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.”
Hanlon’s razor is funny – “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
Alder’s is alegedly sharper – “If something cannot be settled by experiment or observation, it is not worthy of debate.”
Rand’s is a bit of a head-scratcher – “Concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity, nor are they to be integrated in disregard of necessity.” Huh?
But since the 14th century, Ockham’s razor has sliced through more layers of complexity than any other philosophy. Friar and philosopher William Ockham proposed that “among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”
If Ockham were sitting in a corporate board room instead of his convent, he’d likely say something like, “Simplicity and focus lead to the best outcomes. Don’t waste time assuming anything, especially that more options result in better choices.”
Unneeded complication arising from superfluous options is a common malady in corporations today. Outcomes are often more related to individual competence than to the size or breadth of an organization. Diversification can dilute focus as much as it reflects versatility. Global sounds impressive, but not if you need help in a small town in Iowa.
The next time you face a decision, get out your razor and trim away the complexity. DaVinci reminded us, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Your Team: You Can’t Build a Puzzle if all the Pieces are Round
Think for a moment about your team.
Those jigsaw puzzles with pieces that are all the same size and shape were designed by people who love to inflict pain on others. Imagine what kind of person would create a puzzle with pieces that are only round. That person seems to be driving how teams are built in companies today . . .
From Starbucks to Salesforce to Staples, workplace diversity is getting some much-needed attention. The Census Bureau says the U.S. population is over 35 percent multicultural. That fact and some uncomfortable analytics are promoting companies to actively pursue greater diversity in their teams.
Beyond it being the right thing to do, building greater diversity across our enterprises has a direct impact on results. McKinsey&Company found “a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.” Boston Consulting Group’s study of 171 companies found “a clear relationship between the diversity of companies’ management teams and the revenues they get from innovative products and services.”
But one dimension of diversity we don’t hear much about—where the round puzzle piece is dominant, is cognitive diversity. Harvard Business Reviewresearchers Alison Reynolds and David Lewis define cognitive diversity as “how individuals think about and engage with new, uncertain, and complex situations.”[i]
The impact of cultural diversity is lost if companies continue to hire “in their own image” or if recruiters take the safe route and only present candidates who are highly skilled and highly compliant. To streamline and accelerate decision-making, many senior leaders build teams of executives that think alike and readily agree, when what they need is a better process for making decisions within highly divergent points of view.
From problem solving to decision making to innovation to market expansion, executive teams accomplish more when there is both cultural diversity and cognitive diversity. In other words, the most productive teams don’t readily agree. They engage in what Patrick Lencioni calls “productive, ideological conflict: passionate, unfiltered debate around issues of importance.”
That kind of diversity will make people uneasy. It will challenge the insecure. Cognitive diversity will force static organizations to change their xenophobic cultures and willingly consider issues from multiple angles, giving equal consideration to unpopular options when making decisions that solve real problems and accelerate profitable growth.
Cognitive diversity is apparent in teams that pursue—
Collaboration more than cohesion.
Alignment more than agreement.
Unity of purpose more than unanimity of thought.
Regina Dugan, head of Facebook’s secretive Building 8 hardware team is right. “You have to get to the place where you aren’t made comfortable by the fact that everyone is the same, but rather feel inspired by how different we are.”
Executive branding helps a leader define that difference and use it productively to advance a career—and bring value to an enterprise.
[i] Harvard Business Review, March 30, 2017. Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re Cognitively Diverse
If your company invested $700 million to $1 billion in a market opportunity with little or no revenue growth, you would quickly reconsider the proposition behind the investment. U.S. companies are spending that amount trying to increase employee engagement while Gallup tells us engagement remains flat at 32% in the U.S. and 13% globally.
The connection between employee engagement and productivity, profitability, client satisfaction, and absenteeism is well-documented. Separate studies from McKinsey and Gallup state that productivity improves 20-25% with connected employees.
To foster engagement, new corporate campuses look like city parks, loaded with places to collaborate, exercise, engage with colleagues, enjoy free gourmet meals, and relax. Deloitte’s list of factors that contribute to a positive work environment includes—
Time for slack
Self-directed, dynamic learning
Culture of recognition
Accountability for results is not on the list.
Yet, telling someone their effort makes a difference, is one of the most powerful ways to fuel an employee’s passion and energy. Realistic expectations and accountability for achieving them are more impactful than any other corporate benefit. You can easily identify people not motivated by accountability. They are the people that don’t want to do what they are supposed to do.
Let’s rethink employee engagement. The desire for full engagement across an organization leads to the plethora of initiatives consuming that $700 million. What if companies stopped trying to engage everyone in the enterprise and focused those investments primarily on the emerging leaders, high potential employees, and the people the company can’t afford to lose to another organization—or to their own apathy?
If the Pareto Principle is true, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest engagement dollars in expanding the 20% producing most of the results to 40%? The ROI should increase exponentially for companies that focus more effort toward high-potential leaders most likely to become fully vested in their own and the organization’s success. And, in the process, the same 20% are highly likely to influence the engagement of other key talent, now and in the future!
