Executive Presence, Charisma, and Nonverbal Conversations

Image of a man wearing a shirt and tie with arms crossedAt one time there were best selling business books advocating leaders cultivate “charisma.”  Then certain charming leaders turned out to be psychopaths and gave charisma a bad name. Now it seems there’s a flurry of consultants and coaches promoting executive “presence.”

Many of these books are nothing but revised tips on how leaders should communicate to inspire followers to want to do what’s needed. More than learning how to communicate like a leader, however, if a leader isn’t authentic, it’s all for naught.

It’s the non-verbals that usually give-away an inauthentic and ineffective leader. As I’ll explore in this series of blog posts, non-verbal behaviors reveal more about our authentic selves than we realize. In fact, mastering our unconscious behaviors may be the key to creating a stronger executive presence.

What exactly is “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?

Recently I’ve been reading Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact by Nick Morgan:

Every communication is two conversations. The first conversation in every face-to-face communication is the one you’re aware of: the spoken content. The second conversation is the one on which most humans are unconscious experts: the nonverbal one.

It’s the nonverbal conversation that will make or break you as a communicator. That’s what’s radical about the new authenticity. Faking it won’t work anymore, at least not for the long haul.

The nonverbal conversation is where authenticity is created or destroyed. According to author Morgan, to improve your non-verbal behaviors, leaders need to consider these facts:

  • It’s hard to think consciously about your body language.
  • To control your body language effectively, focus your emotions.
  • Focused emotions greatly increases charisma.
  • Mirror neurons make focused emotion even more powerful because you affect others; you leak your emotions to them.
  • Emotions are the basis of decision making and, so, leadership.
  • Prepare your emotions for important meetings, conversations, and presentations, just as you would your content.

Yet, how many leaders do you know that actually prepare and practice their nonverbal conversations? Maybe they should. Maybe, with practice and preparation, many of the ticks and fidgeting we often see – non-verbals that destroy leadership credibility – leaders could improve their presence, charisma… and authenticity.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you; contact me here and let’s talk!

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