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3 Common Misconceptions About Executive Presence

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There is a difference between a boss and a leader. A boss tells their people what to do, whereas a leader inspires, motivates, and encourages those around them on the journey to goal achievement. One of the skills needed to be an inspiring leader that others want to follow is executive presence.

Unsurprisingly executive presence, also called leadership presence, is a competency sought after in emerging and current leaders. It can set individuals up for getting ahead at work. For example, a Center of Talent Innovation survey uncovered that executive presence accounted for 25% of what it takes to receive a promotion.

Despite the importance, there is an air of mystery about this skill. This article will define executive presence, clarify three common misconceptions holding people back, and provide tips on developing this vital skill.


What is Executive Presence?

Those who demonstrate executive presence can inspire confidence in their employees, peers, and leaders in their abilities and direction. They can advance their agenda and deliver results through their ability to persuade and influence those around them. Executive presence is the culmination of their behaviors, leadership communication skills, and overall image, making people trust their judgment and want to follow their lead.


Is the way you communicate helping or hindering your effectiveness as a leader?  Find out in this guide.


3 Common Misconceptions About Executive Presence

To clear things up, here are three of the most common misconceptions and why they’re wrong.


Executive Presence Is the Same In-person as Virtual

There is a fallacy that someone who is brilliant in person will be the same over Zoom. If they’re uncomfortable with technology, it will rock their confidence and overall effectiveness. Moreover, they may also lean back when they sit, look everywhere but the camera, and speak in a different cadence than usual, impacting their executive presence.

It takes other skills to display a leadership presence in a virtual workplace. A recent Fast Company article said, “We’re all reduced to the same little box on a computer screen at company meetings. Your advantage is gone. This leveling of the playing field can erode your leadership presence and negatively affect your ability to make an impact.”

To regain executive presence while working remotely, attending a program that builds skills in navigating and leading in a virtual world is essential. The key is confidence, which can be built through training, practice, and coaching.


Only Extroverts Can Demonstrate Executive Presence

The words executive presence drum up an image of a larger-than-life personality who thrives off people's energy. While this may be true, it is also a misconception that only extroverts can have a leadership presence.

The linchpin to executive presence is being able to inspire confidence that you’re ready and able to lead. Confidence comes across in your passion, conviction in your words, and body language. It doesn’t have to be Tony Robbins’ energy level or speak with a loud tone. A leader's presence shines through when you’re confident in yourself and your vision for the future. Thus, it isn’t an extrovert or introvert; it’s all about confidence.


Executive Presence is For Senior Leaders

Another misconception is that executive presence is a quality only needed in the C-suite. Yes, those in the C-suite should possess executive presence; however, anyone leading people, whether a high-potential, frontline leader, middle management, and beyond, should develop their executive presence.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, explains why everyone should actively develop their executive presence. She says, “It is executive presence—and no man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without this heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal.”

Given the weight put on having a leadership presence in considering who is promoted and its tie to success at work, the case is clear that individuals across an organization should be honing this skill.


How to Develop Executive Presence?

Executive presence is a skill, and like any skill, it can be developed with knowledge, practice, feedback, and coaching. So if you’re wondering where to start, here are a few strategies.

  • Ask for Feedback: You may not realize how those around you perceive you. Seek out feedback from employees, peers, and leaders to highlight blind spots you may not recognize in yourself.

  • Develop a Compelling Vision: Knowing where you want to go, what that future state looks like, the benefits of aching it, and articulating it clearly, builds confidence in others that you have a plan worth following. How will those around you be confident in your direction if you’re unsure where you’re going?

  • Upgrade Your Leadership Communication Skills: Fundamentally, executive presence comes down to your leadership communication skills. You can look the part, but you won’t be able to inspire confidence in others when your message is unclear. Attending a program like Niagara Insitute’s Speaking as a Leader is an excellent way to accelerate your executive presence.

Conclusion: You Can Develop Executive Presence

Executive presence can and should be developed if you want to attain that next promotion, be perceived as a competent leader, and have your ideas and vision implemented. Luckily with leadership communication training, this coveted skill can be mastered.

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