Executive Charisma: Got “It” or Get It…

How do you acquire leadership charisma?

Some executives seem to have “it,” others don’t. Call it leadership charisma, magnetism, big personality, charm… the “wow” factor… it’s all those intangible qualities that make someone stand out and be easily remembered.

When it comes to executives, I’ve met some who seem to ooze smarts, authority and trustworthiness, even when dressed in sweats at the gym. You just know they’re someone you respect and want to get to know better.

Defining what makes up those qualities is hard. Here’s what author Debra Benton wrote in Business Week:

“Executive charisma is the ability to gain effective responses from others by using aware actions and considerate civility in order to get useful things done.”

We know most aren’t born that way. Leadership charisma can be learned. And it’s important because it can quickly establish rapport and encourage trust.

“Even at a round table, someone sits at the head. And that applies in every occupation. It’s not always the brightest in the business specialty or the one who produces measurable results.

“It’s someone who is memorable, impressive, credible, genuine, trusted, liked, cool, calm, collected, comfortable, and confident—er, charismatic.”

The problem is when it’s learned incorrectly or inadequately. Instead of coming across as polished, you can easily cross over into slick. That definitely doesn’t work.

Whenever I’m coaching individuals, especially newly promoted leaders on the fast track to leadership positions, the question of style comes up. Most people in positions of authority, managers, leaders, don’t lack substance. They are experts at what they do.

It’s not a question of coaching for intellectual competence. It’s not what they do that needs coaching… it’s how they do it that could use polishing and refining.

In trying to put my finger on these intangibles that contribute to one executive having “it” over another that doesn’t, I came up with a list of “it” factors.

Researching on the Web and on Amazon, I found several books I’ve ordered to learn more. “It” seems to be called Executive Presence most recently.  But without waiting for the books, I’ve drafted a few things I look for when coaching execs to work on their charisma.

  1. Substance: Share your expertise in powerful ways.  You need to develop a high level of skill in speaking, presenting, writing and communicating your ideas.
  2. Style: You know that old saying, “It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it?” Confidence and powerful are two attitudes you should wear like underwear.
  3. Physical Presence: Your physical presence includes your body language and your posture.  And it’s also your confidence, spirit, and energy.
  4. Voice: Voice is one of the most overlooked aspects of executive presence.  Knowing how to use your voice effectively is one of the secrets to standing out in the crowd.  Your voice should be conversational and clear.  It should demonstrate confidence, enthusiasm, passion and intelligence.
  5. Attitude: There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. You always have an opportunity to show you care about others and want to help them without coming across as a know-it-all.
  6. Listening/receptivity: Closely related to attitude is the ability to ask questions AND listen openly to responses without cutting people off or using their responses as springboards to share your knowledge.

Which of these do you think you could work on to improve how others see you, perceive you, and are attracted to you?

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