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7 Strategies to Help Stand Out as a Leader

Many leaders aren’t born with executive presence. They often hone their skills through years of practicing tips from the experts.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
May 25, 2016

Executive presence is sometimes referred to as personal presence, or leadership presence. We admire it in others and want it for ourselves.

But there's a myth that executive presence is something that's innate—you either have it or you don't. While it may be true that executive presence comes more naturally for some than others, the reality is, everyone can work on developing executive presence. 

A lot of well-meaning advice on executive presence weighs heavily on a person's outward appearance. And while it helps to dress and look the part, these elements simply constitute part of the package.

A fancy suit or knowing which fork to use at a formal dinner are no replacement for character and authenticity, which come from having a strong inner core of values and beliefs.

These seven tips may help you cultivate genuine executive presence:

1. Hone your conversation skills

Individuals who have executive presence can often put people at ease. They try to be inclusive of everyone when conversing in a group setting. Ask yourself this: When people walk away from having interacted with you, do they feel better about themselves, or worse? Have you ignored anyone in the group? Being aware of how people feel about themselves when they're in your presence can be a key aspect of executive presence.

2. Cultivate character and authenticity

It can't be stressed enough that executive presence is usually an inside-out job. A fancy suit or knowing which fork to use at a formal dinner are no replacement for character and authenticity, which come from having a strong inner core of values and beliefs, and a strong sense of clarity about who you are and what you stand for.

Straight talk, self-confidence and simplicity: These are the building blocks of substance. Think about how you might make these a daily habit. As Charlotte Beers, former chair and CEO of advertising giant Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, said at an American Express OPEN for Women CEO BootCamp, "What clients, associates, suppliers [and] employees know first, see first and remember last is who you are."

3. Show warmth

Some people adopt a professional and crisp persona, hiding their genuine warmth to appear more executive-like. They adopt a formal approach to their relationships. But people who have executive presence are often approachable and engaging, whether they're dealing with a receptionist or a CEO. They tend to exude warmth and show a genuine interest in those around them.

4. Be present

It's a misnomer that executive presence is about "commanding a room.” It’s really not about becoming the center of attention. Consider the three circles of energy described in Patsy Rodenburg's bookThe Second Circle: How To Use Positive Energy for Success In Every Situation. Rodenburg, one of the world's leading voice coaches, talks about honing in on the "Second Circle of Energy" as a way for being present whenever we are around others.

Briefly, the three circles are:

  • The First Energy Circle: This energy is inwardly directed. It's an excessive focus on the self. It' s insular.

  • The Third Energy Circle: This is the opposite of the First Circle. It's being out there in everybody's face. You may experience it when voices are a little too loud and individuals take up the oxygen in the room. It's the energy of those who want to "command a room."

  • The Second Energy Circle: This is when your energy is focused toward your audience. It's a give-and-take exchange of energy. This is what Rodenburg defines as having a "stage presence." Great performers have it. Great teachers exemplify it. Great communicators speak from this place.

As Rodenburg puts it, "It is when we are fully present that we do our best work and make our deepest impression on others." 

5. Develop executive maturity

The fast pace of business and the mounting pressures brought about by continuous change may strain our ability to stay composed at all times. Yet the mark of someone who has executive presence is often an ability to stay poised under fire. Knowing what your triggers are may help you keep these under control. Men and women with executive presence have honed their ability to handle whatever cards they're dealt without losing grace. That's executive maturity.

And executive maturity doesn't have to be age-related. You can help cultivate it by raising your self-awareness about your habitual behaviors when things don't go well during your day and making a conscious decision to choose how you'll respond the next time something vexing happens.

6. Master presentation skills

The ability to stand in front of a group of customers, peers or employees to deliver key company messages with clarity, confidence and poise is a prized quality—and often a fundamental skill for anyone who aspires to have executive presence. As the global management consultants at McKinsey & Co. put it in the book, The McKinsey Mind: Understanding and Implementing the Problem-Solving Tools and Management Techniques of the World's Top Strategic Consulting Firm, "Presentation is the 'Killer Skill' we take into the real world. It gives us an almost unfair advantage.”

Investing the time needed to master this skill may open the door to executive presence. An experienced coach may also help.

7. Seek feedback

If you're a small-business owner unable to marshal your troops or get past the gatekeeper to speak to the executive decision-makers, seek feedback about how you can improve your executive presence. Ask a trusted advisor to give you honest feedback so you can take steps to manage the perceptions others have of you.

Also take "The Exceptional Presence Questionnaire" in Jennifer K. Crittenden's book, You, Not I: Exceptional Presence Through the Eyes of Others. It may give you some insights into how you see yourself and whether you feel you have the components of strong presence.

Executive presence, based on authenticity, can be a powerful tool in your leadership toolkit because it gets people to pay attention to you. This authority and respect will hopefully fling the door wide open for you to inspire and influence others to achieve important company goals or land extraordinary deals. 

Read more articles on leadership.

This article was originally published on June 30, 2014.

Photo: iStockphoto
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.