How to develop executive presence in your leadership team

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How to develop executive presence in your leadership team

There are many different factors that define a good leader. Obvious ones like skills, qualifications, and experience which are easy to quantify – and then there are the more elusive soft skills that some leaders seem to naturally have but others find difficult to develop.

A survey from Gartner revealed that having executive presence skills came in second across the top twenty leadership traits, but while most HR practitioners believe executive presence is easy to spot, most also say it is difficult to define and there is no framework for developing executive presence in their leadership teams. 

Kate Furey, career insights specialist at worldwide employment website Indeed defines executive presence as the ability to inspire confidence as a leader and show you have the potential for great achievements.

Furey told HRD, “It’s a powerful trait, as those who demonstrate it give the impression that they are confident, competent, capable of leading others, and can make a meaningful contribution to an organisation.”

The good news for HR teams is that executive presence is a skill that can be taught and learned.

Below, Furey gives you 5 tips for developing executive presence in your leadership team.

  • Have a leadership vision

Knowing the type of leader, you want to be or emulate, will help you to stay on track when developing an executive presence. Observing leaders that you respect and taking note of how they communicate, and their body language is a helpful way to sketch out your vision. Similarly, noticing traits in leaders who you don’t find inspiring or effective can also be useful to know what to avoid.

In addition to being clear on the type of leader you want to be, set some incremental career goals and an action plan to achieve these. This might include developing certain skills, achieving particular titles, until you get to where you want to be. Make sure your timeframes for your goals are realistic and achievable, so as not to get discouraged. Like any complex skill, developing executive presence takes time.

  • Speak with authority and be succinct

The way someone speaks and holds themselves can be hugely impactful. When someone commands a space and speaks with authority, it inspires confidence. Conversely, when someone speaks as if they are questioning themselves or consistently defers to others, it does little for morale.

Communication and presentation skills can be cultivated, namely through practice and refinement. An effective way to do this is to record yourself before you present or lead a meeting, so you can listen and observe where you falter or don’t sound self-assured and work to address these issues. Understanding how you come across to others is a valuable insight that can be used to refine your executive presence.

  • Understand how others perceive you

Beyond how you come across when you present or lead a meeting, it’s important to understand how colleagues and senior leaders perceive you in other contexts such as over email, in conference calls or in one-on-one catchups. If you want to develop an executive presence, you can’t dismiss certain interactions as unimportant as cumulatively, they all contribute to perception and reputation. Try considering all interactions as an opportunity to connect, rather than a task to be finished.

  • Utilise both verbal and non-verbal communication

In addition to speaking with confidence and being thoughtful in your interactions with others, don’t overlook non-verbal communication such as body language. Effective use of body language can strengthen verbal messages, covey authority and put others at ease.

Examples of powerful body language you should try and make habitual include maintaining eye contact to let the other person know you are listening, having good posture regardless of whether you’re sitting, standing or walking, and being mindful of your facial reactions and posture, for example having your arms crossed when someone is presenting an idea to you can give the impression you’re not open to it.

  • Know when to step back and ask for help

A key part of leadership is knowing when to delegate tasks or connect with others who have specific expertise or experience. Possessing executive presence doesn’t mean you must know how to do everything, it means you inspire confidence that you will get the job done, even if that means outsourcing aspects of a project or seeking guidance from others with more experience.

Also, developing an executive presence isn’t something you need to do alone or in secret. Seek out support and advice from trusted mentors, particularly those whose leadership style you admire. Read books and articles and attend talks on leadership by respected leaders. You could even consider engaging a coach to further help you practice and refine certain skills and provide and unbiased and external sounding board.

Regardless of what stage you are at in your career, you can begin to develop executive presence, starting with small steps such as observing your posture and language. The sooner you begin to notice the traits leaders you respect have in common, the sooner you can begin to practice them, until they become second nature and you exude executive presence without even trying.

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