By Nicole Lipkin
One of the most elusive, confusing pieces of feedback that one can get is “You need to work on your executive presence.”
What does that even mean? And who’s defining it? And how does one know when they magically have it? Help!
As an executive coach, this tends to be one of the most common goals set by managers for individuals they want me to coach.
Although it’s a great target to work on, it’s often vague and confusing and requires some fleshing out.
First Things First, Read The Culture.
What does executive presence mean in your company? Look around. Who seems to stand out? Who carries themselves in a way that commands attention in a positive way? If you can understand executive presence in the context of your culture then you can start practicing and modeling the behavior.
Now Go Micro: Read The Room.
Our brains are susceptible to signifiers and certain “uniforms” signify certain attitudes. People are not usually aware of why they feel towards someone the way they do – much of our judgment happens on the unconscious level.
To prevent judgements that may sabotage others’ perceptions of your executive presence, ensure that the way you are carrying yourself – from the way you dress to the way you interact – aligns with the vibe and needs of the room.
Know what’s appropriate for each environment you’re entering. This goes for clothing as well as personality and approach. You don’t want to be underdressed or overdressed for the work culture. Both can work against you. Overdress and you might come off stuffy and out of touch. Underdress and you risk giving off a frivolous vibe.
You’re In The Room, Now Read The People.
Those with executive presence are good at relating to – and reading – others to understand their needs. This starts with listening.
We all like to think we’re good listeners but the truth is few are.
A good test for where you land on the good listener spectrum is watch your mind when in conversation with someone.
- Does it wander?
- Are you waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can say something?
- Are you talking over them?
- Do you respond to what they just said or respond with something unrelated?
Make a point of being in the moment and truly listening to what someone else is saying to you. This flexes your empathy muscle and draws people to you, a key factor for executive presence.
You’ve Read The Culture, The Room, & The People, Only Thing Left Is Yourself
Know what you bring to the table (and know what you don’t). There is nothing more complimentary to executive presence than self-awareness. Be clear about the unique value, strengths and skills you bring to the table.
And Make sure You Pay Attention To Your Tone When You Speak
Projecting a tone of confidence is crucial for cultivating executive presence. Eliminate preemptive disclaimers like “this might sound stupid” or “I don’t know if this makes sense, but…” When you preface your opinions with these openers you instantly plant the seed in your listener’s brain that what you’re about to say isn’t to be trusted.
It happens in a millisecond on an unconscious level.
You don’t have to always have the answer. In fact, admitting that you don’t know something can be just as powerful as knowing it. It makes you look human.
A confident humility is a trait that binds you to the rest of the human race. It’s ok to be fallible; every single human being is. What you’re trying to avoid is a blind arrogance or feeling overwhelmed by fear over not knowing one thing.
We all typically have an aspect of our personality that takes center stage. Some people are gregarious and love being the center of attention while others prefer to watch and observe from the back of the room. Neither is better than the other, but when it comes to executive presence you want to be balanced.
As you rise through the ranks, you may have to calibrate some aspect of your personality that made you shine in the past. What brought you to where you are won’t necessarily carry you to where you need to be. That’s hard for us to swallow sometimes, especially when our style of interacting is as comfortable as an old sneaker.
If you’re a reclusive introvert, you may need to break out of your shell. If you’re a garrulous extrovert you may need to tone it down a bit and give others a chance in the spotlight.
Again, this comes back to being able to read the room, which is an art.
Get a coach if need be. Perhaps you work for an organization that will pay for one. Work on calibrating those areas of your personality that can help or hinder as you rise through the ranks.
Executive presence isn’t something you can simply decide to have one day if you don’t have it already. It needs to be cultivated. But I don’t recommend focusing on whether you have it or not as that could come off contrived. Instead, focus on relating to people, listening to others, being mindful of your overused strengths, and owning what you bring to the table.