How to Cultivate Executive Presence

Part 1 of 5

“We need leaders who model high social intelligence … who appeal to our higher selves and invite us to grow as individuals and as a society, rather than leaders who pander to our primal fears and selfish greed.”  – Karl Albrecht, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success (Pfeiffer, 2009)

When someone in your company is promoted to a leadership position, the decision most likely came down to degrees of “executive presence.”  This person successfully competed against other qualified candidates, some of whom were probably just as experienced and smart.

Presence: Often referred to as “bearing,” presence incorporates a range of verbal and nonverbal patterns (one’s appearance, posture, vocal quality, subtle movements) – a whole collection of signals that others process into an evaluative impression of a person.

Serious questions are raised by the concept of presence for anyone with ambitions of career advancement. Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book Blink, if decisions are made intuitively, what do we need to know about “executive presence”?

Everyone’s definition of the term seems to differ. But planning your career and determining your leadership development needs shouldn’t be left to guesswork.
Searching for Executive Presence
If you google executive presence, you will find definitions and advice on everything from dressing for success and patterns of speech to more fundamental issues of emotional and social intelligence.

Some people conclude that executive presence has little to do with polish, poise, sophistication or even use of body language and gestures. In many cases, executives with presence are just as likely to lack these qualities.

Today, executive presence comes in all shapes and sizes, including some you wouldn’t normally recognize. Who would have thought, 30 years ago, that Bill Gates would command it? Would Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook, have stood out as a high-potential CEO? But as one of the youngest men ever to be named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, he certainly has presence – albeit a “Gen Y” version of it.

You must learn how to acquire or improve your level of executive presence if you want to be promoted to the C-suites. If you are already in senior management, you must recognize your current potential and help nurture executive presence in the people you want to groom for succession.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2: 11 Aspects of Executive Presence


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