Individuals in leadership roles often receive advice on what skills they need to become more effective executives, but few ever learn about the importance of executive presence. However, some experts assert that this quality can make all the difference between a stagnant career and a successful one.
According to author Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founder of the Task Force for Talent Innovation, executive presence is the overall impression you leave on people that inspires them to follow you. This quality includes not only your behavior, but also how you sound and look, and stems from a multitude of personal factors, including your confidence level, your ability to weather difficult situations, and your competence at your job. Those who excel in these areas can be described as having a strong executive presence. These leaders garner the respect of their colleagues and subordinates and make them feel comfortable under their leadership.
So, how can you develop a strong executive presence if you don’t naturally possess these traits? Here, we’ll discuss how to successfully develop this important quality.
Evaluate Your Habits
Before you can adjust your image to present a better executive presence, you need to find out how others view you. One way to do this is to thoroughly examine your actions, especially in the workplace. This way, you can find out which habits are helping your career versus which ones are damaging your reputation. While this step is something that many people find difficult or uncomfortable, it is essential that you take a hard look at your habits if you want to develop or strengthen your executive presence.
Habits can include a variety of things; from intentionally or unintentionally changing your behavior in certain settings to the verbal and non-verbal communication skills that you use every day. You should be particularly mindful of things like body language, tone, and inflection. Finding out how your habits impact your executive presence can be done via self-reflection or with the help of outside opinions. If you ask colleagues or subordinates for their perspective, keep an open mind and be prepared to really listen to what they have to say.
One aspect of executive presence—appearance—is often a touchy subject. While you don’t need to wear tailored suits from high-end designers, you definitely need to pay attention to how your appearance meshes with the corporate environment because people will judge you on it. In fact, a survey conducted by OfficeTeam indicated that 80 percent of managers believed that clothing choices have a direct impact on an employee’s promotion potential.
In addition to clothing, you should pay attention to your hairstyle, choice of accessories, and if you are a man, facial hair. Often, the best way to judge what is acceptable in terms of personal appearance is to observe the fashions and hairstyles of other executives in your company.
Develop the Ability to Influence
One key to a strong executive presence is the ability to influence others. You can build this skill by networking within your organization to nurture relationships that will support you as you ascend to new levels. As you do so, it’s important to ask for feedback from your superiors regarding your progress as well as any areas you can improve. You may also want to seek out opportunities to meet with higher-level executives that you respect in order to observe how they project a strong, influential presence.
By honing your ability to influence people, you will inevitably increase your visibility within the company. This can have a downside, however; you don’t want to come across as someone who is shamelessly engaging in self-promotion. Instead, you want others to see you as someone who is trying to positively impact the company and help bring about changes that are beneficial for the employees as well as the business.
In addition to asking friends or co-workers to help analyze your behavior and appearance, you should enlist the aid of a professional coach. A coach will help you see what areas you are weak in and help you step out of your comfort zone. He or she will also be honest and tell you what is not working and design a plan to get the results you want.
Coaching may be short term or can last for several months, depending on what problems you need to address and how in-depth you want the coaching sessions to be. Among other objectives, coaches can help you develop the confidence to lead and connect with others, set goals, refine your image, and learn to manage pressure when you find yourself in difficult situations.
Most components of executive presence are things that you can practice and improve over time. To speed up the process, you may want to supplement your coaching sessions by attending workshops or reading self-help books.
As many successful CEOs would agree, executive presence is an important part of achieving overall career success. By putting these tips into practice, you can develop an executive presence that will take you to new levels and enable you to pass this knowledge on and motivate others who also desire upward mobility.