Defining Executive Presence can seem harder than explaining quantum physics on a 2 inch post-it note. Some believe it’s something you’re born with, as if you either have “It” … or you don’t.
I see it differently.
I’ve spent my entire career coaching people to strengthen their executive presence. In my experience, anyone who’s ready, open, and willing to be coached can learn to show up with executive presence, at their authentic best, even in pressure situations.
Let’s start with understanding what’s meant by the term “Presence”.
Presence — who people unconsciously decide you are in relation to them.
- There’s a survival, fight-or-flight part of our brain — aka the “lizard brain” — that ignites in the first few seconds of every interaction. It makes up a story about the other person. It decides who that person is, or who they think they are, in relation to the other.
- That “lizard” brain doesn’t use language. It interprets body language, facial expression, vocal patterns. And it does that before the frontal cortex interprets words.
- That part of the bran can often ignore gender, ethnicity, size, age, clothing, etc. while it decides who you are in relation to itself. (This is why we believe presence helps to circumvent unconscious bias.)
- Think of “Presence” is being like the wind. You can’t see it, but you can experience its effects.
So, everyone has presence. The question is, what story does your presence tell?
Leadership Presence — others willingly choose you as a leader.
- Evolutionarily speaking, our survival depends on our ability to choose strong, safe leaders.
- If a leader of primitive humans didn’t know what they were doing, or didn’t care about their people, their followers didn’t survive. An ancient part of our brain seems to remember that.
- Leaders who signal both a high level of competence and a high level of approachability attract followers because we’re pre-wired to do that. Essentially, those leaders’ presence conveys what I call the Universal Message of Leadership:
“I know what I’m doing and you’re in good hands with me.”
Executive Presence — you belong with the highest ranking leaders.
- Executive Presence is an advanced version of Leadership Presence. Something like a black belt in martial arts.
- It happens when you’ve not only mastered the fundamental skills of Leadership Presence, you’ve also replaced any unique “tells” that happen when you’re under pressure with more effective behaviors.
“I can skillfully handle the most challenging situations.”
The New Executive Presence — from entry level to the highest ranks, others have full confidence in you, and are comfortable working with you
I make a nuanced distinction between traditional Executive Presence and the version that’s most effective today.
- The New Executive Presence is an evolved version of executive presence.
- It’s a relaxed confidence that’s inclusive & engages others. It’s a leader who acts in alignment with their principles, who’s comfortable in their own skin.