It is often said that you can judge someone by the way they walk into a room. The same could be true for how people perceive your presence – it’s not just what we say, but also what others see in us and feel around us! For any leader, enhancing one’s executive presence will make them more effective at fostering relationships with followers to create success.
What Is It?
It’s the impression of credibility, competence, and authority that someone projects when they enter a room. This impression can be powerful, but only if it is true. People may not say anything about your presence just by watching you walk into the room, but this first impression will affect how they react to you. Your appearance matters as well.
Does It Matter?
Is executive presence important, though? Yes! Studies have shown a correlation between high-power/low-power status and various outcomes such as leadership ability, pay level, job performance ratings, or having followers. Executive presence training can also be important for everyday interactions with co-workers or peers at work because higher-status individuals tend to be the leaders of groups.
Fortunately, you can enhance your executive presence in several ways by understanding it and working on it.
Awareness is important. You cannot change what you don’t know or even recognize its existence! In fact, research has demonstrated that many highly self-aware people can adapt their leadership style according to the situation – versus those who are not self-aware at all. Some signs that you might be low in awareness include the tendency to avoid putting yourself out there, doubting yourself, or lacking the desire to improve.
Engage with others
In many cases, executive presence is also a function of your reputation and what people say about you. Therefore, it might be useful to learn from other leaders, keep an open mind of what others might say about you based on your actions or appearance, and actively engage with them if necessary.
This is different than seeking feedback because you want their opinion on whether to wear your business jacket today. Instead, think about it as getting better at reading situations so that you consistently appropriately adapt your behavior. Lastly, you can also try to build strong relationships with co-workers by being empathetic and helping others when necessary.
The four behaviors of those who have a high executive presence:
Leading or participating
If you think back to your middle school days, do you remember when a student was leading a group activity? How did he/she act? Did they speak up first, direct other people’s attention toward them, stand out from the crowd? Basically, they used their body language – including facial expressions and posture – to command other people’s attention. These types of behaviors align with the first step above, that is, knowing yourself because you will be aware of these types of tendencies.
In contrast, compare the student leader described above with another one who was quiet or anxious during an activity. Why do you think this person didn’t stand out in the same way? Maybe it was because she seemed nervous and overwhelmed – therefore, the class gave her less attention. These kinds of signs illustrate that she lacked self-awareness. Still, more importantly, I would argue that it is actually a case of not being “in control” of the situation.
Another way to increase your executive presence is by being assertive. This doesn’t mean taking over the room, but rather standing up for your ideas and beliefs within reason. It also represents a case of staying true to yourself when you are in a situation where people may want you to be different.
Less self-awareness can make it hard to know what has happened or what’s going on around you, which leads to feeling uncomfortable with yourself and others. The strong-willed person knows their preferences and views well, enabling them to effectively communicate when they stand out from the crowd and assert their convictions.
This behavior is similar to being strong-willed in that you are showing that you are the “real deal” and worthy of attention. Maybe you contribute meaningfully to a group discussion or project or express helpful opinions on an important issue. In these situations where your expertise is called upon, demonstrate how you can add value by having useful perspectives and providing solutions. To increase your executive presence, be productive because it will show that others should pay attention to what you say and do – this is part of demonstrating competence in a given situation.