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  • Writer's pictureErin Engelke

Five Secrets to Developing an Executive Presence

Executive presence isn’t something you’re born with…it’s a set of skills and qualities that are modeled, practiced and nurtured...just as is the case in being a leader. It’s never too early to learn!

When I was in the 4th grade, one of my class assignments was to do research and write a report on the Montgomery Ferry and bridge in our town, built by the Montgomery family hundreds of years ago. I had planned to simply do some research at the library (back in the day, that's what we used!), but my Mom insisted I step outside of my comfort zone, pick up the phone and interview the matriarch of the family one on one. I was terrified! How could I, as a 9 year old girl, do that? After crying out my fears, I gave Mrs. Montgomery a call and wouldn't you know it, she was kind and loved that I called. It wasn't near as scary as I had thought and it taught me at a very young age how to present myself confidently and professionally, even in scary (or challenging) situations.

What is Executive Presence?

There’s no firm definition to this highly intuitive skill, however it is easy to recognize. It ultimately boils down to your ability to project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations; make tough decisions in a timely way and hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.

Another way to describe it is your ability to inspire confidence—inspiring confidence in your staff that you’re the leader they want to follow, inspiring confidence among peers that you’re capable and reliable and, most importantly, inspiring confidence among senior leaders that you have the potential for great achievements.

While I have developed my own executive presence now, it hasn’t always come easy, particularly as a very young leader. I was named a Vice President at 26 years old to grow and lead an entire team of people, even though I had never managed anyone (besides an intern or two).

So how did I learn? I modeled my female CEO at the time and other leaders on the management team. I sought executive coaching to help me walk through very difficult situations with other male-colleagues.

Now that I’ve experienced more of life as a leader (in other words, now that I’m old!) and very different work cultures, I’ve summarized the following attributes as necessary for the development of a strong executive presence. With one caveat…you should still be uniquely you! Your personality and character traits are special to you and you should let those shine.

1. Start with a positive attitude.

Put a stop to negative self-talk and when you catch yourself thinking negative things, reframe them positively. It can be so very easy to slip into the habit of griping and saying negative things about other people or situations. The world isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, but simply be cautious and aware of how you’re presenting yourself when things are tough, especially with your teams.

2. Communicate and lead with confidence, coupled with humility.

Make your communications clear, concise and polite. Use your please and thank you’s! Be confident in your ability to make decisions – our staff want and need direction and clear expectations as well as a leader that can make the tough calls, while still seeking feedback and input along the way.

3. Dress for the position and reputation you want.

First impressions are everything! Dress the part. Whether we like to admit it or not, our personal appearance does instill trust and confidence of others in us.

4.Build a strong network.

Leaders with strong executive presence have networks of people that trust them and they can rely upon. How do you build this network? Help others. Mentor. Seek a mentor. Go to networking events with the goal of finding someone who could use your expertise and offer it freely. Genuinely care about those in your network. Ask about their families. Send them a note when they win an award.

5. Remember that someone is always watching you.

Have you ever worked around someone that’s calm in moments of stability but freak out in times of stress? As leaders, we don’t always have the answers. But collapsing or freaking out when we don’t is NOT the answer. That only causes more anxiety and instability for our teams. I like to say sometimes you have to fake it until you make it! Or at the very least have great problem solving skills to be able to work out whatever issue you don’t have an immediate answer for.

If you'd like help enhancing your executive presence, I'd love to hear from you! Comment on this blog or shoot me an email at Go get 'em!

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