Executive presence is something I hear a lot about from managers and senior leaders. Different circles use different words to describe this quality; here are a few you might be familiar with:
- Leadership potential
- Confidence and credibility
- The “It Factor”
Despite having many labels, executive presence can be one of those intangibles that’s hard to define. People often say, “I know it when I see it.” Regrettably, I more frequently hear, “I know I didn’t have it in that meeting I just bombed.”
Another comment I hear a lot is this: “I just had my review and my manager said I need to have more executive presence. I have no clue what that is and my manager couldn’t give me anything more specific to do to improve in this area. Now what?”
A lot of people think of executive presence as something you’re born with or not — like charisma or great cheekbones. I think about executive presence a bit differently. I think about it instead as something you practice; like yoga, or law. Through practice, executive presence is something you can cultivate over time. And, like anything, the more you learn about it and cultivate it, the more comfortable it becomes. And, over time, you get better at it.
- You don’t have it. You are it… or rather, you become it through practice.
Instead of thinking in terms of having or not having executive presence, try thinking in terms of being or not being executive. Like, are you being nice? Are you being crabby? Are you being impatient? Are you being executive? Same deal.
To figure out whether you are being executive or not, and more importantly, some ways you can practice being executive if you want to grow in this area, let’s pause and take a closer look at what we’re actually talking about.
Executive presence is often explained as a combination of these three qualities:
- Conviction of belief
- Clarity of thought
- Composure under pressure
Conviction of belief, clarity of thought, composure under pressure — jeepers, what a mouthful! And yet, all essential ingredients to this thing we call executive presence. Before we get into the practical explanations that will help add some clarity and demystify what we’re talking about, let me add one more equally important element that belongs in a well-rounded understanding of executive presence:
Hopefully by now you’re thinking, “Great, I want to do that — show me how!” We will unravel this jumble of words, but first I want you to think back to Lesson 2 and Lesson 3. As you worked through those lessons, did you find examples of how you make yourself invisible at work or how you short-circuit reality from time to time? Both are habits that can get in the way of demonstrating executive presence. Make sure you’ve given the Learning Lab and experiments from the prior weeks a serious go before moving ahead. You’ll get more out of this lesson if you do.