Job satisfaction, personal happiness, and engagement with life (including work) are not the result of a perfect environment. They are the result of personal choice. A percentage of every workforce is disengaged with life and will likely never become engaged at work. To invest equally in that group as in the people most likely to grow and contribute is a questionable strategy.
One component of executive branding is helping a leader recognize his or her unique value contribution and how a distinct combination of skills, personality, executive presence, and potential defines current and future success. Build the brand of the people willing to take responsibility for their—and your company’s success.
Treating every employee fairly is isn’t treating every employee the same.
In the mid-1800’s, as scores of people (outlaws included) pursued opportunity in Texas, the phrase “Gone to Texas” or GTT would frequently appear nailed to the doors of abandoned houses or on fences beside vacated property. More recently, the Texas Governor’s Office of Economic Development gave GTT a second life by attracting new businesses to the Lone Star State with the promise of “Texas: Wide Open for Business.”
This 21st century GTT invitation is working! As home to 54 Fortune 500 companies, Texas ranks No. 2 in the U.S., ahead of California and Illinois. In the past six years, 75 major corporations have moved to Dallas/Fort Worth. Start-ups, company expansions, and corporate growth in DFW generated over 119,000 jobs between February 2016 and February 2017. An accelerating business environment creates an exponential competition for talent.
The Dallas Business Journalrecently detailed the talent grab spreading across north Texas. None of the companies moving to Texas have announced an interest in candidates from the bottom half of the talent pool. The best companies are implementing ways to find and hire the top ten percent—and they are getting what they want.
Toyota announced their move from California and in a few months received 19,000 resumes aimed at the 1,000 openings the automaker is bringing to Plano. Tractor manufacturer Kubota’s move to Grapevine is driven by the need for innovation, efficiency, and talent. On a smaller scale, private equity firms are considering the talent in an acquisition as carefully as their quantification of a company’s financial results.
More than ever, human capital investments are being analyzed, quantified, and measured for impact to the business. In designing themselves for the future, companies must address the need for visionary leaders who can build a culture, the impact of workplace automation, and the on-going demand for employee engagement. These challenges become opportunities for differentiation when the leaders charged with resolving these realities are the most talented people the market offers.
How well is your executive leadership equipped to excel in a market where talent, technology, and transformation are driving forces in every organization?
Your Brand Isn’t What You Do. Your Brand is the Impact You Bring.
Companies aren’t buying what many executives are selling.
In a cut-to-the-chase, hyper-competitive, globally uncertain business environment, Boards of Directors, and CEOs pursuing exceptional talent are looking for people with a history of creating results, not people doing the things that should create results.
If you compile the findings of surveys querying CEOs’ biggest concerns, top executives consistently state their angst is linked to:
Leading Digital Transformation
Creating Disruptive Innovation
Securing Global Data
Finding Critical Talent
Ensuring Organizational Alignment and Employee Engagement
Navigating Geopolitical Uncertainty
Driving revenue growth, increasing cash flow and profitability, creating client loyalty, and improving shareholder value come with the job. If a CEO isn’t achieving these, he or she will quickly add to the statistics about rapid CEO turnover.
This means executive branding isn’t about creating awareness and market perception about what you do. Executive branding is building a reputation, crafting a powerful message, and clearly communicating your impact on what matters to CEOs and Boards, and how effectively you engage with the people around you.
Your brand is:
Knowledge – What you know or the answers you can get.
Relationships – Who you know or who you can connect with.
Results – How what you do produces results that impact what matters.
Reputation – Your history of delivering outcomes that drive corporate success.
A scan of executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles reflects a gap between what many committed and successful leaders are talking about and what the people hiring them care about. Whether you want to advance in your current company or are considering outside opportunities, it’s time to refresh your brand around your results more than your activity.
Exciting news about a personal branding service for executives. I am delighted to work with my colleague, Jim Hess to launch this enterprise–as an addition to the speaking and training solutions I provide through Jordan Development.
Brand Enhancement Service Available for Senior Executives
Dallas/Fort Worth, TX (June 15, 2017) Leapfrog Executive Search, a boutique retained search firm, today announced the formation of Leapfrog Executive Services, a new division dedicated to helping senior executives enhance their personal brands.
In response to a market demand by currently employed, C-level executives wanting to pursue new leadership roles, Leapfrog Executive Services will provide resumes, marketing biographies, LinkedIn profile optimization, and social media enhancement to help executives create greater differentiation, increase visibility, and gain personal credibility in the marketplace.
Jim Hess, Founder and Managing Principal of Leapfrog Executive Services and Leapfrog Executive Search said, “In conversations with sitting senior executives, we learned that a C-level executive wanting to initiate the pursuit of a new career opportunity needs a trusted, quality resource, that can provide personalized, confidential, and timely branding and marketing assistance. Unlike outplacement, our services will help executives proactively advance themselves in a market without waiting for opportunities to come to them. We are excited to offer this valuable service and become an organization to which others can confidently refer executives.”
