Just about everyone appreciates that executive presence matters. And why? Because as we’ve found in our research to develop our model of executive presence, excelling in the 15 behaviors that we have found to scientifically define executive presence allows leaders to accelerate their strategic agendas, deliver bottom-line results more effectively, and enable innovation and new business model creation.
But if you don’t have as much of it as you need, what, if anything, can you do about it?
We have coached and advised hundreds of leaders on executive presence, and have learned a lot from working with them to improve their leadership abilities and their impact on the enterprise. Here’s one approach we take:
- Because measurement matters, the leaders start by taking the Bates Executive Presence Index (ExPItm) assessment, which lets them compare how they rate their own behavior on 90 items in the 15 behavior categories that comprise executive presence versus how they are rated by their manager, peers, direct reports, and others. This provides valuable data that helps leaders understand their strengths and gaps in order to build their influence and move the needle on their strategic agenda.
- The next step is to review the results of this assessment in two conversations, helping the leader to appreciate their strengths while drilling down into two development themes—qualities that matter based on the context of their business goals and challenges.
- The leader attends a two-day Executive Presence Mastery Program in which we delve deeper into the science of executive presence before using a process that gives them a whole set of actionable ideas on how to tackle their top development themes.
- About six weeks after the program, we have a follow-up call to find out if the leader has been able to move the needle on those development themes as well as how they have leveraged that movement to deliver on their business priorities.
The upshot has been that these leaders often can hardly wait to share what they’ve been able to do differently to improve others’ perceptions of their executive presence, and their ability to inspire and engage others. Here are a handful of examples that highlight how it has worked.
- One pharma leader was working on the facet of Restraint—being better able to slow down and manage her emotional responses. On her follow-up call, she shared that almost immediately after the program, she was essentially bullied by a colleague who attacked her integrity in the middle of a presentation. “Everything we worked on in the program just kicked in. Instead of becoming defensive, I kept calm, reminding everyone in the room about the big picture. I received so many comments and emails afterwards about how I kept calm and refused to get derailed. And it all unfolded right in front of my new boss.” The impact of this was her increased ability to keep a discussion from getting derailed, helping her rapidly advance her strategic agenda with her peers and her boss, ultimately delivering more impact for her group and her company.
- Another leader had received kudos for being high in the Character qualities but was rated lower in the facets of Practical Wisdom, Confidence, and Assertiveness. People loved him but were dying for him to step up and lead. On his follow-up call, he reported that he did exactly that during a pitch to a sales prospect. Sensing his colleague was on the brink of losing the sale, he stepped up decisively to acknowledge that the meeting had gone off track. “Hey guys, I can see that this is not what you want, so let’s not overcomplicate this,” he told them. Relating the story back to me, he added, “I kept it short and simple, and I was able to do so because I listened to the feedback. I am preparing more for these situations, coming in with a game plan instead of sitting back or just rambling.” As a direct result, he saved the sale and went on to keep his team on track to hit their ambitious sales goals.
- A third leader got very high ratings in facets such as Vision and Practical Wisdom, but she was seen as more of a smart, rational leader who didn’t always show the EQ needed through the quality of Resonance—being more attuned to others’ concerns, including those expressed nonverbally. “I just had a difficult conversation with a peer,” she recounted. “She had told me that she supported one of my initiatives. In the past, I would have taken that at face value. Instead, this time I told her that what she was saying seemed to be at odds with what she was feeling, based on her body language and the fact that she was uncharacteristically quiet.” When this observation was made, the peer admitted that she supported the concept of the initiative but not how it was being rolled out. She just hadn’t felt comfortable saying so until the leader had probed with a curious tone. Her boss soon gave her feedback that she was hitting it out of the park on her top goal of the year—rallying her peers and key stakeholders more effectively to execute a major transformational change for the company.
Have these leaders checked the box and mastered executive presence? Hardly. But in just a few months from beginning to end of the process, they became more aware of their gaps that are getting in the way of having an impact on the business, as well as adding tools to their toolbox to take targeted action on them.
So, can you improve your executive presence? Sure! Here are the keys:
- Data talks: Take a multi-rater assessment to understand how others really see your executive presence.
- Align to what matters most: Narrow your focus to a couple of key development themes that connect to your business challenges and strategic goals.
- Don’t go it alone: Get some coaching or mentoring support about how to make the feedback actionable; the clarity of an outside perspective can accelerate progress.
- Create micro-goals: Break your big development goals into bite-sized, targeted “micro-goals,” introducing some new communication behaviors to your leadership communication repertoire, focusing on what will lead to business impact.
We’re seeing a real ROI for leaders and teams who work to ramp up their executive presence and extend their influence. It all starts with awareness. If you feel like your executive presence has been no better in 2017, then a good resolution for the coming year is to know better.