Chief Executive Insights

4 keys to developing your executive presence

You’re talented and knowledgeable, with years of experience and a great track record. Why are you being passed over for promotions? Could it be that you lack executive presence?

A global study by Centre for Talent Innovation (now known as Coqual) found potential is not enough to help people move up to senior leadership positions. 26% of the assessment of leadership potential comes down to executive presence. The findings were confirmed in an HCI report where 51% of HR professionals surveyed said executive presence accelerates careers by making candidates stand out from the rest. 77% also said people with executive presence advance more quickly in their careers.

What is executive presence?

Put simply, executive presence is the ability to inspire confidence and gain trust. It makes people pay attention and follow you. It opens doors to opportunity and helps develop connections critical to your career advancement.

The foundation of executive presence is emotional intelligence (EQ), which is the ability to understand emotions in yourself and others. Understanding how people are feeling and what motivates them helps to navigate the way ahead cooperatively. People who have emotional intelligence are self-aware, genuine and caring. It’s no surprise that they are the people with executive presence.

Four keys to executive presence.

You don’t have to be born with executive presence. With a little work, you can unlock your potential presence with these keys.

  1. Have a vision and share it.
    What do you stand for? What do you believe in? What are you working towards? What do you want to achieve for your team or the business? These are big questions, but the answers form the basis of your presence. Think of it as your personal brand. When people know what you stand for, it inspires their trust and confidence, especially when it’s backed with action. Your vision and values ground you when you need to make tough decisions, and they’ll help your people make sense of what you do.
    Once you’ve defined your vision, think about how to best communicate it. Use your EQ to shape your message to the needs and desires of different audiences. Your team will want to know how it affects them, while Board will want to see how it will advance the business. Being able to communicate your vision to different stakeholders is how you get noticed.
  2. Master influence.
    Influence is about relationships and trust, which is why EQ is critical. When you have influence, you impact people, their actions, behaviours, and attitudes. You can leverage relationships towards collaboration and positive outcomes. Amy Cuddy tells us, “Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.” In other words, influence is not about power; it’s about genuine connection and understanding. The more people trust you, the greater the level of influence you have over them. Successful influencers talk to both the heart and the head – an emotional connection and a logical one.
  3. Become self-aware.
    We talk about getting to know ourselves, but self-awareness also means understanding how we’re seen or interpreted by others. They see your strengths and weaknesses face-to-face. You need to see yourself through their eyes to present the professional image you want to be known for.

In my latest book Lead Beyond 2030, I detail the research by Dr Tasha Eurich which shows only around 10%–15% of people are truly self-aware. Discover how you are seen by people by asking them. Seek feedback from trusted people who will be honest with you. When you understand your thoughts, emotions, and actions, and how they affect others, you can choose your actions and control your presence. You make conscious choices instead of operating on instinct or automatic reaction.

Stand your ground.

Maintaining your cool when challenged is critical. At executive level, your decisions will often be questioned. The ability to support your position with logical argument and fact will appeal to the head, and a confident, calm manner will reach the heart. This is where everything comes together. Self-awareness controls your reactions and guides your communication. Vision keeps you on the right track. Influence allows you to connect with people, and EQ helps you meet each party’s wants and needs. Know what you want to say, deliver it with confidence, and defend it with integrity.

If you don’t have executive presence, it’s unlikely you’ll reach the career goals you hope for. It’s the foundation of your professional brand and shapes your career.  Take the time to measure yourself against these four keys and give yourself the best possible future.


Written by Caroline Kennedy. Have you read?
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Caroline Kennedy
Caroline Kennedy, author of Lead Beyond 2030: The Nine Skills You Need to Intensify Your Leadership Impact, is an accomplished CEO and global thought leader on business and leadership. She is a highly sought-after mentor and coach to top global executives. A respected keynote speaker and author, Caroline’s methods are neuroscience based to achieve rapid development and growth. Caroline Kennedy is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or connect on LinkedIn.