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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Tommy is at his best helping clients think through complex challenges in order to create a positive impact on their organizations. He thrives when interacting with others whether helping his team succeed or working with clients to build long-term partnerships. He has extensive experience consulting with organizations on driving their employee experience, guiding organizations through change, and working to ensure organizations are moving the needle when it comes to their results.

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Before GP Strategies, Tommy spent several years with TTEC Digital (formerly rogenSI) where he led the sales team,  eventually becoming the regional Learning & Performance practice leader for North America. While managing the P&L and sales team he also led the largest global relationship for the firm (Deloitte Globally). During his time at TTEC, he focused on delivering blended learning solutions that incorporate technology and hands-on training. Before TTEC Digital, he spent several years dedicated to strength-based leadership disrupting the business landscape regarding performance management and employee engagement with thought leader Marcus Buckingham at The Marcus Buckingham Company / TMBC (now ADP).

Tommy has had the privilege of working with some of the most well-known global brands in professional services, retail, technology, and healthcare including Deloitte, Facebook, Microsoft, Bank of America, Novartis, Gap Inc., lululemon, and Intel. Several projects he led for Deloitte were Global GNPS, New Partner Pivot, NextGen Partner Program Deloitte China, Present to Win, the RPM project on performance management, and Unconscious Bias.

Tommy holds a BS in Health Sciences from Texas A&M University, and an MBA from Universidad del CEMA.

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Lori Mazan is the Co-Founder and Chief Coaching Officer of Sounding Board, the preeminent global leadership development enterprise platform changing the face of leadership development through innovative technology for leaders at all levels of an organization. Lori is a seasoned executive coach who has guided hundreds of corporate executives through 1:1 coaching focused on business outcomes and developing critical leadership skills. Client companies advanced by Lori’s expertise include Fortune titans such as Chevron and Sprint as well as high growth and public companies like Intellikine, and Tapjoy, plus 10XGenomics, which became a public company in 2019 while top executives worked with Lori and the Sounding Board team.
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Before founding Sounding Board, Lori received her Masters’ in Adult Educational Psychology/Counseling from the University of San Francisco and a Bachelors’ in Psychology from the University of Virginia. Lori is an educator and has spent over 10 years as a professor of social psychology and group dynamics while acting as the interim Dean of Students at Holy Names University, She is certified by the industry’s gold standard, the Coaches Training Institute, and is a founding member of the Genentech Preferred Network of Coaches. Sounding Board is one of <3% of sole female founded startups receiving venture funding. In 2019 Sounding Board was selected as 1 of 7 startups (out of 100+ applicants) as part of SAP’s HR tech cohort, a group that represents the rising stars of the next-gen HR ecosystem.

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Christine Tao is the co-founder & CEO at Sounding Board, a Silicon Valley startup redefining how organizations are developing their leaders. Her extraordinarily rapid career growth to executive management in the media, mobile and tech sectors of Silicon Valley became her inspiration for founding Sounding Board. As she began to manage larger teams and be responsible for growing revenues, it became clear that she needed a “sounding board” to coach her on the development of her leadership skills. That’s where her Sounding Board co-founder, Lori Mazan came on the scene. A seasoned executive coach focused on leadership development, Lori coached Christine on real-world leadership skills that had a direct impact on business outcomes. Based on her positive and impactful experience with leadership development, Christine was driven to make leadership development coaching accessible to people at all levels of the organization.
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Prior to co-founding Sounding Board, Christine was a Senior Vice President of Developer Relations at Tapjoy, a venture-backed, leading mobile advertising & publishing network. She led the growth of Tapjoy’s publisher advertising business from 0 to over $100 million in revenues in less than 3 years. Prior to that she led e-commerce partnerships and strategy at YouTube. Christine holds an MBA in Marketing & Operations from Wharton and a BA in Business Administration from UC Berkeley.