3 Ways to Build Your Executive Presence

UPDATED: September 9, 2014
PUBLISHED: September 9, 2014

What is the difference between an executive who takes hold of a room and one who doesn’t? Presence.

“When great communication ability collides with an authentic leader who has genuine heart for constituents and the organization’s collective aspirations,” says Ron Crossland, vice chair of Bluepoint Leadership, “we have individuals who have the potential to move from good to elite.”

I recently visited with one of those elite leaders—Paula Costa Bravo of The Hershey Company—because I was curious to find out how she navigated the dicey waters of the corporate world as someone relatively new in a leadership role. I asked her how she was surviving since her company’s recent layoffs.

She looked at me, and, without missing a beat, said, “It’s all about mastering the intangibles and establishing an executive presence.”

During times of uncertainty, executives must transfer security and confidence to their direct reports, other departments, peers and customers, she said. Bravo went on to share three critical intangibles she’s learned—not in business school, but in the trenches:

1. Command the room.

When you enter a room, what is your posture? Your shoulders should be erect, not slouched. Your pace should be swift but not hurried. These subtle adjustments send a micro-message that what is about to transpire in this meeting is important.

Eye contact and a simple greeting are central to setting the tone for the meeting. And, when appropriate, an authentic smile loosens the tension in the room and invites everyone to relax as you proceed with business.

2. Visual appearance speaks loud and clear.

Have you ever seen someone who always appears frumpy and disheveled? Someone who is smart and has a good work ethic, but always looks like a “hot mess”?

I remember years ago when one of my sisters told me, “Simon, you can always judge a woman by her black pumps.” She told me that if the heel is scraped and the shoes look run-down, it speaks volumes about how much a woman cares about herself and maybe even how she runs her business. The same goes for men.

This isn’t a new idea. If you haven’t already, check out John T. Malloy’s classic, Dress for Success, to get familiar with proper dress code.

Do you think how you dress impacts your attitude or approach to work? It, at the very least, does make a difference in how you are perceived.

3. Content flows from a congruent spirit.

When you master the intangibles, you discover the secret sauce:  that success is about 60 percent presence, 20 percent visual and 20 percent content.

She said presence is the most believable—right, wrong or indifferent. But this doesn’t mean that you can slack off in preparing substantive content. Bottom line, a congruent spirit seeks to serve and give instead of force-feeding a message.

Executive presence is a daily choice. It doesn’t matter if you are a team leader, individual contributor, self-employed or in transition. Just remember to think about how you are showing up every day. The intangibles create the foundation that establishes the brilliant difference you can make.

Presence is critical for an elite executive, but so is being a person of quality. Find out what Jim Rohn says are the 7 personality traits of a great leader.

Simon T. Bailey

Simon T. Bailey is an international speaker, writer and personal transformation strategist. He is the author of Shift Your Brilliance: Harness the Power of You, Inc., and Be the SPARK: Five Platinum Service Principles for Creating Customers for Life. When he’s not working, he enjoys rooting for the Buffalo Bills (his hometown team).