Executive Presence Rules are confusing! No kidding!
We’ve read a lot recently about executive presence and the hype associated with those indefinable characteristics style, substance and character or charisma, communication and appearance. A veritable industry has been spawned to define and navigate this amorphous concept which apparently is perceived to contribute by 26% to successful career progression. So is there an executive presence hand book and if there is, what lessons can be learned? It all sounds a bit like personal branding by another name to me.
As you know I am firmly in the camp that for most of us those attributes and skills can be honed and even learned, so when I look at some of our so-called top leaders I do confess to being more than a little mystified. I am also not a fan of attempts to fix people so they fit in, especially women. Having said that, this should not be confused with personal development which we all need and gaining new skills and honing old ones.
Executive Presence Myths
However, I can’t help but wonder if this is yet another myth, or series of myths, conjured up to dupe the average person into feelings of extreme inadequacy. But perhaps us lesser mortals should take heart.
Do press photos of Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs for example, conjure up images of global inspiration? A normal person wouldn’t even be allowed in a night club or even some shopping malls, wearing a hoodie, let alone a board room. We have also all known high-profile figures whose integrity and other characteristics associated with executive presence, are firmly in the dubious category, as witnessed in the financial crisis and recent political events.
How strict are these rules?
So if these individuals are successful, why is there a different set of rules for the rest of us? Or is this all mainly old-fashioned re-packaged common sense? Remember those parental platitudes about eye contact, not mumbling and standing up straight? Will today’s parents be admonishing their kids for neglecting their executive presence?
If we are aiming to have a credible and memorable executive presence, what sensible takeaway moves can you lift to include in your own executive presence rule book to stand out from the crowd?
10 rules from the Executive Presence Handbook
- Feel passionate and committed about your idea and what you do. Apathy is clearly not convincing.
- Have a vision and be willing and able to share it. How many armchair entrepreneurs have failed because they never got further than their own sofa?
- Make your story a fascinating cocktail: succinct, with energy, using simple, persuasive, but powerful language, usually with a dash of humour. We all like to laugh and people who talk too much are usually poor listeners.
- Understand the value of a first impression: they really matter. It’s like a first date. Eye contact, firm handshake, good posture are still critical. There is a sting in this for women, who are judged far more harshly on their appearance than men.
- Earn trust: Body language should always match words to build credibility. If there’s a mixed message – body language will always win the day. Remember Bill Clinton’s one liner that resulted in impeachment “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Yeah right!
- Be approachable and communicate directly: but with sensitivity and compassion. Good manners maketh both men and women. Courtesy, respect and being present are key.
- Be decisive and incisive: protracted decision-making and cluttered thinking loses the audience. Obama cited consistently as having executive presence, lost some credibility for indecisiveness in his foreign policy.
- Moderate emotions: Poise under pressure is highly rated. Extreme emoting is another deal breaker no matter how it is exhibited. This can be acting out (swearing, raging, crying) or avoidance (shutting down, refusing to engage, cold shoulder treatment.) A touch of controlled emotion is always well received under certain circumstances, something Tony Blair and Obama have perfected, yet Hillary Clinton was slated for having an emotional moment in public. Emotion is definitely a gender issue.
- Be accountable: Act with decency and integrity. Although sadly, how many world-famous so called leaders have thrown this one out of the window? How far has this limited their success?
- Demonstrate humility and graciousness: a quality everyone remembers and responds to. Humble leaders who listen, understand they need to learn and evolve themselves too. Nobody warms to a bragger.
But almost every successful leader can be quoted about the need to break the rules.
If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have got anywhere... Marilyn Monroe.”
So where does that leave the rest of us when these rules are applied so flexibly to others?
“The golden rule is that there are no golden rules”…. George Bernard Shaw”
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