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What does “executive presence” mean and how do you get it?

In its simplest terms, executive presence is about your ability to inspire confidence.

Inspiring confidence in your subordinates that you’re the leader they want to follow, among peers that you’re capable and reliable and, most importantly, inspiring confidence among senior leaders that you have the potential for great achievements.

A person with executive presence, or gravitas, is someone who exerts influence beyond that conferred through formal authority or title.

Executive presence will not earn you promotion after promotion, but lack of it will hamper your ability to get as far as you want to go. Promotions rest essentially on how you are perceived and what feeling your presence evokes in others.

As an executive coach, I've learned there are some specific aspects you can work on to help you develop a reputation as inspirational leader. It’s largely about how other people experience you. It is also about confidence, but less about how confident you are in your own abilities than it is in how confident others are in your abilities. It’s a reflection of how willing others are to engage with you. Executive presence reflects the level of credibility others ascribe to you.

To the extent that executive presence is about you, it is about your ability to inspire confidence in others, to listen to you, to be comfortable in approaching you. And it is about your ability to elicit the trust necessary for others to seek you out for advice.

Although executive presence is highly value-based, intuitive and sometimes difficult to pin down, it ultimately boils down to your ability to project grounded confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, volatile situations and inspire others to follow; manage stress well, make tough decisions in a timely way, deliver on your promises, and hold your own with other talented and strong members of the executive team.

Some warning signs that you don’t have executive presence include that you fail to display authenticity and values, you come across as being arrogant and self-centred, you speak too much and have too little consideration for the view of others, you are opinionated, struggle to remain even keeled, or to understand others’ emotions. You may be prone to outbursts. Time management is an issue, and you don’t take time to interact with your audience in a meaningful way. You display a disconnect between your verbal and non-verbal messages, may at times behave unprofessionally or look unkempt. And you fail to set standards for integrity, ethics and boundaries. Can you relate any of these? Even just one of them can seriously undermine your desire to show up with presence and gravitas.

Working with a skilled executive coach will support you to become more self-aware, using orientation checks to identify and work with your own unhelpful patterns and blind spots, develop new skills and use your awareness to show up with clarity and purpose.

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