There are those who walk into a room and every pair of eyes turns to them. Conversations stop and people sit in rapt attention, waiting for the individual to start speaking. This ability to command respect can seem downright effortless for some—these self-assured individuals carry themselves with a confidence and poise that appears to be part of their DNA.
In reality, most people have to work hard and put forth a conscious effort to become self-confident and earn others’ respect. It is part of building one’s executive presence.
What is executive presence?
It’s a term that gets bandied around a lot, but is tough to nail down. I personally agree with the definition that Bill Hoogterp, CEO of Own the Room, gave to Forbes: “Think of executive presence as exuding confidence, connecting with the room regardless of its size, and communicating your ideas strongly, engagingly, and succinctly.”
Executive presence goes beyond physical beauty, height, and the sound of one’s voice. It goes beyond gender and race. It has everything to do with body language, actions, and self-awareness.
Why focus on executive presence?
If you are striving to land a high-level leadership position, it is essential to hone your executive presence. How you present yourself to others matters. No matter how capable and reliable you are, if you come across as either abrasive or meek, you will likely never rise to an executive position.
How do you start building your executive presence?
Business coach Amy Tez calls executive presence an art which is “deeply personal and must be refined and mastered over time through experimentation, failure, and repeated execution.” While it’s true that it takes time and practice to build your executive skills, you can get started NOW by focusing on four key factors:
1. Practice Self-Awareness
Executive presence starts with you. Pay attention to your self-talk. Are you constantly second-guessing yourself or criticizing your appearance, personality, or intelligence? Stop!
Start to change your internal narrative by focusing on your strengths and telling yourself that you are capable, intelligent, and worthy of respect. The more you affirm yourself, the greater your confidence will grow.
2. Focus on Body Language
Body language is powerful. Keeping your shoulders back, maintaining steady eye contact, and exuding a sense of calm can help build your authority. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has found that even if you don’t feel confident, if you practice looking confident, you’ll eventually embody that confidence and start to believe in it.
3. Pay Attention to Others
Part of constructing your executive presence involves engaging and interacting with others. Instead of either commandeering a conversation or timidly hiding in the corner, practice connecting and mediating. Put away your phone and actively listen to what others are saying. Ask good questions and make an effort to bring everyone in to the conversation. To the polished executive, others’ thoughts and opinions are not a threat; they provide a bridge to help you engage and connect.
It’s easier to put forth a confident calm if you enter a situation with as much preparation as possible. If you’re presenting at meeting, do your research, anticipate questions, and practice, practice, practice. If you’re meeting with a new client or co-worker, do your best to learn about their background and rehearse a few questions you might ask. Even if you’re simply attending a meeting, make an effort to prepare by researching the topic and jotting down a list of potential questions you could ask. Your preparedness will be noticed.
A word of caution: Though it’s a good idea to be prepared and know your stuff, make an effort to share the floor with others. Capable leaders are knowledgeable, but they are also humble enough to realize that they don’t know everything and would benefit from listening to the knowledge and input of other people.
Building executive presence is an ongoing task that takes attention and concerted effort. Start by being mindful of your self-talk and body language, preparing for every upcoming event or interaction, and endeavoring to engage and connect with others. Keep at it! On your rise to the top, a well-honed executive presence will prevent you from continuously bumping against the glass ceiling.