Monthly Archives: February 2010

Improving Executive Presence One Bite at a Time

Justice Potter Stewart coined an idiomatic phrase so useful it’s like a linguistic hammer. Instead of continuing the struggle to define a nebulous term (in his case, hard-core pornography), he simply stated that “I know it when I see it.” In addition to potentially revealing a little too much information about what he did in his spare time (how does he know it when he sees it if he hasn’t seen it before?), Justice Stewart gave us a catch-all term that relieves us from the burden of succinctly describing the indescribable. Since that fateful judgment in 1964, every elusive word or phrase too subjective to be neatly corralled by a singular definition gets nailed into our lexicon by the conclusive force of the description “I know it when I see it.” Executive Presence is one of those terms.

You Know Because You’ve Seen It

Executive Presence is best defined by the behaviors of people who possess it. In a comment about the post Executive Presence: The Power of First Impressions, Gina Rudan of Genuine Insights said, “Whether you are a right brainer or a left brainer doesn’t matter it’s how you carry your expertise, passion and credibility.” V.J. Singal, speaker, coach and author, says Executive Presence is “Displaying gravitas in the way you speak or move.”

As you read through the following check list of qualities exuded by people with Executive Presence, decide which of these you possess and to what degree:

  • Commands attention without demanding it
  • Displays a level of personal engagement that leads everyone they meet to immediately conclude he/she is exceptional
  • Shows confidence
  • Handles pressure gracefully
  • Treats others, regardless of their status, with respect in all circumstances-good or bad
  • Easily and naturally relate to others
  • Is genuine
  • Is humble enough to listen to others and continue to learn

If you could increase the degree to which the above qualities describe you, and therefore improve your Executive Presence, how would that impact your results at work, in your career, in your community?

Creating a Development Plan for Executive Presence

Improving your Executive Presence is a lot like eating an elephant. If you think of trying to swallow it whole you become overwhelmed. The best approach is to take it one bite at a time.

Select 1 to 3 of the items above which describe you to the least degree. For each item, select one behavior you will commit to changing. On an index card, or someplace where you’ll be able to reference it throughout the day, write down a brief example of how you display the behavior today. Below that, write an example that describes how you’d ideally like to behave. This second description is your goal. Every morning, take a few minutes to read your notes and re-commit to this goal. Every evening, write down (or at the very least think about) specific examples of how you behaved according to or more closely to your “ideal” level for each behavior. Once you’ve mastered a behavior, pick another to improve.

Case in Point

Dawna Watson, a successful realtor, one of the best listeners I know, and a person who radiates Executive Presence, wrote “You can’t be “genuine” if you’re thinking about where you’re headed next or who you need to talk to. I often find myself leaving a conversation realizing I never said much. I get so wrapped up in the other person’s story and trying to help or support them that it ends up being all about them.”

If Dawna’s words were to inspire you to “Be humble enough to listen to others and continue to learn,” your development plan might look like this:

Current State: I find my mind wandering when others are talking. I have to ask the other person to repeat what they said. Often, I just keep my reaction vague enough that it appears to be an appropriate response.

Ideal State: Stay in the moment when others are speaking. Instead of planning my response while they talk, try to anticipate where they are going with their ideas. Paraphrase what others have said to demonstrate that I’ve heard their point of view. Respond to others with open ended questions instead of my opinions.

Notice how easy it would be to review a day’s interactions and categorize them as either “Current State” or “Ideal State” level behavior.

A Few Examples to Get You Started

Here are some ideas to help you develop your own Executive Presence Development Plan.

Posture and Body Language

Sit up straight, arms uncrossed, both feet planted on the ground. Women, although we were taught at a young age to keep our legs crossed, we command a stronger presence with two feet flat on the ground.

Stand with your weight equally distributed on both legs. Try not to sway, rock, or shift your weight from side to side.

Keep a note pad with you for an entire day. Every time you catch yourself fidgeting, slouching, cracking your knuckles, etc. make a note of the behavior and the circumstances. Once you have your baseline of undesirable habits, use a tally system to track your progress. Your goal is to go at least three days in a row with no marks.

Before delivering your next presentation, video yourself practicing. Do you look confident, secure, and in command of your content? Are you speaking with authority, enthusiasm, and passion? If you’re not seeing Executive Presence, pick one behavior or attribute to change. Capture yourself on video practicing the presentation until you’re able to consistently maintain the behavior change. Repeat the process for each behavior you want to change.

Meeting Etiquette

Come to all meetings prepared with relevant materials as well as a pad and pen. No laptops open in front of you, no using your Blackberry to capture notes—sorry, both are just too impersonal and create a physical barrier between you and others. Do not answer calls or check emails during meetings. Even if your CEO does this and/or it’s ingrained in your company culture, the point is to be perceived as exceptional. Be the exception to this norm. Stay focused throughout the entire meeting.

Voice Quality

Tape your side of a phone conversation. How would others perceive you? Practice speaking in deeper more even tones. Unless you are asking a question, do not end sentences with an upward inflection. Eliminate generational colloquialism from your vernacular. For example, drop such timely classics as: “dude”, “cool”, “awesome”, “whatever man”, “um”, “like”, “no, really?”, “groovy”, “neomaxizoomdweeby” etc.

