Understanding executive presence is a dark art. People claim to know what it is when they see it – and can’t tell you how they know. People that have it know it and own it – and have no idea how they got it. People who don’t have it tend to think they have it. People who don’t have it are often the people who judge if others have it or not.
We are either in or out of the executive presence club. And it feels like a group of shadowy figures meet in secret and determined who has it and who doesn’t and everyone else seems to know the results of their deliberations and no one ever seems to tell us. The Executive Presence game has high stakes. Careers, promotions, and salaries hang in the balance.
This can be terribly frustrating for people genuinely trying to develop it in themselves and for those who want to help others develop it.
One of the ways I describe I do as a coach, supervisor, and facilitator is: I help people with “it”. Whatever “it” might happen to be and “it” can be a lot of things. In this article, I will explore the “it” that is commonly known as Executive Presence in relation to Emotional Intelligence. I will give you ideas into how focusing on Emotional Intelligence will enable you to know how you can enhance, develop or change or even transform yourself into the kind of person who is perceived as having an executive presence. And beyond that, becoming someone who genuinely has it.
The keys to understanding and developing executive presence are grounded in the following observations:
- The people who determine if you have it or not, are not you
- It is not an event or even a series of events
- It cannot be faked, if you faked it to make it, then this is when you will become aware that they knew all along
- It is an impression, the formation of this impression takes place both in an instant and over time
- It is a summation of what I broadly call the experience of you. And it is essential to take into account that a big part of it is how you experience you
- If you have it you usually don’t lose it. Even if you make costly and stupid mistakes
- It requires vertical development to really take hold
- It cannot be trained
- It can be learned
- Experience is useful, but even more useful is an exploration of how we make meaning from experience
- It comes from within a person and is not limited to people with impressive titles or jobs
I see the desired quality of Executive Presence as a shared experience of an individual by others in a variety of contexts and over time. This shared experience is a complex combination of your way of being, your ways of thinking and feeling, how others “feel” when you are around, what this then leads them to think about you when you are not around, what the situation or context requires of you, the impact you have, how you “are” in difficult or stressful situations, the conscious and unconscious expectations of others, what you do and don’t do in all these situations and contexts.
Linking this to Emotional Intelligence competencies I hope to give you insights into how you can intentionally develop the competencies that undergird Executive Presence.
Self Awareness – this competency is about being present and connected with what is happening with ourselves at a deeply emotional level is the foundation of executive presence. Accurate and honest awareness of what is happening with us enables us to adapt and act making use of that valuable data in everything that we do. Robust awareness of our emotions at multiple layers is the foundation for us to be experienced as grounded, confident, appropriate, true to ourselves. We are aware of the impact of our emotions on us and others and then can skillfully adapt to what is needed in that context.
Other Awareness – this competency is all about being aware of what is happening with others and making use of that data in everything that we do. Robust awareness of how others are experiencing us, situations, and themselves is essential to us being experienced as being fair, decisive, effective, adaptable, empathetic, and understanding. Above all else, being appropriately adaptable and grounded.
Authenticity – this is all about being a coherent person in how we live out, express, or manifest all of this emotional data in a complex variety of situations. Authenticity in relation to Executive presence is about being aligned in our expression of our values, commitments, communication, and who we are. It’s about what you say, how you say it when you say it, who hears it, why you say it, what you don’t say, and how don’t say it, and above all elsewhere what you say is coming from in you and then what is the effect of all this on others and the organisation as a whole. We may be described as reliable, authentic, genuine, and worthy of trust. We may be described as being authentically true to ourselves. Above all else, we communicate using every tool available to us in ways that are authentic and aligned. Not only are we confident, but our confidence is also infectious.
Emotional Reasoning – This competency is all about integrating emotional data into our thinking, the thinking of others, and ultimately in the realm of decision making. Emotions are not removed from decision making. They are given the level of relevance that is appropriate. Reactivity is managed within ourselves and proactively navigated for stakeholders and onlookers. Above all else, we value emotional data and leverage it to increase the quality of decision making and thinking.
Self Management – this is a very broad competency area that covers self-control in moments, overall emotional health, and emotional balance, and as I like to say, paying attention to your emotional diet. People with Executive Presence are characterised by exceptional mental and emotional balance. They are capable of managing their internal dimensions in service of their goals and personal vision. If they are unable to do it in a moment, and lack self-control, they will manage their ego and self-flagellation in order to correct the situation in an appropriate way. Taking responsibility, demonstrating ownership, and being accountable for the results of their behaviour.
The end result of paying attention to these areas is that our Executive Presence is really not for us. It is in service of the organisation and all that the organisation touches and impacts. We inspire performance without being present. We positively influence people who have never even met us. We create a personal and organisational climate that enables sustainable success and genuine well-being.
What can you do?
It all starts with Self Awareness. It’s the best place to begin. As a coach, I am convinced that working with a coach who is genuinely skilled in transformational development is one of the most effective ways to change anything.
A Genos Emotional Intelligence assessment can provide you with valuable data to help you target development and provides a snapshot of how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself.
Observe people who you and others think have it. Get curious about how they speak, think, move, manage, and function. Attempting to imitate them will reveal your internal dialogue and the stories they support. It’s deep stuff.