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Secrets from the HR Suite: Executive Presence

Have you ever encountered a person who projects and commands respect without saying a word?

What exactly is executive presence? Is it how you dress? Is it about how you speak?

Can you increase or learn EP or is it something that you are born with?

Often my clients come to me with questions like the above and at some point in my career, I had asked these questions myself.

Executive presence has been the subject of my attention ever since a well-intentioned former supervisor told me that I did not have the “je ne sequa to lead”. Confused and frankly deeply hurt by such a comment, I embarked on a quest to understand what EP was. Not surprisingly the answer was not exactly easy to find. It took me a lot of research, as well as observing and interviewing several executives to narrow it down.

Well let me tell you something, executive presence is not a “thing” that you are born with. It’s something that you can learn. Executive presence is not this magical superpower, to put it plain and simple terms EP at its core, it is how others perceive us mainly in three realms: personal, team and organizational.

To increase your own executive presence, consider experimenting with the following ideas to discover what works for you.

Be Clear on What You Stand For

This is the foundation of your presence – what you stand for.

Having defined values and principles will anchor you whenever you have to make difficult choices. They will also communicate to those working together with you where you stand and as a result others will be more willing to follow and or trust you.

If you do not know your values or where to start, I suggest you answer the following question:

What do you want to be remembered for?

Often the response to this question will help you identify if not paint a better picture of how you like to live your life going forward, including what values you like to live by.

Hone Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is comprised of four key competencies:

Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management, all of which are important for EP. For purposes of this article we will focus on the first two.

Keeping a cool head when things go unexpectedly wrong is tough. Yet, it’s not impossible and it all starts with understanding ourselves. Developing self-awareness and self-management are the first steps towards being less reactive and more Zen-like.

In order to increase self-awareness and self-management, I like to recommend starting with an assessment such as the Energy Leadership Index, which not only identifies the stressors but also points to how you tend to react to them as well as it gives you a path forward.

Take one of my clients at tech startup, when we started working together, he was on the path to a promotion to a c level position, yet, the leadership team and HR were hesitant because when things went wrong he tended to default to blaming mode causing high turnover within his team and affecting the company’s employer brand.

After taking this assessment my client realized that his default response to stressors at work and in his life was to see himself as the victim. A paradigm that he had picked up along the way, which in turn caused the response of him blaming others. Instead together we identified other ways of responding that were more appropriate such as “Where’s the opportunity here? How can we both win?” As a result he was able to reframe his mind towards a more conducive empathetic approach and was promoted to the role six months later and he continues to thrive ever since.

Master Custom Tailored Communications

Communication is such a big part of executive presence because let’s be completely honest, working for a leader that can’t communicate expectations and objectives in a clear and articulate way, it’s frustrating to say the least. But it goes beyond clarity. Sometimes even if you are as clear as water and have all your dots in a row, if you are not understanding your audience, meaning what are their communication preferences and not tailoring the message for that audience, the message will not land.

Talk less listen more

So before your next important meeting, go on a listening tour. Listen to understand first and identify how others like to receive information and make decisions. One of the strategies that has worked well for a client of mine who is a VP of HR at a midsize organization is to identify how the person on the other side tends to make decisions and then from there, she tailors her delivery to what better suits the other person’s decision making style. As a result, my client has been able to get the buy-in necessary to achieve her professional objectives while at the same time strengthening her relationship across the organization, which has in turn increased her standing as a well respected leader across all levels of her organization.

Don’t forget about Non Verbal Communication

Another form of communication is body language and appearance.

I have purposefully left this one for last because nowadays appearance is not as important as it used to be. Yet still carries weight overall if you are a woman or a person of color.

Unconscious biases are not a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it’s still true that people will form a conscious or subconscious opinion about you based on the way you hold yourself and the way you are dressed and groomed. What is more, they will decide how much they will like, respect, and trust you.

Therefore, if your body language and your appearance are not aligned with what you say, others are less likely to believe you and be convinced by you. So before you jump into the next zoom call, resist the temptation to stay in your PJs or not compose yourself. Instead dress the part. Now, if you would like to learn more about body language I suggest you take a look at this TED talk by Amy Cuddy who is the subject matter expert on this topic.

Elevate Your Voice

We all have different personalities and backgrounds. To stand out we need to speak from a place of authentic confidence. This means finding your leadership style and identifying the unique strengths that you bring to the table. Remember the goal here is not to build a complete and separate persona but to build on what you already have. That’s why I like to invite you to take a step towards the direction of your dreams and elevate your voice with me. If you’d like help with any of these, I’d love to work with you. Just contact me and schedule a time to speak.


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