9 Ways to Build Executive Presence

What exactly is this thing called “executive presence?” I may be wrong, but I think it’s replacing “executive charisma,” which got tarnished in a tsunami of corporate greed and CEO failures in the first decade of this century.

Karl Albrecht explains presence as an element of social intelligence (Social Intelligence, 2009), and says it’s the way you affect individuals or groups through your physical appearance, your mood and demeanor, your body language and how you occupy space in a room.

  • Are you approachable?
  • Do you convey a sense of confidence and trustworthiness?
  • Do you come across as kind and friendly?

Or, do you come across as insecure, shy, introverted, academic, or stand-offish? What about your social presence?  Are you indifferent, perhaps neutral? Are you direct, maybe too direct? Can you sometimes come off as harsh, judgmental, authoritative, controlling? Angry?

These are all perceptions which others may have of us, right or wrong. Even if perceptions are in the mind of the beholder, it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about them.

In fact, you should be concerned about them, no matter how you think you are an upstanding person. All high-potential people who wish to get promoted to higher responsibilities need to manage the perceptions others have of them.

An article in Fast Company magazine reports that FedEx uses 9 criteria to identify potential leaders.  In my opinion, all nine are important to executive presence.

According to FedEx, its best leaders share nine personal attributes – which the company defines with remarkable specificity. FedEx also has a system for rating aspiring leaders on whether they possess these attributes. How do you rate? Judge yourself against these edited descriptions of the nine faces of leadership at FedEx.


Instills faith, respect, and trust. Has a special gift of seeing what others need to consider. Conveys a strong sense of mission.

Individual consideration

Coaches, advises, and teaches people who need it. Actively listens and gives indications of listening. Gives newcomers a lot of help.

Intellectual stimulation

Gets others to use reasoning and evidence, rather than unsupported opinion. Enables others to think about old problems in new ways. Communicates in a way that forces others to rethink ideas that they had never questioned before.


Willing to stand up for ideas even if they are unpopular. Does not give in to pressure or to others’ opinions in order to avoid confrontation. Will do what’s right for the company and for employees even if it causes personal hardship.


Follows through and keeps commitments. Takes responsibility for actions and accepts responsibility for mistakes. Works well independently of the boss.


Functions effectively in changing environments. When a lot of issues hit at once, handles more than one problem at a time. Changes course when the situation warrants it.


Does what is morally and ethically right. Does not abuse management privileges. Is a consistent role model.


Reaches sound and objective evaluations of alternative courses of action through logic, analysis, and comparison. Puts facts together rationally and realistically. Uses past experience and information to bring perspective to present decisions.

Respect for others

Honors and does not belittle the opinions or work of other people, regardless of their status or position.

We need to pay special attention to the sense of presence we communicate if we want to be accepted and taken seriously.

What do you think defines the most important elements of executive presence? And, can executive presence be learned, acquired through coaching?

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