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 😊

Angel investing in startups? Then, familiarise yourself with these!

Startups continue to be the buzz word and it is a flavour of the season which is not likely to fade out soon. Everyone is looking at opportunities to get a toe-hold in the startup space, either by launching their own startups or some like me who are excited being mentor-investors, thus getting an opportunity to take this roller-coaster ride of creating a business, many times over!

If you are evaluating angel investing in a startup seed round (Pre-Series A), then it is important that you familiarise yourself with the key terms and clauses normally used in the seed round fundraising agreements and may want to even insist that these are included to protect your interests. Some of the key ones are:

Pre-money and Post-money Valuation: This is the reference valuation of the business at which the new investors come on board. Simply put, pre-money valuation is the valuation of the business without considering the current round being raised, while post-money valuation is the valuation, including the funds being raised in the current round. E.g. if a business valued at $ 1 Million is raising $ 0.5 Million in the current round, the Pre-money valuation will be $1 Million, while the Post-money valuation will be $1.5 Million.

Vesting: It is quite common to see a vesting period of 36 to 48 months for shares held by the Promoters (or Founders), which means that these shares will vest with them after or over an agreed period in smaller tranches. Vesting means that the Promoter will be free to deal with their shares as they like, only after these vests with them, though this freedom may still be subject to other covenants. The vesting protects the interests of the non-promoter investors since this ensure that the Promoters stay with the business, at least for certain foreseen time.

Anti-Dilution Protection: This clause specifies that if the Company for its subsequent rounds (after the current round) raises money at a price lower than the ones paid by investors in the current round, then the investors shall be entitled to weighted average anti-dilution protection. Hence, in such an event, the Company shall ensure that it issues such number of additional shares to the current Investors or adjusts the conversion ratio of the securities (in case of Compulsorily Convertible Preference Shares), as necessary to nullify the effect of such dilution.

Besides financials, the clause can also specifically relate to the rights of the Investors. In that case, it would mean that if the rights provided to subsequent round investors are more favourable than the rights of the current investors, such subsequent round rights shall be deemed to be given also to the current investors.

Tag along: This clause is to ensure that if Promoters decide to sell their shares, the other investors are not left high and dry, since the decision to invest in a start-up is as much driven by the faith that investors have in Promoters as by the strength of the business model. This clause stipulates that in the event any of the Promoters decide to sell their shareholding in the Company to a prospective acquirer, then the other investors shall also have the right, but not the obligation, to sell their shareholdings in the Company to the prospective acquirer, on the same terms and conditions as the Promoters. Hence, investors tag along with the Promoter.

Exit: Normally the intention is to provide an exit for the investors within a certain period, e.g. through a subsequent Series round or IPO or a strategic sale say within 48 or 60 months. In the eventuality that an exit cannot be facilitated for the Investors, there is normally a clause requiring the Promoters and Company to provide an exit, by way of buy back at a certain specified IRR, within a certain stipulated time.

Drag along: If the Company is not able to provide an exit to the investors, then investors (if agreed by majority) have the unilateral right to sell their securities to any third party and in such a case, the investors may also require all the Promoters to sell all or part of their shareholding in the Company to such third party if required by such third party, which is normally the case since the acquirer is usually looking to acquire full management control. This clause enables the Investors to find an exit in a foreseen time and hence effectively the Investors have the right to drag along the Promoters to get that exit.

Liquidation Preference: In view of the fact, that investors typically invest at valuations substantially higher than the Promoters which may have invested at much lower valuations or could have the shares by way of sweat equity, investors look for some downside preference. Even if liquidation is a remote possibility, it is normally agreed that upon the occurrence of a liquidation event, the Investors shall be entitled to receive in preference to distribution to any Promoters of the Company, an amount which shall be equal or even higher (say, 1.5x times of the investment amount).

Affirmative Voting Rights on Reserved Matters: In addition to any voting requirements under regulations, it is usual to stipulate an express unanimous written approval (or majority approval) from the investors at a shareholders’ meeting or the investor nominee director through an affirmative vote in a board meeting for reserved matters. These could include matters relating to but not limited to, issuance of capital, changing of investor’s rights, changes in the nature or scope of business, establishing any new business, related party transactions, transfer of IP/intangibles, hiring/firing senior management employees or changes in their employment terms, any material changes in the company’s business plan etc.