What is Executive Presence? (Part 1)

March 31, 2011 by  

Has this ever happened in your company?

Someone is promoted to a leadership position. The person successfully competed against other qualified candidates, some of whom you know are just as experienced and smart. You ask yourself, “Why him?” … or, “Why her?”

Soon, through the rumor mill, you hear that it was a question of “Executive Presence.” As often happens in judging one candidate over another, the decision came down to degrees of executive presence.

So you start doing a little research on the subject. Karl Albrecht, a prolific writer and the author of  more than a dozen books, names executive presence as one of the five pillars of social intelligence:

Presence: Often referred to as “bearing,” presence incorporates a range of verbal and nonverbal patterns (one’s appearance, posture, vocal quality, subtle movements)—a whole collection of signals that others process into an evaluative impression of a person.
Karl Albrecht, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success (Pfeiffer, 2009)

Searching for Executive Presence

An Internet search on executive presence reveals definitions and advice on everything from dressing for success and patterns of speech to more fundamental issues of emotional and social intelligence.

The concept of presence raises serious questions for anyone with ambitions of career advancement. If, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book Blink, decisions are made intuitively, what do we need to know about “executive presence”?

As it turns out, everyone’s definition of the term seems to differ. But planning your career and determining your leadership development needs shouldn’t be left to guesswork.

I don’t know about you, but if executive presence makes a difference in getting the promotion or not getting it, I want to be sure I do everything I can to get more of it. So what is “it?”

Some conclude that executive presence has little to do with polish, poise, sophistication or even use of body language and gestures. In many cases, executives with presence are just as likely to lack these qualities.

In this day and age, executive presence comes in all shapes and sizes, including some you wouldn’t normally recognize. Who would have thought, 30 years ago, that Bill Gates would command it?

Would Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook, have stood out as a high-potential CEO? But as one of the youngest men ever to be named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, he certainly has presence—albeit a “Gen Y” version of it.

If you want to be promoted to the VP level, or even to the C-suites, you must learn how to acquire or improve your level of executive presence. And if you’re already in senior management, you must recognize your current potential and help nurture executive presence in the people you want to groom for succession.

But this may be as elusive as charisma. Everyone knows when someone’s got charisma, but it’s not exactly something you can pick up in business school.

I do think you can improve your executive presence by working on your strengths. I see this all the time with clients, the executives and emerging leaders we coach. In highly competitive organizations, where the high-potential candidates are all pretty smart and savvy, there are ways to manage others’ perceptions to your advantage.

It may be hard to improve your presence, but that’s certainly one thing an executive coach can help you do.

In our work with executives we coach several aspects of executive presence. Speech and mannerisms are only the tip of the iceberg. The rest is developing social intelligence.

Later this year I am presenting at a conference where I have been asked to speak about one of my favorite topics.  Can you guess what that topic is? If executive presence came immediately to mind, you’re right!

As I prepare the materials, I’ll also include more information here, so be sure to bookmark this page. And, I’ll also be offering a special conference call in April.  If you are interested in attending this free call, then be sure to register for Mentor Monday.

Cheers,
Sylva Leduc

What do you think about this concept of executive presence? Can it be faked or manufactured or coached? Please leave a comment.

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