I have, unfortunately, actually seen people promoted into leadership positions because they “looked like a leader.” When I have asked what about those people’s look qualified them for a leadership position I was told, “that’s hard to define but look at them, they are obviously a leader.”
So that’s obviously, at least to me, completely ridiculous. There is no leadership “look.” Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They come in all colors and ages. They come from incredibly diverse backgrounds and levels of education. You can no more tell if someone will be a good leader by looking at them than you can judge a book by it’s cover.
But….there are solid reasons for making at least some effort to “look the part” of a leader. There are people you notice almost immediately when you walk into a room and there are people who seem to almost disappear in a room. Those you notice right away are said to possess a certain “presence.” Or in the case of leadership, an executive presence.
Improving your executive presence can be crucial when you need to project confidence, credibility, and leadership moxie. If you’re interested in projecting a more professional presence, be it in a leadership role or not, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Understand your strengths, weaknesses, values, and communication style. This self-awareness will allow you to align your behaviors and actions with your authentic self. I have always been honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve not always chosen to work on my weaknesses, instead I’ve tried to play to my strengths. But I’ve never tried to hide those weaknesses, especially from myself. If you’re going to lead, you had better be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do. That’s vital because if you can’t be honest with yourself you won’t be honest with anyone.
- Effective communication is essential for executive presence. Improve both your verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Things like articulating ideas clearly, active listening, and maintaining eye contact matter. I sold the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking course for years. I can tell you nothing, absolutely nothing, projects a more powerful executive presence than being an effective communicator in front of a group. And anyone can improve their public speaking skills.
- Dress appropriately for your industry and the occasion, ensuring that your appearance reflects competence and professionalism. Dress codes have certainly changed and loosened over time but they have not completely gone away. When in doubt, “overdress” for the occasion. I’d much rather have someone sneering at me saying “who are you trying to impress” than have people looking at me wondering if I slept in my clothes.
- Confidence is a key element of executive presence. Build your confidence by acknowledging your accomplishments, seeking continuous learning, and challenging yourself. Practice positive self-talk and maintain a confident posture.
- Strong interpersonal skills are crucial for building relationships and influencing others. Develop your ability to connect with people, actively listen, empathize, and adapt your communication style to different individuals and situations. But, and this is a big but, always be yourself. Adapt your communication style but don’t try to “fake” your way to executive presence. You will be found out!
- Executives are expected to make well-informed decisions. Hone your critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. Use those skills to demonstrate your ability to make sound judgments and strategic decisions.
- Build relationships with colleagues, industry peers, mentors, and leaders. A robust network provides support, guidance, and opportunities for growth, while also expanding your visibility and influence.
- Seek feedback from trusted mentors, colleagues, or coaches who can provide constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. Actively work on refining your skills and areas of development.
Executive presence is a journey that requires ongoing effort and self-reflection. By focusing on these areas and continuously striving for growth, you can enhance your executive presence and make a lasting impact in your professional career.