Written by: Karolin Lindholm
The intense and positive attention that spreads when a leader walks into a room is something we’ve all witnessed. Heads are turning towards them. Silence is spreading. A “wow” factor arises. A combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity persuades the rest of the room to think that we’re looking at a person that’s the real deal.
In the steps towards becoming a successful and respected leader, the right education and the perfect resume itself isn’t enough. Even if you might have the adequate skills and qualifications to be considered for the job of your dreams, executive presence seems to be the make-or-break factor for whether others think that you have what it takes.
But, what exactly is executive presence? Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the author of Executive Presence, defines executive presence as how one acts (gravitas), speaks (communication), and looks (appearance). Gravitas, which is seen as the core of executive presence, can be described as the ability to exude courage, integrity, grace, and confidence. This is shown especially during times of crisis. An example from Hewlett's book showing an act of gravitas is the 2010 oil spill disasters, which BP was held responsible for. BP then- CEO Tony Hayward didn’t handle the crisis well as he received criticism for various statements he had made during the spill. This led to the then- managing director, Bob Dudley, being the one in charge of answering the questions of the media, doing this in a very competent way, without avoiding any questions, despite the pressure. Dudley, later on, took over the position of being CEO of BP, all thanks to his ability to take the company through the crisis in the best possible way, showing gravitas.
Even though it seems like some people are naturally more gifted than others when it comes to executive presence, there are some tools you can use to work on your own skills. Whether you strive to become a respected leader or simply want to improve the way others perceive you, you can start working on these 6 simple steps.
1. Understand how others perceive you
Self-awareness is an essential component towards aiming for executive presence and people with executive presence often have a deep understanding of how others perceive them. Having a clear understanding of your appearance will help you manage your responses and present you in a more confident way. If you have a hard time figuring out how you actually appear to others, you can ask someone you trust for their feedback. It can be important to see if the perceptions from others are in line with what you intend.
2. Boost your social intelligence
You can practice this by for example really starting to use your senses during the day, instead of relying on autopilot or looking down at your phone. Start to take a good look notice how present you become. The more you consciously you use your senses, the more situational awareness you will gain. If you do this for a while, you’ll improve your social intelligence which helps you increase the way you communicate more effectively in both professional and social situations.
3. Show the right amount of confidence
One minor thing that can improve your self-confidence, especially whether others perceive you as self-confident, is a good posture. Next, maintaining eye contact with the person you are talking to, and if you’re talking to several people at the same time, it may be good to change the eyes you are looking into after each thought you convey. Also, ensure that your clothes and your look fit into the occasion and ensure that your voice retains a good volume and pitch. Another thing you can do to increase your confidence is to be aware of your strengths. This gives you an opportunity to offer your strengths to others. But, watch out. Harvard business school professor Amy Cuddy, whose TED Talk about presence is the second-most-watched TED Talk of all time, argues that quiet confidence is best. “Presence is confidence without arrogance,”she says. “Sadly, confidence is often confused with cockiness,”she continues. But the truly “present” executive is one who doesn’t need to trumpet his achievements. Instead, he or she has “a solid sense of self-worth [that demonstrates] healthy, effective ways of dealing with challenges and relationships.”
4. Broaden your small talk
Pick onto some topics that others are interested in since it can be very useful to be able to contribute to causal conversations. Getting a better understanding of things opens a door with many new people. Maybe golf, football, or some newsworthy events going on right now. Having something to add to other conversations can be the first step in getting to know the right people.
5. Attack the issues, not the person
If you find yourself in a conflict, there are certain things that can be good to think about before you act and speak. You have to make sure that you don’t end up addressing personal opinions instead of issue-driven. Make sure to bring the conversation back to the issue when entering personal and unrelated opinions such as “You only think about yourself in these kinds of situations”. These kinds of arguments are often used to create a negative context for the present one. Also, make sure to use “I” statements. It is more productive to tell others how their actions make you as a person feel, rather than attacking their statements by saying that they are wrong. Others can’t contradict with your feelings, but they sure can argue with the wrong or right of things.
6. Show you care
One way to embody executive presence is through strong listening skills. This makes others know that you are focused on them and that they matter to you, even if there may be distractions going on around them. This makes others trust you.