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Why you need executive presence (and how to get it)

June 8, 2021 - 13 min read


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What is executive presence?

Three tips to improve your executive presence

Benefits of having a good executive presence

4 skills of people with high executive presence

How to build executive presence in 4 steps

Executive presence training

Executive presence can help you meet your organizational goals

Executive presence is one of those phrases that is used often but not always well defined. So, let’s take a closer look.

One of the key differences between an effective leader and an ineffective one is executive presence. If you want to become a successful leader, developing an executive presence is essential.

But what exactly is executive presence? Why do you need it, and how can you develop it?

Let’s explore how executive presence can help you lead your team more effectively and achieve your organizational goals.

What is executive presence? 

According to research by Tracom Group, 51% of HR practitioners believe executive presence is difficult to define.

Despite this, 81% of them believe it is easy to spot. This is because executive presence is an intangible quality.

You can tell when someone has it, but it’s difficult to define what “it” is.

Three tips to improve your executive presence

If you want to know how to have executive presence, the good news is that it is not a personality trait. It’s a skill that anyone can learn. 

Tracom Group’s study found that there are three main factors that can help you improve leadership presence. 

1. Interpersonal aptitude

Interpersonal aptitude is the ability to interact effectively with other people. Good communication skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence are essential elements of interpersonal aptitude. 

Great leaders keep their focus on their people and model the behavior they wish to see in their employees.


2. Professional affect

This aspect of executive presence is about others' perceptions of you. 

You need the skills and competencies required for a leadership position. But you must also have the ability to demonstrate your competency to others. 

If you want to be a successful leader, you need to be able to influence people with both your people and technical skills and experience.

Some characteristics that can contribute to your professional affect include charisma and gravitas.

3. Technical competence

Technical competence is having the skills and experience required to deliver the organization’s goals. 

For example, if you’re a project manager, your technical skills might include:

  • Planning and budget
  • Recruiting
  • Workflow and resource management
  • Data analysis and reporting
  • Monitoring and quality
  • Team management


Benefits of having a good executive presence 

High-performing organizations (HPOs) place a large emphasis on developing executive presence among their leaders.

HPOs are more likely to prioritize executive presence as a leadership competency than their peers.

Tracom Group’s report identified six core benefits of having an executive presence as a leadership competency:

1. Strengthens company culture

60% of respondents reported that executive presence encourages behaviors that are in line with company culture

2. Improves organizational performance

60% of the HR professionals interviewed also agreed that executive presence increases the organization’s overall performance.

3. Helps leaders manage their teams

The majority of respondents felt that having a strong executive presence helps leaders manage their teams better.

4. Improves customer relations

Almost half of the HR practitioners reported that executive presence enables better interactions and relationships with their clients and customers.

5. Facilitates leadership development

Despite the lack of clarity around its definition, 42% of respondents said they believe executive presence provides a useful framework for leadership development.

6. Helps with promotions

30% of HR professionals agreed that the concept of executive presence enables them to identify people with leadership capacity.


(Image Source)

4 skills of people with high executive presence

Now that you know the benefits of having an executive presence, here are four key executive presence skills. 

Use them as a guide to develop your own leadership skills. Alternatively, use them to identify employees with leadership potential within your organization.

1. Composure

Staying calm and collected under pressure is a key leadership skill.

When you keep your cool in difficult situations, you reassure your team and help them stay calm, too.

It also shows others that you are competent and inspires confidence in both your teammates and your customers or clients.

Keeping calm also allows you to think more clearly and act more efficiently to find solutions.

2. Confidence

To develop an executive presence, you need to have confidence in your skills and abilities. But you must also know how to transmit that confidence to others.

Being authoritarian or aggressive is not an effective way to inspire confidence in your team. 

The best strategy is to maintain a humble yet serious attitude. Great leaders show commitment to achieving goals. At the same time, they use a calm, respectful (yet effective) communication style

When communicating with your team, always make eye contact with them and keep your body language neutral.

Taking care of your physical appearance can also make you feel more confident in yourself and inspire confidence in others.

3. Charisma 

Charisma is the factor that gives you influence over others. People naturally follow charismatic leaders without the need for pressure or coercion.

You may think charisma is a trait, but it can, in fact, be learned. Developing your empathy and listening skills are easy ways to make you a more charismatic leader.

4. Clarity and communication skills

Excellent communication skills are a key factor of executive presence. 

You must be able to convey your ideas in a way that is clear, concise, and convincing. It’s essential for achieving your organizational goals.

If you have to deliver your message in person, it’s a good idea to prepare what you want to say beforehand. Most people aren’t born as amazing public speakers; public speaking can be a learned skill. This will help you transmit your message clearly and avoid confusion.

Use a neutral tone of voice when speaking, and encourage your colleagues to participate in the discussion. 

Use active listening to make your colleagues feel heard and understood. 

Observe their reactions as you speak to make sure they understand you. Take all the time necessary to respond to their doubts and questions.


How to build executive presence in 4 steps 

If you’re ready to develop your executive presence, follow these four steps to get started:

1. Have a vision and communicate it clearly

A leader should have a clear vision of where they want to go and know how to communicate it in a way that motivates their team.

It’s essential to know the details of your strategy as well as have a big-picture vision.

This allows you to communicate with your colleagues clearly. Use simple language and deliver your message with calm and confidence.

Practice your spoken communication skills by recording a video of yourself speaking. Watch it back and make a note of any areas for improvement.

2. Have an awareness of others’ perceptions of you

If you aspire to leadership roles, it’s crucial to project yourself as a reliable and experienced person on whom others can depend.

For this reason, it’s important to ask for 360-degree feedback to understand how others see you. 

Analyze this information to identify any executive presence qualities you already have, as well as the areas you may need to improve.

3. Build communication skills

Giving instructions with a good attitude inspires your colleagues to carry out their work efficiently.

Practice your communication skills in front of a mirror or record yourself on video. 

Analyze not only the words you use but also your body language, and identify aspects that you could improve.

4. Listen more

Leaders get used to talking a lot. So much so that they sometimes forget to listen.

But listening — really listening — helps develop your executive presence. It makes your team feel seen, heard, understood, and valued.

Observe someone who has a strong executive presence. You will notice they focus all their attention on the person who’s speaking and ask a lot of good questions.


Executive presence training 

According to Tracom Group, 56% of HPOs develop an executive presence in their leaders, compared to just 25% of all other organizations.

Therefore, if you want to be an industry leader, you might want to consider executive presence training.

What is executive presence training?

Executive presence training combines learning from others, experimental opportunities, and formal training.

Leaders mainly develop their executive presence through:

  • Stretch assignments (53%)
  • Coaching (49%) 
  • 360-degree feedback surveys (46%)
  • Formal training (43%)

Benefits of executive presence training

Executive presence training develops leaders who are invested in the organization’s goals and their people.

They understand the need to continuously grow and develop within their leadership position. They are also aware of their role in creating and maintaining company culture.

Executive presence training can also help leaders increase organizational efficiency.

HPOs use it to develop both current leaders and employees who show leadership potential.

Executive presence training: is it worth it?

Organizations must develop leadership qualities such as executive presence. This will help them become more competitive in their field against competitors.

HPOs are more likely to invest in executive presence training. This demonstrates the value of developing executive presence.

Executive presence can help you meet your organizational goals 

Executive presence is a differentiating factor between high-performing organizations and their competitors.

The good news for leaders is that you can develop the qualities of executive presence through training and experience. 

And if you need extra support developing an executive presence, learn how BetterUp’s executive coaching services can help you.

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Published June 8, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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