Working with leaders ranging from first time CEOs to seasoned executives, it’s incredible to see the differences in people’s executive presence and how it influences their careers and the success of their organizations. Confident and charismatic leaders who draw others to them, engage people, and possess a motivating presence are critical to building strong relationships with the team, investors, customers, and the public. A measured , straight forward, and emotionally intelligent CEO has the potential to change the way people work together and improve the culture within an organization. , Business leaders act as role models, shaping how employees communicate with each other, deal with conflict, and approach challenges.
“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” — Jim Rohn
What exactly is executive presence?
Executive presence is how employees, customers, shareholders, and the general public perceive you. Your identity as a leader reflects your values, mindset, attitude, strengths, and appearance. A strong leadership identity has the potential to influence and motivate others. “It can be defined as character, substance and style which are the qualities of leadership that enable executives to inspire commitment, mobilize above-and-beyond effort, and elevate organizational performance.” A powerful executive presence fosters trust and confidence in your leadership, an essential component to selling your vision, strategies, and ideas.
You have an executive presence whether you have cultivated one or not. People’s perception of who you are, what you do and what you represent can be actively designed by you or passively created for you. Great leaders determine their leadership identity and develop it intentionally.
Why is it so important to have a strong executive presence?
Team — Your team is constantly looking to you to make the right call and be in control of every situation. A powerful leadership identity is critical to building trust, connection, and engagement with employees. Understanding how to embody a message that inspires others to accomplish tasks creates a united team that joins forces to complete a mission together. Great leaders have the ability to bring out the best in people and create an environment that encourages self-starters.
Peers — The way the senior team perceives you affects your success in selling your vision and strategy. An executive team that lacks trust in its CEO is a recipe for conflict and chaos across the entire organization. The way you behave and operate under stress impacts how they will manage their team when things are not going as expected. Do you appear overwhelmed, lose your patience, or have a reputation for being temperamental?
Shareholders — Investments are made not only in a product or company but also in the entrepreneur and the senior team itself. Investors and the board of directors must trust in your ability to keep cool and lead the company through highs and lows, increasing your chances of funding. The greater the opportunity, the more important executive presence becomes.
Public — External relationships are an important part of any organization. A charismatic leader that people like, trust, and want to do business with is crucial to the success of an organization. Great leaders attract great talent and people will want to be part of what you’re building.
When a CEO has a compelling executive presence they will see higher performance, greater influence and engagement with their staff, colleagues, customers, shareholders and the public at large. Therefore being intentional about your leadership identity is key to the success of you and your company. Below are 7 practical steps to creating a strong executive presence:
5 Steps to creating a strong executive presence
1. Assess your current executive presence
The first step to designing an executive presence is gaining awareness of how you currently show up. By understanding how others perceive you and interact with you it’s easy to assess where that will lead you and the company in the future. Request feedback from your leadership team and employees and self-reflect to evaluate how you are regarded. . Even if it is painful to realize, the more honest you can be with yourself the easier it will be to change.
Exercise: Feedback Questions for 8–10 people (e.g. 2–3 peers, spouse, friend, direct reports, 1 person they don’t work with too well, investors, chairman)
1. What does it mean to you to be a powerful leader? What are the most important traits great leaders have?
2. Which of XXX’s traits / characteristics are crucial to his/her success and the success of the company? What do you appreciate most about her and his / her leadership style?
3. What leadership gaps can you identify that he/she could improve? What do you wish she would do differently when a) managing the team b) communicating with investors c) working as part of the executive team?
4. How would her change in leadership style improve things for the team and the company? What would be different as a result?
5. What else would you like to give feedback on? Any other areas for development?
2. Set the target
Once you know how your current leadership identity influences your surroundings, set a clear target. Define how you want to be perceived and how you want it to impact your career and business in the future. Take into consideration the goals and long term vision of the organization and envision the ideal outcome you want. There is not one version of a great leader, and what works for some may not work for others. Think of which qualities are most important to you and pick your top five.
Three of the most important aspects of executive presence are gravitas, communication skills and appearance. Gravitas by far carries the most weight and is composed of six core traits: confidence, decisiveness, integrity, emotional intelligence, vision and reputation.
3. Measure the difference
After designing your ideal executive presence that aligns with the goals of your company, rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 for each quality. How capable are you in each of the areas you’ve determined to be an important part of your leadership identity?
4. Making it actionable
Just like everything else you want to change, the more clear, actionable steps you have toward your desired outcome, the easier it will be to execute them. For each of the five leadership traits you’ve decided on, draft three to five progress goals to make them real. Below are a couple of examples to make it easier for you.
Driven and Passionate
Definition: High energy, belief in the work, attaining flow, expressive excitement, motivated, full engagement — Rating: 6 /10
- Set clear end goals and map out how to get there to keep pace
- Use more positive language about issues to improve morale and mental energy
- Work in an environment that is personally inspiring
- Delegate less energizing work
Personable and Genuine
Definition: Self assured and at ease sharing opinions, encouraging comfortable feedback, lack of ego, and a pleasurable working ensemble, staying confident even in pressured situations. — Rating: 5/10
- Open to questions, considerations, and suggestions for new approaches.
- 5 min personal conversations before every interaction
- Greet with hug/kiss, instead of shaking hands
- Smiling and eye contact (confidence)
Definition: Create inclusive space for others opinions, issues and input, listen attentively and respectfully — Rating: 4/10
- Hold weekly feedback sessions and debriefs
- Use EQ to read the room and make space for those who may find speaking up challenging
- Take note of people’s points and thank them for their input. Summarize so they know they’ve been heard.
- Don’t interrupt others
- Asking questions rather than assuming the answers
5. Making it stick
For the first few months, developing your executive presence won’t be easy. It’s all about the small details, the little steps you take each day, and the different ways you respond to situations and people. Each week, write down five actionable steps with three small tick boxes next to them. Keep them in the back of your mind throughout the day and reward yourself if you’ve accomplished them all at the end of the week.
A strong executive presence is something many leaders lack. Tapping into that unrealized potential can level up leadership skills and the success of an entire organization. Once mastered, it can be one of your biggest assets when working with your senior team, improving your company’s culture, creating investor relationships, and presenting the organization publicly. These payoffs are well worth the few months of active effort.