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Executive Presence

Several of my clients have brought up concerns about not being "heard" at work. They feel that they have a lot to contribute, but are not recognized for that. A couple have gotten feedback that they need to do a better job at being in control of a room, at having more of an executive presence.

We judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions.

Executive presence is one of those phrases that seems to have a vague meaning – or different meanings to each person. Even worse, if you look at articles about this topic, you will find that for women it seems to be about dressing for success, while for men it's about being bold and demonstrating power and authority. Sigh. Next post I will share a couple of good articles and books. Until then, do yourself a favor and stay away from most of what is out there.

I think executive presence is about how others perceive you and how that affects your ability to get things done with and through others. It is about how you show up and demonstrate confidence, communicate (especially listening), and create and demonstrate your brand. And yes, you do have a brand -- it's how others describe you or think about you.

One thing you might want to do from the start is to ask for advice about how you can increase your executive presence. Ask people you trust to be straightforward with you, not necessarily your closest friends. Not only may you get some great advice, but you will also get insight into what others think executive presence means. Another thing you can do is videotape yourself and pretend you are in a meeting – how do you come across?

In my research and work with others, these are some best practices for demonstrating your executive presence:

1. Be good at what you do – you need to be competent for people to want to pay attention. In fact, you need to take care of this before you work on anything else. If you command a room and share dumb idea, that won't get you where you want to go.

2. Actively listen to others, encourage others to speak up, directly ask for their thoughts on issues under discussion; when you speak, use strong language vice being tentative, make your point and then invite others to make theirs. When you are listening, be really present. Don't focus on what you want to say next, just listen. Thank others for sharing their thoughts.

3. Make sure you act like you belong where you are – look people in the eye, stand up straight, sit at the table, speak up, be energetic and attentive. Focus on displaying confidence, not arrogance.

4. Make sure you understand the big picture vice only the next action; be positive about where you are headed and paint a picture of a better future that you and others will build together. Even when things are rough, have a positive goal in mind and recruit others on that journey.

5. Be authentic – people can smell a lie; be humble – people don’t like a braggart; be decisive – things need to get done; and be quiet – let others contribute.

Finally, be concise – make your point and stop talking.

A leader without true followers, is simply going on a walk

Here are some other things you can do to increase your executive presence:

Watch other people at meetings or on TV – identify those who inspire confidence in you and look for what makes you feel that way. Is it the way they dress, interact with others, speak, hold themselves?

Ask yourself how others would describe you and your working style. Would they use words like confident, capable, a good listener, personal warmth, inclusive, someone who looks out for others?

Fake it ‘til you make it is a terrible saying, but there is something to acting like the leader you want to be. It’s like how some people will only apply for a job if they feel they meet all of the qualifications, while others will take a shot when they barely meet 50% of the stated qualifications.

Build your network. People with executive presence don’t know how to do everything, but their ability to demonstrate that they can deal with challenges is often because they can leverage their network.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. ~John Quincy Adams

Now go make it happen -- Tom

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