So let’s say you’ve just been passed over for promotion to a leadership position. You hear you almost got the job but someone else got it because of “strong executive presence.”
You think you know what they’re talking about but all the same, you don’t feel it was right. Nevertheless, rather than grumble and complain and try to figure out what you need to do differently next time, you reach out to someone in the business of career building.
Let’s just say you call me! Here’s what I’d explain to you about presence:
Most people aren’t born with executive presence. They develop the requisite skills with experience, maturity and a great deal of effort.
One important caveat: Don’t confuse executive presence with speaking or presentation skills. They’re part of the total package, but presence is what you project wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
Your challenge lies in managing others’ perceptions of you, which is no small task. If we were to work together, we’d look at your personality, your behaviors, your interactions with others, and your communication habits.
Here are 11 qualities that contribute to executive presence:
- Transparency: Genuine, open, straightforward, comfortable in one’s skin. Aims for truth and clarity, even when difficult issues arise. Doesn’t try to please or cover up with spin.
- Passion: Loves and feels strongly about the profession, job, industry and life in general. Sees and believes in optimism.
- Clarity: Communicates thoughts, feelings and insights with crystal clarity and simplicity. Master of metaphors and stories that make an impact.
- Intelligence: The ability to process, retain and apply information, whether it’s academic or street-worthy.
- Pattern Recognition: The ability to boil down complex factors and mounds of data to rare conclusions. Offers insights others may not see.
- Results-Oriented: Driven and full of purpose; determined to achieve and succeed. Able to discern dichotomies, unravel paradoxes and work with uncertainties. Flexible and willing to adjust goals. Decisive under pressure. A bias toward action. An attitude of giving, rather than getting. Works in the service of common goals for the organization’s and society’s higher values.
- Confidence: Not overconfident; has enough self-doubt to be objective. Asks questions and listens.
- Humility: Willing to admit mistakes, misjudgments, fears and uncertainties in ways that are endearing. Seeks answers and advice; listens to others.
- Courage: Willing to take risks and positions against considerable odds. May be seen as a maverick. Able to perceive possibilities and innovations.
- Humor: Not over-the-top, but in the right measure to disarm others’ defenses.
- Social: Genuinely cares about others; sees both strengths and weaknesses in people. Allows for people to learn from mistakes. Promotes healthy self-esteem in others. Respects others and shows a real—not manufactured or superficial—interest in them.
Keep in mind that no single leader possesses all of these qualities in abundance. For example, many successful CEOs with strong executive presence lack one or more of the likeability factors, such as humor and humility, but they make up for it in other domains.
So, executive presence. Have you got it? Which of these 11 is most important for you as a leader? Any deal-breakers on the list?
If you are like most aspiring leaders, I would expect that you already shine in many of these aspects and you have a few to brush up on. Working with a coach would be a good starting place. With the help of a few good assessments, we would pick a couple of areas where you need improvement, and work out a way to practice both in coaching sessions and in your daily interactions.
What are your thoughts and experiences on executive presence? Share a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
Author: Cathy Shaughnessy
Cathy Shaughnessy is a PRISM award winning ICF Master Certified Coach and author of the book series The Really Competent Coach. Cathy coaches senior leaders, mentors credentialed coaches, trains fledgling coaches and helps organizations build strong coaching cultures.
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