Women Leadership Series
Executive Presence combines natural traits and learned skills that allow a person to convey credibility, trustworthiness, and assurance even when the stakes are high.
Leaders who show up with Executive Presence:
- Look like: Possess a signature style, look groomed, display vitality, and use their physical space.
- Feel Like: They are present, warm, friendly, approachable, and with a desire to connect.
- Sound Like: Speak concisely, with clarity and conviction.
- Behave Like: In alignment with their values, leading by example, demonstrating integrity.
Historically, women face more hurdles to rise in their careers. The Confidence Gap comes from the belief that women are less self-assured than men and that confidence matters as much as competence does for success in the workplace. Women reject the arrogant image of the overconfident man, the loud and extroverted.
The best leaders who exhibit executive Presence are the ones who are confident but humble.
A healthy balance between confidence and humility sets this type of leader apart. They are confident without the need to prove it – to themselves or anyone else. They just are.
Dianna Booher, in her book “Communicate Like a Leader, Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done,” describes four essential elements for increasing executive Presence: How you look, how you talk, how you think, and how you act. How you feel also impacts the way you communicate. Let’s look at five factors contributing to a more substantial executive presence:
HOW YOU LOOK:
Physical appearance creates first impressions and impacts your self-image. Judith Rasband at the Institute for Image Management describes how dressing and grooming affect the ‘image cycle.’ How we look impacts how we think and act. Also, how others perceive us influences how we feel about ourselves.
Do you recall when you dressed and groomed in a way that felt authentically you and was appropriate for the occasion? Feeling good in your skin has a positive impact on the way others perceive you. Appearance isn’t just what you wear but also how you carry yourself.
Intentionally create a signature style that represents your brand to the external world.
How you package your Presence is critical for first impressions. Your signature style must be professional and presentable. Your physical appearance includes body language, energy, vitality, and how you use your physical space.
HOW YOU TALK:
How you communicate determines your ability to influence and inspire others. It is crucial to convey clear, concise, and compelling messages. Since most communication is vocal and visual, pay special attention to your vocal quality and tone of voice because they reveal your attitude. Some women who speak very softly will have difficulty controlling a room and conveying confidence in their ideas when people can hardly hear them. Minor tweaks can make a positive difference, such as raising your volume, keeping your voice firm and low when you present important content, maintaining eye contact, and using open hand gestures to emphasize critical points of your speech.
Be mindful of micro expressions when you present essential information.
A straight posture is essential if you want to convey confidence. Conversely, negative body language stands in the way of effectively communicating critical messages. Dianna Booher states that nervous gestures, fatigued expressions, angry tones, glaring eyes, doubtful shrugs, slumped shoulders, and defeated stares are examples of negative body language that reduce your executive Presence.
The ability to regulate emotions in the workplace is another element that impacts your executive Presence. Women tend to express a broader range of emotions and disclose more personal information at work than men, which is why sometimes women are labeled as emotional. In her book How Women Rise, Sally Helgesen asserts that women tend to talk too much and with too many emotions. Responding to others while triggered may cause you to come across as touchy or out of control. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most effective ways to alter your physiology to calm down when triggered. The goal is to process your emotions while calibrating your responses with maximum impact to exude a serene presence, even in stressful situations.
Your ability to stay calm and to make decisions under pressure is one way to reaffirm your Executive Presence.
HOW YOU THINK:
How you think directly impacts how you communicate with your staff, what you say in conversations, how you negotiate, write, and what you share in meetings. Becoming a strategic thinker means connecting the dots of what is essential or pivotal for long-term success.
Women tend to use too many words when communicating. Research shows that women speak an average of 20,000 words daily while men speak less than 10,000. This difference translates into too much information and too many details. Cutting through clutter or summarizing is a vital thinking strategy.
Conciseness conveys more credibility when sharing what is essential.
Another cognitive strength that enhances Executive Presence is the ability to identify the essential messages and to organize ideas coherently. Dianna Booher suggests ONE question that helps in clarifying what matters: “What are you working on?” Suppose you can respond with optimal detail while informing how your work contributes to the organization’s big picture. In that case, you are in the strategic space that conveys Executive Presence. To get there, spend enough time thinking. Write down some ideas. What is explicit vs. unclear? Close the gaps by reading and consulting with key stakeholders with a bigger picture than you.
- We’re working on solving X problem,
- Here is why it matters to the organization,
- Here are the outcomes we’re working toward,
- This part connects with you and what we need to succeed (call to action).
Skillful communicators use storytelling to enhance their messages. They can think visually and communicate with stories, analogies, metaphors, and sound bites to make messages clear and memorable.
HOW YOU ACT:
One of the essential elements of your Executive Presence is how trustworthy you are by being congruent with your beliefs and actions. Are you someone who will do what you say you will?
Learning to think and act for yourself while retaining the ability to stay connected with others will allow you to own your convictions. At the same time, those who show belief and integrity are the leaders who can own up to their mistakes or show their vulnerabilities. People prefer this over those who show fake confidence and strength.
Congruence between your words and thoughts will make you trustworthy.
Others can tell when you are approachable and want to listen and connect. Being present is being aware of what is happening and respecting others.
Your meeting participation can determine how others perceive your value, regardless of whether you are the facilitator or a participant. As Dianna Booher states: If you show up physically, be present mentally. Your audiences will assess how you act before, during, and after communication exchanges to determine if they believe and trust you.
Leading by example, consistently acting with integrity, and being accountable and responsible for delivering key results will speak louder than any words because people pay more attention to your actions than your words.
HOW YOU FEEL:
Self-awareness is the ability to monitor your thoughts and emotions. How you feel about yourself is one of the vital internal factors impacting your Executive Presence. What are the thoughts that drive your mood states? Are they accurate? Do they serve you well? Being self-conscious sabotages your capacity to perform.
In recent years, the Imposter Syndrome has become a well-known phenomenon because it is a surprisingly common experience in the workplace at all levels. Many leaders harbor self-doubts that erode their confidence and ability to make decisions and take risks. Keeping those negative thoughts under control that hinder your self-confidence and personal power will allow you to lead with more conviction. You do so by shifting to a more positive mindset and changing the tone of conversation inside your head. Through the power of conscious attention and repetition, you can rewire your brain to believe in yourself more.
Trust yourself more and focus on your strengths, one interaction at a time.
Increasing your Executive Presence is an internal process of self-discovery. Once you start strengthening each of these dimensions, they will positively impact each other. For instance, polishing your image will help you with your confidence. Thinking better will help you sound sharper. Becoming more present will help you feel more approachable. Positive self-talk will allow you to claim your strengths and believe more in yourself. When you consciously work to become the master of your destiny, others will notice it. As a result, you will see more doors of opportunity opening in front of you.