What Is an Executive Presence – and How Do You Create It?

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what is executive presence

We all know a leader that just has it.

They walk into the room and the air changes. They make a decision and it’s respected, simply because of the way they speak. They carry the weight of leadership upon their shoulders, and yet they act confidently and clearly.

So, what exactly is this undefinable “it” quality? In the industry, we call it “executive presence.” 

It’s a phrase you may have heard thrown around before. You might not know exactly what it means, but you do know it when you see it embodied in a manager, CEO, or another kind of leader.

In this post, we’re going to break down key traits of an executive presence, as well as give you tips for cultivating your own. We’ve worked with countless leaders over the years, and we know what really sets the best above the rest.

Defining Executive Presence

Boost Your Executive Presence

This isn’t exactly an easy concept to nail down. In fact, up to 51% of human resources practitioners state executive presence is difficult to define – but 81% say it’s easy to spot.

The term first entered the mainstream business lexicon in 2014 following the release of Executive Presence by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. In the simplest of explanations, executive presence is the ability to act decisively and with dignity while embodying the most quintessential elements of leadership.

Those with an executive presence work well under pressure, communicate clearly, and have a confident, capable persona.

Think of a leader you trust impeccably – one that takes command of a room without even trying and earns their followers’ trust. That is executive presence working in action.

For some, this presence comes naturally – it’s a part of the leader’s personality and style. For others, an executive presence is something cultivated over years of experience and dedication.

Why It’s Important to Build This Presence

Build Executive Presence

Whether this is a naturally cultivated persona or one developed over time, an executive presence is crucial when it comes to personal and business success. It ensures leaders:

  • Can effectively command a room.
  • Have the ability to influence important decisions/outcomes.
  • Project confidence and charisma.
  • Communicate clearly and speak well.
  • Capture the attention of those they speak to.

Hewlett (the author who is typically credited for coining the term) adamantly argues leaders who do not have an executive presence will struggle to progress in their careers, even if they have the necessary experience and qualifications.

It’s not so dramatic to say executive presence is the “secret sauce” to great leadership – the “missing link” between leadership potential and actual success.

This brings us to our next question: if you don’t already have it, how do you cultivate executive presence?

How to Build Your Executive Presence

Building Executive Presence

Let’s take a look at the key steps you can take to develop your own executive presence.

These are all things we can help you with at Strategy People Culture, just as we’ve helped numerous other successful leaders do so in the past.

1. Learn to Maintain Your Composure

One of the first and most noticeable traits of a true leader is their unruffled composure, even in dramatic or high-intensity situations. They stay calm and collected under pressure and rarely (if ever) resort to emotional outbursts.

Fortunately, composure can be learned. Begin by observing other leaders you respect. Note how they aren’t making lots of noise, showing off, or waving their emotions around like a big red flag. They operate with a quiet sort of confidence, and by mimicking that, you can also learn to cultivate a stronger executive presence.

2. Practice Effective, Clear Communication

Great composure will only get you so far if your communication style is lacking.

As the communications agency Smarp found, three in every four employees see effective communication as the number one leadership attribute. However, less than one out of every three employees feels like their leaders actually communicate efficiently.

If you don’t consider yourself to be a strong speaker or communicator, that’s a skill you can practice. Learn to manage your tone of voice, plan what you want to say beforehand, and speak concisely.

Those who find public speaking to be intimidating might benefit from some private coaching. Believe us when we say anyone can become a better communicator – it just takes time and dedication.

3. Emphasize Your Willingness to Listen

Although public speaking skills are important, so are your listening skills. Far too many leaders talk more than they listen, and in the long run, that can cause their words to carry less weight.

Listening — really listening — is a necessary part of building an executive presence. Your willingness to pay attention and hear others will make your team feel seen, understood, and valued. You’re not just hearing them in a biological sense, but cognitively recognizing and comprehending what they’re telling you.

Active listening involves more than just staying quiet while others speak. As a leader, you’ll need to work on maintaining eye contact, asking the right questions, pausing for responses, and avoiding unnecessary interruptions.

4. Share Your Vision and Passion

Envision the great leaders you know personally and remember from history. Commonly, you notice they have well-known purposes, goals, and values – and you should, too.

Sharing your clear vision for the future of your company will motivate your team and help them understand you as a leader. Sharing your passion will help boost productivity and team morale, as well as connect you to others who are also enthusiastic about the company’s success.

Take a look at your current leadership style and assess where you can better mirror and implement your leadership values. If this hasn’t been one of your conscious efforts before, you’ll likely see a huge difference in how your employees perceive you afterward.

5. Understand How Others See You

One of the last tips we have is to be aware of others’ perceptions of your leadership style. This is why employee feedback is crucial to the success of your leadership and business.

Encouraging company feedback gives you a better idea of where you stand and what you can work on. Simultaneously, it helps employees feel heard and respected when they voice their opinions on leaders and the company.

Offer one-on-one sessions with other employees. Provide feedback and request it, too. Send out annual surveys and actually read the responses.

Executive Coaching and Training Helps

Leadership Coaching Helps Build Executive Presence

It doesn’t matter if you have 10 years of leadership experience or 30 – it’s never too late to work on building a memorable, admirable executive presence.

At Strategy People Culture, we offer personalized executive and leadership coaching. Our goal is to help today’s leaders build their skills, strengthen relationships, and plan for a successful future – both personally and professionally.

If you’re struggling to tap into the “it” factor, let us know. We’ll work with your schedule and preferences to provide highly customized executive coaching.

In Conclusion

The bottom line is this: your executive presence (or lack thereof) can play a major role in the success of your career and your company. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to cultivate the right skills and behaviors to develop this persona – and that can take time.

To learn more about our leadership coaching opportunities, call 833-762-5772. You can also set up a free consultation with our team online.

You might not know exactly what an executive leadership style is, but we do. Let Strategy People Culture help you embody the persona and traits of great leaders while also emphasizing your personal missions. It’s what we’re here to do.

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Andy Botwin

Andy is a seasoned executive & leadership coach, independent workplace investigator, and trainer with more than 25 years of experience working with companies across various levels. He was Chief Human Resources Officer for a 1500+ person professional services firm and a Principal & Chief Human Resources Officer for a top national professional services firm where he drove culture change in the organization culminating in recognition on Fortune Magazine’s prestigious 100 Great Places to Work in America.