In July of 2022, Anwesha Barari published an article appearing on Emeritus.org entitled “What is Executive Presence? The Leadership Quality No One Told You About." As an introduction, Barari questions the practice of hiring executive leadership. Is the deciding factor experience? Is it educational degrees or network recommendations? Admittedly, there are many criteria, and they all contribute. But Barari points to an X‑factor that companies look for in senior executives. That X‑factor is executive presence (EP), and once you understand its importance, you’ll want to add it to your selling tactics.
“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” – Vince Lombardi
Among Your Selling Tactics, Executive Presence is Key
Barari credits Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of The Sponsor Effect, with introducing this concept into the language of modern-day leadership. Further, Forbes offers a definition in the following quote: “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.” Author Gerry Valentine holds that your EP determines whether you “gain access to opportunity.” And let’s face it, our most valued selling tactics are all about opportunity!
Executive Presence is Subjective — and Sometimes Contradictory
Just as the definition of EP is elusive, so is the interpretation. So much so that women and multicultural professionals often feel discouraged. According to a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, 56% of people of color feel they are held to a stricter code around executive presence. What’s more, the study shows women are held to a higher standard than men in judgement of appearance and grammar. In conclusion, the study shows that 81% of women and people of color are unsure how to act on feedback received on EP.
The Three Pillars of Executive Presence
Despite the mystique or confusion associated with EP, there is consensus that this skill can be cultivated and nurtured. To further our understanding, Hewlett has offered three pillars. They are:
1: “Gravitas …a sum of the weight of your personality and the confidence you exude in your demeanor.”
2: “Communication skills – You need to speak with confidence and in a concise manner. Always have the data to back up what you say in a boardroom.”
3: “Appearance …is how you present yourself at the workplace. How you wear your suit/sweatshirt is the measure of your appearance…know what to wear when and how to carry it like it was the designated dress code for the day!”
Let these broad strokes inspire you to design your selling tactics around the concept of EP. Also, take time to recognize in others strong or lagging signs of executive presence.
Executive Presence is Not Built Overnight
EP comes more naturally to some people. Similarly, it is personal and unique. Luckily, it comes in many forms and can be translated through your personality. Lida Citroen, a contributor to Entrepreneur, provides detailed steps to create your own executive presence. Importantly, she emphasizes the need to first look internally to see what EP looks like for you. Citroen’s advice begins with urging clarity, self-evaluation and seeking a mentor or role model. Further, the author stresses the importance of consistency and clear communication. Finally, Citroen cautions you to be authentic and not to force your brand of EP. “What’s important is that you stick to what is natural to you. If you’re not naturally charismatic, don’t try to put on airs. People can sniff out inauthentic behavior a mile away and will instinctively dislike you for it.” (Citroen)
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