By Lisa Hayes, Leadership Consultant
The Foundation of Strong Communication Skills
The phrase “Executive Presence” gets talked about a lot in the professional world. If you Google it, you will see over 381,000,000 results (yes, that’s millions and it changes often!). Some of these results are articles on what it is, why you need it, how to develop it, the core elements of it, etc. When you add in books, podcasts, YouTube videos, coaching models, etc. you end up with a mind-blowing number of references.
So, What is Executive Presence?
If you were asked, could you define it? When I ask others this question, I hear things like “I know it when I see it,” because for many, it’s easier to explain the experience they have with someone rather than defining what the phrase means.
In my opinion, that in itself is executive presence. It’s a positive interaction with others. It’s something we feel when someone has it and when they don’t. And often, we find ourselves inspired by those that demonstrate it.
To me, executive presence boils down to the leadership behaviors you demonstrate and how others perceive those behaviors.
Why Does it Matter?
How you show up in a variety of situations goes a long way toward influencing how you are perceived by others. You send a strong message to others every time you deliver a presentation, build connections during Council or Board meetings and workshops, or react amid tense discussions.
I recently participated in my first City Council meeting. During the public comment portion of a hearing on a proposed development that would impact residents, I watched how one person shared their opposition calmly, with a clear message and a confident stance. Looking around the room, I could tell that both audience and City Council members were responding to the points being laid out for them. The opposite could be said for the opposition attorney who spoke angrily and condescendingly to the Council when challenged on why the project should move forward.
Can you guess the response to the latter?
I clearly remember the feeling I was left with: The attorney had sucked the air out of the room, leaving many in the audience crossing their arms, looking downward and essentially shutting down further engagement.
The point I’m trying to make with this example is simple…how you deliver a presentation in a Council or Board meeting, communicate new ideas in a staff meeting, or share an unpopular opinion in either venue…matters.
It matters not only to your professional reputation, but to your ability to grow in your role and promote your thought leadership among those who you work and interact with every day.
The Heart of Executive Presence
The way you communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, creates the core of your executive presence. The words you say, how you say them, the emotions surrounding them and how you physically demonstrate them can make or break others’ experiences with you. Your goal should be to always to leave those with whom you interact with a positive feeling, even when the topic you discuss carries the potential for conflict.
Have you ever attended a meeting or conference and watched a speaker so nervous that the individual’s voice or body was shaking? Or maybe you’ve participated in a Board Meeting where one member began yelling at another…
With what feelings did these experiences leave you? I’ll go out on a limb and suggest angst, distraction, anger and ultimately, disengagement.
Achieving strong executive presence requires that you dedicate time to ensure there is alignment between your message and your goals. Alignment begins with a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish – in other words, your goals. Once that’s nailed down, you then build objective and professional – even passionate – messaging to support them. The last step is practice. I can’t say it enough. The more you practice – preferably in front of a colleague or a mirror (maybe even record yourself!) – the easier it is to identify how both your verbal and non-verbal messaging comes across and be able to refine both.
Why, you ask?
Success Comes from Being Intentional.
I recognize we all have a lot on our plates and sometimes the last thing we want to do is add “one more thing” to our to-do list. Yet, the difference between the professionals I coach who are successful in establishing and refining executive presence and those who aren’t, is their attitude and willingness to put in the work.
The individuals who found success viewed mindful practice as a critical component of their leadership journey and began to build habits that were woven into their daily plans. Conversely, those who saw the work as a cursory check mark on their laundry list of responsibility often expressed disappointment in their lack of progress and ultimately abandoned the work.
Awareness is the Starting Point.
As I mentioned at the outset, the amount of information available to you relative to building executive presence is endless, and honestly a bit overwhelming. That’s why I have my clients start small with a self-awareness exercise. You can do it too! In the coming weeks, try to carve out some quiet time to think about and write down:
- The qualities you want to be known for
- Your strengths & opportunities for development
- Your natural communication style
- Your personal vision for career growth & leadership
Hang on to that list and I’ll be back for Ehlers’ June newsletter to take a deeper dive into this important topic. Until then…
To your growth, development, and amazing potential,
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