Career Success

What is Executive Presence?

By EverwiseOctober 29, 2015

We asked executives and leaders, “What is executive presence? How do you work on it?”

As you advance in your career, you might begin to hear the words “executive presence” tossed around. What does this vague term mean? According to Forbes, executive presence is “the ability to project gravitas – confidence, poise under pressure and decisiveness” as well as “communication – including speaking skills, assertiveness and the ability to read an audience or situation – and appearance.”

While this definition may seem vague, it is an important skill for rising leaders. A Forbes survey of 268 senior executives reported that executive presence accounts for 26% of what it takes to get promoted. In light of this compelling statistic and the illusiveness of this skill, we asked executives from our mentor-base:

If your manager gives feedback saying that you need to work on your “executive presence” but doesn’t elaborate beyond that, what does that mean? How do you figure out what you actually need to work on?

Here are their thoughts:

Adriana Boersma – Chief Empowerment Officer, Be Big
Adriana has over 25 years of experience in management in the telecommunication industry.

It is good to always go back for clarification. Looking for feedback is critical, so start with your team and your boss. To improve your executive presence, I would suggest after circling back with your manager that you work on your communications skills, improve your ability to read the customers, managers, and people around you.

Depending on your industry, you should also look at your own individual appearance. Maybe you need to think about this as well. But more important than how you dress, how you stand out intellectually can also very important when you are improving your executive presence.

Be yourself. Be authentic! It also helps if you are genuine and warm towards others. Be approachable and engaging, whether you are talking to your boss, the Managing Director, or the office assistant. Sometimes we have bad days, but being able to know yourself and control any situation that comes our way is very important. Lastly, I would recommend that you check how well you can handle an audience and how strong you are at making presentations. This is also an important part of your executive presence, which many people forget.

Anthony Privetera – Financial Advisor, Morgan Stanley
Anthony has over 14 years of experience in the financial services industry.

I would suggest you do a skill inventory on what you think you need and rate them (honestly!). Then share them with a mentor (or someone else trusted at the office) to get feedback before going back to your boss for the same. “Executive presence,” while a general term, has something unique to each industry/company/department that needs to be done. So you will have to tailor your approach to your unique situation and grow with it, reviewing it every year or every time you change roles in a team or job.

Chris Mills – Chief Operating Officer, BNP Paribas
Chris has over 25 years of experience in the financial services industry.

It can be difficult to interpret comments made by others. However, executive presence is usually directed at ‘you:’ how you are perceived and your impact or influence in management meetings, board meetings, client or stakeholder meetings. Your executive image will cover perception, performance, energy, enthusiasm, challenge, assertiveness and ability. When participating in meetings your manager could be looking at your contribution levels; assertiveness on discussion points ensuring your view is received and noted; to take the lead if appropriate; to leave a footprint; and to be self-confident.

Depending on your relationship with you manager, I would recommend asking for a more detailed feedback on ‘executive presence’ to ensure your energy is focused and relevant. Look at this approach as the start of being assertive in the management of relationships!

Gerry Dempsey – Partner Account Manager, Cisco
Gerry has over 25 years of experience in business development in computer networking.

I will start with layer one: always dress professionally and make your appearance crisp. Next is the way you carry yourself.. Don’t slouch. Walk with a purpose. Look people directly in the eye. Give a firm handshake. Speak clearly and concisely, and use words you know.

Spend time with an executive when you can and learn to think like they do.  The perspective will help as you apply it to your own career and personal life. I started by reading The Economist and The Wall Street Journal to learn “executive speak” from articles, etc. After a while you will think and act like an executive and people will begin to take notice.

Gray McQuarrie – Senior Consultant, Factory Physics
Gray has over 31 years of experience in manufacturing  and management consulting.

First, don’t let this criticism throw you off your game. Always be you – it will pay dividends for you in your career. Second, your manager may not know exactly what he or she wants. That is typical and ok. What they are expressing is likely something they sense, or feel about you, in terms of how you are working with them. Do try to get clarification, but know that they may become frustrated. If they do, don’t ask for anymore clarification. Third, try to figure out what might have triggered the criticism by observing their interactions and what they like and don’t like. If you are patient and observant, every executive I have worked with will say the style they want and how to win with them through their actions and comments.

Lastly, if you are presenting to a group of executives, don’t expect to get past the first slide. Remember executive time is precious. They want the facts not elaboration. If they get what you are saying in a few words, stop. Learn to be comfortable with silence. Don’t be offended if they don’t want to listen to you. And don’t ask how you did either. They don’t really care! They care about the whole business with all of its people, structures, systems, complexities, threats, and challenges. If your ego can accept this fact and you can be humble, if you can adapt, learn, and listen, then you will come across as having a strong executive presence.

Bryan Dennstedt – Chief Technology Officer, iPic Theaters
Bryan has over 16 years of experience in information technology.

I would definitely ask for the clarification, but I would guess it means a couple things. You likely need to summarize things more: instead of reams of data or lots of numbers, you need to break things into an executive summary, a nice pie graph or something along those lines. Alternately, it could be quite the opposite: you are drawing conclusions without enough facts, so while the summary is good, s/he wants to see the supporting data that proves you are right.

Next time, try a few different styles and see what goes over better. Always ask for more feedback. If your manager isn’t capable of answering, then lay out the multiple answers to help. Half the battle is managing up!

What has helped you work on your executive presence? Have you ever had to manage up to clarify feedback? Share your experiences with our team in 140 characters or less, so we can tweet them to our audience!



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