Over the years, many managers and HR partners have referred leaders to me for coaching. Over and over, they say to me: “This is one of our top performers, but he (or she) needs more of an executive presence.” Clearly, there is a strong need for developing this skill; however, what is it exactly and why is it so important?
It is that quality of leadership that makes people want to follow such leaders.
Remember the old TV commercial: “When E. F. Hutton speaks, everyone listens”? When a leader with executive presence speaks this is the effect he or she has on the audience. Everyone listens, but in addition, is highly motivated to act.
Executive presence is not just one particular attribute or quality a leader has but, rather, a combination of personal characteristics that leave a strong, positive impression (at a “gut” or emotional level) that this person is a great leader, that he or she is someone worth listening to, and, moreover, worth following.
Although some individuals seem to have the gift of executive presence, the good news is it is something that can be learned. Let’s now look at some important characteristics of this elusive leadership quality.
Characteristics of Leaders with Executive Presence
Leaders with executive presence….
1. Have a strong emotional impact on all in their organization. Positive emotions like optimism, empathy, and personal happiness are found in leaders who have a shining presence. And these feelings are infectious and cascade throughout an organization.
2. Establish a distinctive positive brand. “Brand”, as applied here to leaders, is defined as a set of perceptions and images that people have of a leader that convey the strong conviction that this leader is worth following. Brand also is the quality of character and leadership that distinguishes the particular person from others, e.g. she is the visionary leader who takes our company into the future.
Originally the term brand came from the world of cattle where a brand distinguished one person’s herd from the herd on the other ranch.
So your brand is what distinguishes you from other leaders? Can you define yours?
3. Possess High Levels of Social Intelligence (SI). These leaders are skilled at understanding others’ needs, values, agendas, and what inspires them. Moreover, these leaders understand how they impact other people. They are highly skilled at identifying and leveraging what drives people. They seem perfectly attuned to their audiences when pitching anything, from unveiling a new product to defining and executing an innovative vision.
4. Tell Compelling Stories. These leaders capture the imagination of their listeners with stories that touch people emotionally and inspire others. These stories are essential in persuading people to adopt new ideas and act in new ways. Compelling stories are used to overcome initial resistance to new ideas or change by making the action desired relevant to the personal needs of the audience.
5. Inspire Others. Leaders with executive presence know how to tap into what inspires their people. Five of the most important inspirational sources are described in the book I wrote with Kristine MacKain, “What Inspirational Leaders Do” (Kindle 2008)
Ways to Enhance Executive Presence
In developing executive presence you need to
1. Manage your moods and find ways to stay upbeat and optimistic.
2. Align yourself with your audience and the business culture that you seek to enter. And then find ways to stand head and shoulders above others while remaining humble at the same time.
3. Manage perceptions of yourself and your brand. Part of this involves eliminating self-sabotaging behaviors. It also involves speaking with authority and conviction on key business issues.
4. Communicate concisely and clearly for maximum impact. The latter also involves becoming skilled in telling stories that have major emotional impact.
5. Learn how to inspire others by tapping into their sources of inspiration.
Executive presence is like any leadership skill. It can be learned. But it requires that one repeatedly practice the behaviors that have worked for those who “Speak and people listen”.
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