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  • Debbie Schwake

The Importance of Executive Presence

Updated: Feb 27, 2021

Learning the subtle skills that elevate your leadership credibility.

"A leader is a dealer in hope." Napoleon Bonaparte


Widely considered one of the most successful military commanders in the history of the world, French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte spoke from experience. Being an effective leader requires you to inspire confidence in the people you are leading. If you want people to follow you and work hard with you and for your superiors to go to bat for you, it's imperative to earn their trust in your ability. And you must effectively portray the attributes of a confident leader.

This leads to the topic of executive presence. Executive presence is a way of presenting yourself that is becoming of a leadership role. Because this sounds like a nebulous concept and is often not well understood, let's get into precisely what executive presence is and how you can improve it.


Communication


As a leader, how you communicate is of the utmost importance. When speaking, it is best to articulate your words clearly and confidently. You should avoid filler sounds like "um," "ah," and "erm," as well as verbal crutches such as "like" and "so." Stay away from prefacing your speech negatively with phrases like, "this might sound stupid" or "I'm not sure if this makes sense."

In addition to avoiding those pitfalls, look people in the eye when you speak to them and when they are speaking to you. If you are speaking to a group, project your voice and look at all the people in the room, even those in the back. Practicing your speech in the mirror can help you master these skills.


Active Listening


Believe it or not, listening as a key skill is not automatic for most people. In fact, people prefer to talk more than to listen. However, as a leader, your primary job is to gather the information you'll need to lead your team or make decisions on behalf of the company.

Active listening includes paraphrasing or reflecting parts of the conversation back to the person speaking. This form of listening ensures that you've understood the essence of what is being conveyed. It is imperative for a leader that you do not put words into your team member's or colleague's mouths.


Self-Awareness


A key component of executive presence is your awareness of the effect you have on people. How others perceive you and how you make them feel can influence your effectiveness as a leader and how far you advance (or don't) within an organization. You should genuinely consider not just what you are saying, but how you are saying it, as often the tone or volume of a statement can be more impactful than the content of what is being said. Many people seem to be born with this trait; they seem to intuitively know how to act and how they affect other people. But if you struggle with it, you should seek feedback from people you admire, such as mentors, other leaders, peers, subordinates, and superiors.


Being Cool Under Fire


One of the most important parts of being an effective leader is remaining poised in stressful situations. Those with a well-developed executive presence do not get flustered when things get complicated. As a leader, the people who work for you will often take their cues from you. If you are overwhelmed, how are they supposed to keep a cool head themselves and be confident in you? This can take time, and experience can help you improve at this. You can think of a time you've come through in the clutch in the past, and you can keep referring back to that, assuring yourself that you will do it again. After a while, it becomes more manageable, and you can remain calm, cool, and collected during trying times of any kind.


Appearance


We've all heard the sayings, "appearances matter" and "first impressions last a lifetime." A portion of executive presence is looking the part. This entails dressing appropriately for the company culture and the level in your organization to which you aspire. You don't want to underdress and appear cavalier about your duties, but you also don't want to overdress and seem stuffy and out-of-touch with the rest of your employees. The small things matter too, like how well your clothes fit and your grooming habits. If you want to lead effectively and inspire others' confidence, it helps to look like someone that people would naturally believe in.


Conclusion


Executive presence is the total package of how you present yourself as a leader. It's much more than how you look or how you sound (though those things do matter.) It's about how you interact with people and how you relate to them, how you make people feel, and being a leader that people believe in and want to follow. You don't have to be born with executive presence to have it; you can work on it, build up your skills gradually, and in time eventually become a successful and dynamic leader.

For more leadership advice, reach out today!


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