Executive Presence: A Serious Look at What Really Matters

man looking at clock and business strategy on a wall

In the work I do coaching leaders on executive presence, I can usually differentiate when someone wants to “look good” vs “do good.” While your physical bearing is important, your core values and the way you communicate them are even more significant.

“We need leaders who model high social intelligence…who appeal to our higher selves and invite us to grow as individuals and as a society, rather than leaders who pander to our primal fears and selfish greed.” Karl Albrecht, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success (Pfeiffer, 2009)

An infectious grin and authentic sense of camaraderie will open doors, but the ability to communicate sincerely and connect with core values is what inspires people to respond.

Your executive presence is reflected in the energy and image you convey, along with your understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Leaders with a strong presence intuitively know what to say that will cultivate loyalty and approval. They also recognize how to avoid coming off as egotistical, insecure and insensitive.

One of the eleven aspects of having executive presence involves social intelligence. With the CEOs and senior VPs that I work with, I find that most genuinely care about people.

They see both strengths and weaknesses in people, and don’t condemn them or judge them. They often give people the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. They are discerning without being intolerant.

They allow people to learn and grow into their positions and to learn from their experiences. And while they are often strongly results-driven, they don’t allow goals to take priority over human beings.

Mind you, not all, but the majority of top executives are out to promote healthy self-esteem in their people. They know that most people desire to succeed and do well. The way to facilitate that is to support people, not criticize or demean them.

Top leaders show respect for others and show a real—not manufactured or superficial—interest in them.

Your emotional demeanor influences others’ perceptions. You must be able to balance your own needs with those of others as well as with those of the organization. This requires keenly honed emotional awareness—being in tune with the situation, the context and other people.

When your personal values resonate and are aligned with those of the organization and of others, you have an opportunity to lead in truly meaningful ways.

Your presence communicates your self-worth and confidence, as well as the level of respect you have for others and for the complexity of the situation at hand.

This is a tall order for most people and executive presence isn’t easily acquired. Personally, I think everyone should work on improving their presence with a coach.

And I say this not simply because I promote coaching as an effective method of creating lasting personal change, but because – even with good coaching – this may be one of the hardest facets of personality to work on:

Making your insides feel as good as your outsides look.

To do that, you must get in touch with what truly matters to you. I don’t think that this is work to be taken lightly or that can be done in isolation without a professional expert to guide you.

What do you think about executive presence, and how to build it for yourself?

Your comments are welcome. Contact me here or on LinkedIn.

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