True leaders have it

You know that person. The woman that immediately captures your attention (and everyone else’s) when she walks into the room or gets up to make a presentation. The guy that just seems to command respect — and not just because of a fancy title. The type that exudes positive — but not overbearing — confidence, and moves in a way that communicates clearly: this is someone you need to listen to.

What’s their secret sauce? The answer is EP — Executive Presence. While definitions of EP vary, all speak to the extent to which someone can inspire confidence in others and signal their leadership capabilities to others

Adapted from: Hewlett, S. A. (2014). EP: Executive presence: The missing link between merit and success. New York, NY: Harper Business

Economist and workplace expert Sylvia Ann Hewlett asserts in her book Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success that EP consists of appearance,’ communication and gravitas. Let’s just briefly look at these more closely.

Appearance is about looking the part, dressing appropriately for all business situations, and coming across as fit and energetic enough to get the job done. We all know the importance of a first impression. Like it or not, appearance is important as an initial filter, and a fail here will limit the rest of your pitch / presentation / negotiation.

Having strong, empathetic communication skills is another clear must-have for leaders in today’s evolving business world. If you aspire to lead, you need to be able to clearly articulate your thoughts and vision, while extracting, valuing, and incorporating the best ideas from the diverse richness of those around you. (Let’s leave those details for another time.)

For me, the most important and buildable piece — the heart of Executive Presence — is gravitas. Various sources define this as a combination of seriousness, reserved dignity, sedateness, etc… Hewlett and her team at the Center for Talent Innovation describe it as confidence and having ‘grace under fire’. But this doesn’t mean hiding in a corner when things get tough. It is also about being decisive and not being afraid to ‘show your teeth’, about fighting the good fights and speaking (not necessarily screaming) truth to power. And in the background, always acting with integrity, demonstrating a high level of emotional intelligence and projecting a constructive vision for moving things forward.

Quite a bit there! And especially when you consider that EP is not confined to individual events like a presentation or a meeting. EP is reflected in your behavior at all times.

So why is EP important? Well, without it, if you are able to produce good work, you can do all right. But having strong EP can help you unlock that top-tier of opportunities around you.

Many of the Japanese managers I work with come across in a global environment as having low EP. We recently began coaching the local leadership team of a major global pharmaceutical company. These are people who are already quite accomplished in their careers but appear to have plateaued as heads of business units or therapeutic areas here in the Japan organization. Technically, they are outstanding. But they have not been able to inspire enough confidence at the head-office level to get invited for the truly choice assignments — in short, their lack of EP is limiting them from moving up to the global stage.

Much of the problem stems from cultural differences. The controlled assertiveness and forcefulness that is associated with Executive Presence as perceived globally can run counter to traditional Japanese norms around politeness, face-saving, and high-context communication. This helps to explain why many high-potential Japanese leaders find their career paths limited to Japan’s borders. With practice, however, Executive Presence can be cultivated — and we are seeing results! I look forward to seeing many of our current charges disperse into the upper echelons of the global elite in due course!

It should be said that Executive Presence in and of itself won’t accelerate your career to the upper echelons of your organization. A lack of it, however, will almost certainly impede your advancement. So, how would you rate your own Executive Presence? Do you have the gravitas to be the leader you strive to be?

Much of the problem stems from cultural differences. The controlled assertiveness and forcefulness that is associated with Executive Presence as perceived globally can run counter to traditional Japanese norms around politeness, face-saving, and high-context communication. This helps to explain why many high-potential Japanese leaders find their career paths limited to Japan’s borders. With practice, however, Executive Presence can be cultivated — and we are seeing results! I look forward to seeing many of our current charges disperse into the upper echelons of the global elite in due course!

It should be said that Executive Presence in and of itself won’t accelerate your career to the upper echelons of your organization. A lack of it, however, will almost certainly impede your advancement. So, how would you rate your own Executive Presence? Do you have the gravitas to be the leader you strive to be?

3Rock | Jeff Schnack

Written by

Musings and insights about leadership, Japan, and the evolving healthcare environment. Find us at http://www.3rockconsulting.com/ https://www.c3hc.com/

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