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Why You Need To Master Executive Presence for Strategic Success

Have you ever been faced with the uncomfortable situation of watching someone in a leadership position struggle to gain the attention of the room they’re in? Someone who delivers a presentation without the confidence necessary for the audience to engage fully? It can be very awkward to watch, yet some leaders will accept it by stating, “I’m naturally introverted” or “I hate public speaking”. Although these are valid statements, by mastering executive presence, all of these seemingly unnatural leadership requirements can be developed. 

A byproduct of investing in self-development is increased commercial success. Behave like a confident leader, and you will be treated and respected as one.

Executive presence is often overlooked in the context of business strategy. Although it might feel like a tenuous link, it is critical when considering business strategy.

An effective strategy is merely a blueprint without seamless execution, and executive presence plays a significant role in either facilitating or impeding this execution. In a podcast episode featuring Kim Scott, the author of Radical Candor, we discussed and explored the importance of executive presence and how it can be a game-changer in your professional journey. Her story about the feedback she received from Sheryl Sandberg is a prime example of how executive presence matters. Kim’s transformation from feedback to enhanced executive presence is an exemplary narrative in leadership.

    Understanding Executive Presence

    So, what exactly is executive presence? It is a harmonious blend of your temperament, competencies, skills, and how you carry yourself. It’s whether you exude confidence, make eye contact, remain composed under pressure and inspire others. It encompasses the art of sending the right signals and presenting yourself in a manner that inspires confidence, commands respect, and maintains unwavering poise, especially when navigating high-pressure scenarios. For CEOs, this aspect of leadership is even more paramount, given the dual responsibilities: crafting and executing a visionary path. Without a robust executive presence, these responsibilities can become significantly more challenging.

    The Role of Executive Presence in Leadership

    Leadership, in its essence, revolves around influence, effective communication, and the ability to inspire change. Leaders with a strong executive presence tend to be perceived as more capable and credible, often trumping the value of high IQ with their higher EQ. The underlying lesson here is that cultivating executive presence is not merely a desirable trait. It’s a crucial asset for leaders and professionals seeking strategic impact. A high IQ is common within leadership; however, lacking EQ has historically been accepted within these positions. It has only shifted in recent years to be unacceptable for leaders not to prioritise EQ, and in developing it, your executive presence can grow alongside this. 

    Developing Your Executive Presence

    Unveiling the components of executive presence and advancing in them can be your ticket to achieving a desired promotion or realising your strategic ambitions. Let’s take a deeper look into the key elements and explore practical approaches with actionable tactics for you to unlock your true leadership potential:

    Physical Composure: The Power of Posture

    Your physical presence matters. Maintaining proper posture, using gestures intentionally, and maintaining eye contact during interactions is crucial. Don’t bounce up and down on the balls of your feet or gesticulate wildly: when you speak in a meeting, raise your open palm, signalling that you have the floor. This subtle gesture commands attention and respect. Subconsciously, people will allow you to finish what you’re saying. Small changes in how you physically present yourself can be the difference between making a lasting impression as a confident leader or being remembered as someone with a weak leadership style. People are naturally critical, so don’t give them any reason to be!

    Eye Contact and Verbal Fluency: The Art of Clear Communication

    Practice the art of speaking clearly and concisely. Eye contact is essential, but you have to get the balance right. Too much, and you can look like a psychopath. Too little, and you look timid. It’s one of the many difficulties of virtual meetings. A real ninja move is to repeat the last three words someone said, which can be really powerful. Alternatively, embrace the power of silence. Pausing before responding to questions or making statements can make you appear more thoughtful and intelligent. Strong communication skills are essential in leadership roles. Don’t neglect non-verbal communication skills such as your body language, eye contact, and active listening prompts such as nodding or being expressive.

    Emotional Control: Managing Nervous Habits

    Verbosity is often an Achilles heel. Nervous habits, such as fidgeting, speaking rapidly, bouncing legs, excessive pen clicking or nervous sweating, can detract from your executive presence. You need to work on this. It’s often due to a lack of preparation or performance; in my experience, it’s because this person finds themselves in this situation multiple times. They know they’re underprepared or underperforming, and this heightened self-awareness raises these nervous tendencies. What drives me mad is the constant apologising for not having an immediate answer. Instead, offer assurance you can provide the information later. This excuse can only be used once. No one expects you to have all the answers all of the time.

    Strategic Thinking: Balancing Insight and Inclusivity

    For those naturally inclined toward strategic thinking, it’s a remarkable advantage. We use Gallup Strengths and Working Genius to establish whether someone has a natural propensity to strategic thinking. As with anything, there’s a flip side to this: be mindful not to leap too far ahead, as it can leave others feeling left behind. Ensure you communicate your thought process effectively, especially to those who may not share your strategic insights.

    Seeing the Big Picture: Gaining Perspective

    If seeing the big picture is challenging when juggling other expectations of leadership, start by trying to spend time with customers to gain a broader perspective. Harness customer feedback and insights to guide your strategic decisions, bridging the gap between your vision and reality. Demonstrating care to customers and colleagues can be a powerful way to show emotional intelligence, which goes hand in hand with leadership presence. Keeping sight of the big picture is one of the most essential elements when striving for long-term success and being an effective communicator.

    Setting the Agenda: Influencing Conversations

    Even if you’re not the most senior person in the room, you can steer conversations by setting the agenda, ensuring clarity, and facilitating meetings effectively. At the end of the session, take charge by summarising and clarifying the next steps. Doing this shows a level of confidence and authority, which will command respect and attention and will showcase true leadership skills.

    Enhancing Your Executive Presence: Seek Feedback and Coaching

    Incorporating these elements into your executive presence can help you stand out as a leader and accelerate your journey toward strategic success. It’s important to actively seek feedback from peers, mentors, or executive coaches to continually refine and improve your executive presence. You can always turn to other, more seasoned executive leaders and have a conversation with them about their journey. 

    Remember that executive presence is not just about appearing the part but also about acting and communicating in a manner aligned with your strategic goals.

    Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his new book, ‘Mind Your F**king Business’ here.

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