The 5 Steps To Improve Your Executive Presence

Executive presence

Early in my career, long before I was an executive, someone gave me the advice to focus on my executive presence. Their advice was to come across as an executive before I was an executive. 

Do you have executive presence? If not, why? If so, where can you improve upon what you're already doing?

This post will give you all you need to up your game in the executive presence department.

In this post

  • What is executive presence?
  • Why is executive presence important?

  • What are the traits that embody executive presence?

  • The 3 steps to demonstrate executive presence

What is Executive Presence?

First, what is executive presence?

It can refer to so many different approaches.

In short, it's the level of self-confidence that inspires others into action:

  • Your team
  • Your peers
  • Your leadership
  • Your customers

According to research by John Beeson with HBR, executive presence is the ability to

  • project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations;
  • make tough decisions in a timely way and
  • hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.

Why is Executive Presence Important?

Executive presence is critical for anyone who wants to:

  • Get promoted into a leadership role
  • Inspire action from his/her team members, peers, colleagues (even without needing a title)
  • Effect organizational decision-making and strategy
  • Increase your compensation
  • Influence the behaviors and corporate culture and
  • Effectively manage up

In short, if you want to have influence and impact over an organization, and ultimately the title that reflects this value you add, it's key to show up as an executive, with executive presence.

What are the traits that embody executive presence?

These 7 traits from the article 7 Traits of Executive Presence clearly explain what executive presence is:

  • Composed - do you handle challenging situations with poise, calm, and with a solution-oriented approach?
  • Connected - do you create relationships across the organization, with customers, and business partners? And, when you interact, are you present and good at establishing a connection through eye contact, questions and engagement?
  • Charismatic - do you draw people to you by being present, listening hard, and engaging with them?
  • Confident - do you come across as confidence in the way you hold yourself and the way you communicate, verbally and non-verbally?
  • Credible - do you speak with conviction behind your words? do you follow through with what you say you're going to do? Is your communication based in facts or is it filled with guesses and hyperbole?
  • Clear - is your communication direct?
  • Concise - is your communication to the point or is it filled with extra, non-necessary details?

And, finally, what are the 5 steps you can take to demonstrate executive presence?

1) Check your current feelings about yourself

What does it feel like to be an executive?

  • Strong
  • Powerful
  • Commanding
  • Authoritative
  • Influential
  • Clear
  • Certain

What % of your day do you feel like an executive?

If it's less than 100%, ask yourself why?

What feelings do you have instead? You might be feeling emotions like:

  • Insecure
  • Unsure
  • Doubtful
  • Unclear
  • Resistant

2) Check your thoughts

After you notice the non-executive feelings that are creeping in, the next step is to identify the root cause of those feelings.

For many people,

  1. they don't feel executive 100% of the time because they let self-doubt and imposter syndrome creep in. They question themselves, their abilities, and wonder what other people think of them and their decisions and/or
  2. They think they'll feel like an executive when they have the title, but it doesn't work that way. They won't get the title until they show up as an executive, and begin inspiring confidence of those who decide who to promote and who to trust.

For the times of your day where you don't feel like you're an executive, ask yourself

  • Why don't I feel like an executive right now? (Pro Tip: these are the thoughts you want to replace)
  • What would someone who already has the title be thinking and doing in this situation? How would they be presenting themselves? (Pro Tip: these are the thoughts you want to encourage and cultivate in yourself)

Step #2 is to clearly define for yourself what you would be thinking and feeling if you already achieved the executive status that you desire. Keep in mind, this might not even be a title for you, it's the influence and credibility that comes with thinking, feeling and acting in a way that shows your executive presence.

3) Next, what are the deliberate actions you can take to demonstrate your executive presence?

Now that you know exactly what you want to be feeling and thinking as an executive, the last step is to determine the actions that you will take from that powerful frame of mind.

Design your own version of executive presence by answering the following questions and putting them into practice:

  1. What clothes do you want to wear?
  2. What is your body language?
  3. How do you communicate verbally?
  4. How do you communicate in writing?
  5. How do you make presentations?
  6. How do you speak?
  7. What are your boundaries?
  8. How do you show up when an important deadline and project is on your plate?
  9. How do you add value within your own team?
  10. How do you add value across the organization?
  11. How do you communicate your value?
  12. How do you handle situations where you and/or your team have made a mistake?
  13. How do you interact with people you don't respect or connect with?
  14. What don't you say?
  15. What habits and behaviors do you want to stop?
  16. What actions do you want to stop?
  17. How do you think others perceive you?
  18. How can you enhance the perceptions of me that are executive-like?
  19. How can you stop the actions that diminish your executive presence?

4) Give the new version of you a name

Now that you've got a clear definition of your executive self, what he/she is doing and thinking (and not doing and not thinking), give this new executive version of yourself a name. 

This is the name that you call upon in situations where you want your executive presence to shine.

This is your alter ego.

Mine is London. This is where I felt so powerful, fearless and adventurous in my career. I love calling up those feelings when I know I want to demonstrate executive presence.

Other examples:

  • Clark Kent = Superman
  • Ruth Porat, CFO of Google = “Ruth Vader”
  • Beyonce = Sasha Fierce

5) And finally, take action. Use your alter ego to show up with executive presence.

  • Begin putting your alter ego into place. 
  • Upgrade your clothes.
  • Improve your posture.
  • Take time to craft your emails.
  • Reduce the # of words in your presentations by 50%.
  • Stop people-pleasing.
  • Build relationships from a place of confidence.

Be the person who already has what you want. Be the person who has executive presence. Don't wait for someone to give you a title or a label. 




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