3 Ways to Build Executive PresenceFeb 25, 2022
As a leader, it’s important to have executive presence – and when being employed into leadership, studies show this has almost 30% weighting during the selection process.
Executive presence is many things:
- It’s having innate strength and gravitas (when required)
- It’s the ability to command a room and speak eloquently (but not effusively)
- It’s about leading with confidence
- It’s about having poise and grace under pressure
- It’s about being decisive
- It means having integrity and speaking the truth
Executive presence requires emotional intelligence, vision, and a bit of X factor thrown in.
If you are known for having a leadership presence, you will likely have a good reputation, personal brand, or pedigree.
Google has done research in this area which advises that Gravitas accounts for 67% of leadership presence; Communication 28% and Appearance 5% - and for people of diversity, the communications and appearance weighting increases.
Some people are born with leadership presence, and many introverted leaders will tell you that it’s absolutely something that you can learn, with a bit of practice.
For women, this is an area that often needs additional focus.
Side Note: My promise to you is to be real and vulnerable about my experiences and to give you insights into what I know and what other leaders have shared with me too. This blog may be perceived as controversial and it is based on my personal experience and insights, and I appreciate that some people may have a different view.
When it comes to Women and Gravitas, for instance, where men may be more naturally inclined to gravitas, women get to balance differently.
Gravitas in women can often come across as seeming to be unhappy. If a male colleague doesn’t smile in a meeting, this is more likely accepted without comment, however women are more often asked why they aren’t smiling and may be perceived as negative.
So how do women develop leadership presence in their own way?
The answer is in balance. Balancing gravitas with poise and grace; balance having a commanding presence with humour to ensure you don’t get too serious.
Adapt to the situation, get good at reading the room.
And most importantly – show up as yourself. Authentic leadership is about being yourself, and the biggest value you can bring to the workforce is to show up authentically, be yourself, approach your team with kind candour.
3 areas to focus on when building your executive presence
- Understand what areas you need to focus on, and pick one at a time to work through.
Where will you get the biggest “bang for buck” by changing something in your leadership style?
Do you have a trusted mentor who will tell you straight up what is holding you back?
Have you done a strengths assessment? Do you know what to focus on?
For example, I know of someone who has fabulous skills and experience, but their approach is too casual and it completely undermines the way that they are perceived.
Another aspiring leader is too outcome focused and hasn’t brought a nurturing theme into her leadership style. She was in the running for a leadership role and a male candidate who was more caring of the team, was selected. (Again, this could be from her insufficiently pivoting from individual outcome focus to being a supportive leader, as she moved up the ladder.)
Often we might have one key thing holding us back, but we don’t get the direct feedback that is really going to make a difference, especially if the conversation might be awkward or difficult. When we can’t see what the issue is ourselves, this can be very frustrating.
So make sure that you find someone who will be honest (and not just tell you that you are great because they want to be nice). Engaging a coach or mentor can be a good idea for an objective viewpoint.
- Find a role model, or get support to uplift that area, and lean into learning
Once you know what you are going to work on, you need to get clear on what that would look, sound and feel like if you already had that capability, and start to practise it immediately.
An easy way to do this is to find someone who already strongly demonstrates that skill, and role model their behaviour.
Where you are looking to develop specific skillsets, there are many courses available (including mine) to help you with key skills.
For example, you might consider joining Toastmasters or another group to uplift your communication skills, or finding a speaking coach.
If you are looking to have poise and grace under pressure, and you find that you often react or show up emotively, which could be significantly impacting your career progression, it’s worthwhile working with a coach to teach you how to respond and not react.
Often these behaviours can be a game changer in moving to more senior leadership, and aren’t something that a mentor can deep dive into and provide you with the tools to resolve. So don’t be afraid to invest in yourself to develop areas that you need to change.
- Executive Presence and Confidence go hand in hand
At the basis of executive presence is a strong level of confidence, which again is something that many women tell me that they struggle with.
Confidence is improved in an environment of psychological safety.
If you can quiet down your own critical voice, lean into learning, keep practising and get prepared, as well as provide yourself with an environment that promotes psychological safety, you will be much more likely to feel confident.
Leaning into learning: which means experimenting with different solutions, and giving yourself permission to not be perfect, and allowing yourself to make mistakes on your journey (without beating yourself up).
Be prepared: Work out how you can become as prepared as possible in your role. What information do you need to compile to build out the narratives for your space? What do you need to learn? Part of executive presence is to be able to communicate effectively without referring to notes etc – having everything at your fingertips. What do you need to build that knowledge and expertise?
Stop comparing yourself with other: comparing is the thief of joy, as you will always find things that other people are doing better than you, and it can be very undermining to your confidence. Understand what good looks like to you, regardless of how anyone else is showing up, and then do your best according to your own internal value set.
Executive or leadership presence is going to be key for your career progression, and is worthy of your time and attention.
I would love to hear how you have developed your own Executive Presence, and any insights that you have.
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