How to Cultivate Executive Presence

Part 5 of 5

6 Steps for Building Executive Presence

Management consultant Karl Albrecht encourages readers to work on the following dimensions of executive presence in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success (Pfeiffer, 2009).

  • Don’t mimic a CEO you’ve read about, admired or conceptualized in your mind. Personal authenticity is critical, so find your most natural way of walking, talking, dressing and interacting with others. Find and express your own voice. If you try to act important, you will come across as arrogant. Think about how you want to be perceived, and aim for these qualities in everything you do.
  • Identify your core strengths and values. Write a brief description of yourself from the perspective of someone who has just met you. What would you like people to say about you? Start working on specific aspects of this ideal description to ensure they’re real. If you’re not expressing your values in the things you say, then maybe you’re fooling yourself about them.
  • Leave a long message on your voice-mail, and play it back in a few days to get an idea of how you sound to a stranger. Note any aspects of your speech that you would like to change. You may not be aware of your vocal intonations and tics, which can add to or detract from how others perceive you.
  • Record a conversation with a friend on audio or video. Make sure it’s long enough so that you and your pal forget you’re being recorded. Study yourself and your friend’s reactions to jot down any habits or behaviors that contribute to or inhibit empathy, clarity and/or authenticity.
  • Ask one or more close friends to share their impressions about meeting you for the first time. Remind them to be brutally honest, and encourage them to offer insights into other aspects of your interactions – especially the areas that could be improved.
  • Review your discoveries with your coach or mentor. Ask for help. Practice. Change will take time, as personal habits in interacting with others are ingrained. After a while, however, you and your inner circle should begin to notice improvements. Never forget that polishing your interpersonal skills and executive presence is a lifelong journey.

How to Cultivate Executive Presence

Part 4 of 5

What Really Matters

Your physical bearing is important but your core values and the way you communicate them are even more significant.

Your executive presence is reflected in the energy and image you convey, along with your understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Leaders with a strong presence intuitively know what will cultivate loyalty and approval. They also recognize how to avoid coming off as egotistical, insecure and insensitive.

Others’ perceptions are influenced by our emotional demeanor. You must be able to balance your own needs with those of others and the team. This requires keenly honed emotional awareness – being in tune with the situation, the context and other people.

When your personal values resonate and are aligned with others’, you have an opportunity to lead in meaningful ways. This will attract others to you and command the respect of peers and superiors. An infectious grin and authentic sense of camaraderie will open doors, but the ability to communicate sincerely and connect with core values is what inspires people to respond.

Your presence communicates your self-worth and confidence, as well as the level of respect you have for others and the situation at hand.

Tomorrow in Part 5: 6 Steps for Building Executive Presence

How to Cultivate Executive Presence

Part 3 of 5

Storytelling for Professional Success

A key element in leadership communication skills and a vital part of building executive presence is the art of crafting and telling a good story. Cold, hard facts don’t inspire people to change. Straightforward analysis won’t excite anyone about a goal.

Effective leadership requires stories that fire others’ imaginations and stir their souls. Our brains are wired to pay attention to stories. We quickly process information when it’s delivered in the form of a story, and we personalize it when we relate it to our own similar experiences.

General Electric’s Jack Welch excelled at this skill, as do Apple’s Steve Jobs and many other successful leaders. They know how to motivate by engaging people’s emotions through storytelling.

A narrative magnetically and biochemically draws audiences into the process, compelling them to visualize the picture you’re painting with your words. Stories help your staff make the connections among theory, facts, real life and real people.

Consider the following story options:

  • A negative story, a failure, a lesson learned
  • A success story, especially in the face of difficulties
  • A case study
  • History and mythology
  • A deeply personal story (a tragedy or rags-to-riches example)

When crafting a story, include as many specific details as possible to make it real to your audience. Be brief, and get to the point. Understatement often carries a bigger impact. Transport the listener by describing events in emotional terms. Keep it simple. Learn to use metaphors and analogies to summarize. Personalize your story with names, even if they need to be altered.

The more authentic your examples are, the more your stories will resonate with people. In real life, nothing is black or white. Real life is full of paradoxes and uncertainties. Tell your stories to make a point and deliver a lesson that has true value.

Tomorrow in Part Four, I will discuss What Really Matters

How to Cultivate Executive Presence

Part 2 of 5

11 Aspects of Executive Presence

The qualities associated with executive presence can be difficult to learn and practice. Developing them without the help of qualified coaches and mentors may proof impossible. You can work on and improve some of these competencies, but they may evade certain personalities.

