Executive Presence

Many people have said that when Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, would take the stage, regardless of whether it was at a little club or a huge arena with thousands of fans, each and every person would leave the venue feeling moved. His aura was captivating.

However, that isn’t only important for musicians and artists. In order to be a successful leader, having only the right education and the best resume won’t suffice.

You also need to have presence. However, not just any kind. You need to have executive presence. In this text, we will explain to you what this means and how to embrace it in order to reach your goals.

In this text, you’ll learn

  • Why you don’t need to listen to a song to understand that the singer is incredibly talented;
  • How the CEO Bob Dudley’s gravitas kept BP from falling apart; as well as
  • Why you have to remove your verbal ticks.

If you aspire success, you’ll need to develop executive presence

How do you get to the top or acquire a large audience if you can’t persuade the world that you truly are as great as you believe to be?

The brutal answer is that you just can’t.

Regardless of whether you are a banker, a salesperson, or a musician, having an executive presence is obligatory if you want to be successful. This blend of qualities show that you’re in command, or at least, should be. By itself, executive presence is the make it or break it component.

The writer routinely goes to the final auditions of the Concert Artist Guild’s international competition. At the final, out of a large pool of applicants, only 12 are selected. These talented young artists then compete in front of an acclaimed jury.

Obviously, these young finalists would not have gotten to the final round had they not been phenomenal musicians, but at the finals, what distinguishes one finalist from the other doesn’t depend much on music.

What characteristic does make a finalist stand out?

The guild president Richard Weinert stated that the most decisive feature was the way they walk across the stage, how their clothes were cut, the flame in their eyes, as well as the emotions portrayed on their face.

A present-day study showed how crucial the executive presence is in the music industry. Interestingly enough, those who were shown videos on mute of pianists playing at international competitions were better at selecting the actual winner versus those who had watched the videos with the sound on. This is a great example of executive presence in action.

This is no exception in the workplace. The writer’s research team at the Center for Talent Innovation administered a national survey to figure out what characteristics comprise the executive presence.

The outcome?

Executive presence is based on three things: how you act (gravitas), how you speak (communication), and how you look (appearance).

Gravitas, or the ability to exude courage and confidence, is central to executive presence

Take a look at America’s succession of social crises from the past ten years: the dot-com bubble, 9/11, fraud scandals, and the mortgage meltdown.

It’s not new information that people really appreciate those that can stay cool headed, calm, as well as convincing in times of crisis.

Based on over half of the leaders that had been observed by the writer, gravitas is at the heart of executive presence. It’s je ne sais quoi characteristic helps make a few people seem like they are just born leaders. Gravitas shows the world that you are capable of handling real responsibility.

The most crucial aspect of gravitas is your capacity to emanate integrity, courage, as well as confidence during a crisis. When senior executives were asked to establish what makes up an executive presence, many felt that it was having confidence and being graceful in a precarious situation.

Where is gravitas visible?
Crude oil was spilt into the Gulf of Mexico from a broken well in May of 2010. BP was responsible for it and the managing director of that time, Bob Dudley, was interrogated by the press in a number of interviews. Even though he was under a lot of pressure, he didn’t neglect to answer or jump around any question.

He had just gotten the position of BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward, when the crisis happened. Hayward had made a public relations disorders from a number of poorly thought out replies. Any opportunity that BP had to bring back their reputation was annihilated with Hayward’s infamous reply to the disaster with, “I’d like my life back.”

Known for keeping his cool, Dudley on the contrary appeared to be compassionate, considerate, and competent for a leader.

There’s no doubt that you will make mistakes as a leader as well as suffer from mistakes that others have made. However, look at each situation as a chance to show gravitas. Remain calm and be confident in the face of crisis to show how much you’re truly worth.

Great leaders balance decisiveness with compassion

Is it possible to be compassionate, but be able to make heartless decisions simultaneously?

A lot of us would say no.

However, is that true? It doesn’t have to be. A good leader can, and actually should be compassionate as well as have the capacity to make difficult choices. In fact, there are times when you don’t have to make the best choice, but just make the ones that others wouldn’t even think of doing.

