The Art and Soul of Executive Presence

Businessman leading the way

So you’re at a business conference or event, when someone walks into the room and instantly attracts intense, positive attention. The energy in the room shifts. Heads turn. People gravitate towards them to engage in conversation. And it all happens in a magical, almost effortless way. Yes, you’ve guessed it – that individual has Executive Presence.

“Executive presence” has become something of a buzzword in the industry primarily because having a career as a CEO in today’s marketplace is becoming a risky business. Over the past decade the rate of dismissal has increased by 300% and turnover now exceeds the normal attrition rate for all employees. At least 40% leave in the first 18 months.

I notice that forced exits from the C-Suite happen for a wide variety of reasons with clients suggesting all manner of things from a poor cultural fit to lack of skills/competence in priority areas. Not surprisingly then, the primary reason for CEO’s being requested to leave is underperformance and when probed further the undeniable theme that emerges is that there was a distinct lack of Executive Presence – in other words the CEO didn’t look or act like a leader.

So what do we mean by Executive Presence and how can you make sure that you have it in bucket loads?
Executive Presence is easy to spot but hard to define. We all know it when we see it in action but there is no one size fits all recipe for success. Why? Because leadership is changing, faster than ever before and who you are as a leader is now more important than ever.

Executive Presence points not only to what you do as a leader but critically who you are being in the doing. And it will come as no surprise when I tell you that it’s all about resonance, it’s about the energy you bring to any situation, how you show up, because your ability to resonate speaks louder than words.

And it begins with the development of a strong personal brand. These form the roots of your Executive Presence; the message or impression that comes to mind when people come into contact with you or even think about you. What is it that you take a stand for in your leadership? What are the qualities of your presence from a physical? emotional?  mental? and spiritual perspective. And yes, they all matter. People want to know that you have gravitas and credibility. They want to know what it is you believe in and where you are going to take them if they decide to follow your lead. And in leadership remember, they always have a choice whether to follow or not.

Here are some of the roots of resonance which form a powerful foundation for Executive Presence:

  1. Physical presence – Your physical presence is about more than your body language. It is literally the shape you are in – your health, confidence, spirit and energy. People are reading your energy 24/7 – they know when you are rigid or flexible, closed or open, listening or not. Learn to be intentional about the way you move. Learn to sit, stand walk and gesture purposefully. Develop personal style to ground your communication and inspire trust. Who you are can always be read in your body shape as tension forms where you are in conflict with yourself – authenticity is key.  Rigid bodies points to rigid minds; Open and agile bodies indicate open and agile leaders.
  2. Emotional presence – This speaks to your emotional and social intelligence to convey powerful messages. Your behaviors need to demonstrate your passion, enthusiasm and intelligence. You also need to be aware of your impact on others, show you care deeply and are ready to listen to what matters most to your people. Leadership is not a monologue it is a dialogue, an energetic exchange of giving and receiving. It’s obvious to say it but you also need to be a real person, a fellow human who is not afraid to show their vulnerabilities or make mistakes. Develop your voice to be conversational and clear – this is one of the most overlooked aspects of presence and it makes all the difference. Your voice is your tool to connect, inspire and influence others, it needs to convey your emotional texture and your ability to listen to everything and everyone around you.
  3. Mental presence – It goes without saying you need to know your stuff. Your global intelligence is obviously important here along with your critical thinking skills and ability to communicate substance. You need to be an expert in your field and share that in a powerful way. There is no doubt you need to develop a high level of professional competence in speaking, presenting, writing and communicating your ideas. It won’t count if you are the most knowledgeable individual in your industry if you can’t communicate. Your professional integrity speaks volumes, as does your wisdom – what you think matters most, your decisiveness and your mental agility to envision and implement can set you apart from the rest of the other talented, strong willed members of the Executive team.
  4. Spiritual presence – Your soul as a leader matters, becoming mindful and advocating conscious business. This is your why. It tells people what you believe in, what you are taking a stand for in this world and why they should listen. This is your connection beyond the transactional level of business to bring meaning and a sense of contribution to the most fragmented corporate culture. It speaks to an openness to listen deeply to what wants to emerge in any situation, to inspire trust in the most challenging of situations and to ultimately maintain your poise in high pressure situations. It also liberates you from the need to control and the need to know, bringing an openness to complexity and an ability to continue to lead with confidence despite ambiguity and uncertainty.

Professionals at all levels should think very carefully about how they can develop their Executive Presence. It is a continuous journey of becoming an exceptional leader through an ongoing journey of discovery. We need individuals with Executive Presence in all walks of life from large global corporations to individual business owners working locally with a few clients.

Just know that who you are today and who you become is central to your success. And it’s worth finding a guide for your journey – someone who can unleash your full potential and keep you securely on the path to your own uniquely defined success. Those I know who have mastered Executive Presence haven’t done so alone. They continuously listen to feedback and they engage a coach to ensure they can develop both the art and soul of what it means to become an exceptional leader with outstanding Executive Presence.

If you’d like to develop a personal leadership brand that leverages your authentic style, builds credibility and drives engagement go to www.JayneWarrilow.com

3 comments on “The Art and Soul of Executive Presence

  • Jason

    Great post Jayne – loved it

    • Jayne Warrilow

      Thank you Jason – glad you got something out of it.

  • Patrick Mooney

    An interesting angle Jayne. How successful is this approach in Corporate? Although it is much needed I am afraid that the decision makers are not ready yet for this conversation. (Which in itself is interesting since this is exactly the message they should be considering)

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