The highest rated CEOs, like those pictured above, have at least one thing in common: executive presence. They are highly proficient at communicating their point and influencing others to believe in their vision. According to a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, a non-profit research organization in New York, executive presence (EP) is a requirement for earning a senior level position in the corporate world. Researchers surveyed 4,000 leaders in major corporations to understand the essence of executive presence. EP is a combination of three key elements: appearance, communication, and gravitas. In other words, top leadership roles are awarded to those who look, speak, and act the part.
While executive presence alone won't get you promoted, its absence will greatly impede your progress. Can a person develop executive presence? The answer is yes. Here are a few tips to get started:
Appearance. Make sure your personal appearance is professional and well groomed. This doesn't mean movie-star good looks or a buttoned-up suit. The real key, according to the survey, is to avoid major mistakes. For example, those surveyed said unkempt, overly casual clothing and poor grooming are detrimental to men and women's executive presence. In addition, clothing that is too tight, provocative, or revealing significantly undermines credibility and detracts from a professional image. The guideline is to be dressed one notch above the best-dressed person in your audience.
Communication. Master the three Cs of executive communication: the ability to speak clearly, concisely, and credibly. The majority of executives surveyed believe 'great speaking skills' is a key differentiator between those who land top promotions and those who don't. In the book The McKinsey Mind, global management consultants at McKinsey and Company assert, "Presentation is the killer skill we take into the real world. It gives us an almost unfair advantage." To exude executive presence when you speak, display positive body language by standing or sitting tall, making good eye contact with your listeners, and using appropriate facial expressions and gestures. Speak loudly enough for all in the room to hear you and use an authoritative tone of voice. Organize your thoughts and deliver a clear, well-structured and succinct message.
Gravitas. Act with integrity.The Latin word gravitas, which was an ancient Roman virtue, may be translated as dignity, influence, and reputable character. Just as gravity is a force that attracts objects toward the earth, leaders with gravitas attract people to them. A leader with gravitas exercises his or her power with integrity, wisdom, and inclusiveness. They're authentic, display 'grace under fire,' act decisively, show integrity, demonstrate emotional intelligence, and project a convincing vision.
Would you like to develop a more powerful executive presence? Here are a few steps to get started:
Step 1: Identify a mentor or trusted advisor. Look for a business colleague who is in a position to observe you at work in meetings with co-workers and customers, at industry events, delivering presentations, etc. Ideally, choose someone whose executive presence you admire, such as a manager, HR business partner, or close colleague. If there's more than one person that comes to mind, recruit several colleagues and consider them your EP Advisory Board.
Step 2: Ask the individual(s) if they would be willing to share honest constructive feedback with you regarding your strengths and areas of opportunity. Recruit them to pay close attention to how you look, speak, and act at work. Invite them to share their insights with you.
Step 3: Incorporate their feedback. Your advisor(s) may offer you ideas that seem foreign or uncomfortable at first. For example, they may suggest that you speak up more in meetings; try a new hairstyle; initiate conversations; improve your presentation skills; invest in an updated wardrobe; deal with conflict more effectively, etc. As you learn and adopt new skills and behaviors, you'll discover that small changes can make a big contribution to your overall executive presence.
In addition, I invite you to read my book. Its purpose is to help leaders develop executive presence and master the ability to communicate with influence.
Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in Hardcover, Kindle, and Audio).