Daring actions are a characteristic of gravitas since you need to be courageous to select the road and then own up to the consequences of the path.

When the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, had announced that every staff member had to work from a company office, a few leaders including the former GE CEO Jack Welsh, stood behind her decision. Others, on the other hand, such as Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, was not a fan. In fact, he claimed it as a step backward.

Regardless, she made the fearless decision to do so, thus showing that she had courage. This increased her gravitas as well as her shareholder’s faith in her capability to save the struggling internet company.

Although decisiveness and firmness echo a leader’s courage and determination, those characteristics can be troubling when there isn’t any empathy and compassion. Lots of leaders that are decisive, but emotionless can be seen as egoistic, arrogant, or insensitive.

That is why being emotionally intelligent is crucial to gravitas based on most of the leaders that the author had interviewed. With emotional intelligence comes both self-awareness and situational awareness.

Mayer’s choice displayed her power as a leader, but it also disclosed her weaknesses. She was criticised not for being harsh, but for not taking into consideration the struggles of parents that work and on top of that, viewed her as hypocritical. Mayer had solved her own child-care problem by creating a separate nursery close to her office for both her nanny and her son.

Making abhorred choices and forcing them into action is definitely a part of demonstrating that you you are capable of being in charge. It’s not the most important characteristic, but it is just as important as communication.

Strong communication skills are always a deciding factor in establishing executive presence

How do people see that you have gravitas? It’s very visible in the way you “talk the walk”. A 2012 research of 120 financial spokespersons showed that passion, voice quality, as well as presence are the top qualities of a persuasive speaker. Content was hardly ever the deciding aspect. Therefore, it’s not about what it is you say, but the way that you do so. High level speaking skills usually make a real leader.

The executives questioned by the author noted inarticulateness, bad grammar, too many filler words, as well as an unpleasant tone of voice or accent as the verbal tics that undercut executive presence. They also stated that people with “shrill” voices, especially females that raise the tone of their voice when they are emotional or being defensive is a turnoff for staff and clients, which could cause leadership chances to fade away.

How do you regulate a shrill tone?

There’s no need to learn to sound more “like a man”. Instead, you need to try to hit the optimally pleasing voice frequency which is 125 Hz. This is a low frequency which was found by the scientists from Duke University.

Us humans seem to prefer those kinds of lower frequencies and as a result, tend to pay more attention to the voices that we find pleasant instead of irritating.

It’s definitely difficult for you to understand how you sound since, as a recent Wall Street Journal article stated, the bones that make up your head alter the sound of your voice. Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask a mentor or speech coach about your voice.

Learn to read and command a room to convince any audience of your executive presence

Regardless of whether you are in a TV studio, a concert hall, or your group’s hang-out area, you can increase your capability to enthrall and captivate your viewers with your executive presence. However, how difficult is it really?

According to the British choral conductor, Suzi Digby says that you have to be quick because you only have five seconds to “touch the audience” or to get them to relate to your message. Take this time to present to them how human you are. You don’t need to overshare or confess to anything. You just need to uncover just the right amount of information about yourself in order to connect your audience to you.

You want your audience to appreciate you and believe in you. However, at the same time, you want to look as if you don’t need their validation. That’s the case when you’re in the perfect position.

Now that you have the attention of your listeners, how do you hold onto it?

The key is to keep it simple. You need to be concise, straight to the point, and tell stories. There’s no need to use bullet points. Ronald Reagan, a former US President, who was a trained actor, go the title “The Great Communicator” since he told vivid stories and he was a natural entertainer.

However, in order to hold the attention of everyone in a room the way Reagan did, you have to read the room. Understand the mood and don’t forget to take in the cultural references all around you. Then, alter your language, your information, as well as the presentation style appropriately. Those little alterations are proven crucial to be a successful communicator, which is key to your executive presence as a whole.

Sodexo’s Rohini Anand was once at a very high-pressure meeting where she had to persuade the French company’s top leaders to allow outside experts to help them with a sensitive work problem.

How did she manage it?

