Executive Presence for the “High-Potential” Leader

By Lou Solomon

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Technical skills get you on the "high potential" track but leadership skills keep you thereThe number one reason I am asked to work with individual executives is to help them make the transition from transactional relationships to forging real human connections—to develop executive presence.

 The “high potential” leader

Most of these people have followed a similar track. They were identified as “high potentials” for their analytical talent, operations efficiency and financial prowess. Once they stepped into a leadership role, someone noticed they didn’t know how to connect with people.

In essence, when an individual gets to be an executive, they don’t have the executive presence they need to move forward.

We all have “presence”

Sure, we all have a presence, since it comes from the impressions we make on others. But what kind of presence?

Typically I ask my clients, “What is it like to be with you?” and “What is the feedback you receive from friends, family and teammates about how they experience your presence?” Most of them have only partial answers, but instruments like a 360 survey can help us locate blind spots.

Three ways to kill executive presence

Blind spots include these three presence-killer behaviors:

  1. Fidgeting, which is interpreted as a lack of confidence;
  2. Making calculated comments, which is often experienced by listeners as insincere and inauthentic
  3. Being distracted, which others interpret as being self-important and impersonal

Once we identify these blind spots, we talk about the kind of image and presence the executive wants to convey and what they need to do to close the gap.

Often, we find that small changes make a big difference, for example: making eye contact, avoiding texting during meetings; using supportive language with colleagues; and using language that lets the listener know they were heard.

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