Executive Presence is often thought of as the magic “it factor” in leadership, but let’s first get on the table what it’s not. It’s not about wearing a certain outfit, being a social butterfly, or managing from a senior position. A great definition of executive presence is its most important “why” — Executive Presence (EP) is the “it factor” that aligns, inspires, and moves people to act.
It’s the combination of emotional intelligence, credibility, and other intangible skills that make you a relatable leader. While EP can sometimes feel like that elusive thing that you just have to be born with, it actually is a science! Talent experts have commonly broken it down to three factors: gravitas, communication, and image.
Why is Executive Presence Important?
Executive Presence alone isn’t the thing that will launch your career, but its absence can keep you from achieving your full potential. In a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, hundreds of senior executives surveyed said that executive presence counts for 26% of what it takes to get promoted. Research showed that women and minorities were less likely to get performance feedback on aspects of EP, making it all the more critical that we proactively develop this skill.
Some people seem to naturally have that leadership vibe, but EP isn’t something that you’re just born with. The best leaders know that it can be cultivated, developed, and practiced just like any other career skill. If you are working hard and are an expert in your field, polishing these factors might be the missing link to take it to the next level.
Building Your Personal Brand of Executive Presence
Mastering a style of EP that works for you requires getting some honest feedback. Start with identifying who sits on your own personal “Board of Directors.” That can be mentors, sponsors, colleagues, even trusted friends and family who you know will shoot you straight on how you show up in various situations.
With these categories in mind, consider jotting down how you would like to be perceived, and how you think you are being perceived. Review them with your “Board” and solicit honest, constructive feedback. Here are some concrete ways to start working your EP!
- “Gravitas” can come from expertise. Know your subject matter cold when you’re presenting in a group, leading a meeting, or engaging with a client. Strong subject matter expertise fosters confidence, which is a key component of this EP factor.
- Become comfortable “working” a room. Even us introverts can learn to feel at ease building a network and instigating new relationships at events and conferences. Knowing how to connect with others and leverage contacts to benefit your team and company adds to your gravitas!
- Make “grace under fire” your new mantra. When a project spirals south, can your co-workers find you venting to everyone about it in the breakroom? We all have rough days, but gravitas is about responding to difficult situations thoughtfully and calmly, not reacting emotionally. Don’t treat every work problem as a catastrophe.
- Don’t be tempted to equate arrogance with influence. Gravitas isn’t about being boastful or seeking to outshine others. You inspire the most confidence sharing credit, and when others feel comfortable in your space.
- Exceptional presentation skills stand out as the top way to demonstrate effective communication. While many of us would rather do just about anything rather than stand talking in front of a crowd, it’s a key skill to practice. Start small. Team meetings and one-on-ones with your management are good opportunities to get comfortable speaking in front of people.
- Ditch the up talk. Up talk is raising your voice at the end of a sentence, which makes it seem as though you are asking a question. This can cause your listener to question if you’re sure what you’re talking about.
- Beware of vocal fry. It’s a speech pattern that has snuck into our generation thanks to the influence of pop culture. Researchers note women are perceived as less competent and trustworthy in this tone of voice.
- Fine tune your small talk skills. Knowing how to command a conversation with an interesting story adds to your EP. Further, staying well-read and up on the latest major news in your industry ensures you’re prepared to keep up with any group chat.
- Remember “up, open, out” when you’re thinking body language. Keep your eyes up and your arms and legs (when standing) uncrossed to convey openness. In a group, move toward those talking instead of hanging back on the outskirts.
- Thirty five percent of executives considered being polished and groomed the top aspect of succeeding at cultivating a professional image. To bolster your EP in this category, focus on what you can control about your work look on a day to day basis.
- Make an effort to look polished, neatly manicured, and echoing the style that you see in senior leadership in your industry. This isn’t about losing your individuality, it’s about having the cultural intelligence to know what elicits respect and authority in your field.
- Pay attention to details and buy fewer, better pieces. A single black blazer that fits like a glove is worth a handful of trendy pieces if you work in a corporate office. Keep an eye out for torn hems, scuffed shoes, or chipped polish. These tiny details are visual noise in your appearance that don’t add to your EP.
- Beware of clothes that make you fidget. The cutest skirt in the world isn’t worth your Monday meeting if you’ll be tugging at the hem all morning. Any aspect of your outfit that you have to regularly fiddle with throughout the day will detract from your overall image.
- Sometimes it’s hard to get the executive look right when so many of us work in cultures with casual environments or no dress codes. Before you’re headed out of the door in the morning, ask yourself, “Is what I’m wearing going to inspire my office to have trust and confidence in me?” When you have a “yes”, you’ve nailed your personal image.