September 2, 2022
Porus Munshi, Visiting Professor at XED led an insightful session on methods to undertake a proactive digital transformation journey and ways to craft a digital impact strategy.
Executive presence has become one of those mysterious buzzwords that everyone talks about but nobody can clearly explain. Call it the X factor in leadership or charisma, but executive presence is becoming increasingly important in the workplace. And while it is critical, it doesn’t have to be a vague skill. More importantly, it’s a skill that everyone can cultivate and build with the right approach.
Demystifying executive presence
Put simply, executive presence is an individual’s ability to inspire confidence, whether it is among peers, subordinates or senior leaders. It is a combination of innate or acquired traits that make a dynamic executive. The term was first popularised in business lexicon in 2014 with the book Executive Presence by Sylvia Ann Hewlett.
The crux of executive presence is that those who possess it work well under pressure, communicate effectively and have a confident, capable demeanour. Imagine some of your leadership or sports role models, people you trust implicitly. What do these people have that sets them apart?
For one, they command a room without even making an effort and instantly earn people’s trust. This is ‘executive presence’ at its best. And this may come naturally to some leaders, but for others it can be learned or cultivated by understanding the elements of executive presence.
Why is executive presence necessary?
High performing organisations place great emphasis in cultivating executive presence in their leaders. It is increasingly becoming a leadership competency as businesses realise the benefits of demonstrating professional or executive presence.
How does it matter?
A strong executive presence helps leaders inspire confidence within their teams, peers and stakeholders. This not only translates into better team performance but also improved relationship with customers, better buy-in from senior leaders and credibility among peers.
Secondly, a powerful persona helps build better interactions with clients and customers, further strengthening the organisation’s brand and positioning in the market. Many leaders believe that executive presence offers a useful framework for leadership development In fact, when identifying people for leadership roles, human resources and senior leaders often use executive presence as a defining criteria.
Executive presence not only helps people develop the right skills and confidence for senior level roles, it benefits the organisations, its teams and relationships.
What are the components of executive presence?
Noted economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett has defined the three pillars of executive presence. While you may have the experience and qualifications to be a leader, executive presence or EP is equally important to get noticed and succeed. Sylvia Hewlett conducted a nationwide survey of graduates across a range of sectors and found that EP is a mix of appearance, communication and gravitas. These elements are not equal, but leaders need to understand how to use all of these to their advantage.
Gravitas in the leadership context is how you act. It is at the heart of EP and includes showing confidence, demonstrating grace under fire, and acting decisively. It can be considered a sum of the weight of your personality and the confidence you exude in difficult times. Gravitas is not innate, rather a carefully cultivated skill.
- Communication skills
A leader must have a clear vision and roadmap of where they want to go and how they can communicate it effectively. It is not necessary to be an eloquent orator as long as you can speak with confidence and in a precise manner. It’s not just what you say but how you say it. Inarticulateness, bad grammar, overuse of filler words or an off-putting accent are sometimes a deterrent to your cause, no matter how convincing your argument is. An effective communicator knows how to speak, when to speak, how to command a room and build a connection with the listeners. Luckily, these are some skills that can be learned over time.
In this context, appearance does not mean good looks. It is how you present yourself in the workplace. An executive with a great EP may be able to tailor their appearance to suit the context, culture and environment effectively. Factors like posture, body language, non verbal cues, neatness and grooming play an important role in communicating the right presence just like an enthusiastic and positive countenance.
How can you work on your executive presence?
Whether you think you have great executive presence or whether you think you want to build on this competence, there is always room for improvement. Here are some practical tips and ways in which you can be more aware of your EP and start building on it:
- Learn how to maintain your composure also known as grace under fire
- Practice clear, effective communication using the right timbre, tone of voice and pitch
- Be a great listener
- Share your passion and vision
- Gauge how others perceive you and what are the areas of improvement
- Be aware of your body language
- Continue to invest in yourself
The pursuit of success comes at a cost. Continuous learning and development. Leaders understand this and have the commitment and passion for continuous learning. At XED, we have a range of modules and open programs that help leaders access the tools and means to achieve these goals. Contact us to know more.