate and pour cold water on the enthusiastic plans of your subordinates, but in the long term, you will be viewed as cynical and an impediment to innovation. Learn to adopt a balanced view and nurture the budding creativity and passions of your followers. Point out the flaws in the plans presented to you but find ways to overcome them and act as a mentor to others. A supportive leader with a ‘can do’ attitude will not only win the support of employees but also impress higher levels of management and other stakeholders.
Develop your Public Speaking and Listening Skills
In my work as an Executive Coach and a Communications Specialist, I have worked with many executives to improve their communication skills. Additionally, as this skill is vital for effective leadership, I emphasize developing professional public speaking skills in all the undergraduate classes I teach at the business school. Invest in developing your own personal style and learn to create a memorable and favourable impression on others. Learning to manage the tone of your voice, speak concisely, use the right language to convey your message and articulate your points clearly will help you to connect with your audience. If you are not convincing and able to secure the critical support and buy-in of others, you will not be an effective leader.
As much as you want to be heard and understood, the people you interact with also need you to reciprocate and listen to them. Active listening will help you to gain valuable information, establish rapport and promote team spirit.
As a leader, you need to be taken seriously. Are you able to gain the confidence of others easily? Do people solicit your opinion on important matters? Do people notice when you walk into a room? Do people rarely second-guess your decisions? Do you second-guess your own decisions?
Learn to exude confidence. If you have no self-confidence then others will not have confidence in you. Learn to be decisive and firm. Cultivate gravitas by adjusting your behaviour. Working with an Executive Coach can help you to identify the behaviours that you need to change and help you to improve your confidence and self-awareness. There may be unconscious behaviours that undermine your efforts to be perceived as an influential and powerful leader.
Remaining Composed Under Pressure
Learn to maintain your composure under pressure. When situations get dire and everyone is feeling tremendous strain, your ability to exude and inspire confidence and optimism and remain unruffled is executive presence working in action.
If you can cultivate your emotional intelligence, control your emotions, and manage the emotions of others, then you are fit to lead. Practising regular stress management techniques will help you to be calmer in the long run. The key to becoming a calm person is to also maintain a healthy perspective on a difficult situation. Always think of the bigger picture and do not let the minutiae weigh you down. In life there are successes and failures. However much you want to avoid failure, sometimes it is inevitable. If you think of failure as a stepping stone to success and can influence how others perceive the situation, you can inspire people to overcome challenges, and in some cases, accept some losses in the game of life. After all, the game never stops and your team can gain new victories in the future.
How do others perceive your leadership style? Getting feedback is critical for you to identify your blind-spots. Surveys and one-on-one sessions with others will help you to gather critical feedback. Your physical appearance is a dimension that you can control. Consider what messages your physical appearance is sending to the world. Do you have impeccable grooming habits and a personal style that compliments you? There are many case studies of individuals that underwent make-overs or changed their habits which dramatically affected the way they were perceived.
Do you build rapport with others or unconsciously rub them the wrong way? Does your body language and posture work for you or against you? Cultivating consciousness of how you come across to others is critical if you want to be perceived favourably.
When managing perceptions, remember there is no substitute for being genuinely and authentically yourself. You may change your appearance to bring out the best in yourself, but deep down, have the confidence to stay true to yourself. People are highly attuned to deception, and can easily see through the masks people put on. Manipulative people do not make good leaders. Sincerity and self-belief will resonate with your followers. Trust is difficult to gain but easy to lose.
Therefore, above all, build your executive presence by developing an unshakeable confidence in yourself and all that you bring to the table. Present your best self and make your mark on this world.
Article by Shailja Sharma, SBS Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach