A to Z of Soft Skills: X for eXecutive Presence

I recently conducted a program on executive presence for women. And while I was preparing for the session, I realised that “presence” is a very intangible skill. Something that’s not easy to explain and is not any one skill. It is a combination of many traits put together that makes you stand out. It is not just how you look but what you are too. One of the best ways to explain what executive presence is is to look at business leaders who have it. In this post, we will look at the traits that make for executive presence and how we all can develop it to be more successful at work.

For me, one character that embodies executive presence is Miranda Priestly in the film The Devil Wears Prada. Miranda’s confidence, power dressing, command over her subject matter, her experience, her charisma and gravitas – all put together make her a great role model. Some of you might feel that her attitude borders on arrogance and I agree. But even if we got to about 50% of what she is, we are likely to be in a good place presence wise.

Executive presence is an important skill if you want people to take notice of you and consider you for leadership positions. It is even more important for women since they compete with men to make it to the top. Thanks to our conditioning and shorter careers at the mid management, presence becomes a key skill to distinguish oneself as a woman at that level. Executive presence, according to a survey of CIOs conducted by Gartner, comes 2nd in the top 20 leadership traits. Technological skills come at 12th. So you can see how presence can make a huge difference in the way you are perceived.

Let’s look at some of the things that put together to form this formidable quality called executive presence:

1. Communication skills: I am sure this is one of the top skills for any leadership positions. In fact, there are so many facets of this skill that can make or break your presence.

a. Communication styles: As a leader, it is not enough just to be able to communicate well. It is equally important to understand communication styles of others and fine-tune yours on the spot accordingly.

b. Concision: Meandering speeches don’t spell focussed or structured. And as a leader, these are important traits. Presence involves being able to craft and deliver messages to the point.

c. Intonation/volume: How you sound will impact the way your message is received. The popular speeches in history have been memorable as much for their delivery as their content.

d. Listening: A very important yet mostly ignored skill, listening helps you gauge communication styles and respond to other people accordingly. It also shows that you are patience and empathetic when others speak.

Here are a few more tips on how to speak so people will listen and 5 ways to listen better, both by Julian Treasure

2. Power dressing: Presence is defined by dressing in a way that projects you respectfully among your industry peers. When men wear business suits, they definitely spell business. For women, suits are always an option but it doesn’t mean one has to look masculine. (Nor does it mean cleavage baring femininity) Jackets, scarves, jewellery – there are so many ways women can move up the layers of power dressing.

3. Composure: Emotional intelligence is key to being a successful leader. Being in control of one’s emotions and responding in the right manner to others’ involves being able to gauge emotions correctly.

4. Body language: Stand tall, plant you feet firmly on the ground – don’t lean on one side, smile, make eye contact, always walk in with a purpose, look around the room and choose where you’d like to sit or the group you’d like to stand with. These are a few non verbal cues that help you project confidence.

5. Gravitas: The word comes from the Latin root, “gravis” which mean heavy. It stands for weight, influence, authority, seriousness and dignity that one brings in. Physical attributes that help add gravitas are height, (which is why I recommend that women wear heels, at least for important events and meetings) tone, volume – which I have already covered under communication.

The good news is it doesn’t matter where you are in your career, you can always work on developing presence. It is never too early. Live the role you want to get into and only then you’ll attract the role. Here are a few quick tips to get you started:

– Get a professional wardrobe that suits your personality and makes you feel confident

– Practice confident posture/body language

– Master public speaking skills. Pay attention to content and concision

– Pay attention to the brand you are building for yourself in everyday work life

Here are 16 quick and simple ways to feel more confident to help you along.

This post is a part of A to Z blogging challenge where I am going to write about 26 soft skills in 26 days and give tips on how to improve on them. If you like these posts, do share them and tell your friends about it.

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