She went into the boardroom prepared to show all of the information that she found. At the last moment, she understood that those in the boardroom didn’t want to know about her research process so Anand altered her tactics and ended up just giving a brief summary of all of the benefits. Her method worked and so she ended up persuading her listeners.

Be polished and groomed if you want to be taken seriously and establish executive presence

Based on those from this author’s survey, your look isn’t as important as gravitas and communication. However, the way you look still does play a role in your executive presence since both your gravitas and your communication skills sift through it.
In all honesty, no one will care to judge your communication skills or your capacity to make decisions if you portray a look that says that you have no idea what’s going on. However, if you look put together, people will be more likely to have a response to what you say.

For example, when the writer met the Memphis-based lawyer as well as former judge who had walked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., D’Amy Bailey, she was captivated by the way he looked. He was fit, dressed nicely, and looked pretty young. When the author had asked him what his secret was, Bailey confessed that he had had several plastic surgery operations.

Although surgery is a profound solution, Bailey talked about how he understood the link between looking nice and looking capable a while ago. His look was crucial to making him seem confident, believable and trustworthy to his customers right as they meet him. Luckily, a good appearance is not something that you can only be born with. You can learn it. It starts with proper grooming habits. However, grooming is not only important for making a good first impression, but it also shows that you are in control of your competitors as well as yourself. The golden rule is to have as little distractions as possible from your performance. Your look shouldn’t divert away from your professional competence, but just accentuate it.

On the contrary, bad grooming means that you don’t pay attention to sloppiness or that you don’t care to the extent that you’d actually do something about it, which doesn’t positively echo how you would potentially manage a team!

Granted, your looks will not land you a promotion by itself, but people do react visibly to it. A clean look is basically just a way to show that you respect your customers, coworkers, and yourself.

Take care of your body well to signal your ability to excel in a leading role

There have been a lot of studies that confirm that especially good looking people have it easier. They have a higher chance of getting hired, they make more money and they even often get better verdicts when in court on the contrary to their less attractive counterparts.

However, even though you don’t look like a movie star, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the potential to have executive presence. It’s mainly just about embodying health and wellness.

It’s no secret that leadership is demanding. Do you think you’d offer the job to a person that looks as if they’re about to have a heart attack at any given second?

Men and women are often seen as less efficient in the work environment when they have bigger waistlines and larger body-mass index readings since they are seen as people that lack both confidence and discipline.

Deb Elam, the executive at GE, stated that being physically fit makes people more confident to deal with the things that is asked of them. How so? This is because the way you look signifies that you also have the capability to look after your well being.

As a result, this is just one more reason to make sure you exercise enough to keep your muscles toned and be able to climb the stairs to your executive suite without losing your breath.

What you wear is also important. Therefore, make sure that your suit is your size, not the size you wish you were. The right clothing enhances your look as well as your confidence. However, above all of that, be sure to wear what is the most appropriate for your listeners as well as the occasion.

A pharmaceutical representative for Bristol-Myers Squibb made a member of her team go home for wearing a sundress and open-toed shoes for a presentation at a hospital in Princeton, New Jersey. The summer and casual outfit was definitely not appropriate for a serious meeting with people dealing with life and death situations.

Don’t forget that what you wear to work is similar to your armor. You should feel invincible and never insecure. You’ll be on the path to a leading position with both your executive presence and the clothes that reflect it.

Final Summary

Executive presence is a successful combination of confidence, stance, and uniqueness. It is equally as crucial as your skills and qualifications. It will either make or break your efforts to get a promotion or make a deal. This is because your executive presence echos if you should succeed in the way that you want to!

Practical Advice:

Treat feedback like a friend.

If you would like to perfect your executive presence, don’t hesitate to ask for feedback. It would be even more helpful for you to ask for particular feedback. If you just ask a general question like “How am I doing?”, you’ll get an overgeneralized response as well. Alternatively, concentrate on a recent situation that you had where you needed to have quite a bit of executive presence like a meeting with a critical client or a powerful leader. Get a superior to examine your body language, speech and delivery, as well as your command of the room, etc. That feedback will only be beneficial to you!