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N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.
Coaching Corner: Executive Presence Series
August 5, 2014 Blog Series 1 of 9: Executive Presence:
Earning Your Seat at the Table
you’re a frontline supervisor, middle manager, senior leader, or company
president, you’re always in the spotlight. All eyes are on you. People are
constantly observing you for consistent behavior patterns. They’re continually
looking for clues to assess whether they can trust and respect you. If you’re
consistent in appropriate leadership behaviors, people will forgive an
occasional poor decision or mistake. However, if you frequently go into melt
down when things get tense, you create uncertainty. Uncertainly causes people
to raise their guard, which eventually erodes trust.
To demonstrate this point, in
the animal kingdom research has shown that in a troop of baboons, the lesser
males check out the alpha male every 20 to 30 seconds to see what he’s doing
(Sutton, 2010). The people in your organization are no different. They may not
be checking you out every 20 to 30 seconds, but they’re watching you carefully.
If you think you’re operating under the radar, you’re kidding yourself. Humans
are wired to pick up on slight subtleties that give you away, such as
telegraphing a mixed message, which occurs when your body language is
inconsistent with your words. The consequence of these actions is that employees
will lose faith in you and ultimately their trust.
Defining Executive Presence
Let’s begin with the definition
of executive presence. It’s a somewhat fuzzy concept and difficult to define,
similar to when Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964)
was asked to describe the threshold test for obscenity. In drafting his opinion,
he stated, “I know it when I see it.”
So the question is: “What do
you see when you think about executive presence?”
To answer this question, let’s
examine some hard data from recent research (Hewlett, 2014) conducted by the
Center for Talent Innovation (CTI). This organization wanted to crack the code
of executive presence and conducted a study in 2012 of 4,000 college-educated
professionals, of which 268 were senior executives. The researchers determined
there were three universal components of executive presence:
How you act (gravitas)
How you speak (communication)
How you look (appearance)
How you act–Gravitas
was identified by 67 percent of the participants as the most critical factor.
Just what is gravitas? It’s a combination of intellectual horsepower and grit.
Gravitas signals that you know your stuff cold and can field any question in
your domain of knowledge. But intellectual capacity is not enough. It must be
combined with grit: your ability to project confidence, credibility, and grace
under fire. This includes getting others to buy into your ideas when the going
gets rough and influence them to take action. Gravitas requires decisiveness and
the courage to be a truth-teller. That means being bold and going where others
may not venture, all the while never breaking a sweat—essentially staying cool
How you speak–Communication
skills were identified by 28 percent of the vote as the second universal
component. These skills ultimately support your gravitas. They include both your
verbal and non-verbal behaviors: For example, how you speak, tone of voice, body
language, and eye contact.
How you look–Your
appearance was considered relatively inconsequential, since it was rated by only
five percent of senior managers as important. There’s an interesting twist with
this component. Although it wasn’t valued as high as the other two, in reality
it becomes your ticket to get your foot in the door. We’ll discuss
more about in the later issue of the blog. Stay tuned!
In the next insertion we'll discuss your personal brand.
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Coaching Corner Archive.