The Five Basics You Need to Master to Develop an Executive Presence


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Consider the most impactful leaders you’ve encountered. What about them made you eager to trust and follow their lead? Perhaps they possessed a subtle yet unmistakable “presence” — a magnetic aura that commanded respect and instilled confidence.

This intangible quality, often referred to as “executive presence,” is a potent force in leadership. This article delves into the essence of executive presence, its significance in today’s competitive landscape, and actionable steps to cultivate it. Join me as we explore the vital components distinguishing ordinary leaders from those who inspire, influence and leave a lasting impression.

What is executive presence?

Executive presence is the projection of authority and credibility, and your signature presence defines your personal and professional brand. It encompasses the unique blend of demeanor, communication style and demeanor that distinguishes you as a leader.

Individuals with executive presence maintain a detectable, but undefinable, attitude about themselves. Although others might not be able to put their finger on why they want to follow these leaders, they will be more inclined to trust them.

David Roberts, CEO of Verra Mobility, recently defined executive presence as “the total combined manner by which an executive “shows up” for the job of leadership. It’s that unique combination of skills, style, actions and reactions in service to the goal of leading your employees forward and driving organizational results.”

The strength of your executive presence can also be gauged by how others perceive and respond to you in professional settings. It influences how you are perceived by colleagues, stakeholders, and industry peers, ultimately shaping your career trajectory and your leadership’s impact.

How to develop executive presence

Executive presence isn’t a skill you’re necessarily born with. Fortunately, that means anybody can develop this skill!

It is crucial to remember that developing executive presence is both an inner and outer game. If you are a poor leader internally, you will be a poor leader externally. Executive presence involves cultivating the skills of a leader and projecting them strategically and consistently.

Related: How to Develop an Executive Presence and Earn Respect

Developing inner executive presence

Before we discuss the external features of executive presence, we must address the “inner game” of executive presence.

This inner game of executive presence refers to self-awareness, or a profound understanding of one’s values, emotions, and behaviors. This self-awareness forms the bedrock of emotional intelligence, enabling active listening, emotional agility, and controlled emotional reactivity. It’s this internal alignment that radiates confidence, calmness, and composure in professional interactions.

Recognizing that internal character incongruencies can inadvertently surface in external nonverbal communication, decisions, and actions is crucial. The stories of Adam Neumann of WeWork, Trevor Milton of Nikola, Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos and Rajat Gupta of McKinsey & Company serve as cautionary examples. While they initially exhibited high executive presence, their lack of ethics and integrity ultimately eroded their credibility.

The great news is we can always improve our internal selves and therefore benefit others through our external presence and actions. For instance, if you identify difficulty in managing stress, seeking coaching or therapy can foster healthier internal coping mechanisms that will reflect positively in your external demeanor and decision-making.

Related: How to Develop Self-Awareness and Become a More Effective Leader

Now that we’ve explored the foundational aspects of building an internal executive presence, let’s shift our focus to developing the following external attributes that will amplify your leadership impact and project a compelling executive presence.

1. Positive body language

Effective communication begins with active listening and thoughtful responses. Letting others speak first, actively listening, and then speaking clearly and concisely demonstrates respect and authority. Thoughtful gestures such as nodding affirmatively and maintaining open body posture convey engagement and confidence.

Related: 4 Body Language Mistakes You Didn’t Realize You’re Making at Work — And How to Fix Them

2. Appearance

The significance of appearance in leadership dates back to ancient civilizations, wherein attire signified status and authority. Research consistently shows that a well-groomed appearance commands respect and fosters positive impressions. Pay attention to grooming, attire, and personal presentation to align with professional standards and enhance your executive presence.

Related: Five Tips to Optimize Your Appearance for Business Success

3. Confidence

Confidence is a learnable trait that emanates from within and is reflected in external demeanor. It’s not just about physical posture — true confidence is about controlling your environment and projecting assurance through gestures, voice tone, and spatial presence. Walk purposefully, maintain eye contact, and use deliberate gestures to convey confidence and credibility.

4. Intonation and cadence

The tone and cadence of your voice convey confidence and command attention. Speak with clarity, emphasizing key points with controlled intonation. Practice modulating your voice to convey authority and conviction while also maintaining a calm and composed demeanor.

5. Trust through consistency

Consistency is essential for building trust and credibility. Ensure your actions and behaviors align with your core values and leadership principles. Consistent leadership fosters trust among colleagues and stakeholders, enhancing your executive presence and influence.

Remember, executive presence is not merely a set of skills — it’s a holistic approach to leadership that integrates authenticity, confidence and professionalism in all aspects of your professional journey. By honing these external attributes while nurturing your internal self-awareness and integrity, you can cultivate a compelling executive presence that inspires trust, drives results, and leaves a lasting impact on those around you.



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