EXECUTIVE PRESENCE – What is it? How can you get it?

What is Executive Presence? Why is it important? How can I get it? These questions have crossed your mind from time to time. The next 5~6 minutes will answer your questions and demystify it, for you.

Why is Executive Presence Important?

Executive Presence is important for anyone keen that his or her

  • Subordinates trust and follow their lead
  • Peers depend on them and readily seek and accept support
  • Seniors view them as ready for higher responsibilities

Are you keen on one or more of the above? If yes, it is time you consciously strengthened your Executive Presence.

 What is Executive Presence?

Presence is a combination of five simple and interrelated skills.

Appearance: The appropriateness of your appearance, clothes, posture, and behaviour, to the occasion.

Communication: Your ability to listen to others and the ability to convey your responses in simple easy to understand way.

Being Present: You being present, physically, mentally, and emotionally, in the interaction.

Walk the Talk: Your words and your actions, being in sync and alignment.

Calm & Decisive: Your calm & decisive conduct as a leader in difficult moments when everyone is under pressure.

Others form their impressions of you from the combined effect of the above five. And the impression so formed, gives them an instinctive sense of the kind of person you are and if they can trust, depend and rely on you. As you gain mastery over each of these five, you will gain control of the impression you make on others. And that will determine, how much others would be inclined to trust, depend, and rely on you!

When this “Presence” is purposeful in helping the Team achieve its Goal, the “Presence” begins to get known as “Executive Presence”.

Can I gain Executive Presence? If yes, how long would it take?

Yes, you can. Executive Presence is a simple and easy skill to acquire. You can gain it in about 8 ~ 12 months. All it takes is some conscious effort and practice.

It is easy because most of the five skills are all easy to learn. It is also easy because you may already be doing well on 2 to 3 of them!

 How do I gain these five skills and Executive Presence?

Appearance (Clothing + Posture + Behaviour)

Clothes Make the Man – was the title of a 1915 American Film. It was the era of silent movies. Film-makers had to tell stories without the benefit of sound! They had to rely entirely on visual cues such as gestures, postures, behaviours, and of course, clothes.

The power of physical appearance to tell a story or make a statement was true in 1915 and remains true today. Your clothes along with your body language and behaviour combine to create your “appearance”. And these three need to be appropriate, to the occasion.

What is the right appearance for each occasion? It is quite easy to figure that out. All you need to do is observe your seniors, particularly those you admire. Observe their choice of clothing, posture, and behaviour, across situations. See which of the elements of appearance, clothing, fitness, posture, and behaviours, appeals to you. Combine the two; Seniors you admire and the appearances that appeal to you. You will know what will work for you and work in your organisation.

The underlying idea is simple. You are a professional manager working for a professional organisation. You want people to focus on your professional achievements, managerial competencies, and character. You have no intent to either attract or detract attention, to your clothes or physical attributes or mannerisms.

 Communication

Communication is a two-way street. Sadly, most training programs fail on two counts. Firstly, the excessive focus on transmission and little or no focus on reception. Next, the overwhelming focus on words and little focus on thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

Improving your communication is stunningly easy. To communicate better, you simply need to do less! It is counter-intuitive.

  1. Talk less: Pay attention to the other person, his or her words, voice, and body language. This is particularly important in telephone and video interactions, where the body language is not observable. Focus on the spoken words as well as the unspoken thoughts and feelings, often expressed through tonality, voice modulation, and body language. When in doubt, ask simple short open questions. Such listening builds trust, the foundation for rapport, and influence. All it takes is a few months of deliberate practice.
  2. Keep it simple: Whether you are speaking or sending out an e-mail, simple words and short sentences are way more powerful. Ponderous words and complex sentences distract, confuse, and put-off people. Simple communication helps build both logical and emotional connect. It sets up a pipe-line for both ideas and feelings to flow, back and forth.

Strengthen your communication, particularly your listening skills and people will be more willing to come forward and interact with you. As you learn to allow thoughts, ideas, and feelings to flow, others will see you as trustworthy, dependable, and reliable. And, you will experience your ability to influence, create confidence, and motivate others to grow!

 Be Present 100%

Being Present is all about your mind being present 100% in the interaction you are in, without being distracted by what happened earlier or what may happen later or the latest ping on your mobile phone or some train of thoughts in your head. You are in the present interaction, one hundred percent, to the exclusion of all else. It is as simple as that.

You may ask, why should I be present 100% in an interaction? There are two reasons.

  1. When you are present 100% in an interaction, others sense it. They take it as evidence of your interest in them and the issue at hand. This makes them feel valued and they reciprocate the sentiment, by valuing you.
  2. When you are present 100% in an interaction, you are alive to all the inputs; thoughts, ideas, feelings, what is said and what is left unsaid. This puts you in an advantageous position to absorb all information, think it through, and recommend ways forward. And, when others notice how well thought out your recommendations are, their respect for and receptiveness to you, grow.

In short, engage one hundred percent, and others, whether subordinates, peers or seniors, will trust, will begin to depend and rely on you, one hundred percent!

 Walk the talk. 

You are the leader and you do share your values, from time to time, with your team. Understandably, they listen to you attentively. Don’t make the mistake of interpreting this attentive listening, as believing you! All that your team is doing is to absorb what you are saying. They are neither believing or disbelieving you. It is only later, after comparing your words with your actions, your team decides whether to believe you or not.

Remember, as the boss the spotlight is always on you. You are being observed all the time. Whenever it is decision or action time, your team is silently asking three questions.

  1. Does my manager have the courage to take decisions?
  2. If yes, how does he /she do it? Based on data or just like that? With inputs from others or entirely on his / her own?
  3. What does he /she give greater importance to? Company’s interests or team’s interests or own interests?

Based on answers to the above questions, your team draws their conclusions on what kind of leader you are and to what extent they should trust and follow you or otherwise.

In short, walk the talk! And your team will walk the walk, with you!

 Calm & Decisive

The first thing people do when in difficulty, is to look to their leader. And they do so with questions on their minds. What is our leader’s reading of the problem? Does he or she capable of finding a solution? And, when they see their leader calm and decisive, they tell themselves, “Our leader knows the way. Let us follow and we will be OK”.

Your team is no exception. Every time they experience pressure, difficult targets, or paucity of resources, similar questions come up in their minds. And this is even more so in the current times, with the pandemic creating a plethora of new and never seen before problems. Your team is looking to you, their manager, to remove their sense of fear and despondency and instil optimism and hope.

Talking about being calm and decisive under pressure ie more easily said than done! It takes a great deal of self-control and self-management. You can’t take the easy way out by opting for simplistic black or white /fight or flee responses. You need to think, critically and creatively, and find win-win solutions. And, when you do that, you carry your team along.

In short, crunch time is also “show leadership” time. Show it and people will follow you.

 Summing Up

  • Executive Presence is a skill worth acquiring. And you can easily do it. All it takes is conscious effort and practice.
  • You just need to do is get five simple things right; appearance, communication, being present, walking the talk, and taking decisions calmly.
  • You will find people readily trusting, depending, following, and relying on you.

And your team will be proud, to be led by a person with Executive Presence!

By : Ravi Santhanam, for ZEUS

Next :DEVELOPING THE LEADER IN YOU – 101

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