Executive Presence: What It Is & Why You Need It

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Have you ever received a formal invitation to a wedding that says, “We request your presence at the wedding of...?” They want you to show up, celebrate and hopefully bring a nice gift. However, executive presence goes way beyond just showing up.

Executive Presence Definition

You’ve probably heard — or said yourself — things like “she has a strong presence” or "he’s a very negative presence." Presence is appearance, demeanor, attitude, the way one speaks and the way one carries herself. Some might call it “aura.” It has a lot to do with self-confidence and self-esteem or the lack of it.

As a business owner or manager, you have a lot of responsibilities. All of that is usually easily defined and quantified. However, how you feel about yourself as a leader is every bit as important as meeting quotas, balancing budgets and supervising those who report to you.

That’s not all — how you’re perceived as a leader can make the difference between retaining employees or having a sky-high turnover rate. It can affect morale, which affects everything else. It can also affect your promotability. It has a physiological component as well as an emotional one.

Why You Need It

Being an effective leader is not just about having expertise, being there and bossing people around. The most effective leaders are respected, and that respect has to be earned. If you stumble around your business in old jeans and a T-shirt, barking orders and grumbling about your internet being down, you have some work to do.

People like their bosses to be capable, confident and calm under pressure. They will look up to a professional-looking boss who communicates clearly about what he wants and exercises his authority fairly.

A lot of what executive presence entails is subjective. It may seem like you either have it, or you don’t, but this is not so. Executive presence is a skill that can be learned. Yes, it has a lot to do with your personality, but there are particular ways that you can refine your strengths and minimize your weaknesses to achieve that certain X factor.

Executive Presence Training

Feeling like you’ve been doing it all wrong? Don't despair. There are excellent executive presence training programs available to help you find your inner executive and polish it to a brilliant shine.

Executive presence training usually focuses on helping you to identify your individual voice and craft your own version of executive presence — within certain parameters, of course. Some programs specifically teach executive presence for women.

If you’re aiming for a certificate that will raise eyebrows, Cornell University, the University of California, Berkeley and other notable schools have programs in executive and leadership presence. If you don’t have the need, time or money for that, check out online training programs offered by former business executives and psychologists.

Executive Presence and Humility

No matter how much executive presence you have, you won’t inspire confidence or respect if you’re unable to acknowledge your own mistakes. First and foremost, you’re human. Don’t be afraid to show it — but no whining.

Steve Jobs said, “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It’s best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.” Leaders are also often mentors. Mentor this kind of attitude to your employees, and you’ll be liked and respected for it.

Act As If

They may not teach you this in executive presence training classes, but it’s a very valuable technique. You’ve probably heard versions of it before: "Fake it ‘til you make it" is one variant. While you’re working on developing executive presence, confidently act as if you already have it.

You don’t have to feel it. That will come in time. We often make the mistake of thinking that we have to feel a certain way before we can act that way, but in fact, feelings more often follow actions.

So, act as though you are oozing executive presence. Carry yourself confidently and professionally. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll start feeling that way and how quickly it will be noticed.