Executive presence, how to get some

Bit Famous works with businesses and organisations
to help them communicate with confidence.

By Penny Haslam

MD and Founder - Bit Famous

Penny Haslam

Today I am delving into the world of executive presence. Now, that's quite a dry way, I think, to talk about being a good leader and showing that you are a good leader. Having presence means gravitas, authority, listening skills, demonstrating behaviours and values of your organisation. 

There's a lot to talk about with executive presence. I want to strip it right down to a couple of points. And the first one came from a leadership programme that I was part of with a global insurance firm. Nine leaders, and emerging leaders were looking to develop their ideas around being more visible. 

Be your personal PR and marketing department

The first question I asked them was; Do you have your own publicist? No. Do you have your own Press office? No. Marketing department behind you? No. That means the job of developing your executive presence is your responsibility, depending on what you want to achieve.

In this situation, I recommend what I call my DIY or Make Yourself a Little Bit Famous approach. 

The attendees were all on board with this idea, making notes. But one of them put his hand up and said, "look, I kind of get it, but I don't want to be that person who turns up all show-offy and doesn't really have much to add. Doesn't bring much value."

He was almost about to shut down the idea of raising his profile when I said, "yeah, okay, that is absolutely valid. But there are ways to showcase what you do rather than showing off."

The session was all about fashioning your image as an expert and being more useful to people than just going, "hey, look at me. I'm amazing," which is uncomfortable for most people. I set him straight and we got back to the work.

Those with high levels of executive presence progress quickly in their careers

There's been some really useful research done recently on the power of raising your profile. It comes from the HCI talent pulse report. (Executive Presence: Desired but Ill-Defined.) 

It says that 77% of the HR professionals it surveyed said "those with high levels of executive presence progress quickly in their careers." With evidence like this, I'd argue that you shouldn't leave it to chance. Executive presence for me is many things but boiled down to three areas. 

1. Are you competent?  

I'm going to be bold to say that I can't help you with your competency, but let's say and assume you know what you're doing.

2. Having communication capability. 

That's good communication skills, including sharing information and listening to the people around you. 

3. Being confident

In what you're dealing with and doing your job. 

Leaders who possess strong executive presence inspire employees at every level

Other skills include; Having a vision and articulating it well. Understanding how others experience you.

Forbes magazine sums it up well in this article: Leaders who possess strong executive presence inspire employees at every level. 

And that's right isn't it? Employees deserve inspiring leadership. Often people leave organisations because of their manager or a poor leader. And we all meet people, who have big jobs but can't do eye contact or can't string a sentence together at someone's leaving drinks! Someone's departing and the office has gathered to say goodbye, maybe there's a cake. The boss is expected to say something but stands there mumbling platitudes.  

Executive presence can be learned

I believe good leaders encourage their peers to follow, trust and believe in them. As a leader getting buy-in for your ideas, having influence, impact and engaging the people around you are all so important. Crucially all of this can be learnt. 

You don't have to just worry about it and think, "I'm not really coming across really well, so I'm not going to bother." There are lots of things you can learn to do to have greater impact and gravitas.

Hear more: The Penny Haslam Podcast