The Five Dimensions of Executive Presence
Thoughtful Thursday Series
Executive presence is the ability to connect authentically with others, inspire and influence them to act.
Simply put, your presence is the way you are in the world – how you show up, act, and interact with others. Your presence determines the quality of your relationships and what you can get done with and through other people. From CEOs to team leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers and parents, we all have our own sphere of influence where our presence makes a difference. Consciously working to enhance your presence will make you a more effective leader – and human being. It has nothing to do with becoming someone you are not. Rather, it’s about being more of who you already are, bringing more of yourself to your interactions with others.
I have developed a framework with five dimensions to make the concept of executive presence more tangible and actionable. Let’s take a closer look at these dimensions:
1) What you stand for – your vision and your values
This is the essence of your presence – what you stand for and where you want to go.
Clear and explicit values will anchor you whenever you have to make difficult choices. They will also inspire and guide those working together with you. What are the values you want to convey in your leadership and as a human being? What do you stand for and what do you want to be remembered for?
The second part is your vision. What do you want to achieve through your work, through your position, or in your personal life? What is your purpose? Your vision provides aim and guidance in the medium and long term. In the short or immediate term, your executive presence is strengthened when you are clear about your situational intention. So ask yourself, what would you like to be the outcome of your next meeting or conversation?
2) How you show up – your body language and your appearance
In any given situation – before you have even opened your mouth – people will form a conscious or subconscious opinion about you. Based on the way you move and hold yourself and the way you are dressed and groomed, they will decide how much they will respect, trust and like you. As a leader, you need to embody the right balance between competence and approachability. If your body language is not aligned with what you say, others are less likely to believe you and be convinced by you. How you show up is particularly important for the first impression, but not only then. People around will always be checking for visual cues to determine your current emotional state or level of confidence.
3) How you connect with others – building and maintaining relationships
When talking about executive presence, we often think about charismatic, larger than life leaders who command everybody’s attention. In reality, if you want to influence others to act, you need to first reach out and connect with them. Connecting, listening, showing curiosity, expressing empathy and appreciation are essential skills to make others feel that you value them and their opinions. This is also where trust comes into the picture: How do you show up as your real, authentic self? How do you make others feel safe with you? How can you let the spotlight shine on others instead of yourself?
4) How you communicate – speaking to influence and inspire others
Effective communication is more than just exchanging information. It requires that the intended message is successfully delivered, received, and understood. Since every human being has their own view of the world, the possibilities for misunderstanding and misinterpretation are endless. As a leader, your ability to get things done with and through others ultimately depends on your ability to convey a clear, concise, and compelling message.
To enhance your executive presence, it is crucial to know how to use the voice as a real communications tool. If your voice lacks power and resonance, your words will not sound as convincing. When your speech is monotone and void of emotion, people will disengage. And if your formulations are too long and your language too complex, they will lose interest.
Powerful communication takes preparation, practice, and the ability to adapt to the situation. Large presentations are different from one-on-one conversations. Video and phone conferences require even stronger communication skills than face-to-face meetings. Your executive presence relies on your ability to assert your opinion, to engage and involve your audience and to evoke emotions and inspire others.
5) Being present – being resourceful, creative, and responsive
Having executive presence also means to be truly present. Present as in being aware of what is going on with you and with others. Being curious, open and flexible to deal with whatever a situation brings to you. Being able to shift from reactive reflexes to responsive and creative choices. Remaining present and accessible to the people around you.
Our ability to stay present gets tested when we are stressed, anxious, or in conflict. Challenging situations make the body contract and generate an automatic fight-flight-freeze response from the less evolved parts of our brain. Often they result in attitudes and actions that damage our results and/or relationships. By being aware of your own habitual response to stress and how it impacts you and others, you can make conscious choices to cultivate a centered state of being and adapt how you respond to the situation.
Your embodiment – your posture, movement and breathing – influences what you think, what you feel and what you achieve. Most aspects of work, communication, and relationships are embodied. Increasing your awareness of the body and your bodily patterns will improve your leadership presence, performance, and physical well-being.
You can start anywhere – a small change can make a big difference
Having read this article, you may already have a sense of your own strong and weak areas. There is no right or wrong place to start working on your presence, and no need for a total make-over. Remember, we are not aiming to construct a new persona, but to bring out the best version of yourself. For more information, take a look at our Career Lab Development Program and get in touch.
Article by Maria, Career Lab Coach.