Why You Don’t Need Executive Presence to Succeed

Sep 15, 2017 5 Min Read
Executive Presence; men with weapons

May the Force Not Be With You

Lately, I have received a lot of requests to provide coaching in the area of displaying 'executive presence'.

It is akin to having a wish for a magic potion that can suddenly transform an executive from a mild-mannered individual to a charismatic and charming person who would then be able to win and woo everyone over to subscribe to every word he or she says.

In other words, the coaching engagement is supposed to endow the client with a certain forceful personality and appeal that can draw the adoration and commitment from his or her followers.

So much of what constitutes leadership today centres too much on the individual’s personality that the organisation culture is in danger of being a personality-driven culture rather than being purpose-driven.

The danger of having too much executive force is that employees then will be lulled into a “you-tell- me-what-to- do” culture that eventually stifles creativity, innovation and engagement.

In such a situation, the motivation to perform requires constant micro-managing and management “hovering’.

I am not saying that executive presence is not a necessary trait for leadership influence. However, from my interaction with many clients, I have come to realise that there is a need to reshape a proper understanding of what it means to truly have an executive presence and it has nothing to do with having a forceful personality.

There are two key areas to focus on if you want to grow in your executive presence:

Connecting the dots

The influencing leader is someone who has a perspective which runs across the entire organisation. The number one lament I encounter whenever the topic of organisational culture is raised is on the issue of silo-mentality and territorialism.

The instinctive behaviour of protecting my own backyard is what gives rise to little Napoleons and those who look at just guarding their own interests (even if it is at the expense of the larger organisation).

We admire those who understand our predicament and yet they are able to lead us to look at the same situation with a fresh pair of eyes, a renewed perspective. You walk away saying to yourself – how come I did not see it that way before?

The ability to connect the dots, to see life situations from a perspective that transcends the current circumstances is the bedrock of wisdom and insights.

Here are two questions for you to consider in gauging your ability to connect the dots:

  1. Do you regularly meet up with leaders at various levels and functions to learn about and understand new issues together?
  2. Are you able to link individual employee contribution to the bigger picture of how this eventually makes a difference to the entire organisation?

Sensing before addressing

Many employees who are not engaged want a reason to be inspired. They are the group that needs an extra push to perform at their best.

How should leaders respond to this need to “show me”? It is as if they are saying – I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care. Herein lies the issue – most leaders are quick to give a charismatic address or speech without realising that they need to first be sensing what are the feelings on the ground.

Creating a culture of engagement requires more than completing an annual employee survey and then leaving managers on their own, hoping they will learn something from the survey results that will change the way they manage.

The survey in and of itself does not do the act of sensing for the manager but it will highlight areas of employees’ needs that require prioritised attention. There are four basic needs that leaders and managers need to be sensitive towards (ideally, the employee survey should provide insights into these four areas as well):

1. Basic Needs

Employees need to have a clear understanding of what success in their role looks like. They need to be equipped with all the right resources.

2. Support Needs

Employees need to know that management provides the opportunity for them to do what they do best every day.
Also, what they do is recognised and appreciated.

3. Teamwork Needs

Employees need to feel they are part of a team. They need to trust the people they work with, and know that others trust them and value them.

4. Growth Needs

Employees need to be challenged to learn something new and find better ways to do their job.

The four area of needs highlighted above are taken from Gallup’s well-researched Q 12 engagement survey.

Hence, the influencing leader should be in the habit of sensing the engagement needs of the troops first before he gets all fired up to address them.

Your task is to connect with the hearts and minds before you can motivate the hands and feet. It is the worker before the work, the performer before the performance, the conversation before the communication, the relationship before the results.

It is not about you

Having executive presence is a funny thing – the more you focus on yourself, the less of a presence you have.

However, when you submit your personality, your passion and sometimes even your own ambition to a greater purpose, a greater cause, a greater perspective, then the presence will follow your passion.

Sure, there is the need to build up the proper communication skills, the right grooming disposition and the negotiation prowess but nothing really influences another fellow human being than another human being who is authentic and able to relate to me where I am instead of constantly forcing me in a direction against my will.

At the end of the day, having executive presence looks like this – your presence inspires others to execute with a strong sense of personal ownership. You cannot accomplish this by force but only by having an authentic influence.

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Joseph is a Leaderonomics faculty trainer who is passionate about engaging with leaders to transform culture in organisations. Previously, he was CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. He is currently based in the United States

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