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The secrets to executive presence

4 min read


To increase your chances of getting a promotion, wise career coaches often advise you to dress like you have the job you want, not the one you have.

Why is dress so important? Well, the clothes still don’t make the wo/man, but often they do help you feel like you’re ready for that big step. And it’s that feeling — of confidence and readiness — that communicates most powerfully about your ability in the moments after the person across the meeting table notices your new outfit.

What’s with that “feeling”? Isn’t that a bit squishy?

People know “boardroom presence” when they see it, but how can you develop it if you’ve never been in the boardroom hot seat? It seems like a chicken-and-egg problem, doesn’t it?

The good news is that the kind of executive presence that works in the boardroom also works in your day-to-day job, so you can develop it anywhere and any time. Like your clothes, once people see you operating with executive presence at lower levels, they know you will bring those skills to the higher levels and they’ll be more willing to open doors to help you get there.

Here are three key components to executive presence and how you can start to develop it no matter where you’re starting.

  1. Strategic perspective. Learn to connect your work (including the work of your team if you’re managing people) to the organization’s goals. This means you must understand what those goals are. Be inquisitive and work with your bosses to know how your work contributes to larger levels of success. Here’s the key, though. As you make the decisions about how to do your work, how to shape your objectives and how to prioritize your resources, consciously factor in those larger goals and make sure everyone (above and below) sees you connecting the dots between your decisions and the needs of the organization. You have a double challenge — to satisfy both the micro and macro needs of your team and your company. There will be tension between them. Manage the tension well.
  2. Think two levels up. When your boss asks you for something — insight, recommendation, output — do you understand why? Can you intuit what her boss is asking of her? When you can do this reliably, your chain of command not only learns to rely on your judgment, but they also see proof that you can do your bosses’ job and satisfy the needs and demands at the next level up.
  3. Practice self-aware self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is generally not very attractive or useful. When you’re too wrapped up in how you appear and come across, you tend to wear your insecurities on your sleeve and spend too much brain juice on yourself instead of on your business. Yet, to cultivate a strong executive and leadership presence, one that will help you lead today and attract the right kind of career opportunities tomorrow, it’s critical to be conscious of your affect on other people and see how this affects your reputation to third (and fourth) parties. There is no simple trick here; it’s an inside-out process. To be self-aware, you must become self-conscious in ways that allow you to be mindful. You also have to be willing to open yourself up to seeing your reputation for what it is instead of what you want it to be — and take steps to shape it proactively. This is a personal journey, one in which your efforts to become a better person also make you a better leader.

Don’t wait to be “tapped” for executive opportunities; tap yourself right now and get ready for the next level by going beyond your suit.

To help you get started, I’d like to invite you to view a complimentary video series I’ve recorded on how to proactively shape your professional reputation, which will give you insights into the 4 measurable aspects of your personal brand.

Dana Theus is president and CEO of InPower Consulting, reframing leadership to integrate the emotional intelligence lessons learned from studying women leaders. Theus is also a personal brand coach and a regular contributor to SmartBlog on Leadership. Follow her on Twitter at @DanaTheus and on LinkedIn.