For a long time, people accepted a limited definition of executive presence, often characterizing it broadly and vaguely by describing a leader’s ability to command the room and gravitas (whatever that means).

A few years ago, our firm created the first-ever scientific model of executive presence, the Bates ExPITM, drawing on established research in many fields that reflected how leaders influence others and drive business results. 

In the course of our work evaluating leaders and their executive presence, we have analyzed many hundreds of multi-rater assessments and conducted as many conversations with leaders about their results.  Before we get into the data during the debrief, we ask them a bunch of questions about their business imperatives: What results are they expected to drive in the coming year?  What will be the impact if they are successful—or not? 

As a result, we have developed a keen understanding of how a leader’s strengths and gaps in executive presence directly tether to how successful they are—or not—in driving bottom-line impact.  Here is what we’ve learned about what’s at risk if your leaders have gaps in any of the 15 facets of executive presence.

The Character Dimension

Facet How Gaps in Each Facet Affect Business Results
  • People don't understand the intent behind the leader's content
  • Not knowing the leaders' motives, people trust less, execution stalls and disengagement rises, slowing or derailing progress towards the goals of the business
  • When leaders don't walk the talk and follow through, it erodes a "make-it-happen" mentality
  • When people question the leaders' values, it's a huge distraction from the mission and vision, diffusing the collective ability to execute on the vision
  • Transactional leadership is the norm, not transformational leadership
  • The transactional focus lowers engagement on the strategic level, which means you're not getting the most out of your human capital. They get stuck in the tactical weeds and can't move with agility to execution
  • The leader's volatility leads to people walking on eggshells and withdrawing
  • Impulsive, emotional reactions pull employees' time and energy from innovation and problem solving, derailing the team's ability to add value and accelerate progress on the longer-term strategic goals
  • Leaders aren't open to ideas, thinking that they have the best answers themselves
  • People see no point in focusing on new ideas, creative approaches, and how to drive change. As a result, we are not leveraging the collective wisdom of the group and are less likely to come up with creative ideas or innovative solutions

The Substance Dimension

Facet How Gaps in Each Facet Affect Business Results
Practical Wisdom
  • Leaders can't be a strategic partner if they don't have valuable, relevant insights to share
  • If leaders can't connect what they know to what others need, the team won't want to work with them, and their strategic initiatives will stall or fail
  • Windows of opportunity close when analysis paralysis replaces action
  • When leaders lack accountability, the focus is on scapegoating - not results. This means aborted projects and unrealized goals as the team gets distracted from executing.
  • Change initiatives derail when leaders can't be the voice of calm amidst the storm
  • Inability to keep problems and setbacks in perspective kills organizational agility, as teams get stuck in the cycle of panic without a clear voice to hold them on track and moving forward 
  • Lacking tools to tune into what others want and need is another derailer in times of change
  • Leaders can't be a strategic partner without actively understanding others' needs. Their stakeholders don't feel heard, undermining the leaders' ability to work with them collaboratively and effectively
  • It's hard to drive any business result if leaders can't explain where the organization is going and why everyone should care
  • Innovation, change, growth: all depend on the leader's ability to communicate strategically about the end goal and provide clarity on how the team can get there

The Style Dimension

Facet How Gaps in Each Facet Affect Business Results
  • If leaders fail to set the right tone with energy and image, their great ideas may get dismissed
  • Business partnerships may fall short if attire and tone don't say "peer," as colleagues prioritize other initiatives that seem more relevant to their owns goals and initiatives
  • A lack of alignment around who's doing what bogs down tactical execution
  • Too little dialogue about how things get done pulls down performance and engagement while team members go their own way, duplicate efforts, and leave key tasks undone
  • When people believe they don't have a voice, they become disengaged
  • Great change initiatives fail because the leader didn't get input and buy-in from others, and the team becomes convinced that work on those initiatives is a waste of time 
  • A lack of regular, scheduled communication breeds misunderstanding and mistrust
  • When leaders don't talk or won't listen, it hurts execution, innovation, and engagement, as their teams lose the connection to the "why" and understanding of their role in the "how"
  • Too much conflict kills collaboration across teams, functions, organizations, and industries
  • Too little conflict means that problems fester and tactical progress grinds to a halt
  • Failing to get the right amount of constructive conflict keeps leaders from engendering collaboration and innovative thinking, stalling progress on their key initiatives

With respect to the 15 facets of executive presence and their connection to their goals, every leader gets some good news about what qualities are helping them drive business results.  But every leader also gets some feedback that is worrisome. Inevitably, there are usually at least a couple of areas of executive presence that threaten a particular leader’s ability to hit their business goals—whether they relate to growth, costs, innovation, transformational change, or anything else.

Final Thoughts

The good news is that there is also always something that can be done to turn one of these gap areas into a relative strength—or at least keep them from becoming derailers.  The key is to embrace the gift of feedback, understand the impact of how others perceive you, and invest in doing what it takes to move the needle.  There’s just too much stake to your business to do anything else.

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