Three Ways To Develop Executive Presence To Feel More Confident At Work
by Brent Roy
You’re successful and considered an expert in your field, yet getting to the next level eludes you. If you’ve been passed over for a promotion recently, it might be because you lack executive presence. However, before you start to develop executive presence, you need to understand what it is.
What is executive presence?
Executive presence is the ability to maturely project self-confidence in a way that others can easily envision you as being ready for higher levels. It’s also a combination of personal traits and outward behaviours. Together, they create an image of leadership, competence, and trustworthiness to those around you.
We constantly display our traits, both positive and negative. For example, like a car in the showroom, you may be reliable and consistent, but another car edges you out. Is it because the other car’s paint has more lustre and sheen than yours? Maybe it’s time to think about how to project the shine that demonstrates those finishing touches. But what are they, exactly?
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success, defines executive presence. She breaks it down into how one acts (gravitas), speaks (communication) and looks (appearance). Understanding these aspects makes it easier to measure your own level of executive presence.
How do you know if you have executive presence?
First, when you have executive presence, you’re more than a “go-to” person in your area of expertise. You’re able to provide advice you can stand behind. Secondly, you can interact professionally with executives without being overly deferential. When you sense they begin to view you as a peer, you may already possess it. If not, you can take steps to develop executive presence.
Can I learn how to develop it?
It is possible to unlearn bad habits and replace them with new ways to interact at work. Buffing out the rough spots in your actions, speech, and the way you carry yourself is worth the effort in creating a more confident and refined future. People are more likely to remember how you finished than they are any of your perceived shortcomings.
Start to develop executive presence by gaining some clarity and precision on the lacklustre areas in need of a shine. In addition, focus on areas where some deeper bodywork is required. You can start by assessing some of the following traits.
Behaviour and Track Record:
- Temperament: Do your colleagues cringe when the stress increases, not knowing whether you’ll lose your cool?
- Tardiness: Are you in the habit of blowing off meetings or showing up late, offering weak excuses?
- Trustworthiness: How well do you follow through with the things you said you’d do?
Conversation and Situational Awareness:
- Uptalk: Does every sentence you speak sound like it needs a question mark at the end?
- Not enough or too much: Do you like to talk? A lot? Or, are you known for being quiet in general and offering little in meetings?
- Inappropriate conversations: Are you someone who talks a lot about your personal life at work?
- Reading the Room: How good are you at reading the room? Can you accurately sense how you are perceived?
Attire and Decor:
- Clothes and office culture clash: Do you adhere to corporate dress codes? Or instead, do you often dress casually while the higher-ups are more buttoned-down? Is your attire like your peers, or a level or two higher?
- Environment: Is your office décor sending the message that you’d rather be somewhere else? For example, is it plastered with vacation photos and purely personal pursuits? What books, framed photos and certificates are visible in your workspace? In video meetings, what story does the space behind you tell others on the call? If you use a digital background with Zoom, is it professional-looking?
How well you act, speak and look in the workplace can be difficult to measure. Once you have a handle on where you are, you can take steps to move toward the executive presence you desire.
Three Ways to Work on Developing Executive Presence
1. Copy a Leader You Admire
One of the best ways to begin your pursuit towards a more senior role is to consider leaders you admire. For example, it may be someone you know personally, a historical figure or a composite of many leaders. What qualities do you admire in them? How do they carry themselves that you see their leadership qualities? What are their ways of speaking and interacting that make you feel this is a person you would follow? How does their appearance project the confidence of a leader? Which of these qualities could you authentically emulate?
2. Seek a Mentor
A mentor is a colleague a few steps ahead of you on the career path. They have more experience and are at or near the top of their game. When they veered slightly from the path, they made corrections before heading for the bushes. If they did spend time there, they learned from it and got back on the path. You can learn from their success and their slip-ups. It’s also likely they would honour the opportunity to support a protégé seeking executive presence. If none are available, hiring a coach is a great option.
3. Work with a Coach
Working with a coach can provide you with the feedback and accountability you need to stand out in the competitive career showroom. Through active listening, observation and in-session exercises like role-playing, your coach can help you discover the clarity to focus on the areas that need a little extra buffing. The weekly action steps you co-design with your coach will help incrementally build your confidence.
Experience, degrees, certificates and credentials are important, but you need executive presence for the next-level leadership opportunity. People judge us on how we act, speak and look. Therefore, having executive presence means you recognize the impact gravitas, communication and appearance can have on whether the people at the top see you as a confident executive ready for the next big role.
In conclusion, as you begin to experience success by identifying and adopting leadership qualities, meeting with a mentor and working with a coach, you can expect your confidence to gradually build until you’re the shiny car in the showroom that people are automatically drawn toward.
Brent Roy, PCC, CPLC, a certified executive, career and personal development coach, works with men and women who want to increase their confidence and boost their executive presence to prepare them for promotion or a new career. For more ways I can help, please reach out!