Executive presence is frequently mentioned in conversations about leadership, but what does executive presence even mean? Donning a fancy title doesn’t make you a leader, like I explain in my book Leader Is Not a Title, and having the word “executive” in your title doesn’t mean you have executive presence. Like it or not, leadership and executive presence both come down to other people’s opinions.
The Meaning of Executive Presence
Because it’s rather ambiguous, there’s an air of mystery around executive presence. It involves a certain brand of charisma. It invokes curiosity. There’s no checklist to follow and no box to fit into. In fact, executive presence is different for everyone. Despite the mystique, however, you know executive presence when you see it—or, rather, when you feel it.
I think of executive presence as the ability to influence and inspire others. Great leaders identify other people’s passions to understand what motivates them, and they know how to use their influence to appeal to those motivations. People don’t just blindly follow leaders who have executive presence; they want to follow them because they’re inspired.
Other definitions of executive presence begin to reveal what you need—and what you don’t need—to craft your executive presence. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins explains that you don’t need a boisterous, extroverted presence to be a great leader. Meanwhile, Gerry Valentine defines executive presence as your ability to inspire confidence, noting that everyone can improve their executive presence with focus and practice.
Understanding the Impact of Your Presence
Because executive presence is so closely tied to your ability to lead, your executive presence impacts the success of your team and your organization. Executive presence contributes to your company culture, norms, and team chemistry, and it’s a major player in fostering psychological safety among your employees.
There’s value in being aware of your own presence, and people usually don’t give it enough thought. Start by paying attention to the details—your clothing, your email sign-off, or even your office decor. As you build relationships, these things don’t matter quite as much, but everything about you impacts how other people see you. Managing your executive presence requires you to tune in to the impressions you give others.
How to Strengthen Executive Presence
If you’re worried about your executive presence—or lack thereof—don’t panic! Executive presence is a skill, not a trait. You can craft and mold it. In fact, some of the most common leadership skills aid you in cultivating your executive presence. There’s no singular defining quality you must possess, but the skills that follow will serve you well as you develop executive presence.
- Adaptability: Stay calm under pressure. One of the biggest things I look for in an executive is their reactivity. I want them to have the skill set to remain calm even when everybody else is losing it. Being even-keeled offers a sense of stability, which is crucial for leaders, especially during challenging times.
- Communication: As a leader, you must be able to articulate your vision. In many ways, your ability to communicate dictates your ability to lead. If a leader is commanding orders or expecting employees to mind read, is that really leadership? Hone your ability to take in and explain complex information.
- Emotional intelligence: Understanding emotions is a helpful skill to build as a leader, and it impacts how others perceive you. I like to focus on the difference between being passionate and being emotional. People see passion as dedication, care, and investment, while overly emotional behavior is often reactive and negative. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment.
- Active listening: Listening is an invaluable skill for leaders because it helps you better connect with your team and understand how to meet the needs of your people. Receiving and understanding messages enhance your executive presence by creating genuine connections, better engagement, and deeper relationships.
Executive presence is difficult to define because everyone embodies it differently. I’m not a big believer in the cookie-cutter approach to leadership; it’s more about how you share your own strengths in an impactful way to motivate and inspire others.
Crafting Your Executive Presence
While first impressions are priceless, remember that your executive presence is malleable; it’s not fixed or static. You can build the presence you desire as a leader with self-awareness and a willingness to grow. Begin by reflecting on your current abilities to motivate, inspire, and lead, and then take the necessary steps to change the way you present yourself.
Questions to Consider
How would you describe your own presence?
How would you like others to see you?
How does presence affect how you view or judge others?
I’d love to help you mold your executive presence. Contact me to learn more about leadership advising, coaching services, and additional resources.