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I often hear the term, executive presence, used among senior executives when they are discussing employees and their potential to take on larger, more significant roles in an organization. And it always causes me to ask, what is your definition of executive presence? And not surprisingly, the answer I receive is one of a variety of answers depending on the individual providing the answer.

It seems that executive presence is in the eye of the beholder and it takes on many flavors depending on the culture, values, and specific needs of an organization. Yet, for a company to be judging and reviewing others' performance around executive presence, there needs to be a clear definition.

Here are some components that companies have used in the past to define executive presence:
  • Appearance: professional and appropriate for different situations
  • Visibility: networking, active participation
  • Powerful and Clear Communications: listening, connecting, presenting, and storytelling
  • Confidence: poise under stress and pressure, expressing opinions
  • Influence: Credibility and Respect
  • Emotional Intelligence: reading people, predicting behavior,Energy: passion, resiliency and being in charge

So how does a company define executive presence? An organization defines it in the context of their specific needs. A great way to define it is to review and rate members on your team for their executive presence. Identify the 3-4 members of your executive team who you believe have mastered executive presence. Then discuss amongst the team those qualities and behaviors that make you perceive them as leading the way.

Bottom line is that executive presence is about managing the perceptions others have of you. So how do you want to be perceived? More importantly, how do you need to be perceived based on your professional and career goals. And, are your goals aligned with the needs of the organization? This is the critical component of executive presence: your ability to manage the perception by others that you have the potential for future greatness.

For example, you may be in a culture that values fun and creativity yet you may prefer to be "buttoned up" and reserved. So if you want to be perceived as a leader with potential for greater responsibilities then you need to be able to adjust your style closer to the values and culture of the organization. So when delivering a presentation, your natural style may be to deliver the facts and not include multi-media. Yet, in order to improve your executive presence you would add a bit of humor in the way of a video appropriate to the presentation. You are now connecting with your audience in a way that speaks to them and their expectations from an executive.

If on the other hand you choose to stick within your comfort zone, you will limit the number of people you connect with during the presentation and miss an opportunity to show your executive presence.

So if you have your sights on a position higher in the organization, or one with greater responsibilities, a conversation with your manager about executive presence is a great place to start in order to develop your plan to increase your executive presence, and be noticed by those who can influence decisions in favor of your future in the company.


Larry Hart

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