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Executive Presence: What It Is, Why You Need It, And How To Generate It

The funny thing about Executive Presence that makes all the difference

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Asking someone with Executive Presence how to generate it is like asking a stand-up comedian how to be funny. It doesn’t work that way. Whenever you are dealing with influencing another person, a complex blend of awareness, timing, and skill come into play. Most of this is not conscious and has been internalized over years of practice. Thinking of each step as you go along is not just inefficient, it is experienced by others as insincere or trying too hard.

What Is It?

Making things more difficult is the ambiguity surrounding what is meant by Executive Presence. What it means to you can be vastly different than what it means to someone else. When you are trying to generate more of something, you need to be able to define it. Here is a definition to get us started.

Executive Presence is the ability to inspire confidence that you can lead well in a given situation.

Why You Need It

Anyone who needs to communicate, collaborate, or lead others will benefit from Executive Presence. Notice that two out of the three aforementioned abilities are relevant even if you have no official, or even unofficial leadership role.

When you exude Executive Presence, others have confidence in your ability to get things done. As a result, your work gets easier and you become more productive.

This ability comes with a powerful, added bonus. Executive Presence makes it more likely that people will offer you additional opportunities — the kind that will help you grow your career.

A Crucial Distinction

Executive Presence is entirely subjective. It’s not a quality that everyone can agree on like how Joe (with my shaved head) has less hair than Troy Polamalu (the Pittsburgh Steelers safety whose plentiful locks were insured by Head and Shoulders for $1 million).

Each person is the sole arbiter, for themselves, as to whether you have it. There is no Executive Presence algorithm that works all the time. The only thing that matters is how you influence, in a given moment, how that person feels about you.

How To Generate It: The Six Degrees of Executive Presence

Contrary to popular belief, nothing you “do” will in and of itself generate Executive Presence. The only way to generate it is by affecting how someone feels about you. The secret is that your own feelings, or in other words, your state of being is the main lever you control to affect how someone experiences your presence.

There are six states of being that generate Executive Presence. There is no sequence to follow. There is no ranking or higher or lower importance. You might be wondering, “How do I know which one to use and when?”

The simple answer is whichever one will inspire the confidence, in that moment, that you have the ability to lead.

Let’s take a closer look at each state of being.

  1. Proactive. This means acting in anticipation of future problems, needs or changes. You are not going to wait around for bad things to happen. Instead, you are taking steps to prepare for and handle complications that may arise. When the situation is uncertain, people look to leaders who have an inclination to act. This makes it more likely that you will positively impact the outcome.
  2. Resolute. This is defined as marked by firm determination. You are not going to give up or give in easily. You maintain your course despite complaints or shifting popularity. When the task is difficult, people look to leaders who are committed to following the right path. This makes it more likely that their efforts will be respected.
  3. Equanimity. This describes an evenness of mind, especially under stress. No matter what unexpected thing happens, you will keep your cool. When all hell breaks loose, people look to leaders who are able to maintain their poise while deciding what to do. The added benefit is when you remain calm, you act as a sort of buoy that helps other stay calm.
  4. Stillness. This is a state of freedom from storm or disturbance. You only move when it is time to move — no earlier and no later. Your calm mental state allows you to see things that others miss. When a lot of activity is going on, seemingly all at once, people look to leaders who will not get lost in thoughtless activity.
  5. Engaged. This is when you are giving attention to something. You know what is going on and are there to respond as needed. When the level of difficulty is high, people look to leaders who care and know what is going on. This encourages people to provide input, raise issues, and keep pushing.
  6. Confidence. In “The Confidence Code,” by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman, confidence is defined as “the purity of action produced by a mind free of doubt.” It doesn’t mean you are the best or think you are the best. It means you are performing at “your” best because your actions are not compromised by anxiety, doubts, and insecurity. When an endeavor is daunting, people look to leaders who will bring their best despite the enormity of the task. This inspires their own confidence and the belief that the goal is attainable.
The Last Step

Like a stand-up comedian learning to be funny, you need to practice exuding Executive Presence before you can own the stage. You will hone your ability not just by your successes, but by bombing and learning from what doesn’t work. As your skills and confidence improve, so will others’ response to you. The best part is all the hard work you put in, all the time and effort, will be rewarded not just by applause, but by access to better opportunities. The best time to start practicing is now.

Break a leg!\


Get More Executive Presence

This article was adapted from the new leadership book, Unlock Your Executive Presence: Feel like a Boss. To find out more about Executive Presence and access free leadership videos, podcasts, and guides, go to www.connectioncounselor.com.

As the Connection Counselor, Joe Kwon helps busy professionals elevate their careers by teaching them how to connect to anyone, anytime, anywhere. His emphasis is on practical learning, delivered in an entertaining, heartfelt, and inclusive manner.

An acclaimed coach and keynote speaker with over 20 years of experience in Corporate America, his goal is to help you unlock the best version of yourself.

Joe holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia (Go Hoos!), a law degree from Georgetown University (Hoya Saxa!), and lives in New Jersey with his wife and son.

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