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Executive Presence: What is it and why it matters.

Gerard Kerr

Executive Presence: What is it, why does it matter and four ways you can improve yours.

As an executive recruiter, I frequently engage in conversations with leaders aspiring to elevate their careers. One term that consistently emerges is Executive Presence (EP). So, what exactly is it, and how does it influence your career trajectory?


What is Executive Presence?

Executive Presence isn't a singular attribute; it's a composite of traits and behaviours that command respect and inspire others. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the author of "Executive Presence," EP is a blend of behaviours and traits that send a specific message, influencing how others perceive us.


The Impact on Your Career

In the executive panel interviews I facilitate, I've observed that a positive Executive Presence can serve as a career accelerator, while a lacklustre one can act as a roadblock. While leadership and strategic skills remain paramount in executive hiring, the importance of cultivating your EP cannot be overstated.


Executive Presence Shapes the Decisions Others Make About You


The influence of Executive Presence extends beyond the surface. It subtly shapes conscious and unconscious assessments of your leadership capabilities. When key decision-makers evaluate you for a job, or a promotion or a critical project, your EP often becomes an unspoken factor. It serves as a lens through which others view your leadership acumen, strategic foresight, and ability to navigate complex challenges. Your Executive Presence can either amplify or diminish your professional strengths.


What are the Core Components of Executive Presence?

Hewlett breaks down Executive Presence into three core components:


How You Act (Gravitas):

      1. Grace under fire
      2. Decisiveness
      3. Integrity and speaking truth to power
      4. Emotional intelligence
      5. Charisma

How You Speak (Communication):

      1. Tone, pace, diction, vocal strength, and quality
      2. Ability to read a room
      3. Commanding a room without forcefulness
      4. Assertiveness without aggression

How You Look (Appearance):

      1. Grooming
      2. Attire
      3. Physicality
      4. Vigor and vibrancy

Detractors of Executive Presence

So, what undermines our Executive Presence? Here are five common detractors I've observed:


  1. Inconsistency
  2. Poor Listening Skills
  3. Overconfidence
  4. Inability to Adapt
  5. Poor Communication


Four Ways To Enhance Your Executive Presence

We're all busy, but it's still important to develop your EP, just like you do your other skill sets.

Here are four things you can practice at work:


Know Your Audience: Before any interaction consider who your audience is and what signals you want to send during interactions.


Practice Grace Under Fire: Mastering composure during stressful situations is key. It not only elevates your EP but also portrays you as a grounded leader.


Identify your EP Strengths and Weaknesses: Work with a trusted colleague to pinpoint your EP strengths and your biggest EP weakness.  Working on this can be a game-changer.


PBSB Technique: Before speaking, Pause, Breathe, Smile, and then Begin. Taking a moment to pause then breathe, then smile before you speak portrays you as grounded and in control, this technique is especially useful during high-stakes executive interviews.


Final Thoughts

Executive Presence is more than how you act, speak, or look; it's the message you send to the world and it influences what others think about you. Just as you work on your leadership skills, it is important to work on your Executive Presence too.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you got any EP advice you'd like to share with our community?

Feel free to reach out to me at









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