I’m noticing a pattern in conversation with some of my coaching clients. They received feedback that they need to increase their executive presence, but the feedback stops there. So, I want to shed light on the mystery of executive presence, because when you break it down, it’s not a mystery at all.
People with executive presence stand out. They command attention, project strength, and have agency. They are trusted by the team and by other leaders for good reason. They demonstrate the following traits which are associated with executive presence:
Manges through Ambiguity
While people with true executive presence exhibit these six traits, they aren’t necessarily born with them. These traits can be learned and practiced until they become second nature.
People who are self-aware think before they speak because they know what they say carries weight and has impact. Knowing that they are careful when thinking out loud as they know it can send shockwaves through a team. They have the self-awareness to vet information and be confident in their comments and opinions before sharing with the team or group. Notably, they take feedback to heart even if they may not like what they hear. They have the humility to hear it, reflect on it, and try to find ways to be more effective. Being self-aware isn’t easy, but having it is a top trait in executive presence.
People with strong executive presence are confident because they value diverse thinking. They aren’t intimidated by contrary views; rather they welcome the viewpoint. They listen and know how to draw out divergent thinking from other people. They have a desire to understand the full story and have the whole picture before they make decisions. This sense of confidence fosters a sense of inclusion among teams.
Being assertive doesn’t mean being a jerk as many people often think. What it really means is flexing diplomacy, creating a win-win. I remember someone describing a simply “I don’t walk on your toes, and you don’t walk on mine.” People with executive presence are not afraid to take a position and assert their conviction by defending them. This doesn’t mean they are not open to different points of view, but they will assert their point of view when they feel strongly.
People with executive presence are decisive. There is no waffling back and forth or convening endless meetings to gather information. They evaluate and are comfortable taking a risk and making decisions without knowing all the details. Being decisive is a hallmark of executive presence.
Manges through Ambiguity
Having executive presence means staying cool and collected. People with executive presence manage their emotions and are calm and in control under stress; a skill that helps them navigate all types of situations. In fact, adversity often brings out some of their best leadership qualities. They process data quickly and provide directives to the team with clarity and certainty. Importantly, they are able to manage ambiguity, find the root cause and drive for a practical solution. All while keeping calm in the eye of the storm.
All the other traits of executive presence culminate in people who are on equal footing with other leaders. People with executive presence communicate clearly and concisely at the right levels. They show they are strategic, yet stay close enough to the details, so they know where and how to get needed answers. Their confidence keeps them on top of their game and on par with other managers.
Start with the executive presence trait that seems easiest to you right now, then practice, practice, practice. Once you feel confident in that one, move to the next one until you have mastered all six.