EXECUTIVE PRESENCE—YOUR LEADERSHIP “IT” FACTOR
George Washington had it.
As did Lincoln.
Vince Lombardi too.
So also have countless leaders over the centuries.
It’s the elusive secret of successful leadership: leaders with presence radiate a magnetic effect that comes from being authentic and inspires people to trust them.
Leaders with presence have the intellectual and emotional depth, psychological strength, and interpersonal credibility to get their point across, inspire confidence, generate teamwork, and create results when the going gets tough.
And, if you have “it” your executive presence opens the door to greater leadership responsibilities.
Leaders with presence continually inspire. They make you feel like your contribution is important and valued. They lift people’s spirits every time they walk in the room.
In the short term, presence involves perceptions of status, reputation, poise, physical appearance, calm demeanor, and confidence. Initially, these qualities cause you to sit up and take notice that there is something different about that person.
Over the long term, presence reveals itself as more than simply appearances. You recognize the way in which the leader makes you and others feel significant, how their actions align with their values, their exceptional expertise and track record of results, and the skillful way in which they use their power and influence. These leaders generate an unmistakable gravitas that is both inspirational and motivational.
Presence is not the same as charisma. Although leaders with presence can be charismatic, leaders with charisma often lack presence. To be sure, leaders with charisma can deliver results, but what you see is leader’s superficial outer shell—someone who “acts a part.” Often, their behavior is founded on their insecurities.
In contrast, presence is about inner wholeness. It’s deep and authentic based as it is on high self-esteem and genuineness.
The Foundation of Presence: Self-Awareness
As the Greek philosopher Socrates once observed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” For leaders, this means that you must make the effort to understand who you are, what your purpose is, and why you think and act in the way you do. As you increase your self-awareness, you uncover new layers of personal insight that allows you to free yourself from irrational fears and pave the way for inner wholeness.
Most importantly, your newfound awareness sets the stage for true self-mastery. Achieving deep, comprehensive self-awareness is not an overnight process, but the effort is well worth the reward. In my coaching practice, I use a self-awareness framework that involves fourteen elements. Each contributes an aspect of understanding that allows further growth, development, and progress toward self-mastery:
- Innate personality: The characteristic patterns of your thinking, feeling, and behaving.
- Motivators: The psychological drives that impel you to action.
- Cognitive intelligence (IQ): ability to reason, to build logical arguments from sensory evidence, to solve puzzles and problems, to “make sense” of the universe.
- Emotional intelligence (EQ): The aspect of ourselves that enables us to make our way successfully in the world in terms of our relationships with others.
- Blind spots: Aspects of your personality or your behavior—usually negative—in which you remain stubbornly rigid in your attitudes, views, and actions.
- Biases: Built-in problem-solving routines that inhibit judgment and decision making.
- Dominant patterns: Filters you use to process information and make decisions.
- Moral beliefs and ethical code: What you stand for in terms of right and wrong (morality) and how you enact those beliefs in your daily leadership walk (ethics).
- Passions: Those feelings that give you effortless energy, enthusiasm, and enjoyment.
- Limiting distortions: Automatic thought patterns that distort your view of yourself or the situation you face.
- Professional skills: The sum of your education, training, and experience that you apply to your leadership role.
- Resilience: Your ability to sustain high-level performance under stress.
- Capacity for service: The degree to which you place your talents
and skills, whether large or small, in the service of others.
- Personal mission statement: Captures your purpose, your vision, who you want to become, and what you intend to accomplish.
Building Your Executive Presence
Once you achieve greater self-awareness, there are three key components to increasing your executive presence: achieving self-mastery, communicating well, and presenting yourself professionally.
Aristotle once said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.” His wisdom still holds true today. How many leaders have you worked for that lacked self-mastery? How about you?
For those willing to take up the challenge, self-mastery requires a commitment to growth—and the discomfort—that comes with change. You can facilitate your journey by enlisting the support of others such as coaches, mentors, and advisors. The objective is to replace habits that limit growth and instead create new habits that support your mission.
As you conduct yourself in your leadership responsibilities, it’s critical to tap into your core values that motivate you most and move you toward the vision of who you want to be. Those values also enable you to refuse to identify with the thoughts that undermine your self-concept. Even as you exercise self-control, realize that you don’t control the reactions and behavior of others.
From self-mastery flows a certain confidence, authenticity, and “grace under pressure” that generates the qualities that make you attractive as a leader.
Part and parcel of executive presence is the ability to communicate well. Think of great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King and the ability they had to move millions with their words. Now it’s not likely that you’ll achieve that same virtuosity, but you can improve your ability to communicate well.
First and foremost, listen “in the moment” and without judgment. Equally as important, remember that as leader, you’re always communicating, whether or not you’re speaking. Ensure your words align with your actions and your values. Seek to communicate empathetically by understanding and appreciating the other person’s situation or feelings then communicate that understanding back to the person in a meaningful way. Remember to monitor body language—both yours and theirs—in order to help you establish and maintain rapport.
From an organizational standpoint, champion open dialogue within your team and your organization. When speaking or writing, connect with your audience, and tell them stories that elicit emotions, including yours. Communicate in a language everyone can easily understand and deliver the message with sincerity and conviction.
In this day and age of business casual and comfort dressing, few realize that it only take a quarter of a second for someone to size you up in terms of your competence, likability, and trustworthiness. This occurs before words are spoken. Like it or not, people judge you automatically on your appearance and consequently. Therefore, your appearance is a central component of your executive presence.
This doesn’t mean that you need to pursue the latest fashion or dress like a movie star. In fact, that would be detrimental to your executive presence. The overall objective is to dress in a way that enhances your professional appearance and—most importantly—aligns with the authentic you.
The essence of dressing well means that your individuality is expressed in a way that communicates confidence and congruence. Thus, your appearance shows other that you’re comfortable in your own skin—and clothes. As a result, people will be more disposed to make a positive initial judgment about your competence and respond positively to you because they recognize your authenticity.
Executive Presence—Your Leadership “It” Factor
With executive presence, your chances of arriving at (and staying in) the C-suite are enhanced. Such presence demonstrates to others that you’re the real deal, someone who telegraphs the qualities need to be in charge. As a precondition of extended success, it signals to other that you have what it takes and are capable of taking on the tough job of senior leadership. Once there, the results you achieve and how you handle setbacks only add to your executive presence.
Although building your executive presence is not an overnight process, you can increase it. Commit to deepening your self-awareness, achieving self-mastery, communicating well, and dressing professionally and you’ll be well on your way.
So here’s the challenge for you: What is one thing you can do today—right now—to build your executive presence?
ABOUT THE BLOGGER
Joe Scherrer is president of the Leadership Crucible. He is a strategic advisor, executive coach, leadership developer, speaker, and author. For more information, visit him at http://www.theleadershipcrucible.com/.
“My mission is to inspire hope everywhere by forging heroic leaders who impact the world for the good.”