How You Enter a Room Matters: The Value of Executive Presence

This blog is part of a 16-part series focused on what capabilities make a strong leader. Sounding Board has identified 16 leadership capabilities that the strongest leaders possess. These were developed from research-backed leadership theories, leadership competencies used for evaluation from top business schools, and 25+ years of practical coaching application. 

When a great leader walks into a room, you know it. It doesn’t matter how they’re introduced, what title they have, or even what they say. It’s all about how they say it, and how they make people feel. Maybe their attitude is so compelling you want your own leaders to replicate it. Or, maybe their excitement about a project is so infectious you and your team get excited too — even if they weren’t all that excited before. Whatever it is, that leader’s ability to inspire and influence is what makes them stand out.

This is executive presence. It’s what employers look for when hiring or promoting leaders, and it’s what makes so many people follow well known figures like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former President Barack Obama. After all, if someone can inspire people with their words and their actions, they can probably lead them anywhere.

Despite its influence, of all the traits someone needs to become a successful leader, executive presence may seem to be the most allusive. Some erroneously believe that you have to be born this way, as if charisma is a boon that only some leaders are lucky enough to inherit. That’s not true. This special trait isn’t just something people are born with, it’s a capability they can develop with time and practice. 

So, what is executive presence?

According to Author and Executive Coach Gerry Valentine, executive presence is when a leader inspires confidence in their subordinates, instilling a feeling and belief that they are the leader they want to follow. Leaders with executive presence also inspire confidence among their peers that they’re capable and reliable, and perhaps most important, these leaders inspire confidence among more senior leaders that they have the potential to achieve great things. 

Yes, some people are born with that je ne sais quoi that makes inspiring others as easy as breathing. But inspiring others will only get you so far if you’re missing other critical leadership capabilities. That’s where leadership coaching can be extremely valuable as a development tool. Not only can dedicated work with an experienced, skilled coach help you to develop executive presence, it can help you develop this valuable skill in concert with other leadership capabilities that can collectively turn you into a powerful agent for positive change and business impact.

Having spent thousands of hours working with amazing leaders, and conducting and absorbing some value research into different facets of leadership development, Sounding Board has determined there are four major components of executive presence. Each is something leaders can develop. To lead with executive presence, you should be able to:

  • Build genuine relationships with strategic business partners
  • Generate trust and credibility
  • Demonstrate confidence and clarity, and
  • Exude an authentic style that inspires others

Easy, right? Well, maybe it’s not that easy, but fortunately there’s help. One of the best ways to improve executive presence is to secure the right kind of support and guidance. Working 1:1 with one of Sounding Board’s certified leadership coaches can help your leaders at all levels of the organization see what skills they already possess, and where they may need to improve in order to develop executive presence.

Leading with Executive Presence

We get it. As a talent leader you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, Oprah is great, but I’m not trying to hire Oprah.” We understand completely; that makes sense. You should be looking to develop and promote authentic leaders who show potential and a desire to learn and grow. Oprah is fabulous, but it’s the emerging and high potential leaders, the ambitious, high performing individual contributors, who will benefit most from leadership coaching.

Have you ever been in a room when a leader enters, and nothing happens? No one stops talking, few even look up, and it takes several minutes for the leader to get everyone’s attention. If after they call the room to order, they’re still not grabbing focus, some people might even leave. It can be really uncomfortable to be in situations like that. The speaker may have great ideas and an important vision for the company, but if no one will listen, where’s the value?

Without executive presence, the ability to command a room, to keep people engaged and listening, it can be difficult to lead. Leaders without executive presence — or without enough executive presence — are often less effective, more difficult to retain, and more challenging to manage.

Improving Executive Presence

Whether your leaders already have this capability or not, time spent improving executive presence is time well spent. Executive presence is a leadership skill that can directly influence other leadership skills.

Consider collaboration, one of 16 leadership capabilities that we’ve discussed in this blog series. It can directly influence a leader’s executive presence, and vice versa. To be collaborative requires that a leader work well with others, share credit where credit is due, and be open to learning and potentially integrating new ideas, perspectives, and information. Working with a leadership coach can develop emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and have a near immediate impact on someone’s ability to lead self, interact with and lead others, and lead for impact, all of which impact collaboration — and all of which relate to, and are influenced by, executive presence. 

A coach can challenge a leader’s long held assumptions and behaviors, and encourage them to adapt and practice different ways of doing things within the context of the work they are already doing. In that way, leaders can build executive presence in a way that supports their current responsibilities and business goals. 

Executive presence is not a valuable asset that some people are just born with. It’s a skill that can be developed with dedicated, thoughtful practice. Working consistently with a leadership coach can help someone hone this particular trait and become more influential and more effective as a leader. 

Sounding Board combines technology and coaching to elevate leadership capabilities in organizations. Our Leader Development Platform makes leadership coaching scalable, measurable, more easily managed, and tailored to meet your organization’s specific leadership needs. Request a demo today to learn how we can help you increase your leaders’ core skills and performance, and have a direct impact on the bottom line.

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