Measure your Words

Listen more than you speak. You’ll be leveraging the laws of economics in your favor. Think of supply and demand. When you’re constantly putting in your “two cents,” ultimately that’s all your opinion and ideas will be worth. Whenever possible, replace your “two cents” with the $64,000 question.

Facial Expressions Make Big Impressions

An important skill for improving Executive Presence is the ability to control your facial expressions so that you don’t inadvertently send the wrong message. For example, when I am concentrating, I tend to furrow my brow. This gives people the impression that I’m confused or upset—when in fact I’m just intent on what they are saying. When I feel my eyebrows draw together in a conference above my nose, I loosen my facial muscles and relax into a more open expression.

Stand in front of a mirror. Cycling through a range of emotions, watch and feel how your face changes for each. During the day, be conscious of how your face feels as you react to others. Practice controlling your facial expressions so that you are remaining neutral to warm in as many situations as possible. Make a conscious effort to smile at others as often as possible.

You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

The combination of self diagnosis and personal accountability require you to climb the mountain without a Sherpa. Although possible, the journey could be more treacherous than necessary. A less stressful more productive approach to better Executive Presence is to engage the expertise and support of an Executive Coach; someone who can help you develop a personal plan, guide you, and hold you accountable. I recommend Dennis McGurer at McGurer & Associates, Inc. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Denny on several projects and the transformations his clients achieve are dramatic. You can go it alone but it’s nice to know you don’t have to.

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Executive Presence: The Power of First Impressions

Observing Art and Preppy

I tried to stay focused on writing my blog post, but the scene at the next table had the dramatic pull of a multi-car pileup. I couldn’t help  marveling at the Albert Einstein-esc coif exploding out from the man’s head. It looked like a zany tutu wildly encircling a large damp cantaloupe. His ensemble of warn out khaki clothing and beat up Chuck Taylor’s completed the cliché. Behold, “The Writer, The Artist.” I searched the Starbuck’s parking lot for the oldest clunker I could find and made myself a bet that he’d drive away in that car. The part of the tableau I found most baffling was that instead of pitching a screenplay or discussing the virtues of the third person omniscient voice, this guy was walking a client through the resume he’d drafted for him. A very clean cut corporate individual had chosen to have his resume, his personal branding message, the first piece of information a potential employer would see, developed by a man driving a Pinto.

Despite the warnings, we do judge books by their covers. So how did this odd couple, let’s call them “Art” and “Preppy,” end up working together on a resume project? The only two possible conclusions that seemed to reconcile the conundrum for me were that either…

A.“Art” and “Preppy” are brothers

or

 B. “Preppy” hired “Art” before meeting him

“Art” might be the world’s greatest resume writer. His clients probably rave about the responses they receive from potential employers regarding the quality and clarity of their resumes. He just doesn’t look the part. Assuming they’re not brothers, human nature tells us that if “Preppy” met “Art” before hiring him, his first reaction wouldn’t be “Wow, this guy must really know his way around the corporate world.” It’s more likely he’d make a mental note to slug the guy who referred him.

Split Second Timing

When we meet someone, our brains want to instantaneously catalog that person. The most salient information available is physical appearance and behavior. It would be great if we could put a blank placeholder in our minds until we’ve had sufficient time to file the individual in our mental database according to a thorough character assessment. However, the speed of first impressions is deeply rooted in primitive survival instincts.  The ability to use behavior and demeanor to gauge intentions was a priceless resource when bumping into a  Saber Tooth Tiger on the way to the watering hole. Regardless of the advancement in human civilization, our brains have yet to outgrow that automatic split second judgement.

As influencers or aspiring influencers, we can’t discount the power of first impressions. They determine success factors such as whether or not we get invited back a second time or how many hoops we’ll be jumping through before the person is willing to listening to our ideas. Influential leaders have mutually supportive relationships with people representing a variety of knowledge bases and hierarchical levels throughout their organization, industry, and/or community. Each of these critical relationships began with a first impression that earned the leader a check mark in the win column. Displaying a level of personal engagement that leads others to quickly conclude you are exceptional is the characteristic known as Executive Presence.

Beyond the Boardroom

Though Executive Presence is often sought after because it is believed to be needed to successfully interact with senior leaders, it is a valuable asset for effective communication at any level. Winning first impressions open doors to an array of valuable relationships. Executive Presence increases your visibility outside of your functional area; giving you wider access to information, resources, and support systems.

In order for powerful first impressions to maintain their luster over the long term, you have to be support them with consistent evidence of integrity, trust, and credibility.

 Improving Executive Presence entails a conscious effort to fine-tune specific interpersonal skills and modify certain behaviors. If you are interested in getting better results with less turmoil, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to pursue.

People who radiate Executive Presence:

  • Show confidence
  • Handle pressure gracefully
  • Easily and naturally relate to others
  • Are genuine
  • Are humble enough to listen to others and continue to learn

Coming Soon…

In our next post, we’ll be discussing tactics for improving Executive Presence. If you’d like to contribute your ideas on how to improve Executive Presence, we’ll incorporate those into the post and, where appropriate, link to your site and/or sources. Please email your ideas to nicole@writeinfluence.com.

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