Developing “Executive Presence”


In my daily work, I’m often asked to help leaders develop executive presence or gravitas.

Here’s how I reflect on what to do:

In a survey asking CIOs to list the top 20 leadership skills, “Executive Presence” came in second.

The post listed seven traits as to what “Executive Presence” is:

  1. Composure,
  2. Connection,
  3. Charisma (ability to draw others in; often achieved by strong listening skills and an ability to stay in the moment),
  4. Confidence (what you say and how you say it – posture, eye contact, pitch volume, pace);
  5. Credibility (no filler language),
  6. Clarity,
  7. Conciseness (not verbose).

In his Harvard Business Review blog post “Deconstructing Executive Presence”, John Beeson states:

“Although executive presence is highly intuitive and difficult to pin down, it ultimately boils down to your ability to project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations; make tough decisions in a timely way and hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.”

Colin Gautrey advises those looking to develop “genuine” gravitas that the behavior is “The external evidence of a deeply held conviction that the individual is totally competent to do what is expected of them and handle anything that comes their way, without feeling the need to prove themselves.”
He concludes (and I rest my case) that “The problem is that gravitas comes from within….”

So what gets in the way of self-confidence and mental clarity?
Lots of ego-driven thinking and self-doubt; endless “Who am I and How am I doing?” comparisons.

The louder the chatter, the less presence and mental clarity are available in the moment.

Gripped by a host of feelings – insecurity, defensiveness, upset, impatience – that appear to be coming from current circumstances, it’s impossible to behave like a confident, credible leader.

Now here’s what I know about how the human system works a 100% of the time:

  1. Our feelings and experience of life are always and only coming from our thinking in the moment. Not from circumstances, other people, events or anything else on the outside.
  2. When we genuinely realize the fact of this understanding, we are less gripped by our thinking in the moment and don’t waste time and energy trying to fix, control or change our circumstances, other people or events.
  3. This naturally clears our head and when our heads are clear, we tap into our natural intelligence, giving us just what’s needed in that moment. The insights we get are fresh, innovative and are just what we need in that moment.

Let’s take another look at the 7 C’s (Composure, Connection, Charisma, Confidence, Credibility, Clarity, and Conciseness) I mentioned earlier.

Take away the mental chatter, and from a clear and present focus, it’s possible to listen deeply and connect with others in the moment. Regardless of the situation, it’s possible to remain calm and composed – or at the very least to recover quickly from spikes of emotional reactions.
When nervous, anxious feelings slip away, the outward behaviors that signal confidence and credibility naturally emerge. Posture, pace, pitch, volume, and eye contact take care of themselves. The message is delivered in a clear, concise, confident manner.

The leader who knows that his or her feelings are not coming from a challenging situation or a strong-willed colleague or customer is able to maintain composure and diffuse emotional situations with calm, fact-based questions and a natural willingness to attempt to understand others.

The leader who understands that change, uncertainty, and workload are never the source of stress and pressure will have more mental bandwidth available to see different ways of getting things done, make timely decisions, and set priorities.

That’s why it’s always true that the greatest untapped resource in every company is the State of Mind of its people.