Three Strategies to Build Executive Presence and Stand Out as a Leader

Vicki Foley – Lee Hecht Harrison
What goes into the making of a successful executive?

There is decisiveness—the ability to make the right decision at the right time.

Leadership experience is a must and intelligence also ranks high on the list of must-have competencies.

And then there is executive presence. We’ve all witnessed that moment when a leader walks into a room and instantly commands attention. The air shifts. Heads turn. People gravitate toward them in the conversation circle. In short, these are the people that have a “wow” factor, otherwise known “executive presence.”

Leaders know they must embody executive presence to get ahead, influence others, and drive results. These are the characteristics that help leaders gain and sustain credibility, influence and trust in the eyes of others.

Executive presence is not a new concept. But it is gaining attention as one of the important factors in determining future career paths.

The whole concept of presence may seem to be a bit fuzzy, but when you think about all the characteristics of successful executives, it all starts to make sense. Presence is not a single competency, but rather a combination of key competencies that, taken together, project an image of a confident, highly capable leader.

However, even though presence is considered a key element in career success, there is a growing concern that business organizations are not doing enough to help their people develop the competencies that together create executive presence.

It’s important to realize that true executive presence is not about being an extrovert. Even introverts can possess executive presence. It’s not about volume; it’s about cultivating many quiet and nuanced qualities that exude confidence, capability and credibility.

Working closely with executives at a wide-range of different sizes and types of organizations, we’ve broken down executive presence into four key dimensions:

Confidence. At the foundation of executive presence you will find confidence. Whether it’s a conference call, sales meeting, or keynote presentation, it’s important to show people that you believe in yourself and your POV. This is established by how you look, how you sound and how you carry yourself in seminal business environments.
Communication. Successful executives must be able to articulate a clear message so that the people they are leading have total confidence about what they need to do. Communication is not just about the verbal skills; it’s also about non-verbal signals—eye contact, body language, gestures—that other people interpret as signs of confidence and capability.
Credibility. A solid reputation is a must for someone to have executive presence. Your personal brand is the currency you use to win and keep support for all the important things you are trying to do. Credibility is also about acknowledging your weaknesses and paying attention to how other people see you. Self-awareness is a key.
Connectivity. Successful executives seem to have an innate ability to build and manage great relationships. The quality of your business relationships speaks volumes about your capacity as an executive. Those relationships are also keys to building confidence and brand awareness. Executives that are cut off from their peers have little idea of how others see them. That blind spot can undermine your presence.

Now that we know what executive presence is, we should spend some time trying to figure out how to build and improve it. It’s not an easy task, but it is within grasp of most aspiring executives. Here are three strategies to help you develop executive presence:

1. Model yourself after someone that has executive presence: Think about someone that you believe is a strong example of executive presence. Think about that person—what is it about them that make others say “wow?” Is it their credibility, confidence, ability to communicate? Break it down into practical categories. Then ask yourself: how do I stack up against them? How can I be more like them?
2. Ask for feedback: Go to your network, to someone you trust, and ask them to rate you on executive presence. Get honest feedback on how you performed in situations where presence was really needed. Get people to describe your leadership brand as it relates to presence. You can’t improve your presence if you don’t have a clear, objective sense of how others see you.
3. Realize that while executive presence is not innate, it can be developed: In her new book on presence, psychologist Amy Cuddy provides practical tips on how to achieve greater presence through developing an inner sense of confidence. The message in Cuddy’s advice is pretty clear: thoughtful and deliberate development of personal skills can be very effective in building greater presence.

Executive presence is a key element in succeeding as a leader. Although not everyone is born with executive presence, it can be developed through self-reflection and attention to the image we want to project in our interactions with others.