About Leapfrog Executive Search:
Founded in 2001, Leapfrog Executive Search provides retained search expertise that is focused primarily on HR leadership roles. The company is uniquely positioned to complete searches for talented performers who impact bottom-line performance. Organizations choose to engage Leapfrog Executive Search because of a demonstrated commitment to building relationships with HR leaders, functional leaders, and vendors, giving the firm unparalleled access to talent. Leapfrog Executive Search brings clients broad industry knowledge and solid domain expertise that ensures candidates are aligned with each client’s business challenges, strategic opportunities, and organizational culture.
Whatever your role, it is always good to ask yourself, “Who is my customer?”
By definition, a monopoly is “the exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade in a commodity or service.” That is the kind of relationship many corporate functions enjoy. When the monopoly goes unchecked, costs increase, it is difficult to compete, and soon “corporate” becomes the center of the business universe–much to the dismay of the end user or customer.
University of Toronto professor Roger Martin raises some solid questions about improving the monopolies held by shared services in companies in Harvard Business Review.
“Competition is business’s great trainer . . . When a customer chooses an alternative provider, that provides an important signal of how the monopolist needs to get better to get that customer back . . . Hence, my belief is that the only way to have efficient, effective corporate functions is to take away their monopoly right to serve.” (RLM)
His brief opinion is worth a read–and some reflective consideration by leaders in IT, finance, HR, etc.
Are your training investments focused on developing strengths or overcoming weaknesses?
Peter Drucker said, “[Someone] should never be appointed to a managerial position if his vision focuses on people’s weaknesses rather than on their strengths. The [person] who always knows exactly what people cannot do, but never sees anything they can do, will undermine the spirit of his organization.”
Drucker’s thoughts are underscored and expanded in a recent Harvard Business Review article by the talented team at Gallup. They conclude that, “there’s significant potential in developing what is innately right with people versus trying to fix what’s wrong with them.” At a time when employee engagement is a pressing concern for many global organizations, this Gallup study found employees are six times more likely to be engaged at work when they get to do what they are good at–rather than focusing on those skills in which they will never excel.
Hiring strengths and teaming to account for weaknesses is more than a popular HR mantra. Gallup’s research found it makes good business sense with solid growth in sales, profits, and customer engagement.
Investing training dollars in trying to get people better at things they will never be good at is a misplaced use of time and resources.
After a series of unexpected changes, difficult circumstances, and repeated disappointments, it is tempting to pack your hope in a box in the attic of your mind and think that the worst that could happen might be the best that will happen. You start sounding like the Peanuts character Snoopy as he bemoaned, “Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There’s so little hope of advancement.”
In 1936, Václav Havel was born into one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Prague. His grandfather was a leader in the arts, and his uncle’s work laid the foundation for the Czech film industry. Following the 1948 communist coup, Havel’s family lost most of its wealth. A gifted author and playwright, Havel was a banned writer after his condemnation of the Warsaw Pact invasion. In 1977, he was charged with trying to subvert the state, and in 1979, sentenced to four years in jail. Ten years later, he was again incarcerated, this time for standing in the street. During long nights in prison, Havel could not have imagined that he would one day emerge as the central figure of the Velvet Revolution and become the first president of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
Repeatedly slammed by discouragement, defeat, and the brusque unfairness of life, Havel continued to pursue his dream of a better future for himself and his nation. He learned to see beyond his current circumstances, refusing to allow the realities of the present to dim his convictions about the future. While speaking at the Hiroshima Memorial in 1995, Havel shared a message that articulated the beliefs that kept him pressing forward after hitting wall after wall of opposition.
“Many times in my life and not just when I was in prison, I found myself in a situation in which everything seemed to conspire against me, when nothing I wished for or worked for seemed likely to succeed … Whenever I found myself immersed in such melancholy thoughts I would ask myself a very simple question over and over again, ‘Why don’t you just give up on everything?’ … Each time, I would eventually realize that hope, in the deepest sense of the word, does not come from the outside, that hope is not something to be found in external indications simply when a course of action may turn out well, nor is it something I have no reason to feel when it is obvious that nothing will turn out well … hope is a state of mind, and we either have it, or we don’t, quite independently of the state of affairs immediately around us … Indeed, only the infinite and the eternal, recognized or surmised, can explain the no less mysterious phenomenon of hope … I do not know of a single case in which there is a genuine acceptance of some bitter personal fate … which can be explained by anything other than humankind’s sense of something that transcends earthly gratification.”
Attitude is not dictated by circumstances. Wherever you are in life and whatever you may encounter during the journey, it is valuable to remember that your attitude isn’t imposed on you — you choose it.
Difficulties in life are not dispersed through a merit system. Unexpected events often bring unwanted adjustments. Doing what is right can make a situation more difficult than when it started. Choose to look at life through a lens of hope.
As a leader, one of the valuable roles you play in the lives of the people you lead is demonstrating genuine hope — a hope you choose, that tomorrow will be better than today. Take advantage of every communication to provide a realistic and hope-filled assessment of the present and the future.