Do You Have Executive Presence?

I have been reading several articles lately about the power of executive presence and it has prompted me to consider how this plays out in our work in higher education.

So what is it, exactly?

Factors that contribute to executive presence include: confidence, decisiveness, grace under fire, authenticity, ability to read an audience, vision, polish, charisma, emotional intelligence and a sense of humor.

These characteristics, combined with a proven track record of top performance at work, propel leaders to executive levels of leadership.  In a recent study conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), nearly 4,000 full-time white collar professionals were surveyed about how companies leverage their talent pool.  When discussing the characteristics to professionally advance, there were some clear cut themes.

Senior-level women believe that executive presence is “28% of what it takes to get the next promotion.” (November, 2012).  If that is true, then executive presence is almost 1/3 of the recipe to get ahead–so why aren’t we talking about it more?

Perhaps the stereotypes about what prevents women from advancing in the workplace aren’t as clear cut as they first seem. “Everyone jumps to the conclusion that it’s motherhood (that holds women back), but often the big roadblock is the lack of executive presence—the inability to present oneself in a way that signals to the world that you are leadership material,” (CTI, 2012).

The articles on this topic define the three components of executive presence as 1) how you look, 2) how you speak, and 3) how you behave.  These combined with the gravitas to make important decisions confidently speak volumes about how you are perceived at work, according to the study.

Are you lacking executive presence? You might have some areas to improve on if you have ever been told that you are/may be:

“Too edgy”

“Lack impact”

“Too emotional”

“Not a team player”

“Too laid back”

“Need to dial it back”

“Too risky”

“Need to be more assertive”

These phrases may be cues that your appearance, communication style and/or behavior may be distracting from your leadership potential and ability.

So what can you do to increase executive presence?

The study points to a few common themes that positively increase how people are received at work.

1)      “Treat speeches like theater:”  The ability to take command of a room, read an audience and quickly adjust to the tone/needs of the audience, charisma, and demonstrating authenticity through your words inspires others to want to help you achieve your (and the departments) goals.

2)      Appearance matters: No, you do not have to be a model (actually being perceived as “too sexy” worked against the perception of executive presence among employees) but being well-groomed, polished, physically fit and wearing visually interesting apparel all positively impacted the perception of executive presence.

3)      “Doing” trumps “Thinking”: Decisiveness, confidence, carrying out a vision and the integrity to do what you say you are going to do all impact the perception of executive presence.

What does executive presence mean to you? What are some areas you hope to improve in this year?

Looking forward to the discussion—let’s help each other to become the very best versions of ourselves!

Follow me on twitter: @annmarieklotz

About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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19 Responses to Do You Have Executive Presence?

  1. I have not yet come across the idea of ‘executive presence’ and now I’m very interested! I think the information is correct that sometimes being a Mom isn’t something that holds us back as women, but the “other stuff” that we blame motherhood on. For instance, lack of money to buy new outfits all the time, less time in the morning to get ‘fixed up’, being tired after long nights up with the little ones. These are all certainly real challenges, but there are still ways to present ourselves to the best of our abilities. I like this. Very motivating to start analyzing where I am at – and encourages me to find the strength to put these characteristics out there.

  2. tomlfritz says:

    Thank you for writing this, and doing the research on Executive Presence. I am just glad to have one name to put all of these “other” characteristics into. I think we often think of this as how someone “carries themselves” or, often, they just have “it”. Now that we have identified it, we can work on strategies to develop it with the people we work with, and even more importantly, ourselves. I especially love this definition because it combines the third aspect of actually completing what you say you are going to do.
    One thing I am working on this year is my appearance. I think the biggest help I have had this is moving in with my partner. Now I get a second set of eyes on myself every morning before I head to work, and having someone in the field is especially helpful because I can say, I am meeting with X group of constituents today, do you think this is appropriate (more often than I would like to admit, the answer is no). I also find myself trying new ways to try to use visually inspiring apparel, instead of, black suit, muted shirt, and patterned tie, and it helps to have that second opinion. I have a long way to go, but hopefully this is the start.

    • Tom, I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability in your response. Much appreciated. We are all works in progress but it helps to critically assess where we are and what our goals are. Best of luck to you, my friend!!

  3. AMK, thanks as always for sharing your knowledge with us. I’m following some of the conversation about your blog post on Twitter and I have more than 140 characters to share in response. I understand the ongoing battle to rock the status quo and challenge class-based/patriarchal norms of the business world, especially the fashion ones. But that’s not entirely what you’re writing about here, this is about more than dressing for success. The pink bubbles in your graphic allude to physical appearance, but that only accounts for 1/3 of the picture. Executive presence is about showing up with a game-day attitude, being ready to play, and competing to play first string. There’s a lot more to playing the game than the uniform, but you’re not going to be first pick if you don’t show up ready to play.

