By Yvonne Milosevic
What is executive presence? The answer is often a maddening, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Not exactly helpful for anyone trying to grow professionally. In essence, a person with executive presence has mastered the most critical “C’s” of leadership. They are excellent communicators who are also credible, confident, and composed. Today, we aim to demystify executive presence by explaining why it’s essential and how you can amp up your own “EP.”
Cultivating Executive Presence
Let’s take a closer look at each of the key elements that make up this desirable designation.
When people see you as credible, you can influence them to become more receptive to your ideas. But building up your credibility takes time. Early career professionals need to rely on expertise in their roles to communicate such authority. When you speak, do you sound like an expert on the subject at hand? Professor Brooke Vuckovic of the Kellogg School of Management says, “Especially early on in your career, intellectual horsepower is essential.” You can boost your credibility with preparation and by showing integrity, she adds.
You won’t convey credibility if you don’t display confidence. When someone with strong executive presence speaks, others take note. You do not doubt the conviction behind their words. They project a certain gravitas that automatically commands the respect of everyone in the room.
Body language is vital when it comes to how others perceive you. So, make sure to maintain good posture and eye contact. Former Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy’s well-known TED Talk explains how holding a two-minute “power pose” before a job interview can positively affect the interviewer’s perception of you. Anyone suffering from Imposter Syndrome will benefit from Cuddy’s confidence-boosting advice.
Oh, and don’t confuse confidence with having an out-sized ego. With executive presence, “what we’re looking for is true confidence and true humility,” says Vuckovic. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Being able to control your emotions and recognize emotions in others is a crucial component of executive presence. Great leaders remain cool and composed under pressure. Self-awareness is paramount. No one wants a boss with a hot temper or who falls apart when things go sideways.
Make sure you are eating and sleeping well, have social support, and make time for movement in your day. These things will help build your capacity for resilience under stress. – Professor Brooke Vuckovic
When you stay calm and focused on the crisis at hand, others will take note. Teams you manage will trust your ability to handle any situation, making them less anxious and more productive. If you struggle with maintaining composure, try out some of these tips on managing stress at work from the Harvard Health Blog.
People who radiate executive presence have top-notch communication skills. They can concisely articulate their thoughts and use tone and word choices that strengthen their message. They’ve also mastered the power of the three-second pause, so their words have more impact. Communicating with humor is also a huge plus. And none other than Warren Buffett considers public speaking the most valuable skill anyone can build. Who are we to argue with The Oracle of Omaha?
When you have executive presence, you speak with confidence, gain respect, and influence others to achieve a common goal. But in the end, no level of executive presence can compensate for lack of ability, Vuckovic warns.
“These elements of presence are particularly important when you are interacting with someone for the first time or on a superficial level or you just see them quarterly for client meetings,” she explains. On the other hand, “those people around you will have a much more complete picture and, ultimately, are going to judge you by the quality of your work and contributions.”