How to Establish Executive Presence in an Online World

What do you think is the #1 mistake I see my coaching clients make as they try to rise up the ranks in their companies ?

They put all their eggs in one basket. The basket of competence.

Don’t get me wrong. Competence is necessary but an insufficient condition for your success in moving up. This and many other myths surround what it takes to get up the ladder and into your dream role.

What is it that sets people apart from getting the job, moving up in a company, or attracting clients? Some would say executive presence. It’s what makes you stand out from the crowd so you can blaze a trail through your career. There are some misconceptions associated with the phrase but I’m going to settle those right here.

In this blog post, I will be explaining the concept of executive presence, the myths surrounding it, and how you can use it to level-up your career. No matter what stage you’re at in your career, there’s value to be found in this article for everyone.

What Is Executive Presence?

To start, have you heard of the term executive presence? Executive presence is the ability to maintain poise under pressure and influence people by having them believe that you’ve got what it takes.

It’s an amorphous word that gets thrown around in the business world. Many of my clients tell me that they’ve been told, “you’re hardworking, we absolutely love you, you’re technically very sound, but you lack executive presence.” In this sense, it’s used as an excuse to keep people out of higher-level positions if they don’t fit the profile for a senior leadership role.

Here are some of the myths about executive presence

Myth #1 – Executive presence is only about confidence.

Trying to define what ingredients lead to executive presence can sometimes be tricky. Some tend to singularly associate it with having uber confidence no matter the situation and sometime even over confident people get associated with having executive presence. Others associate it with speaking up and managing conflict in high stakes situations. Still others think it is about how people carry themselves and their body language and posture.

Truth is executive presence is all of this but none of this in particular. In other words it is a composite or a combination of different traits that together allow you to exude that aura of composure, confidence and . conviction that makes people believe in you and your potential.

Trying to reduce it to one size fits all does not work because if tomorrow you want to enhance your executive presence, the competencies you may need to work on may be different from what others have to work on to get to the exact same result – which is being seen as someone who has executive presence.

Many people think that you have to be this no-nonsense type-A personality. But really, this comes from people not having a clear definition of executive presence, so they create these narratives in their heads.

Myth #2 – You have it or you don’t.

A lot of people think that you have to channel alpha male energy, speaking up and putting yourself out there with strong views but it has nothing to do with becoming something you’re not.. I find a lot of my Asian clients struggle with this idea of speaking up and putting themselves out there because collectivism requires them to not try to stand out or push back particularly in group settings. They worry they will need to become someone they are not.

It’s likely that you already have the ingredients. You just need to learn to channel them

Executive presence is really the belief that other people have in your potential to get things done. What do I mean when I say to get things done?

  • You know what you’re talking about = a belief in your expertise. Can you cultivate that ? Yes. Ofcourse. Knowing how to position your expertise, your exposure and your insights is a learnable skill.
  • You can be trusted = a belief in your integrity. Can that be created ? Again the answer is yes. Trust ie created in moments of truth of the interaction you have with others. By mindfully showing up and delivering you increase the trust quotient you have with your colleagues
  • You will not be pushed around = a belief in your convictions. This again has got to do with arriving at the spot vs some God given gift. This too can be worked upon. By activating certain tools of presence and grounding your energy you can stand in the eye of the storm and not let it shake you up (or even if you feeling shaken up, navigate the situation to seem in control without getting flustered. See the next section for one such story and tool).

People get wrapped up in the idea that executive presence is all about commanding the room. But, what they don’t realize is it’s not some magical thing that some people have in the room it can be worked upon and cultivated just like any other skill.

Myth #3 – A Person with executive presence ALWAY has the answers.

Executive presence is not about always having the answers. Rather, it is about having a point of view, particularly at the middle level. Your job is not to give the answer, your job is to frame the answer and provide a perspective. Some people assume that having an answer for every question deems you competent when really having your own opinion and point of view is more important.

Competence at senior levels is not about domain expertise, and not having the answer is fine – not having an opinion is not. So, what’s your point of view?

As mentioned, executive presence is not a one size fits all concept. It looks different for everyone. To show you that, I want to share with you the case of a woman in one of my programs who used executive presence to grow her career in an online setting.

This student was prone to being nervous when having high-stakes conversations with senior-level people. She was always worried about them asking questions she didn’t know the answers to and being put on the spot – assuming the worst-case scenario.

In the session, we talked about this technique called the hot potato. If somebody throws a hot potato at you, and you catch it, don’t hold onto it and burn your hands. Toss it right back! By asking a different question or digging a little deeper, you can relieve yourself of some of that pressure.

So she went for a meeting right after the session. And sure enough, her boss goes, “So which way do you think the projections for this market are going?” And she immediately tossed the question back at him by saying, “I think it’s going fairly positively. But I think there are some de-railers. But before I share my thoughts, what would you say might be de-railers for this?” And he spoke for the next 10 minutes while she had the chance to get her thoughts together.

So, as you can see, executive presence has a lot to do with your ability to have faith and believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to?

Believe in Your Potential

Use these myths about executive presence to your advantage, understand what it is or what it isn’t, and determine what parts of your life would benefit from it. It’s not about being someone you’re not, or having all the answers, but owning the knowledge that you do have.

I began this blog by saying that executive presence is about the belief that people have in your potential, and while that’s not wrong, it’s more important that you believe in your own potential. You must trust that “I will figure it out.” Because everything is “figureoutable” provided you know the technique to figure it out.

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