Executive presence is a term that has been buzzing around lately – especially in the boardroom. Yet it can be hard to define. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means: appearance, confidence, authenticity, visibility, leadership, communication skills, influence, energy, emotional intelligence? All these components define Executive Presence – by and large, it is the image you project.
Are you “leadership material”? and to others perceive you to be? having experience and qualifications or hitting targets is not enough, say specialists: without executive presence you won’t make it to the top of the corporate ladder.
According to workplace power and influence expert Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Executive Presence has three universal dimensions: Gravitas, Communication and Appearance.
A sleek and polished suit will make you look put-together and convey executive presence.
Gravitas is about how you behave – in a way that conveys confidence, inspires trust and credibility. It means keeping calm during a crisis, showing emotional intelligence and moral integrity. It all boils down to self-confidence but, in Hewlett’s words: “you can fake it until you make it”.
Communication basically refers to “how you speak”. It is everything from your tone of voice to your presentation skills and your ability to read and command a room. Hewlett recommends dropping the props – an engaging story will always be more compelling than a power point presentation -, being conscious of how you express yourself and try vocal training – Low-pitch voices usually convey more authority.
Hewlett believes that appearance is not as important as the previous two factors, but it still has an important role in Executive Presence. What is considered a good appearance can vary widely across industries, so it doesn’t refer to a single look or dress, but rather the ability to look appropriate for the environment both through attire and physical attributes. This can be more demanding for women, as clothes, hair and make up all play a part in our appearance. Hewlett’s advice is finding a role model in your industry who is doing it well, and adapt it to your personal style.
Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success by Sylvia Ann Hewlett is published by Harper Business ,£17.99