We all know that person in the office who has “it”. You know, that special something no one can really put their finger on. The “it” factor that commands a room and captivates an audience without so much as breaking a sweat. Even when you ask a senior leader what “it” is, they often can’t say. But they certainly know it when they see “it,” everybody does.
Well, that “it” factor actually has a name. In fact, it’s a learned skill that can be developed through mindful practice, strategic planning, and a commitment to the overall picture.
What is “it” exactly?
Executive Presence is a combination of temperament, competencies, and skills—sending all the right signals to an audience that ultimately influences others and drives results.
Jenna Goudreau of Forbes Magazine recognizes it as “…the ability to project gravitas –confidence, poise under pressure and decisiveness…including speaking skills, assertiveness and the ability to read an audience or situation.”
Harrison Monarth, author of Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO, states that “…cold hard facts can’t inspire people to take part in a mission of change; straightforward analysis won’t get people excited about a goal you’re trying to accomplish unless you express it in a vision that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.”
Executive Presence enables leaders to engage and excite employees (at all levels) towards a shared vision and inspire people to something greater. Executive Presence is made up of three key pillars: character, substance, and style.
1. Character: The distinct mental and moral qualities of an individual that help them lead in their own unique way. A person’s character can demonstrate authenticity and humility to ensure others they are operating with the utmost integrity and can in turn, build trust. Trust is an integral part of driving successful teams.
2. Substance: The real physical matter of a person—giving someone a tangible presence. Substance is made up of not only your physical presence, but also confidence and composure, which are necessary to lead teams towards a common corporate objective. Without substance, the vision falls flat.
3. Style: A particular manner of doing something, unique to each individual. With style comes a certain appearance, an aura of inclusiveness, a command of assertiveness. If you want to motivate at a deeper level, you need to appear professional, approachable, and authoritative, while being relatable. Why? No one responds well to a suit and tie that is above where they can reach. A person who leads in a collaborative fashion, and who offers respect, makes people feel valued. When a person feels like they add value to an organization, they thrive.
So, how can you learn Executive Presence? Here’s a four-step process.
First and foremost, it’s important to reflect on your current “presence” to determine what areas need to be improved. How are you performing at work? What areas do you feel need to be developed further? When a crisis hits, are you looked up to as a leader, or do you look towards others to lead? Be honest with yourself and dive deep. Once you recognize areas to enhance, and you take the necessary steps to correct those areas, you’ll have the confidence to dive deeper.
Next, look for inspiration by engaging in conversation with someone you feel has “it.” Watch how they handle a crowd or command a room. Learn from speaking with them. Ask them key questions about their career so that you may grow from their experiences. They are just people, so don’t be intimidated – be encouraged!
Now plan. Write down specific items you need to work on, along with a strategic list to get you there. Make sure your plan is realistic and your goals are attainable.
Lastly, practice. Practice, practice, practice—whether in front of your mirror or with a peer (heck, do both). Ask for feedback from people you respect so that you can build on your efforts. If the initial response isn’t positive, don’t be deflated. Constructive criticism will help push you towards your goal. John Beeson of the Harvard Business Review says, “Although executive presence is highly intuitive and difficult to pin down, it ultimately boils down to your ability to project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations; make tough decisions in a timely way and hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.”
You can get there. With some time and practice, your “it” factor will shine through.