Do you have an Executive Presence?


Having an executive presence has many facets. Many of us feel that it is the way you look. Yes, the way you look goes a long way in determining whether you have an executive presence, but it goes beyond your outward appearance, however, it starts there.

On a recent trip, I decided to dress comfortably. I wore tailored slacks, and a dressy top with comfortable sandals. I was very comfortable and did not dread the long walks and stairs you need to climb in our Lagos International Airport nor the envisaged stairs in the country of destination because I was going to another African country with similar infrastructure.

I was in business class and sat across another traveler, a lady, dressed in a black business suit. We were both in the front row and disembarked at the same time when we landed. A chauffeur driven car and the usual transit bus were waiting for passengers. As we disembarked, she was ushered into the chauffeur driven car and I was ushered into the bus, even though I was walking right beside her and we came out at the same time. The drivers had stereotyped us, and classified me economy and her business. I decided not to make a fuss, because I was the one who had not dressed up properly and was therefore not recognized as an executive.

The next time I travelled to the same country I dressed up properly and got the respect I deserved and was ushered into the car and not the bus and treated like an executive that I was.
However, this is just a small aspect of having an executive presence. It is more than commanding the situation or the room, wearing the right suit and giving a great presentation. Executive presence according to Suzanne Bates, is defined as the ability to engage, align, inspire and move people to act. Executive presence matters and we need to take it very seriously.

There are 15 qualities of executive presence we need to start pondering on and practicing, which are: character which comprises authenticity, integrity, concern, restraint and humility. Substance made up of practical wisdom, confidence, composure, resonance, vision. Style, the last bucket which includes, appearance, intentionality, interactivity, inclusiveness and assertiveness.

Business Insider said, having executive presence ranked second in a survey of CIOs conducted by Gartner on a top 20 list of leadership traits that make a difference. By comparison, technology skills came 12th. Based on this comparison to other attributes, it is clear that having an executive presence is key to your success and growth.

Should you be interested in honing your executive presence, below are traits you must start to exhibit and practice:

Role models – Executive presence is not something you are born with. Look around for role models who are strong in the qualities of executive presence listed above, watch what they do and adapt to yours, but remember to be authentic to who you.

Conversation skills – People with executive presence usually put people at ease. They try to be inclusive of everyone when conversing in group settings. The key question is when they walk away from you, how do you feel? Do you feel better or worse? Being aware of how people feel about themselves when they interact with you is key to having an executive presence. Developing how you speak and your grammar is also very essential. I had a boss recently, whose brand I needed to project who spoke very bad English. Every third sentence had a grammatical error. No matter how hard I tried to polish him up with the right dressing tips or manners. The grammar could not be hidden, because he had to speak in order to sell the organization. For me, it was a very difficult task as it gravely affected his executive presence.

Composure – Self-awareness and understanding others are essential components of executive presence. The ability to control our emotions, recognize emotions in others and manage our response to them is key. Again, on one of my travels, a traveler with very little composure, but well dressed and presented, sat across from me on the plane. The first thing he did was to ask for Champagne, as most of us know, we are offered refreshment before the flight takes off. I found this rude, because with a little patience, he would have been offered without needing to demand it imperiously. So, I was on notice and watching. When we were offered dinner, he had zero table manners. Ate and drank noisily and used his cutlery in the wrong hands. He totally lost all respect from me and I am sure from those who served him.

Charisma – People who embody executive presence have the ability to draw others to them. This is achieved through strong listening skills and an ability to “stay in the moment.” As a result the people whom you are communicating know that you are solely focused on them and drawn to you because they are comfortable in your presence, which also builds trust.

Confidence – One key aspect of exuding presence is to communicate presence, both in what you say and how you say it. Appearing confident is aided by your posture, eye contact, facial expression, voice pitch, volume and pace. And of course this is where the outward appearance matters, chose your wardrobe and accessories appropriately.

Credibility – Not only is your content important, but your language and grammar will greatly impact your credibility. When someone with strong presence speaks people take note, as there is usually no doubt of the conviction behind their words.

Conciseness – Being verbose kills presence. Just as it is critical to know what you want to communicate you must be able to do so concisely and not talk too much.
Executive presence can be learned. Many executives have achieved this “it” factor with personal reflection, practice and coaching. The sooner you start to hone these skills in your employees and yourself, the better it will be for your organization.

Today we are giving a Holler to Femi Handbags.
I remember the first time I bought her bags over 20 years ago in Ibadan. I had gone on a course in IITA and she brought her bags for sale. Then, her bags were made from cloth but very beautiful and unique. I bought several for myself and my relations because I found them irresistible.
We then lost touch and I rediscovered her two years ago. She had taken her bag making to the next level. Her bags had become couture and could be compared with the best designer bags globally and were sometimes better, because of the quality of the leather she used and the sturdiness of her bags.

In my collection are a computer bag and a handbag. Everywhere I carry them to I get compliments and everybody wants to know who Femi handbags is and where the bags are made. I am usually proud to say that they are made in Nigeria and the designer is a Nigerian.
Let’s give a holler! to Femi Handbags for making us proudly Nigerian and for taking Nigerian handbags to the next level. Holler!

– Marie-Therese Phido is Sales & Market Strategist and Business Coach
tweeter handle @osat2012; TeL: 08090158156 (text only)