By Janice Krupic, President and CEO of Paragon Leadership International
Great things never came from comfort zones. How can Executive Presence support leaders in being successful and present amidst such necessary change in the workplace? Workforce demographics, technology, and work spaces are all impacted.
Over the past couple of months, there has been an influx of various client and professional association meetings to which I have been invited. Audiences have consisted of leadership professionals, of all ages, backgrounds and disciplines. As a guest at these meetings, I often found them to be a great platform to observe human behavior. I became cognizant of how individuals entered the room, how they approached other leaders, and how they seemed to demand the attention of those around them.
With each meeting, I continued to make such observations and soon found some common patterns that emerged:
Individuals who commanded presence seemed to do so before uttering a word. In some cases, this may have been due to their position power or previous influence established, but more commonly this seemed to come from the confidence the individual exuded. The confidence that if in a talk bubble would state, “I am comfortable in my own skin, and I belong here.” This confidence, not to be misconstrued as arrogance (more on that later), was demonstrated from observations like: standing tall in posture (not having anything to do with literal height), making eye contact, offering a smile or some gesture of openness, physically being put together and owning one’s style (not to be confused with fashion). The First Impression one makes, as I would summarize it, can truly make or break the ongoing opportunity to successfully engage with others.
The next observation I made was around Authenticity. Being authentic can mean a lot of things, but I define this as being real: The ability to be yourself. In the current business climate with more references of fake being commonly used, and examples of those with wealth paying for misrepresentation as with the college enrollment scandal, it seems more than important than ever. When skepticism is high, leaders are well served to represent who they really are. This seemed to be aligned with the observations I made, particularly when in larger forums. The audience seemed to react more favorably to those who were real in their delivery of self and the topic being represented. But, too much is NOT a good thing. Rosh and Offerman of the Harvard Business Review, offer an interactive assessment and article explaining common mistakes leaders make with self-disclosure. It may be a worthwhile exercise to complete when looking forward.
As I watched leaders and participants communicate at these meetings, it brought more insight into the importance of this next critical element of Executive Presence as Credible Communication. James Humes, a speechwriter for five Presidents, shared, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Leaders must connect with their listeners and deliver messages that are clear and memorable. They are judged by not only the content, but their approach when messaging. The goal is to be inspirational and ensure the listeners feel valued. The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) indicates 13 red flags to avoid. Communication is an art to be practiced and shaped, and small adjustments will impact a leader’s powerful messages.
The last common observation came from the groups with whom I had a longer time to engage. One meeting I was present in particularly stands out. The leader within the group was quite vocal in airing his thoughts and opinions. As this person continued to speak, others would attempt to cut him off or change the subject to redirect the conversation. What became apparent was this person was losing credibility, not because of the opinions shared, but rather not being aware of the cues that were so clearly being demonstrated around him. I frame this as Emotional Intelligence. In this Daniel Goleman video, he explains how leaders can change habits for a powerful leadership and organizational impact.
Are these ideas new? Come as a surprise? Probably not. However, as leaders, it does make us stop and think about how to really define Executive Presence and why it matters. As seasoned executive coaches, Paragon Leadership is commonly called upon to support leaders with Executive Presence. Initially, the leader or the organization may not be able to articulate what they mean by this, instead stating, “This leader needs help in elevating his/her executive presence.” Or when they are able to articulate, they do so in a very defined way such as, “The leader needs to be more confident when speaking in front of a large group.” Invariably, however, once we begin working with the client, we quickly learn that the recipient of the coaching likely can benefit from all the elements of Executive Presence described above.
Next time you coach one of your leaders, or reflect upon your own actions and successes as a leader of being able to positively influence and lead, think about the following Executive Presence FACE as a model with which to align.
F – First Impression
A – Authenticity
C- Credible Communication
E – Emotional Intelligence