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Executive Presence in the Extremes

Executive Presence in the Extremes

Intentional use of voice and physical presence allows you as a leader to experience and to be seen as the person you need to be in particular situations—powerful, caring, nurturing, stable, flexible, etc. These positions help to make up Executive Presence.

Many leaders instinctively adopt appropriate executive presence. They are often the people for whom possibilities emerge as if by magic. For many others, physcial presence requires considerable attention.

In my work with leaders and aspiring leaders, I have been surprised at how often it is necessary to discuss the importance of voice and physical presence to obtain desired results. As coaching clients review why they are experiencing conflict or resistance, they often conclude that their bodies are not appropriate to the situations they encounter. Consequently, they lose the opportunity to lead effectively.

They may report excellent results when using a powerful presence such as Resolution or Stability, but sometimes they want to display the dispositions of Flexibility, Connection or Nurturing more effectively.

However, it is important to recognize that when used to the extreme or not used appropriately, these Six Positions of Power and Influence substantially reduce effectiveness or can come across as false or phony. When a physical presence is absent or is used too often or too powerfully, relationships are jeopardized and possibilities are limited.

In my early career, I worked for a manager who stood in the door each morning with arms folded in front of him. His posture was completely erect and he appeared very powerful. His eyes were penetrating, and I thought smiling was painful for him. Today, I would say he demonstrated the physical disposition of Stability to the extreme. I found him very intimidating, and I never felt comfortable in conversation with him.

If other employees had the same level of discomfort, it is likely that he compromised his ability to create emotional connections and to improve his employees’ professional performance. By extension, he compromised his own success.


Since then, I have met a number of leaders whose presence seemed to intimidate rather than encourage interaction. In most cases, I found these people to be caring and concerned. However, their too powerful presence limited their effectiveness. I have encountered others I would assess as too flexible or too concerned with making connections. They also lost opportunities to connect.

Just as the manager above appeared too powerful or resolute, each of the Six Positions of Power and Influence has an extreme if not used appropriately. These are issues to consider:

A person who overuses Resolution my appear overly combative or critical. On the other hand, by under-using Resolution, leaders appear to lack direction or decisiveness. They may not be able to accomplish significant goals.

The body of Connection can make others feel comfortable forming relationships and joining in the creation of a mutually beneficial future. Alternatively, if a leader denies the sense of Connection or openness to relationships, she can appear unfeeling, hard or cold. When used to the extreme, this body disposition comes across as flirtatious, shallow, or emotionally needy. People often do not take seriously a leader who relies extensively on this physical presence.

A bearing of Stability makes others feel safe. A leader who does not show that body disposition appears weak, ineffective or unreliable. When used to the extreme, however, it can appear controlling, power hungry or too serious, as I described with the manager I knew years ago. Potential followers can perceive a leader who relies primarily on Stability as a tyrant.

The body of Flexibility, which can convey a sense of wonder or wisdom, fosters creativity and greater interaction. If a leader relies too heavily on this physical presence or uses it in the wrong situations, he appears weak or flighty, or he can appear manipulative, naïve or controlling. Under-use of this physical presence can appear autocratic, rigid or too businesslike.

The Presence of Nurturing can benefit the leader and the people who have the benefit of the nurturing attitude. However, inability or unwillingness to assume this presence can be seen as uncaring or unconcerned. Overuse of this physical presence and attitude can make a leader seem like she is meddling or  overly concerned with personal or professional lives.

The last positions, Centering or Mindfulness, allows one to remain in the moment and to connect more fully with people, thoughts and ideas. However, it too has the potential for overuse or under use. If this physical presence is not available to leaders, they appear distracted, unconcerned or unavailable. If overused, others perceive a leader as self-absorbed or unable to look to the past or the future.

The image below represents the extremes of Executive Presence.

Executive Presence in the Extremes

Everyone has the potential for each body disposition. Typically, one or two are dominant, and others are used less frequently. A leader may want to focus awareness and attention on their less dominant dispositions. However, it is important to learn to use each of them in the appropriate settings and to the appropriate degree.

I have described these body dispositions as tools for more powerful or more effective presence. This page, available as a downloadable e-bookincludes opportunities to observe and practice these body dispositions, which in turn lead to greater awareness and physical control.

If this practice is new, asking a mentor, coach or friend to provide reminders about physical presence when preparing for or reflecting on a particular situation can be rewarding.

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Content in this article was adapted from my book , Connect: Affective Leadership℠ for Effective Results.  For additional information about leadership presence, please click on the link below. 


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Photo Credit: Reportergimmi via Compfight cc