Executive Presence

Recently, I’ve been coaching a number of startup founders as they transition from entrepreneurs to executives. A recurrent theme that pops up with these developing business leaders is executive presence. Entrepreneurs are not the only ones to benefit from developing executive presence; leaders of all stripes need to hone these skills in order to gain respect from their colleagues, engagement from their employees, or even the trust of investors.

So what is “executive presence”? This really depends on whom you ask as it means different things to different people. At its core you’ll need confidence and composure but executive (or leadership) presence goes deeper than that because we are talking about your presence in relation to those around you. To me, executive presence is the way in which you carry yourself in order to earn the respect, trust and engagement of others in your workplace.

Here are three easy, but often overlooked, ways to carry yourself better with others:

  • Holster Your Weapon — Focus. The easiest way to connect with someone is to make eye contact with them. Nowadays, this behavior is usually overridden by a distraction — your phone. When your phone is on the table during a meeting then your focus is on the phone and not the person talking to you. Even if you ignore the device, you are signaling to your counterpart that the phone matters more than your meeting with them.
  • Actively Listen — Hear. Listening to someone isn’t enough to earn their trust — you have to hear them. Take in what they are saying and put it back to them in your own words. This shows you are not only listening, but you are understanding them. Think about how you feel when someone actually hears you. I’m guessing you feel like your thoughts matter.
  • Embrace Empathy — Relate. Learn to empathize with other people. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but try and put yourself in their shoes so you can better understand where they are coming from. Even when you disagree, the other person will feel like you gave them a chance and typically that’s all that matters.

Present yourself by focusing, hearing and relating to the people you work with. You’ll find that work becomes easier and those around you will afford you the respect you deserve. The best part of mastering these core traits for executive presence is that you don’t have to be an executive at all. Everyone can benefit from applying these principles to the way in which they work with others.

Alex Green is an ICF credentialed executive coach and leadership development consultant. He helps companies and nonprofit organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders, management teams and board of directors. You can find him on Twitter @agthreesixty and LinkedIn.