Cultivating Executive Presence

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As a coach, one has increasingly noticed companies and employees talking about Executive Presence and how to go about building the same. Most organisations may not have listed executive presence as a competency but still expect employees to display the same, especially once you start climbing up the corporate ladder. I think of executive presence as a potent combination of one’s personality, physical and mental attributes and how one conducts oneself. Executive presence is not only your body language but also how you use it in various situations.

You may have noticed sometimes, that some people walk into a meeting and they seem to light up the environment, some people start speaking and you want to listen to them. It is this charisma in a workplace setting which embodies executive presence. While we may believe that people are normally born with this and hence you either have it in you or not, however as a coach, I can assure you that this is not true. It is like most other behaviours and traits, which can be cultivated by awareness and practice. Here are a few small but sure tips, the practice of which can help you build your executive presence:

Control your emotions. Self-awareness coupled with good appreciation of other person’s perspective helps you keep your emotions in check. Learn to control your emotions and empathise with others. Take time to respond, it will help you respond from your intellectual state rather than your emotional state.

• Focus and develop the ability to genuinely listen to people who are sharing their views or presenting. Give them all your attention. Maintain occasional eye contact as it displays your interest in what the other person is saying. Make sure that your phones are on silent mode and if kept on the table, they are kept screen facing downwards, it is a great sign to the other person that he has all your attention.

Be clear and concise. You don’t need to be verbose, learn to make your point in a sentence or two. Compose your thoughts before articulating your views. Frame your questions well, when clarifying queries. Think before you ask. Learn to build on the point already made.

• Always good to spend a few minutes on the meeting agenda or discussion points, to prep your mind – not necessarily forming an opinion beforehand but just being aware of what perspective you would want to bring to the meeting and if you need to have some background information handy.

Prepare in advance for important interactions. Let us be honest, there are always some interactions which are more important for your career, then some others. It is worth preparing for such interactions (without compromising the spontaneity element) like gathering more background on the person you are meeting, his/her interests, common ground, what are the topic/stories that you may want to share, getting familiar with the topic of discussion (if known in advance), etc.

Maintain your posture while standing and sitting. Make sure that when you are standing, you are erect, chest slightly puffed out, shoulders are not hunched forward, weight is balanced on both your feet. While sitting make sure that you are not slouching but are sitting erect with your hands placed on the table in front of you. Walking upright is another habit you should build, as it makes one look much more dignified and confident.

• Have a firm handshake, don’t let your hand go limp in the other person’s grip. Keep your hand firm and make sure you have an eye-contact with the person for at least a few seconds while shaking hands.

Work on those irksome habits – looking at your phone every couple of minutes, fidgeting with pens, tapping your shoes, . . .

Dress for the occasion – invest in your wardrobe. You don’t need to have too many clothes, it is just that you need to have the right set of clothes, well fitted yet comfortable. Besides, always wear a smile (but, not a smirk).

• As a close, remember don’t be too hung up about it, you normally take notice of executive presence only in your seniors as it comes with practice (try and remember when was the last time that you noticed a junior guy displaying executive presence!). It takes time to build executive presence and with awareness, all of us can cultivate the same.

Try out the above tips and keep trying consciously until it becomes second nature and then notice the difference for yourself! If you want, you can always take coaching to help you out with building your executive presence 😊

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