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Executive Presence: Six Self-Defeating Mistakes

Executive Presence: Six Self-Defeating Mistakes

You have decided you want to move up in the organization and now you know all the players. You have the passion and the drive, but you wonder if you are coming across as the leader you know you can be. Sometimes you think decision makers are not taking you seriously.

Before you look further, consider your physical presence.

According to a Center for Talent Innovation survey involving 268 senior executives, “executive presence” counts for 26% of what is required to be promoted (Goudreau, 2012).

In another study of 600 professionals to determine why organizations hire coaches, 57% of professionals in the organizations and 40% of the coaches surveyed listed executive presence as second behind professional development. (Baldoni, 2015)

Executive presence means many things to many people. According to Monarth, it is tied to one’s ability to make a solid business case or one’s ability to negotiate. To Lapore,  physical appearance is highly significant. For Hewlett, a noted author and researcher in this area, executive presence is a combination of gravitas, communication and appearance.

No one says it is easy, but we must agree that presence is a significant piece of the leadership puzzle. Recognizing that executive presence takes time and skill, let’s look at six small but important things leaders do that detract from their gravitas and ability to communicate effectively.

1.  Fidgeting. Leaders who rearrange their clothing, play with their pencils, rub their hands or scratch ears, arms or other body parts frequently seem preoccupied or uncomfortable. They also appear not to be paying attention. A strong presence requires full concentration and confidence.

2.  Avoiding eye contact. Different cultures and different ethnic groups have different “rules” for eye contact, but in the corporate world, eye contact is important. Failure to make eye contact is perceived as being deceptive or showing subservience.  Knowing and following the rules in specific places and situations is a key to Emotional Intelligence, which plays a large part in having a viable executive presence.

3.  High-pitched laughter, giggling or speaking shrilly. Strong leaders are in control. That includes control of voice quality and emotions. They monitor their voices and they navigate the emotions that each of us experiences.

4.  Nodding in agreement. Effective leaders must collaborate and accept the ideas of others. However, many perceive nodding the head in agreement as a sign of deference, particularly when nodding is fast or frequent. A strong executive presence calls for acknowledgment of good ideas or suggestions while maintaining dignity and solemnity.

5.  Using qualifiers and minimizers. Qualifiers are linguistic patterns that suggest lack of confidence and reduce credibility. Possibly, maybe, can be, I feel, don’t you think? are a few of the many qualifiers. One deadly qualifier is the word just: I just wanted to check, I just called, etc. Throwing in this small word shows a belief that one’s purpose or motives are less significant than someone else’s. (Marcus, 2011)   In addition to qualifiers, minimizers  weaken one’s position. Comments such as “Could you do me a favor?”, “I sorta believe,” “I was hoping,”or “I may not be as knowledgeable as some” express uncertainty. Of course, it is important to apologize when necessary, but saying “I’m sorry” unnecessarily also shows deference that reduces the speaker’s position. Powerful statements such as “This is the direction we should to go.” I’m confident that…” or “I expect…” denote conviction and strong direction.

6.  Forgetting body language. Body language is a topic that calls for extensive study and understanding. However, two small gestures that indicate doubt or insecurity are folding arms in front of the body and frequently touching or placing hands in front of the face. Observers also interpret leaning against a wall or crossing one’s ankles while standing as signs of discomfort. Established leaders stand with shoulders back and feet flat on the floor. They take up room at the table or in a group. They appear relaxed and in control rather than apprehensive or indecisive.

These six behaviors can be barriers to the executive presence that strong and powerful leaders want to achieve. However, eliminating them can be just as destructive. It is sometimes necessary to demonstrate deference and polite concern for others. A leader who shows desire for power in the extreme  reduces possibilities just as a leader who shows too much timidity.

The key is being aware of traits that detract from the perception of confidence and control.

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Image: PICNIC Creative Business Club meeting 29-2-2012 by PICNIC Network, on Flickr