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Lipstick on a Pig? 10 Ways to Improve Your “Executive Presence”

Lipstick on a Pig? 10 Ways to Improve Your “Executive Presence”

Dan McCarthy

March 03, 2009

When I work with senior managers on their development plans, or facilitate talent review meetings, one of the most frequently mentioned development needs is a thing called “executive presence”, or “leadership presence”.

“Presence” is one of those mysterious leadership competencies, and is a label that’s often used to describe a myriad of behaviors, including image, confidence, command skills, influence, high impact communication, authenticity, and yes, even a firm handshake.

A CEO once described it to me as “when they speak in the boardroom, do people listen? Can they command a room”?

It’s a competency that becomes increasingly important the higher a leader moves up in an organization. It’s less important for a working supervisor; critical for a CEO.

While putting a label on it and being able to describe what it looks like (and what it doesn’t) certainly helps, knowing how to improve it is even harder.

Fear not, it’s not impossible. Presence is not something babies are born with, it’s not some latent gene that comes alive when promoted. While it’s one of the harder leadership competencies to develop, it can be done.

It’s taken me a while, through trial and error, to come up with solid development actions to address this need. So if you aspire to be an executive, or already are and have been told you are lacking presence, here are 10 things you can pick from for your development plan:

1. Get feedback. And don’t just ask anyone, because presence is often defined differently. Find out from those that are making promotional decisions, either directly or indirectly, what it means and what it looks like. Every company culture is different. I mentioned the CEO example – his definition may not be perfect, but it certainly described what he was looking for. Your friendly neighborhood HR Director or VP will often have valuable insight in this area, and would be glad to tell you in a tactful way what it is and how you stack up. And by the way – when you ask for feedback, be prepared to listen. See 18 Tips for Receiving Feedback.

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