Executive presence – what is it and how do you get more of it?

Photo by Tiago Muraro on Unsplash

Ray* was captivated by the conversation he had with a CEO he met at a recent function. He is an example of a leader who has ‘executive presence’ he said. I asked him to describe the conversation to see if we could get a better handle of this concept of presence. Ray said that the CEO simply asked each person who was on the table that they shared to talk about themselves, their business, what role they played and the challenges they faced. He listened intently to their responses.

His presence on stage presenting to the wider audience at the event also demonstrated that he understood the challenges that they faced.

Executive presence is a term that would be easy for cynics to dismiss because of its seemingly intangible quality. But that would be unwise given that it is so frequently specified in selection criteria for leadership roles. In fact, I regularly meet executives who have received feedback that they lack executive presence. In some cases, it has stalled their careers and they are not too sure what to do about it.  

Where do you start if you want to develop more executive presence?

Suzanne Bates in her book, All the Leader You Can Be: The Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence, defines executive presence as, “The qualities of a leader that engage, inspire, align, and move people to act.” Bates has published the results of her research on the elusive topic and offers a model to describe a systematic way of thinking about executive presence. A key dimension in her model is ‘character’ which she describes as one of the fundamental qualities that give us a reason to trust a leader.

She breaks ‘character’ into five aspects, which neatly describe the qualities of the CEO that so impressed Ray at the function.  

  • Authenticity – he was real, genuine and transparent
  • Integrity – he appeared to live up to the standards he set for himself
  • Concern – he was genuinely interested in others
  • Restraint – he carried himself with a calm disposition
  • Humility – he demonstrated a belief that all people have worth

Interestingly, this CEO was focused on others, rather than himself and was fully ‘present’ in the conversations he had with people around him. Rather than being an elusive quality, perhaps executive presence is what differentiates game-changing leaders from the rest.     

How could you develop your executive presence to engage, inspire, align and move people to act?

Best regards, Brian

*Name changed to protect the innocent

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