    Thanks for making the conversation bigger than dressing for success, I know there are some things in your third point that I can continue to work on.

    • reneepdowdy says:

      Well said, Becca. Comparing how you prepare yourself for work to being like game day is a great analogy. I just began to really think about my work preparations that way, spending more time in the morning reviewing my meetings and making notes for information I want to convey and being able to come in as confident as possible to contribute. It’s like reviewing the playbook. It’s easy to get caught up on the appearance angle of this but one cannot disregard it as having impact. I interviewed for a position during my first full-time job search where many in the department looked like camp counselors (shorts, gym shoes, polos). Did I perceive that to be a place that would advance my professional skills? An environment where I would be trusted to be at the table as part of that department to contribute to important institutional decisions? Absolutely not. The attire was just one piece of that day but sent a clear message about the professional attitude held by the department. Professional attire is your canvas and if your words and actions are the paint, the medium will not show your true talent if what is holding it all is distracting.

    • Becca–thanks so much for your comment! It is indeed a tough line to navigate. The “game-day” attitude is the heart of EP as you correctly stated. You are someone who always shows up “ready to play” in all the best ways! Have a great day!!

  4. Kathryn Moncada says:

    I really appreciate how succinctly you recontexualized the Marie Claire article from where the image at the top of your post originates. My initial read of that article was that the author was ignoring systematic inequalities and trying to address them by persuading women to modify their behavior (i.e. playing into soft gender framework). Whatever the authorial intent was, you have recontextualized the take-away information from the article without explicitly addressing gender inequality in the workplace, which is a wholly separate conversation. Very relevant post!

    • Thanks Katie! I am glad you found it to be useful and your analysis is spot-on! It isn’t about behavior modification, per say, it’s about understanding the expectations in the workplace and using that knowledge to your advantage! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment! 🙂

  5. phdsmz says:

    Have any of the articles you’ve read address the idea of “executive presence” from a critical lens? Or discuss how our social location influences our perception of “presence?” As someone who studies the intersection of identity and environments I am always curious how others address that intersection in their philosophies on environmental behavior and attitudes.

  6. Nekesa says:

    I definitely understand the points brought up in the article and the blog post but I do think it would be interesting to look at it from a critical lens especially with a focus on identity. You can show up with a game day attitude ready to play but if factors beyond your control related to identity keep you from playing then what do you do?

  7. Laura Gerth (@laura_gerth) says:

    I think working to improve my executive presence is important not just to help me move ahead as a woman, but also as a young professional. I still look young (a trait my mother says I’ll appreciate when I’m her age) and there have been many occasions when I’ve been mistaken as a student, rather than an administrator, at my institution. Focusing on executive presence through my dress, words and actions not only helps me look the part, but also feel the part and be recognized as a professional.

    • Exactly, Laura! How you “show up” in the workforce is important. While you shouldn’t try to mask your youth you can demonstrate that it isn’t a factor when it comes to your work. Thanks for reading!!

  8. Ana M. Rossetti says:

    Thank you for engaging this topic, Ann Marie. Just like Becca I also followed the conversation on Twitter and really appreciate how you handled a very healthy and necessary debate. This topic stirs up a lot of reactions in me, many of which I’m still seeking to understand. I am sensitive to the point of view that some of the notions tied up in “executive presence” seem to uphold or buy into some of the current systems in our society that were built on power differentials and inequalities. Advocacy around issues of inequality and power impact people very differently based on their personal experiences and their own identity journey. I think that might be an inescapable truth of our current reality, as much as we may disagree or wish it was different. However, I agree with your approach of recognizing these realities and working within systems to bring about change. That works for me and feels most effective for who I am and what I can do. For others, working from the outside is a more effective approach and they should continue that work. I think both approaches are necessary and that one of them alone won’t bring about comprehensive sustainable change. Working from outside the system has brought about powerful change at many points in human history, but I also urge us to remember that allies working within the system, as long as they do so with integrity, can also be highly effective in achieving change. If we’re working toward the same goals, is there not room for multiple approaches? I think so.

    • While this wouldn’t all fit into a tweet, I wish it would! My favorite part? “I also urge us to remember that allies working within the system, as long as they do so with integrity, can also be highly effective in achieving change.” So incredibly true 🙂 Thank you Ana for adding to the discussion!!

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