Executive Presence: It’s More Than Commanding a Room
Executive recruiters look for it. Leadership surveys try to measure it. A long list of consultants and coaches want to help people get it.
This hard-to-define, yet widely desired trait is executive presence.
Search for a concise definition of executive presence and the 1.2 million results Google offers include an endless list of attributes and behaviors—appearance, charisma, communication, gravitas. humility, social skills, style, body language, composure, decisiveness, and more.
One of the “experts” defines executive presence as “the ability to master perception.” That’s making people feel like you are honest or compassionate—even if you aren’t. Coaching people to master perception, project an image, and command the crowd makes the journey to develop executive presence sound like a manipulative sales technique or a one-style-fits-all formulaic approach to leading people.
Presence happens. Executive presence is a cumulative effect. What composes presence is paramount. Presence is the outcome of developing authentic character, expressed through the self-awareness, social awareness, likeability, engagement, communication, and appearance that frame genuine character into executive presence. Without character, executive presence is posing at best, and in a weaker moment, a well-positioned ruse.
Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” When an executive focuses on perception and projection, people will likely see an inauthentic representation of who the leader supposes they should be—not who the leader is.
When you have authentic presence, you are able, as John Eldredge suggests, to “let people feel the weight of who you are.”