Executive presence is the magnetic force that compels others to listen and act. The lack of it can hold you back professionally. But what is it, exactly?
Michelle Gloeckler tackled the topic several years ago at the Network of Executive Women’s NEW Leadership Summit. She had the audience laughing as she shared stories of what she’d learned about business from her mother, a veteran sales rep. She then surprised everyone by inviting her mom onto the stage to make a few remarks. Her mother proceeded to demonstrate where Michelle got her sense of humor (and executive presence).
Gloeckler, senior vice president and general merchandise manager, home for Walmart Stores U.S., and the Network’s immediate past board chair, doesn’t use formality to communicate authority. Authentic and playful, she uses her vulnerability to build a powerful experience of community. Celebrating her mother in front of a group founded to nurture women leaders was touching -- and powerful. (More than one attendee called Gloeckler’s presentation the highlight of the NEW Summit.)
Executive presence -- how you communicate, hold yourself, connect with and treat people -- establishes credibility and engages others.
Mike Wadden, an international business expansion expert, says executive presence inspires trust and generates excitement about you, your mission and what you can do for the other person. People hear the opportunity you offer and want to be part of it. He uses executive presence to establish powerful relationships and cultivate enthusiasm, which results in meetings and deals.
To cultivate a more powerful presence, consider the following:
- Authenticity makes it easier for people to relax around you, trust you and be candid themselves. Aloofness and pretense are distancing.
- Grace, in how you hold yourself, speak, move, interact and respond under pressure, sets a tone that is calming and impressive. It communicates intelligence and power. Harshness and volatility suggests imbalance or lack of self-control.
- Enrolling and inspiring others means knowing your audience and making an emotional connection. When you speak, you reveal your thought process, self-awareness and how well you understand and respect your audience. When others experience that you understand what matters to them, they are drawn to you. Taking the time to prepare for important conversations; how you engage in key moments can have profound impact on what you accomplish.
- Active listening, including the questions you ask, is often what people most remember.
- Initiative. Those who reach out, make a good point, hold their ground and make requests and offers, stand out. When Gloeckler joined Walmart Stores, she expanded her executive presence by volunteering for high-risk assignments, like live television and board presentations, that supported her business goals and credibility. She was promoted not long after she joined the firm.
- Clarity in your speaking and listening communicates seriousness and respect. Saves time, too.
- Superior speaking skills are vital if your role requires speaking to groups.
- Impeccable personal presentation is a basic. Good grooming says you respect yourself and others.
Which of these are areas where you can improve? Remember, mastery of executive presence is not something that is ever complete. Like most things, it involves continuous learning.