Most people aren’t born with executive presence. They develop the requisite skills with experience, maturity and a great deal of effort.

One important caveat: Don’t confuse executive presence with speaking or presentation skills. They’re part of the total package, but presence is what you project wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Your challenge lies in managing others’ perceptions of you, which is no small task.

Here are 11 qualities that contribute to executive presence:

  • Transparency: Genuine, open, straightforward, comfortable in one’s skin. Aims for truth and clarity, even when difficult issues arise. Doesn’t try to please or cover up with spin.
  • Passion: Loves and feels strongly about the profession, job, industry and life in general. Sees and believes in optimism.
  • Clarity: Communicates thoughts, feelings and insights with crystal clarity and simplicity. Master of metaphors and stories that make an impact.
  • Intelligence: The ability to process, retain and apply information, whether it’s academic or street-worthy.
  • Pattern Recognition: The ability to boil down complex factors and mounds of data to rare conclusions. Offers insights others may not see.
  • Results-Oriented: Driven and full of purpose; determined to achieve and succeed. Able to discern dichotomies, unravel paradoxes and work with uncertainties. Flexible and willing to adjust goals. Decisive under pressure. A bias toward action. An attitude of giving, rather than getting. Works in the service of common goals for the organization’s and society’s higher values.
  • Confidence: Not overconfident; has enough self-doubt to be objective. Asks questions and listens.
  • Humility: Willing to admit mistakes, misjudgments, fears and uncertainties in ways that are endearing. Seeks answers and advice; listens to others.
  • Courage: Willing to take risks and positions against considerable odds. May be seen as a maverick. Able to perceive possibilities and innovations.
  • Humor: Not over-the-top, but in the right measure to disarm others’ defenses.
  • Social: Genuinely cares about others; sees both strengths and weaknesses in people. Allows for people to learn from mistakes. Promotes healthy self-esteem in others. Respects others and shows a real – not manufactured or superficial – interest in them.

Keep in mind that no single leader possesses all of these qualities in abundance. For example, many successful CEOs with strong executive presence lack one or more of the likeability factors, such as humor and humility, but they make up for it in other domains.

Come back tomorrow for Part 3: Storytelling for Professional Success

How to Cultivate Executive Presence

Part 1 of 5

“We need leaders who model high social intelligence … who appeal to our higher selves and invite us to grow as individuals and as a society, rather than leaders who pander to our primal fears and selfish greed.”  – Karl Albrecht, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success (Pfeiffer, 2009)

When someone in your company is promoted to a leadership position, the decision most likely came down to degrees of “executive presence.”  This person successfully competed against other qualified candidates, some of whom were probably just as experienced and smart.

Presence: Often referred to as “bearing,” presence incorporates a range of verbal and nonverbal patterns (one’s appearance, posture, vocal quality, subtle movements) – a whole collection of signals that others process into an evaluative impression of a person.

Serious questions are raised by the concept of presence for anyone with ambitions of career advancement. Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book Blink, if decisions are made intuitively, what do we need to know about “executive presence”?

Everyone’s definition of the term seems to differ. But planning your career and determining your leadership development needs shouldn’t be left to guesswork.
Searching for Executive Presence
If you google executive presence, you will find definitions and advice on everything from dressing for success and patterns of speech to more fundamental issues of emotional and social intelligence.

Some people conclude that executive presence has little to do with polish, poise, sophistication or even use of body language and gestures. In many cases, executives with presence are just as likely to lack these qualities.

Today, executive presence comes in all shapes and sizes, including some you wouldn’t normally recognize. Who would have thought, 30 years ago, that Bill Gates would command it? Would Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook, have stood out as a high-potential CEO? But as one of the youngest men ever to be named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, he certainly has presence – albeit a “Gen Y” version of it.

You must learn how to acquire or improve your level of executive presence if you want to be promoted to the C-suites. If you are already in senior management, you must recognize your current potential and help nurture executive presence in the people you want to groom for succession.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2: 11 Aspects of Executive Presence

Understand How Emotions Drive Actions (Part 5)

This is the conclusion of a 5 part series.  If you missed the first 4, start here.

Emotions Matter: An Action Plan

Evolution gave us feeling before thinking. Leaders must therefore quell fears before expecting employees to embrace the cold, hard facts. 

“Changing people’s beliefs is hard work: Selling them on what they already believe and feel is far easier.” ~Dan Hill, Emotionomics

Our gut instincts are unyielding but facts are malleable. Two things every leader must understand are:

  • The human side of business consumes most of a company’s operating costs. Failure to be emotionally adept is counterproductive – perhaps even suicidal.
  • Employees are the players who turn their CEO’s dreams of progress from a nuts-and-bolts strategic plan into reality – an outcome that requires emotional commitment.

To achieve your desired results follow these steps:

  1. Create faith in a “greater we” by establishing yourself as a leader who’s a real person – not the heir apparent to a big title, office and salary.
  2. Be more personable in your communications. Only then can you generate the emotional momentum necessary to push through change.
  3. Communicate a vision that inspires pride. Negative feelings can undo a company during a period of change, and they’re highly contagious. Become a student of nonverbal expressions and body language.
  4. Meet with employees in person, and use face time to connect with them and solicit or accept advice. Greater familiarity leads to sound relationships.

Understand How Emotions Drive Actions (Part 4)

Clear Vision

Employees require reassurance that they will be protected by astute, decisive leaders who know how to steer the company through tumultuous times.  Overall level of confidence and support will determined by a leaders’ strategic instincts – and how they are communicated to followers. This requires accurate self-awareness.

Emotional concerns must be alleviated because the immediate impact of change is often quite negative. Emotionally astute leaders recognize there is always resistance, especially at the beginning of change initiatives. While emotional dynamics should be factored into change-management planning, they rarely are.

Your job is to provide hope while alleviating fear – not by denying it, but by predicting it, being honest about it and normalizing it. Successful leaders translate vision into action by explaining why a company is taking a new direction, as well as the consequences for failing to act.

Be honest when addressing why your company can no longer cling to the status quo. Your team member’s emotional desire for security will motivate them to accept changes that initially cause them to recoil. Focus on emotional benefits to make a clear case. You can subsequently invoke a sense of victory, ensure greater job security and get your troops excited about a fresh new direction. They will then be more receptive to rational analysis of facts and data.

Your message should be clear, simple, heartfelt and aligned with your company’s current emotional climate. To strengthen the impact of your words, incorporate body language and facial expressions.

Cohesive Culture

The mark of great CEOs or team leaders is their ability to build teams where employees feel welcome to participate, collaborate and receive recognition.  According to authors Kouzes’ and Posner’s worldwide survey on effective leadership (The Leadership Challenge), building a team environment that inspires employees to give their best requires three qualities:

  1. Honesty
  2. Forward-looking
  3. Inspirational

These three qualities determine the effectiveness of a good leader. Employees need to know whether they trust their leaders enough to follow them so honesty always comes first. The ability to look forward helps people feel more secure about the direction in which they’ll be heading (provided they believe in a positive outcome).

Inspiration is not a form of vague charisma. Leaders must have the ability to inspire goodwill and hope. Foster positive feelings in those you lead – sooner, rather than later.

Tomorrow, we wrap up this series with an action plan.

Understand How Emotions Drive Actions (Part 3)

The Greater Good: Character Matters

When leaders strive to get people on board and promote enthusiasm many miss the mark. Workplace statistics show that only 25 percent of employees are truly engaged.

Developing an atmosphere of trust and generosity of spirit should be senior management’s goal.  When leaders give workers something they can believe in – a cause greater than the common good – they engage both hearts and minds.

Most of us seek meaning in our lives, from a psychological standpoint, and many of us find it through our work. Leaders can facilitate this by communicating their own beliefs, passions and ideals.

The Leadership Trust Gap

There are two barriers that create a trust gap between leaders and their teams:

  1. The financial chasm that results from large pay disparities
  2. A disconnect between verbal and nonverbal communication

Although there is an inherent desire to identify and bond with one’s leader, people instinctively defend their own interests and exercise caution before committing their careers and livelihoods to anyone.

No one wants to commit to the wrong cause or person, which clearly highlights the importance of leaders’ honesty and authenticity.

Pay Disparities

Pay disparities can throw a massive wrench into the trust equation.

In 1990, CEO compensation in the United States increased 100 to 400 percent while the average American worker earned $27,000. Adjusted for inflation, this figure remains constant two decades later. Surveys show that 90 percent of institutional investors believe most executives are overpaid.

Envy leads to divisiveness. Such pay disparities between top leaders and their employees undermine workers’ security and sense of well-being. the constant threat of downsizing and outsourcing magnify people’s fears and makes matters worse.

