From the industry: developing your executive presence

Executive presence is ‘brand you’, and is critical to your success in a fiercely competitive corporate world.

It embodies the holistic approach you take to the way in which you present yourself to your subordinates, your peers and to your superiors. Every aspect of your daily life is involved, from how you dress and speak to how you conduct yourself both in and out of the office. It will cover your digital footprint on social media, the relationships you develop and the support and mentoring you both offer and receive.

You need to be seen as a role model, and impressive, both physically and mentally.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle. 

Developing an executive presence requires commitment, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, until it’s is as natural to you as breathing. Once you’ve begun the process, it will dictate the way in which you are perceived as a leader, regarded as a team player and valued as a contributor to corporate success.

Ultimately it will reward you with personal fulfilment, promotion and the potential to reach for the moon.

What’s at stake?

The greater your executive presence the higher your perceived esteem, the sharper your edge and the better your chance of achieving the impossible dream. To excel, you need to be seen as a role model and “A” player.

Image can sometimes be more important than performance, and can give you an unfair advantage. People who are seen positively are often given greater airtime, more weight is given to what they say and they are more likely to be included. They’re more likely to earn the promotion, win the contract or get the pay rise. And this applies not just to one event, but to your entire career, the doors which open, the fast track environment, promotion on promotion and the financial reward to go with it. And it doesn’t stop even when you get to the top. There’s always another challenge, another achievement…

Anyone over the age of 40 must, without exception, seek opportunities for constructive change. Otherwise you will become outdated in your manner, approach and standing. Rather than pass your sell by date, you need to sharpen the saw or re-invent yourself says Robert Tearle.

Your impact & influence

Be positive, energized and enthusiastic, and you’ll become the sort of person others want to work for or with, to have in their team or be heading up the enterprise. If people are unsure about who you are, your credentials, what you do, what you have done and what you are capable of doing – you’ll have zero or minimal executive presence.

You need to consider current stakeholders, influencers and identify those people in your blind spots. Don’t be afraid to use politics to buy in support and sponsorship, and to work your way closer to the top. Tune in to those around you, understand them and identify their motives. Use this knowledge to get them to buy into your ideas.

Avoid self-deprecation and making cheap comments, don’t get too familiar, and learn when it’s best not to say too much.

Staying organised and clutter free will make you appear in control of things.

Mentoring isn’t just a tool for those at the bottom of the corporate ladder but also for those at the top. Even for CEOs there’s huge merit in acting both as a mentor and being mentored. Acting as a mentor will raise your visibility, give you a broader perspective and send a clear message to others.

Energising is fundamental to executive success. Maintain your energy, and energize those around you. To be a role model you need to be energizing as opposed to enervating!

Our principal guidelines here are:

1. You need a sense of purpose.

  • This means understanding how you are trying to bring value to the business, and showing others what you represent so they can buy into your cause. You need to be a man with a mission (or woman with one).
  • People need to appreciate what you are about, the value you are bringing to the company and your direction.

2. In meetings

  • If you have called the meeting you need to control it. Check in by setting the scene: Why are we meeting? What needs to be discussed? What’s the agenda? And check out by summarising what’s been discussed and what action needs to be taken.
  • Be prepared in advance: Determine the big questions, and always ask the thing others are uncertain about. Plan how to answer any questions you may be asked.
  • Don’t be late or frequently rearrange meetings. It will make you appear disorganised.
  • Leave a footprint. Make your mark and be remembered by asking the question or bringing up the issue which is most important and carries most impact.
  • Where appropriate put it in writing, in particular the most important aspects. This will give clarity as to what you expect of people. It will also act as a point of reference.

3. Don’t be a pushover – cultivate assertiveness as a lifetime habit.

Nice or Nasty?

Assertiveness comes from self-confidence, “nasty” behaviour generally reflects insecurity, selfish and blinkered approach.

You may need a better understanding of your preferred or default behaviours and learning how to recognise others’ preferred behaviours … psychometric assessment can help with that. You can then maximise your strengths and how to use them most effectively i.e. assertiveness comes in many forms, not everyone is driven and forceful, many people can be effectively assertive in their expertise and not necessarily in the boardroom.

If you don’t make your case or stand up for yourself when dealing with others you are allowing them to compromise your executive presence, and you will rightly be seen as weak or non-assertive. Avoiding conflict will erode your self-respect and leave you feeling out of control and demoralised.

Endured for too long, non-assertiveness can fester and lead to frustration, ultimately causing you to explode into the opposite approach – aggressiveness, where you fail to respect the rights and feelings of others.

Some people are naturally aggressive, giving commands, making demands and imposing their views on others. Aggressiveness in the workplace is counter-productive and damages the company’s reputation.

The middle course is assertiveness, which calls into play your emotional intelligence in order to assess and empathise with the needs and feelings of those you are dealing with, while keeping your own goals in view, and being able to make your point honestly and openly.

Assertiveness is defined as the direct and appropriate way to stand up for your rights, while respecting the rights of others. Treading the fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness is a skill which takes effort and persistence to acquire, so you need to keep practicing until it becomes a habit for life.

Nice or tough? Think both.

Is anyone undermining you?

Have you noticed anyone responding to you negatively, either vocally or in their body language? If people are, there’s a possibility you stand to lose status to a lesser or greater extent depending on its significance. This is one area in which you’ll benefit from having trusted advisors to talk to. More about this later.

Here’s how you can build a greater presence if you are a quiet gem.

Be seen to be pro-active. You could be the one who co-ordinates a project or an initiative.

Go in for one to one meetings, grab a coffee or club sandwich.

Publish your ideas. Get your smart thoughts out there. Use emails, memos and blogging through internal and external social media as appropriate. Be the one who sets in place the frameworks, and determines what’s best practice.

Send thank you emails, thank you notes or acknowledgements, which you can cc to others and which will raise your visibility.

Make sure your credentials are visible to reinforce your expertise. For example a strong Linkedin profile or having your certificates, if they are relevant and significant, on display in your office.

If you lack confidence in yourself others will too. So fake it. Act how you aspire to be. Follow the role models. What do they do? How do they behave?

Record what was said, by whom, in what context and when

If something concerns you or is important make a note of it, make a note of what was said, by whom and when, and keep it.

There will be times when you will need to refer back to conversations and memos, where you have given instruction or guidance, in particular verbally, where an employee, peer or superior may conveniently fail to recall what was said or re-interpret it in a different manner to suit themselves.

Some managers / execs send an email to themselves to record things they may wish to subsequently refer to, and make this easy to reference by creating email folders for employees / projects / initiatives.

This is an excerpt taken from the white paper Developing Your Executive Presence by Robert Tearle Consulting. Read the full white paper here.