Why Executive Presence is so important, and skills you can learn to build it

The importance of Executive Presence, and skills you need to learn it

Executive Presence is something more important in our day to day than most people realize. It affects our relationships, how potential employers see us when interviewing, how our team sees us when we are leaders, and even plays a big part in decisions on career advancement. Some people are “just born with it”, but luckily it’s something that can also be learned.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. Someone who has great skills, qualifications, and can do the job in their sleep but for some reason they really struggle to make headway in their workplace.  There are certain features, soft skills, and insights needed to thrive and stand out.

So what is it these high potential candidates are missing? Well, it’s Executive Presence.

As I mentioned, Executive Presence can be learned, but it takes a lot of self awareness and hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. Let’s talk through some of the most important attributes for Executive Presence that you can start working on right now.

  1. Take First Impression Seriously

First impressions matter… crucial decisions about you are typically made as soon as you walk out of a meeting (or leave the zoom call), so it really does matter how people perceive you. So be prepared! Look the part; it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, and it says a lot about someone if you do or don’t take the time to show that the meeting, interview, whatever, is your most important meeting of the day. If you’re presenting to a prospect and appear disheveled or out of sorts, your credibility goes right out the door. Take time to prepare yourself not just physically, but mentally. Before walking through that door, take a deep breath and be aware of how you are presenting yourself. It could be the difference between closing the deal or getting an offer on a new job.

  1. Show Passion for What You Do

People want to be around people who are passionate about what they do. The energy you emote when you truly care about what you’re discussing or sharing is contagious, and is directly correlated to the way people experience you. I don’t know about you, but I can personally feel the difference in how I speak when I’m talking about something I ACTUALLY care about vs. something I don’t. It drives excitement, and at the end of the day could be the reason someone else is or isn’t excited about what you have to share.

  1. Have Emotional Intelligence

Definition of Emotional Intelligence: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Emotional intelligence is all about how much we know about ourselves. It’s not as easy as you think…

I remember receiving a piece of feedback that the way I came into the office in the morning (rushed, annoyed, already on my phone taking calls) made people assume I was in a bad mood. In reality, I had a 2.5 to 3 hour commute, and was typically mentally over the day before it even began, and dreading my drive home 8 hours later. It had nothing to do with my team, but I didn’t realize the energy I was emitting, nor did I recognize the strong impact it had on their own days. By me exuding this energy, it negatively affected their energy too. I was very unaware I had this effect until I was lucky enough for someone to bring it to my attention. Had I been more emotionally intelligent in those moments, I would have realized the impact it was having on my team. Luckily I was given the opportunity to change it, but we aren’t always so lucky. The more you can learn to take notice of your own emotions, control them, and not let them affect other people the better.

  1. Embrace Feedback

Seeking feedback is not only an amazing way to just improve in general, but it also empowers you to understand how people do experience you, and have the ability to change the aspects you don’t like.

You need feedback from all aspects of your life. In a professional setting it’s important to get this advice from above you, your peers, and your direct reports. Requesting feedback is not a sign of weakness, it’s showing your self awareness and interest in improving. All of your 1:1’s should be seeking feedback on any areas of improvement or blind spots.

Seeking feedback in a personal manner can be just as important. Oftentimes, similar to in work environments, we don’t request insight into ways we can improve for our partners, children, friends etc.

One of the exercises I recommend are 360 evaluations. 360 evaluations are an online tool that you can ask people to evaluate you on. They are online, typically take 20 minutes, and usually provide strong insight into the way you interact with others. It’s important with these tools that you are asking as many people as possible from all facets of your life. Of course they should be people who know you, but they should include all aspects of your professional and personal life in order to get the most holistic view.

  1. Have a Strong character

Being someone who is trustworthy, honest, and lives by a set of morals absolutely plays a part in having executive presence. I recently asked a panel of people what was most important to them in this new hire they were looking for. They all had a version of the same answer, which was someone who is a genuine human. People want to work for people, real people. Knowing that your team or leader has your best interest in mind, and that providing you with honest answers will be better than anything else, sometimes the actual answer doesn’t even matter. It’s the fact that they know and believe that they will have transparency into what is going on, no matter what.

  1. Know when to Listen

Believe it or not, more than half of effective communication stems from listening. Listening, without jumping to respond or challenge, encourages people to speak up more and provide their insights. You don’t learn anything from speaking, but you do from listening!

Listening also helps in deals. If you’re constantly speaking, you can’t uncover their problems, and if you can’t uncover problems you can’t fix them.

Listening shows you care. Even if there is no advice, or you don’t have the answers, just listening is proven to help people feel better and sometimes they end up talking through a resolution on their own.

  1. Be Good under pressure

This one is a little different, but in my mind so very important. When this sh$* hits the fan, people are going to look to you to see how you handle it. If you handle atypical situations without the blink of an eye, it’s truly inspiring for those you surround. Imagine a situation you’ve been in where the person you look to is just as dazed as you are, then who do you turn to next?! The leaders are those who lead when times are tough.

Research has shown that 26% of decisions made on your career advancement is related to Executive Presence. That is more than one quarter of what you do!! Having strong Executive Presence builds confidence and inspiration in others that you can do what’s needed to get a job done, and not be a monster doing it. I challenge you to find someone you think has Executive Presence. Write down the things about them that gives you that feeling. You can learn from others how to build these skills, so get to it!

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