Executive presence is something I hear a lot about from managers and senior leaders. Different circles use different descriptors; here are a few popular ones:
- Leadership potential
- Confidence and credibility
- The it factor, as in, “she has it”
Despite having many labels, executive presence seems like 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 around executive presence 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. Now what?”
To figure out whether you have executive presence or you don’t, and more importantly, how to get it, 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
If you are like many people, you struggle to know what these terms mean in real life. Before we get into the practical explanations that will help address this elusiveness, let me add one more equally important element that belongs in a well-rounded understanding of executive presence:
Conviction of belief, clarity of thought, composure under pressure, and integrity — jeepers, what a mouthful! And yet, all essential ingredients to this thing we call executive presence.
Before we start to unravel this jumble of words, think back to Week 2 (Self-Awareness — How Are you Showing Up?) and Week 3 (Belief vs. Fact — Short-Circuiting Reality). Did you find examples of how you hide at work or short-circuit reality in your life as you worked through those Lessons? Both are habits that can get in the way of demonstrating executive presence. Make sure you’ve given the Learning Lab Experiments from the prior weeks a serious go before moving ahead with Week 4.
Okay, so you’re ready to keep learning. What’s your understanding of executive presence? A lot of people think of it as something you’re born with or not—like charisma or great cheekbones. I disagree. It is instead 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.
Hopefully by now you’re thinking, “Great, I want to do that — show me how!” Let’s look at some key ways you can take on the practice of being executive, starting today.
We’ll start the Lesson by looking at integrity and I’ll give you two practices to work with to demonstrate this first pillar of being executive. From there, we will move to conviction of belief, which has a lot to do with having an owner’s mindset, and you’ll learn more about what owning it looks like. You’ll also gain three top practices you can use to demonstrate you own it. I know you want to learn everything there is to learn about executive presence this week, but the fourth and fifth elements of this important aspect of leadership will have to wait for a later Lesson. Otherwise this week’s Lesson would be way too long. But don’t worry, we’ll get there soon enough.