Are You Cultivating Executive Presence?

by Jennifer Reisch, Senior Assistant, INALJ NYC

Are You Cultivating Executive Presence?

2013-11-30 15.31.58Have you ever been passed over for a promotion you know you should have gotten? Ever had a great idea or important feedback that was discounted without any consideration whatsoever? Been in a competition where you performed flawlessly but still were passed over for top awards? You may be suffering from inadequate executive presence.

In her book of that very title, Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success, Sylvia Anne Hewlett argues that professionals are judged on their presence as well as their performance. Executive presence (EP) is based on three things: gravitas (how you act,) communication (how you speak) and appearance (how you look.) It is not a measure of performance or merit. It is a measure of image. If you want to be successful, you must project a polished image to those around you as well as working hard and doing your job well.

According to Hewlett, gravitas is by far the most important facet of EP. To demonstrate that you have gravitas, you need to know the material of your work cold and be able to answer any question that comes your way. In addition to being able to demonstrate your smarts, you must also exude confidence and credibility. Gravitas blunders include lack of integrity, sexual impropriety and off-color or racially insensitive jokes.

It is through your communication that people learn whether or not you have gravitas. She says the two most important communication skills are speaking skills and the ability to command a room. Eye contact is very important, so keeping your eyes on your notes or your PowerPoint when making a presentation will detract from your EP. Accent, grammar, and voice timbre and pitch can all affect how well you communicate as well. Communication blunders include constantly checking electronic devices, rambling and repeating yourself, and appearing bored or detached, whether you actually are or not.

While appearance is the least important of the three aspects of EP, it’s the first thing people notice, and if they can’t get past your appearance they won’t notice how you act or what you say. Grooming and polish are the most important aspects of appearance, and what is appropriate beyond grooming and polish will vary widely from workplace to workplace. Appearance blunders include flashy jewelry and bitten or broken fingernails.

Hewlett promises that looking the part for your job and workplace does not mean you must be just like everyone else. While keeping your appearance polished, you can still develop a look that is authentic for you and appropriate for your work environment.

If you are worried that you don’t have the EP to get ahead, there is hope! The good news is EP can be cultivated and practiced. If you can’t figure out how to improve your EP yourself, ask for feedback from your boss or coworkers. If needed you can hire a coach to help. It may involve hard work: you will need to prepare thoroughly for all presentations, take time to find the perfect clothes for your body and work environment, and pick up skills to help you read your audience and communicate effectively. But Hewlett promises the hours of work are worth it: Developing EP will be transformative for you and for your career.

Hewlett, Sylvia Ann. Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success.
New York: HarperCollins, 2014. Print.

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