Executive presence is a key factor that distinguishes a great leader from the rest. It’s the special blend of behavior and temperament that drives success, conveys gravitas and commands respect from others. Not only does executive presence help people stand out as leaders and inspire others, it’s a must-have quality to drive professional advancement.
Here's a five-question executive presence check-up to evaluate where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If you lack some of these essential qualities, take steps to address gaps and set yourself up for stronger success going forward.
Possessing executive presence means demonstrating excellence in verbal and nonverbal communications. Practicing eloquence and economy of language in speaking and writing, you share ideas, answer questions and address concerns with clarity and brevity. You use effective body language and eye contact to convey confidence and warmth whether communicating face-to-face or on camera. This highlights intellectual and social prowess to others – and contributes to making strong impressions both individually and as a representative of your company too.
It may sound counterintuitive, but not talking can be just as powerful as actually saying something. This helps strong, self-assured leaders stand out – typically, silence makes people feel uncomfortable and compelled to say something just to fill the airspace. Being at ease and in command of situations enough to take deliberate pauses and allow for moments of silence – such as allowing time for key statements and rhetorical questions to sink in – is a very powerful strategy that can be wielded wisely if you have executive presence.
A great leader is more than an inspiring manager and mentor. It's also someone who listens genuinely, staying fully present to take in all verbal and nonverbal cues. Besides building trust and likeability by making others feel heard, when you have executive presence, you know that careful, intuitive listening is critical to get to the core of challenges and conflicts, find solutions and convey respect for others (even when disagreeing). When managing global teams and clients, this level of attention also helps you display culturally competent leadership, where you observe and adapt to different social norms proactively and appropriately.
The character and values that effective leaders possess – like courage, optimism, integrity and discretion – speak to executive presence. To be accepted as an authentic leader, what you see in yourself must align with what others see in you too. This requires keen self-awareness and tuning into others’ perceptions: What am I all about and how do I show that? What do others see in me? Be especially mindful of how employees perceive you. Understand that the impact of your actions is what enables you to inspire, motivate and delegate responsibility to your team.
The ability to think on your own feet and improvise creative or innovative responses to challenges – both in a timely fashion and without losing your cool – is a hallmark of executive presence. This can manifest in different ways, like inserting well-timed humor to diffuse tense situations. Above all, preparedness to make decisions and take action is key, especially when facts are still developing or the outlook is uncertain. Importantly, while it's natural to experience heightened stress in such situations, leaders with executive presence won’t be overtly rattled by things. This can help you deescalate and reassure those around you not to panic or worry.
Executive presence is often thought of as an “it” factor that people either have or don’t. In reality, it’s a constellation of factors that can be improved with the right insights, training and practice. If you’re not clear on what you need to work on or how – and you desire better results, faster – executive coaching is a highly effective means of targeting and improving upon executive presence deficiencies. Whether or not you seek the expertise of a coach, you should invest some time into strengthening executive presence because it will impact your career trajectory and success as a leader.