How to Develop Your Executive Presence - Guest Article by Jill Maidment
In the past, most job adverts for Leadership roles would ask for ‘gravitas’ as a requirement. A few years ago, when most senior positions were occupied by males over six foot tall, their very height served them well in demonstrating this sought-after ‘gravitas’. Fast forward to after the dotcom revolution, and the Lehmann Brothers’ collapse in 2008 and in the US, 58% of the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are still said to be over six foot. With many of these leaders, as soon as they walk into the Board room, you know immediately who’s in charge.
But what about shorter men and importantly women who occupy senior positions? How can they increase this intangible thing called executive presence/gravitas/leadership impact? And how can you get over any Imposter Syndrome?
Sometimes during Career Transition Coaching and Outplacement Coaching clients will tell me that they’ve received feedback from interviews or their line managers that they lack executive presence. Pre-Covid when working face to face, we would literally practice creating their leadership impact. As a leader, addressing a virtual Town Hall or All Hands Meeting or when being interviewed via video call, the same practical tools and techniques apply.
Here are 10 Recommendations to increase Executive Presence:
Find a Leader Role Model:
This sounds easier than it is; very few leaders have a current role model from within their organisation or industry, which is a sad reflection on global leadership. Most leaders cite figureheads or politicians from the past, such as Napoleon, Winston Churchill or even Margaret Thatcher, as having influenced them. Many mention sportsmen and women or sports Coaches as their role models. Picking a blend of attributes, qualities and behaviours from someone you admire is helpful, whilst staying true to your own motivational value system. Happily, there is an increasing number of female leader role models, such as Kamala Harris.
One of the most effective ways of identifying how you are perceived as a leader is to take part in a 360 Feedback Review. By requesting constructive feedback from the Board, your own line manager, peers, direct reports and clients, you can obtain a comprehensive list of areas of opportunity and development.
Work with a qualified and experienced Executive Coach and Mentor:
Be careful in choosing your Executive Coach as unfortunately the industry is still unregulated; do your homework before choosing your Executive Coach to ensure they themselves have gravitas and have operated at C-suite and Board level with large global corporate organizations. A bona fide Executive Business Coach will be able to walk you through the key development areas from your 360 Feedback Report, provide a SMART Coaching Action Plan to address them, as well as effective tools and techniques to develop the desired leadership competencies.
Manage Your Appearance:
Newly promoted leaders are often teased by their former colleagues when they turn up sporting new suits, ties and shoes to look the part. In particular female leaders struggle to find the right balance between looking smart and professional and not appearing to be power dressing and trying to emulate male executives. Women politicians and CEOs are scrutinized in the press for their dress sense, whereas men can simply sport a smart navy or black suit and start to look more like a leader. The key is to dress according to your industry, keep it simple and feel comfortable in your chosen attire.
Examine Your Posture:
Executives from the Baby Boomer generation and those from a military background will be familiar with the advice: ‘Stand up straight, hold your head up, shoulders back, chest out and walk with purpose.’ The recommendation of sitting up straight holds true today, especially when managing remotely added to the plethora of additional guidance on how to breathe and be ‘present’.
Improve Your Health and Fitness:
Despite all the noise and efforts made to overcome Unconscious Bias and to interview objectively, the most successful executives still tend to be physically fit, which can assist them in coping with the rigours of modern day corporate life and leadership.
Improve your Communication Skills:
It is still proven to be the case that a leader with a deep voice will attract more investment and more respect. It is well-known that Margaret Thatcher worked on lowering her voice and speaking more slowly; some newsreaders and actors do the same. Effective leaders come across as being calm, collected, considered, and in control. Say key words to yourself before you enter the Board Room/ Conference Room or start a virtual meeting and again work on your breathing. Avoid all unnecessary words such as ‘obviously, honestly, absolutely, basically’ and ‘you know’, as these diminish the impact of your message.
Manage Your Body Language:
Recent studies suggest that up to 90% of communication is now non-verbal so, in order to increase your executive presence, it is important to watch out for any ‘body language leakage’ such as blushing, frowning, closing eyes when talking, over-gesticulating, pointing or rolling of the eyes, as the negative impact can be highly detrimental to the perception key stakeholders have of you. Being videoed is an excellent way to see what unconscious habits you have and which areas you need to improve.
Enhance your Skills in Presenting and Public Speaking:
One of the most important attributes of a successful leader is being able to address an audience; skills include gaining, rotating and maintaining eye contact, projecting your voice, answering questions, handling objections, thinking on your feet, looking and acting the part and delivering a powerful message on the vision and strategy of the company. Executive Coaching can also help with this.
If you come across as robotic, lacking empathy and being too ‘polished’, then you won’t gain the respect and following of your team members and key stakeholders. It’s a fine balance between appearing confident and assertive as opposed to insincere and arrogant. Develop your emotional intelligence as this is crucial in modern leadership. Again, Coaching and Mentoring can have an important part to play in creating self-aware authentic and effective leaders.
‘I had no idea where to start on trying to apply for C-suite roles. All the feedback I received seemed to suggest that I wasn’t part of the boys club or was a working mother. With your patience and encouragement, added to the tips and tricks, I got the confidence to apply for more roles and am now very comfortable being part of that boys club! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.’ CEO
Stay positive, stay safe.
Jill Maidment is the Founder and Director of Natural Talent Bristol and South Wales. She is a highly respected, sought-after and effective International Executive Business Coach and Mentor, Career and Transition Coach, and British Psychological Society qualified Assessor. Jill has been working closely with global leaders, HR teams and individuals for 17 years to provide Career and Transition Coaching and Resilience Coaching.
More About Jill Maidment