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Executive Presence Matters Most When it Comes to Success in Business

John Bennett, McColl School of Business with Queens, authors an article on executive presence for the Charlotte Business Journal

imageDr. John Bennett
08/10/12 -  


According to Warren Buffett, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

It's a given that to keep your job and have a real shot at moving up you have to "look good" on paper.  But "soft skills" are just as important as a robust resume when it comes to getting ahead in business.
 
In a recent survey by Sally Williams & Associates of nearly 400 CEOs, executives and professional development managers, 78 percent said that a lack of "executive presence" will hold you back.  CEOs recognized executive presence as an essential part of their job, and 89 percent said it helps them "get ahead."  
 
In another survey, respondents said the differences between "good" and "elite" CEO candidates centered around how they excelled in management savvy, political intelligence and personal style.
 
"Elite" candidates "help others feel appreciated and don't appear to be self-serving, make the right judgments concerning where to expend energy, and make success look effortless," (Dan Ciampa, HBR, 2005)
 
So what is executive presence and why is this "it factor" so important?
 
Think about how others perceive you. Are you able to enter a room with a polished, confident but open presence, working the room by making eye contact and shaking hands? Or, do you retreat to one side and wait for people to come to you?
 
The ability to be confident and open invites people to listen when you speak and makes them more likely to share their best ideas. This will serve you well time and time again as a leader.
 
Over the next few days pause to consider the feelings you evoke in people and the impression you leave with them in different situations. Pay attention to how self-aware yet spontaneously you are. Think about (better yet - ask for feedback about) how you relate to people and whether you come across as being open to responding and truly listening.
 
These skills, done well, influence others.  They inspire good communication and spark cooperation and collaboration.
 
So, how can a positive executive presence serve you? To understand executive presence it's important to also consider the differences between identity and reputation.

  • Identity is the story you tell yourself and others about you. It explains your behaviors and helps others understand why you did something.
  • Your reputation is largely rooted in what you have done. It is the summary of your past performances during interactions with others, and can drive what you do going forward. Your reputation helps others predict what your future performances will be.

Both matter, but your actions are what inform peoples' ideas of who you are and help them judge your intentions.  
 
Leaders with good executive presence are able to access their intuition and trust their inner knowing while also demonstrating that they are at the same time open to not knowing everything and to taking risks. They show their teams they recognize there are multiple ways to work with others by choosing in the moment that which they believe to be most effective in a given situation.
 
To be clear, good leaders also protect your time by focusing on being appropriately visible, but not perpetually available.
 
Other ways in which you can improve your executive presence include:

  • Using your senses more deliberately. Look for cues about how people are feeling before responding.
  • Work on self-awareness - what are your strengths and what are your limitations? Practice being authentic. Practice empathy.
  • Listen with empathy. Reflect that you're hearing what is said by repeating back highlights or headlines when the other person has finished presenting their ideas.   
  • Communicate simply.

In summary, focus on being present in each moment and being flexible in your actions.  Take initiative to reach out to demonstrate empathy. Be flexible and cooperative in your leadership.
 
When you are continuously working on yourself you will motivate others to do the same for themselves, and that's invaluable.

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