Four Elements of Executive Presence

By Lou Solomon

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 coaching can help lift the well-intentioned leader into the ongoing pursuit of self-awareness, which is a prerequisite for greatness.The American painter Robert Henri said, “It’s a wrong idea that a master is a finished person.” I would add that people who see themselves as “finished” often lack executive presence.

Coaching and development are not enough.

Coaching and development cannot fortify just anyone with the kind of presence we long for in our leaders. Leaders must drop personal preoccupations, show up with earnest and pay attention. They have to pull from the authentic aspects of themselves and see the same in others.

While coaching isn’t the be-all, end-all of developing executive presence, coaching can help lift the well-intentioned leader into the ongoing pursuit of self-awareness, which is a prerequisite for greatness.

The four areas we’ve identified overlap but help define the behavior and energy behind executive presence:

Authentic presence

Authenticity is about “Walking the Talk.” People attach the following characteristics to authentic presence: genuine, optimistic, natural, fair, open and trustworthy.

Do not think for a minute that this is a technique. You must recognize the authentic aspects of yourself to connect with others. You must understand what your life has taught you while being open to the insights of others.

Personal presence

Communication style, people-awareness and emotional intelligence are part of your personal presence. When you lead with warmth, you can connect with the people around you. When people feel heard and understood, they will trust you.

Practicing presence in everyday interactions can help close the organization’s communication gaps.

Physical presence

Physical confidence and command allow you to move with purpose, take hold of a room and extend yourself to others instead of staying separate.

Even a few nonverbal signals can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company. Stand tall, look us in the eye, smile, face us and extend a friendly greeting. Nothing over the top, mind you. It has to be natural.

It also matters that you are attentive to appearance. We’ve relaxed the “Dress for Success” guidelines, but we still like leaders to dress appropriately for their role and the occasion and we want them to be crisp even when casual, and well-groomed.

Professional presence

Experience, knowledge, status and reputation for results are all important—but not the most important parts of executive presence. These things actually come more into play after someone talks to you and deem you trustworthy. Most executives don’t realize that prioritizing warmth will open people to this all-important layer of credibility—not vice versa.

Executive presence is never perfected, only practiced. So, where do you practice? Not just the annual meeting and board meetings. You practice in the elevator, during one-on-one meetings, conference calls, videoconferences, the parking lot, the cafeteria, traveling with teammates and walking through cube-land. You practice everywhere.

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