Executive presence isn’t easy to define.
It goes beyond leadership skills to an innate ability that isn’t easily quantified or even easy to pin down.
In an article titled “Executive Presence: What Is It, Why You Need It And How To Get It,” Forbes aims to characterize executive presence, saying:
“Executive presence is about your ability to inspire confidence – inspiring confidence in your subordinates that you’re the leader they want to follow, inspiring confidence among peers that you’re capable and reliable, and, most importantly, inspiring confidence among senior leaders that you have the potential for great achievements.”
Certainly, then, executive presence can be something slightly different in each individual who possesses it.
To help you understand how to build executive presence, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who coined the term “executive presence” in her book The Sponsor Effect, suggests the term has three key pillars:
This concept refers to how seriously your colleagues and superiors take you.
Do they listen to your ideas? Do they expect that you’ll follow through with your ideas?
“Essentially, gravitas is a sum of the weight of your personality and the confidence you exude in your demeanor. It is important to remember that gravitas is not inborn; it is a carefully cultivated skill,” Emeritus reminds us.
2⃣ Communication skills.
Next up are communication skills, which reference your ability to connect with others in the boardroom, in written documents, and in the office.
Do people trust you when you speak? Are you confident when presenting your thoughts? Do the conversations you have with your team members boost their morale?
While the term “appearance” might make us think that you’re talking about your clothes or how you wear your hair, the term “appearance” includes but also moves beyond these concepts.
In other words, how does your team perceive you? What role do you fill for them?
In other words, if your team members perceive you as a grounded, ethical, and consistent leader, then you can’t believe unpredictability and maintain their trust.
Certainly, it’s important to have an executive presence as a leader. So, how can you build yours?
Improve your self-talk and self-conception.
If executive presence is all about inspiring confidence, then it only makes sense that you would be confident in your leadership ability.
If you have doubts about yourself that you haven’t examined, they can start making dents in your confident exterior.
So, to build executive presence, start exploring your negative self-talk.
“What are the conversations that take place inside your head? Maybe you suffer from imposter syndrome and don’t feel “good enough” to have a seat at the table,” suggests Caroline Castrillon.
Take up space wherever you are.
You may be missing opportunities to build executive presence if you present timidity in your voice, body language, and presence.
Strong leaders project an aura of expansiveness and control, and if you’re too laidback or quiet when leading a group, your team may not see you as effective management.
“Good leaders should be firm. Know how to project your voice, energize a space, and fearlessly lead a team. If you are generally shy in group meetings, try sitting up straight, speaking up, and actively participating in collaborative sessions to show that you can be more commanding,” argues MasterClass.
Speak more assertively.
In turn, some leaders, especially women, may not have learned to project their voices in a way that makes an entire room sit up and listen.
“Research reveals that by lowering their tone, strengthening their posture, centering their emotions and grounding their body, women demonstrate strong leadership qualities without forgoing their female attributes contributing with great effectiveness,” notes Jane Adshead-Grant.
Make eye contact.
Another aspect that can boost your executive presence is making strong and regular eye contact.
After being at home for several years, many of us are out of practice at looking others in the eye, but unfortunately, weak or inconsistent eye contact can make you seem nervous, whether you are or not.
“[M]aking eye contact is another part of effective executive presence. Eye contact can help you appear self-assured, and it can also help people feel that you are actively listening to them. Conversely, too little eye contact can make you appear disengaged, distracted, or even dishonest,” Castrillon adds.
Want to convey executive presence virtually? Make online “eye contact” by looking directly into your webcam rather than onto your screen.
Choose a definitive position on a topic.
Another element of executive presence is being able to lead your team through moments of confrontation or indecision.
If you come across as wishy-washy, then your team may not think you have the leadership skills they need.
Being decisive doesn’t mean that you make rash decisions with insufficient evidence, however. Rather, it suggests that you can make immediate decisions about the next steps to take.
“Your’ taking a stand’ may mean insisting on gathering more data or expert opinions. But passivity in a discussion leaves the same impression as “no comment” makes in a courtroom or TV interview,” Dianna Booher says.
Building Executive Presence
If you want to inspire your team, you need to build your executive presence.
While executive presence looks slightly different for everyone, every strong leader comes across as reliable, in control, and predictable – qualities that inspire confidence in their teams.
While you certainly want to be yourself and convey executive, you may have to work on your negative self-talk or imposter syndrome to step into your power as a leader. Want to learn more about developing executive presence?
Listen to this recent webinar, “The Power of Executive Presence to Build Your Leadership Brand and Career,” hosted by Karen Tiber Leland, the founder of the Sterling Marketing Group. Using insights from 20,000 C-suite leaders, Leland explains how to develop an executive presence that works for you.