Do You Have What It Takes?

Dear Springboard:

I’ve been in my new job for a while now and I’m getting the hang of it. I feel like I know what I want to accomplish and how to get it done.

But, just the other day, my boss told me that I need to present myself as more of a leader if I’m going to get the support of my peers on the leadership team.

I think I understand what he’s getting at. How do I go about making the change?

Sign me,

Feeling Marginalized

Dear FM:

An important part of being seen as a leader is executive presence. While it’s hard to succinctly define, we know it when we see it.

Executive presence says you’re in charge of your domain and you deserve to be. With strong executive presence you will be more credible.

You’re likely to be challenged less that someone who doesn’t have strong EP, and even if you are challenged, you’d have no trouble standing your ground.

Your opinion matters. You have influence. You have power.

EP is not enough by itself to support ongoing effectiveness as a leader (technical competency is still a must), but its absence is a major negative and would handicap any leader in a serious role.

I refer you to Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book Executive Presence. She explores the topic fully and thoughtfully and there is much to be gained from her book.

As an example, she cites data from a survey conducted with 268 senior executives and notes three universal dimensions of EP: how one acts (gravitas – 67%), speaks (communicates – 28%), and looks (appearance – 5%).

Gravitas stands out as the core characteristic. Double-clicking on gravitas reveals the top aspects to be:

  • Confidence & “grace under fire” 78%
  • Decisiveness & “showing teeth” 70%
  • Integrity & “speaking truth to power” 64%
  • Emotional intelligence 60%
  • Reputation & standing/ “pedigree” 56%
  • Vision/charisma 52%

It’s interesting that “grace under fire” tops the list. Leaders who can remain calm and competent in a crisis earn respect.

Confidence is key and faking it doesn’t cut it.

Just last week, as a normal part of a coaching engagement, I had a 1:1 meeting with a coaching client’s boss. A very senior leader in a Fortune 100 company, the boss immediately took command of the room and the meeting.

It was intangible and yet unmistakable.

What exactly did he do? I can tell you what unfolded in the meeting, and I think those things collectively added up to the impact he had that started the moment we shook hands.

During our meeting, he: was extremely focused on what he wanted to accomplish; knew what he stood for and so what was acceptable and unacceptable to him (defined by his personal values which aligned with the corporate culture); was comfortable with himself and willing to be appropriately open and vulnerable; didn’t have anything to prove; and, let me know that he had the heft of significant political capital within the company.

Another major dimension of EP is communication. It needs to be clear and direct. In general, less is more. Being concise is more powerful than longwinded.

Ultimately, effective communication is all about connecting and that means active listening, making eye contact, mutual respect and letting your purpose shine through uncluttered. Interestingly, the way we communicate is more impactful than the actual words.

Pay attention to your energy, voice quality, body language. For important meetings, think ahead of what outcome you want and then how do you want to BE to support realizing that outcome. Watch other leaders to see what you think is effective and what isn’t.

A few years ago, I was working with a client who was promoted into a bigger management role and also into a completely new division. She had the challenge of adjusting to both a new level of leadership and new functional expertise.

There were great demands on her time, particularly to attend meetings. She was stretched too thin and she felt insecure about her contribution and especially in these meetings.

By establishing priorities, she was able to focus, and that meant taking the time to be fully prepared for the important meetings. When she felt more confident, she began to command the room as the leader she was meant to be.

Like so many things that lead to success, EP is an inside job, and that explains why appearance makes up only 5%.

Great grooming is the goal. To my mind, it’s more about what not to do. Don’t be too provocative; if your appearance is getting a lot of attention, pay attention to that.

Read your work culture. Be sensible. An old rule of thumb is dress for your next job.

What can you do to develop your own EP?

  • Be very prepared so you are confident
  • Know your stuff cold and stand your ground when challenged
  • Keep your cool, don’t let yourself get rattled
  • Take a position and be clearly resolute about it
  • Know your own values and consistently honor them, even when it costs you something in the near term
  • Be consistent in building a positive reputation

How can you get started?

Think about what really matters to you. What do you stand for?

Put a mental stake in the ground for that.

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