What is Executive Presence?
Executive presence, also referred to as leadership presence, is an essential component of effective leadership, but it is difficult to define in precise terms and varies depending on the culture of the organization, country or region, or other environment in which the executive operates.
Executive presence is not simply charm and charisma; while an enthusiastic and naturally magnetic personality can be a valuable element in a leader's individual executive presence, it is neither sufficient nor necessary in creating an enduring and compelling presence. It is also not necessary to be an extravert; introverts and those who lead somewhat more quietly can demonstrate impressive executive presence and often can be more influential than charismatic leaders who do not have the substance to back up their style.
While executive presence is intangible, it is also unmistakable - people "know it when they see it." Specifically, leaders regarded as demonstrating strong executive presence:
WJM Associates' Viewpoint on Executive Presence
WJM's research has shown that leaders that are viewed as role models for exceptional executive presence are consistently viewed as exceptional role models for several of WJM's Characteristics of Effective Leadership (read the full article), including:
Effective leaders are viewed as genuine and sincere. Their behavior is congruent - they walk the walk of their personal values and the values of the organization. As a result, they have high credibility and are able to inspire trust and motivate others.
Effective leaders are able to remain grounded in facts and make sound, defensible decisions in a timely fashion, while also involving others to gain their buy-in.
Strategic Acumen & Business Acumen
Effective leaders also gain credibility through their strategic business acumen - deep knowledge coupled with a broad viewpoint.
Effective leaders craft and communicate a vision with passion and clarity of purpose that inspires and motivates others to follow. They balance a sense of possibility with a sense of reality to ensure that their vision can be understood and implemented by others.
Effective leaders demonstrate genuine humility through a willingness to acknowledge and take responsibility for mistakes, and to admit what they don't know. They readily give credit for success to others, are unconcerned with protecting their own personal power, and do not seek the spotlight or need to be the center of attention. In describing this trait, Jim Collins (organizational effectiveness expert and author of Good to Great and Built to Last)refers to "the window and the mirror": Effective leaders look out the window to assign credit - to colleagues, external factors and good luck, while looking in the mirror to assign responsibility for poor results, never blaming others.
Coaching and Feedback
Effective leaders are continual learners who are focused on their own development and intentional about understanding their strengths and weaknesses. They are also generous and constructive in supporting others' development.
Why is Executive Presence Important?
Dedicating time and focus to developing and enhancing your executive presence can yield many benefits, including
Developing Executive Presence
"Leadership at the front, mid and top lines alike is not innate. It is true some people have a huge head start. They're exceptionally clear minded. They communicate well. They're exceptionally persuasive. They look physically like a leader should, at least in the idealized Hollywood version. But the real skills of leadership at every level must be acquired in our lifetimes. There are no biological advantages. You have to learn those skills." (Michael Useem, director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management, Knowledge@Wharton, December, 2003)
Although many assume that leaders with executive presence are "born leaders" or "natural leaders," research has shown that leadership can be learned. Executive presence is, like many other essential leadership skills, easily observed but challenging to obtain. Executive presence can be developed and enhanced over time. Below are some suggestions for focusing on the development of skills and competencies that support strong executive presence.
Suggested Developmental Actions:
Books on the topic of Executive Presence:
Dixie Harper joined WJM Associates in 2010 as Vice President, Client Services & Operations. Dixie has over 15 years of experience in leadership development consulting, in roles spanning leadership, sales, and operations.