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Executive Presence: How to Display This Necessary Trait to Get to the Top
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Leah Thomas
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What is executive presence?

Executive presence is often discussed in conversations with C-level executives on how they became successful and what qualities one can develop to ensure a similar level of success. It’s also used often when discussing executive gravitas, which some people may think is simply another way to refer to executive presence. But it’s not!

Executive presence refers to a sort of aura a person in charge has — when she enters a room, she commands attention without actually having to say anything. People respect her. They take her seriously, and they want to hear what she has to say. While we can argue that this type of respect and attention should be universal for all women, sadly it isn’t. Executive presence could be referred to as a leadership quality a woman possesses that allows her to gather the same attention a man would.

And it differs from executive gravitas in that gravitas is just one part of the main components that make up executive presence.

What are the characteristics that make up one’s executive presence?

Gravitas:

Gravitas is a characteristic that is created through decisiveness, integrity, creativity, emotional intelligence and more. It describes an overall presence that makes others view one as a leader. But it’s not gravitas alone that develops executive presence.

Communication:

Communication is an important aspect of executive presence. Someone who has executive presence is a good communicator. She isn’t afraid to speak in front of a large group of people, but rather, is empowered by it. She shines when grabbing the attention of others and captivates the audience. And, more importantly, she is straightforward and trustworthy and easily approachable when it comes to one-on-one conversations in the office.

Appearance:

Probably the most frustrating of the components — appearance refers to someone who dresses the part. And sometimes, this can mean being a man rather than a woman. But hopefully, in 2019, we are working toward a different definition for this component.

Credibility:

Credibility is a necessity when it comes to developing this type of presence. Although people may like and respect you, they must also trust your judgment andecision-makingng abilities. And that only comes from having the credibility of a successful background in the field and experiences in a similar environment from which you came out with applicable skills.

Confidence:

Confidence is also influential; a person who believes in herself, her ideas and her goals, will not allow others to question those aspects. And a confident leader will likely build a confident team and workplace environment. 

Why is it important?

Executive presence is important in that it can determine whether or not you will move up in a corporate and professional environment. It's an almost indescribable characteristic that allows others to take you seriously and see you as a leader. It is the perfect combination of being likable yet serious and trustworthy. Someone who can be approached but is also not afraid to take command and sometimes upset a few employees along the way. (Hey, you can’t please everyone!)

How can I develop executive presence?

As a woman, it is important to research how you can improve your own executive presence, as women find it more difficult to be taken seriously in the workplace and often experience discrimination when it comes to promotions.

1. Maintain maturity and composure in the workplace

Women are constantly being watched. If we show the slightest semblance of emotion, we are deemed emotional. And men are not held to the same standards (of course they aren’t!) So it is important to be seen as composed in the workplace — people will use anything they can to deem you unfit to be a leader. Don’t let them. But, on a similar note, be supportive of other women who may show emotion in the workplace. While you are trying to prevent any type of discrimination against yourself, try to also change the jaded perspective we offices have on workers being “emotional.”

2. Be conversational

While you do not want to be too “buddy buddy” with the workers, making it less likely for them to view you as an authority figure, you do want them to view you as someone they could trust with that kind of power. Someone who understands them and who they don’t feel is just an unemotional robot running their lives. Be personable and actively empathetic. 

3. Voice your opinion

Do not be afraid to speak up during important meetings. You are an experienced professional who has a lot to say, and expressing your ideas for the company can not only show your bosses you are serious about your job but can show your colleagues you can be taken seriously.

4. Practice your public speaking skills

It’s okay if you find your voice shaking or your hands sweating when you’re forced to speak up at work. Anxiety over public speaking is common, and thankfully, it can be fixed. Take a class on public speaking or read up on ways to combat the anxiety that erupts inside you when in this type of situation. Practice in front of your roommate or a group of friends. Add appropriate humor to lighten the mood and make yourself smile. And before you step up to the podium, tell yourself you are excited, not nervous.

Who are the well-known women with executive presence?

In 2019, we are seeing more and more strong female characters in film, TV and other pop culture than ever before. While strong women in the past (and still today) have been depicted as moody or cold when in positions of leadership, that trend and negative stigma attached to it will hopefully continue to change. 

A few notable women characters with executive presence include Olivia Pope from Scandal, Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, Jan Levinson from The Office (who is definitely not portrayed in the best light at all times and is harped on for being a strong female leader), Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Annalise Keating from How to Get Away with Murder, Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls and more. 

When we used to refer to young women who took initiative as “bossy,” we are now praising them for their initiative. Positive adjectives like “determined,” “persistent,” “strong,” and “capable” have now replaced the ever so horrible “bossy.”

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