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


 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.



Filed under Business, Influence, Leadership, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Executive Presence: The Power of First Impressions

  1. Fabulous article! In fact, i am reading with a cup of green tea and very appreciative that your first three paragraphs actually made me laugh literally out load. Thanks for that. And in regards to executive presence, today we need more what i like to refer to as “contemporary executive presence” which is less about the dark suit and more about exuding your genius over anything else. Whether you are a right brainer or a left brainer doesn’t matter its how you carry your expertise, passion and credibility. I will email you a few tips i share with clients on this very topic. Thanks again for the solid writing and humor.

    • nicoledefalco

      Good morning Gina, glad your day started out with a laugh! I think many people find Executive Presence to be a balancing act. They struggle to find the right mix of behaviors so that “exuding genius” doesn’t come off as “shallow arrogance.” Please let me know what tips you’d like to share in the next post and if you’d like me to include a link to your site.