This is why employees struggle to see their leaders as invested in a shared outcome. But leaders who recognize trust-gap factors can prepare to deal with these issues by establishing an emotionally solvent, personal connection with their people.

Flailing leaders may need to work on their “emotional intelligence” by engaging executive coaches to help them.  Employees are laboring in a harsh economy, so leaders need to learn and practice empathy, honesty and authenticity.

Nonverbal Communications

The  disconnect between what a leader says and actually feels is the second obstacle to overcome. As a leader, you will experience a “say/feel” gap when your messages are incongruent with your physical expressions.  Facial expressions convey your feelings much more accurately than any words you say.

Fifty five percent of meaning is derived from body language, 38 percent from vocal intonation and only 7 percent from the actual words according to research about messages.

With seven universal emotions found across all cultures, we discern emotional content from others’ facial expressions. According to Paul Eckmann’s research in 2003 the basic facial expressions of emotions are:

  1. Positive: happiness
  2. Neutral: surprise
  3. Negative: anger, fear, sadness, disgust and contempt

Studies of CEOs’ facial expressions reveal that honest and robust social smiles trump all others when one wants employees to feel hopeful and buy into goals. The worst possible expressions are dislike, especially when combined with anxiety (fear). Condescending, scared leaders will invariably cut themselves off from others.

The key here is for leaders to acquire knowledge of how congruent their nonverbal facial expressions are with their intended message. Again, working with an executive coach can help.

Check back tomorrow for Part 4

Understand How Emotions Drive Actions (Part 2)

3 Keys to Leadership Success

Sustainable business success depends on three key leadership areas:

  1. The greater good. Leaders must influence others to join a cause greater than making a profit or creating good products or services. Employees need reasons to believe in the company and its leadership ideals. Leaders establish themselves as credible, trustworthy and unselfish – role models who are looking out for the group and individual performers. They ask others to join “us,” without sacrificing their “me.”
  2. Clear vision. Leaders must paint a convincing picture of the future that motivates and prepares people for what’s coming because continual change may be traumatic for employees.
  3. Cohesive culture. Leaders are expected to read a situation in emotional terms and proactively foster a climate of participation and collaboration. They should also devote time and energy to grooming talent, as well as recognizing and rewarding good work.

Each of these leadership roles requires emotional awareness and, most importantly, the ability to express appropriate feelings effectively. Clear ideals and beliefs are not good enough if leaders cannot connect on an emotional level with their teams.

Leaders must also learn how to express their own emotions. Years of education and training, with an emphasis on cognitive skills, may mean they’re far from adroit at managing their own feelings.

There may be a disconnect between what leaders say and what they actually communicate because most emotions are perceived nonverbally. Emotional astuteness requires an awareness of what one feels, verbalizes and conveys through nonverbal communication. Conversely, leaders must learn to read others’ emotions – individually and in groups – to ask the right questions and build trust.

Check back tomorrow for Part 3

Failing to Understand How Emotions Drive Actions (Part 1)

“Leadership isn’t something you do writing memos; you’ve got to appeal to people’s emotions. They’ve got to buy in with their hearts and bellies, not just their minds.”  - Lou Gerstner, IBM’s former CEO

What is critical to business success?   Emotions are critical because they drive behaviors. When you achieve an emotional buy-in from consumers and employees you have a competitive advantage in a world of increasing commoditization.

Traditionally, business ignore emotions in favor of rationality. Leaders disregard feelings as messy, dangerous, inferior and even irrelevant to day-to-day operations. In marketing and in managing, the emphasis has been on appealing to the rationality of people.

According to a growing body of scientific evidence, subconscious feelings drive decisions, up to 95% of which are made through the brain’s emotion centers and only then filtered into its cognitive parts. Psychologists, neuroscientists and behavioral economists now agree that leaders who fail to understand how emotions drive actions will ultimately fail.

Emotionally astute leaders leverage feelings to gain employee commitment, engagement and performance, according to Dan Hill, CEO of Sensory Logic and author of Emotionomics: Leveraging Emotions for Business Success (Kogan Page, 2008).  The link between satisfaction and productivity, was confirmed by experts featured in a Time magazine cover story (January 17, 2005) who cited a 10 percent improvement in job performance among fulfilled employees.

In their book, Primal Leadership (2002) Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee reviewed case studies that reflect a company’s emotional climate may account for up to 30 percent of job performance.

Bookmark us and come back tomorrow for 3 Keys to Leadership Success