What is Executive Presence?

April 6, 2022
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Most developing leaders face a critical juncture where they’ve experienced a good deal of success but don’t know how to move beyond that place toward greatness.  They want to make an impact, be more influential, become a trusted advocate with senior stakeholders, and/or drive greater revenues, but they can’t seem to break through some unidentifiable barrier.

Part of the answer to overcoming this challenge is found in executive presence.

But, what is executive presence?

Executive presence is the unspoken “gravitas” a leader exudes that significantly impacts their ability to influence.  While some mistakenly characterise it only as charisma or power dressing, executive presence is so much more!

One of the challenges with executive presence is that most leaders recognise it when they see it; but, when they are asked to define it, clarity disappears.

The literature doesn’t help.  If you take the time to do the research, you’ll discover there are many definitions for executive presence.  Most try to distil it down to three or four traits, and therein lies part of the problem.  Every explanation seems to present a different array of what those three or four traits are!  All of this can leave us a bit confused ­- wondering what the complete picture looks like.

The fact is that some aspects of executive presence are deeply internal.  Confidence, emotional control and other deep areas of personal identity cannot be faked at senior levels.  Other aspects of executive presence are skill based.  With the right guidance, skills like adapted communication and executive-level questioning can be developed.  And finally, some aspects of executive presence are tactical.  Corrections to externals such as dressing acumen, posture, verbalisation and others can be learned and developed quickly, if one only knows what to do. 

The good news is that executive presence is not rocket science.  Anyone can build it if they just know where to begin and where to focus.  The challenge is that executive presence is deeply nuanced and many times inadequately defined.  You can build your executive presence if you are given the right direction and tools.

What is Executive Presence

Over the years of working with executive leadership teams, I’ve developed a model to help empower leaders to build executive presence that I call the 7 Cs of Executive Presence™.  The framework comprehensively covers every critical aspect you need to exhibit executive presence.

The 7 Cs of Executive Presence™ are:

  1. Competence — being a global expert in your domain, being known for that expertise, and having sufficient breadth to have an intelligent conversation outside of your specialisation
  2. Control — emotional maturity, or what we commonly call composure
  3. Confidence — the perfect balance of confidence without being overly confident (arrogant) or insecure; absolute comfort in your own skin
  4. Class — mastery of the social rules of any culture
  5. Connection — enhancing your network, kick-starting conversations with strangers, building trusting relationships, and adapting communication styles to your audience’s personality
  6. Collaboration — the ability to champion win-win solutions, resolve conflicts, drive sales, and get people to work together
  7. Clarity — communicating through frameworks that make sense, are unforgettable and are succinct.

Fundamentally, executive presence is being the perennial all-rounder. A person who has executive presence scores a minimum of 8/10 on all seven of these metrics.

You are not going to be influential if you have confidence but are clueless about social cues. Nor will you be influential if you are able to form a relational connection but can’t frame a clear thought. Influence happens when you score high on all seven of the 7 Cs (at the same time) and diminishes when you don’t.

As you review the 7 Cs of Executive Presence and reflect upon yourself, what elements of executive presence are you strong in?  In which areas could you afford some growth?

In which of those identified growth areas might you like to begin working to take your executive presence, and thus your influence, to the next level?

Want to go further?

Executive Presence resources for Organisations, click here.

Executive Presence resources for Individuals, click here.

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