Book Review: Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success Suman October 24, 2019

Book Review: Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success

I found this superb book on Executive Presence by Slyvia Ann Hewlett!! And this is worth its weight in gold!!

– It’s based on solid research – polls and interviews with senior leaders

– It looks at 3 main important components that adds up to presence – Gravitas, communication, appearance

– It further dissects those components and allocates percentage of importance of each for both men and women

And trust me! They are so practical and proven that you just cannot not follow them!

The book cites data from the research conducted by Centre for Talent Innovation in 2012. The research involved surveying 4000 graduate professionals, 18 focus groups and some 50 interviews to deconstruct executive presence and to what extent each component matters for men and women in the corporate world.

The findings for each are clearly laid out in the images in the book – which I have shared here.


Gravitas is the core characteristic of executive presence.

62% of the leaders polled agreed to this quality being important in giving people the heft and weightiness to take on bigger responsibilities. Gravitas is a combination of all the qualities in the image below.

Photo credit – from Hewlett’s book Executive Presence

Strong qualities like decisiveness, confidence under fire, EQ, integrity create the image of a strong leader.

From Margaret Thatcher to Hilary Clinton – every strong personality has exhibited these qualities to create a presence of her own!


✅ Surround yourself with people who are better than you. This will help complement your skills

✅ Stick to what you know. Back up your ideas with data

✅ Show humility. Own up to your mistakes

✅ Smile more. Smiling projects happiness and likability. And people like to work with people they like

✅ Avoid these blunders – sexual impropriety, flip flopping, racial comments, lack of integrity, bullying

Have you seen someone make heads turn by the power of their gravitas?


Sylvia says that communication is a thing that is “always on”- in everything one says and does.

Communication for leaders does not mean just formal presentation skills. It broadly includes

✔️The art of making conversation

✔️Writing effective emails

✔️Even casual comments you make

✔️Non verbal communication

The image below shows the components of communication that matter for.

Image credit – from the book Executive Presence

The most important part of effective communication is and ability to command a room. It all boils down to how well you connect with the audience.


–  Eliminate filler words like “err…”, “um..” “like” when you talk. Using these words affect your credibility

–  Widen your small talk. Read a lot and be aware so that you can strike a conversation and contribute to any topic

– Cultivate your voice. Sounding shrill goes against women and affects their presence. Tone it down with practice

– Make eye contact. Don’t get lost behind props like lists or slides.


This is a tricky but interesting one!

Although only 5% of the senior executives interviewed said appearance was important. Overall data shows that appearance is key in the way the other 2 components – your gravitas and communication – are evaluated.

You need to “look” the part. And dress up for the position you want and not the one you are in.

Image credit: From the book Executive Presence

The top component of appearance – as you can see in the image – is grooming.

Nails, hair, clothes – all put together in a way that shows you are in control. It shows effort to look the part.

Physical fitness is another important part of projecting yourself as a leader. you should be able to power through meetings without having to catch your breathe.

Appearance is tightrope especially for women! Too little make-up and you don’t stand out. Too much and you lose credibility.

Under-dress and you are not leadership material. Show too much skin and you aren’t taken seriously.

Being overweight goes against women, while not being tall goes against men. If you are challenged in the height dept, ladies, heels can help you beat that disadvantage!

– Whether your work culture demands a 3-piece suit or casual clothes, go for “appropriate” and well-groomed
– Ladies, if height is a challenge, keep those heels on. Being tall is an important criteria for aiming high in your career
– Stay in costume all the time. Your appearance is your brand. You can’t turn up well groomed only for important events and hope to make an impact
– Aim at your appearance adding to your skills and not distracting from it
–  Find the right look for you. Get professional help from a personal shopper, if required. If it feels uncomfortable, it isn’t the look for you. Play to your strengths.

The book has an entire chapter on the tightrope that women have to walk in all three areas of presence. She also goes on to talk about how lack of feedback on one’s appearance, especially for women makes it hard for them to improve.

I highly recommend this book for anyone – men and women (but especially women) who wants to work on their presence and power to climb up the ladder in their career.

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