You should take this article with a grain of salt since I have the executive presence of a partially trained monkey with anxiety problems wearing a miniature tuxedo t-shirt. Sure I can do a few tricks, but I’m just as likely to screech at you until you give me half of your sandwich.
That being said, this monkey has some keen powers of observation. So, here are my eight steps to help you achieve a better executive presence, gleaned from years of admittedly simian observation of others who have done this very well.
1. Listening – Great leaders will curb their type A tendencies long enough to truly listen to other’s concerns and ideas. This will help you extract the real story and uncover new information, instead of just relying on fables supported by massaged data. The information gained through your acute listening skills will then help you continually adapt overall company plans which will show that you truly do know what’s going on.
2. Follow up – People quickly grow tired of leaders who say they are going to do something and then don’t do it. If you say you are going to do something, however small it is, do it. If you really don’t want to do it, just say no instead.
3. Confidence – I believe true confidence is forged when innate ability meets hard won experience. It’s then important to use that confidence to stay calm when things are going poorly and people are freaking out and screeching at you.
4. Keeping it real – Great executives seem to have the ability to relate high level strategic plans to the day to day jobs of everyone on the team. Most people don’t live in the strategic world and they are more concerned about their own job and their immediate team. It will greatly enhance your presence if you can make strategy real for everyone by walking people though how the high level plans will affect them personally.
5. Tough Stuff – There are tough conversations lurking around every corner when you are a top leader. It may be a difficult performance review, a bad earnings report, or a difficult customer situation. Great executives will hit those issues head on and get through them. Although they may not enjoy it, they won’t shy away from tough conversations.
6. On time – It’s a small thing, but if you are perpetually late for no good reason, it chips away at your credibility and diminishes your presence.
7. Speaking/Writing – You don’t have to be a natural. These are skills just like water skiing or skeet shooting. You can and should work on getting better at them. And if you do the work, you will improve.
8. Appearance – Aren’t we beyond appearances? No. Always appearing disheveled and not put together will impact people’s impression of you. Why not avoid that and take some pride in your appearance?
Don’t delude yourself into thinking that if you are very good at one of these things, that you have a great executive presence. People and even partially trained monkeys will see through that. Optics matter, and as a top leader you are being held to a higher standard. You should seek to be well rounded and good at all of these things.
Now give me half of your sandwich.