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Management Consulting & Training


10 Elements of Executive Presence

Posted on August 18, 2020 at 3:45 PM

In my executive coaching practice, clients often ask me to help improve their "executive presence." It is hard to find a good definition of this elusive term. Some people say "you know it when you see it." I think a useful way to define "executive presence" is to reverse engineer what it is about people who seem to have it. I've had the opportunity to work with many senior executives that have had a great "executive presence." Here are the 10 unique things I have most often observed in them.


Humble Confidence - They project confidence, but in a humble way. They don’t talk about how qualified, experienced, or talented they are. They just demonstrate it with their performance. Their confidence comes from the preparation behind the scenes they do to be at their best at work each day.

Set Aspirational Example - People want to be like them and see them as a model for their career. People want to impress them. These executives view every interaction they have with people as a chance to either build or tarnish their personal brand, so they perform at their best in all interactions. That comes through to others who see a great example of what they want to be like.

Make it Look Fun - They smile and look like they are having fun at work, even when they are in stressful situations. They make it look like they are totally at ease in their job, and that projects competence. Like a duck, people only see their ease and enjoyment as they float through their job. They don't see all the hard work they do below the waterline that makes them good at their job.

Poise in Crisis - They NEVER get flustered in front of others. They may feel lots of stress, but they don’t show it to others. They have trained themself to do this. It’s almost like they are waiting for crises so they can demonstrate this. They know that it is their job as the leader to give others confidence in crises, so they set the example.

Speak Little, Say Much - They don’t talk the most in meetings. They let others talk and they carefully listen. When they do talk, it is well-thought out and shows they have listened and thought about the issues, often connecting the dots in a way that others have not. They carefully structure their communications to most effectively convey their insights and desires.

Set the Pace and Temperature - They speed people up when more action is needed. They slow things down when more caution is needed. They cools things down when things are getting heated, and turn up the heat when people are getting complacent. It's like they have a superpower of sensing where people's heads are and know when to do this just before others do. This superpower sense is really just the result of seeking feedback far and wide about how things are really going with their team.

Absorb Risk - When difficult decisions need to be made, they step up and make them and take personal responsibility. This "air cover" lets others get on with their work without worrying if they will be at risk of getting blamed for bad outcomes. They shoulder the stress so others don't have to.

Show Commitment - They show passion for the work their organization does. By showing their pride in their work, they make people in their organization proud of their jobs too. Their commitment makes the work that everyone does feel important.

Be Authentic - They mean what they say and say what they mean. People don’t feel like they are getting a sales job from them. They feel like they are hearing from the real person behind the big title. They don't hide behind the big office and other perqs of their office. They view themself as no better than anyone else.

Have a Style - They aren’t exactly the same as every other executive. They have some unique way of doing things that makes them interesting. People notice it. It could be an interesting phrase, gesture, way of speaking, way of dressing, or whatever. It makes them a memorable character. Some team members may even be even able to do an impression of the executive.

This is in not a scientifically-generated list. But, after working with many leaders in my career, ranging from big city mayors and federal agency heads to corporate CEOs and high-powered consultants, I have known it when I saw it. These are what I saw. I hope you find it helpful.

Categories: People Leadership, Career Planning, Coaching