Many of my coaching clients are looking for the “IT factor.” The executive presence we believe some are born with, and you either have it or don’t. You will not rise to a top position if you cannot convince your world that you’re the real deal. It’s an accepted precondition for success.
Rest assured, you can develop it no matter where you are in your career. In this article, you’ll learn the five foundational principles required to grow your executive presence.
What is Executive Presence?
Researcher and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett, in her book Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, says executive presence is perceived through the lens of three qualities in order of impact:
- Gravitas (identified as mattering most by 67% of 268 surveyed executives), or how you act and carry yourself with confidence and conviction. It implies an exceptional knowledge of your field. It’s made or broken in high-pressure situations and must be cultivated with empathy and compassion.
- Communication (28%), or how you “talk the walk” successfully or fail to convey your gravitas through your messaging. It’s simpler to refine with the right feedback and practice. Remove words that do not add to your message, find comfort in a breath of silence, and be mindful of your audience.
- Appearance (5%), or the way you present yourself. There’s great comfort in knowing appearance is defined by being groomed and polished over physical attractiveness or body type. Do not allow anything to take away or distract from your message. Present yourself in a way that emphasizes your competence.
Per Hewlett, Gravitas, the most significant contributor to executive presence, has six components: confidence and projecting (especially under pressure), decisiveness, Emotional Intelligence, integrity (unwavering standards even when unpopular), reputation, and vision. These qualities are built from within, between our relationship with fear, our awareness, and living a values-driven life. Start building your foundation, and your executive presence will naturally emerge.
The Five Foundational Principles of Executive Presence
Over hundreds of hours coaching senior leaders and executives, I’ve narrowed down the behaviors and beliefs that serve the qualities of executive presence above. If you consciously work on these five areas of your life, you will convince your world that you’re the real deal.
1) Develop fundamental trust in something larger than yourself.
I call this basic trust or a belief that everything is conspiring in your favor. You trust that no matter the outcome, you’ll have the agency to act from that point to produce something great.
This trust significantly impacts your confidence and decisiveness because you can manage risk and move as part of a grand design over your fear of failure. Faith gives you the resilience to remain centered and calm under pressure.
You’re in the clear if you’re concerned about this requiring organized religion or other spiritual practices. I’ve watched clients develop profound fundamental trust through techniques like zooming out, seeing their work as a game where they simply have to call the next play, viewing the Earth in the vastness of space, or spending time in awe of nature. Expanding our view makes the challenges in the foreground smaller.
If you take one thing from this article, start working on developing fundamental trust immediately. It improves your overall quality and experience of life.
2) Listen more to say less and deliver a powerful message.
Place these questions in the back of your mind, “Why is this person saying this?” and “What makes this specific person feel a certain way about this situation?” Listening with them in mind will help you listen to understand rather than listening to respond. You get to the root of conversations and deepen all relationships.
Also, you can achieve the desired research-backed voice frequency of 125Hz with a different approach than just speaking lower and slower. Start by removing words from your existing cadence. Anything that’s not contributing to your point get rid of it. Especially filler words such as um, so, like, ya know, etc.
In addition, avoid having to justify everything you say. I see many very smart people whose intelligence brought them success struggle with this. You’ve done the work already. Start providing your recommendation or comment and pausing. Often, the reputation you’ve built will speak for itself.
3) Practice mindfulness as if your success depends on it because it does.
There’s no shortage of research today highlighting regular mindfulness practice’s mental and physiological benefits. The distance it creates between a stimulus and response in your mind is the difference between emotionally reacting or remaining calm, decisive, and compassionate under pressure.
Mindfulness gives you a moment to pause and allow the conscious, reasoning part of your brain to choose how you’d like to respond. It’s your executive presence insurance policy. Don’t go anywhere without it.
4) Cultivate a growth mindset and optimism for the future.
No one wants to follow someone with a grim outlook for the future. Creating a solutions-oriented perspective starts with embedding it into your identity. A firm belief that you are ever-changing and evolving empowers you to be an example for your team and organization.
If you’re continuously learning and growing, you’re also giving yourself permission to fail. Permission to step out of your comfort zone. Doing this regularly in parallel with a sound decision-making process accelerates your growth and permits others to do the same.
Also, notice your thoughts. Positive reframing of every negative statement or thinking will start retraining embedded negative neural pathways. Move your mind from avoidance to seeking—I don’t want to I want, creating more positivity and optimism.
5) Appreciate and leverage your strengths and be aware of and manage your blind spots.
How can you leverage your strengths and core values to improve the above areas? The first step is understanding what they are.
Always start with your strengths and brainstorm ways to utilize them to mitigate your blind spots and other challenges. A strengths-focused approach is increasingly important as your scope and responsibilities grow. Then, it’s time to start leveraging the strengths of others to mitigate your blind spots and build complementary teams.
Living a values-driven life is integrity in action. Having principles you stand by lets you discern whether a situation is right for you. Never compromise on these. You’ll know in your gut, even if your heart or mind attempts to lead you astray.\
Learn to Lead The Room by Leading A Room
You will never develop your “IT factor” if you never give it a chance to take the stage. You must get on the field and out of the stands. At the same time, enlist diverse, strong sponsors and mentors to support you. Your circle of feedback is critical to your growing influence.
The first room you lead does not have to be the board room. There are many forums to develop your executive presence, even within the community and your personal life. The world needs your authentic perspective and unique experience. Find somewhere to share it with respect and humility.
The largest leap forward in developing my executive presence came from becoming an experienced certified Yoga teacher (a story for another article). Start with your church, a book club, a volunteer organization, or another forum to step into a decision-making capacity.
Build and continue to fortify your foundation, put yourself on the field, and trust that your unique executive presence will arise. I bet on you. Now, bet on yourself.