Ways Aspiring Leaders Can Establish Executive Presence At Work

We commonly associate the term “executive presence” with middle- to senior-aged male bosses who carry an air of authority as they stride across their 85th floor offices, dictating to employees, with their stereotypical prototype appearance of leadership.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Groups that have commonly been slighted in the race up the career ladder, such as women, and younger generations including GenZ and millennials, are fully capable of exhibiting executive presence without having to succumb to this prototype. I chatted with several millennials, women business leaders, and successful founders and CEOs to understand from their perspective, what executive presence really means, and how to establish it.

Learn from others

Darin Alpert, a millennial who is also VP of Strategy at RepVue, a salary transparency platform for sales professionals, recommends three quick tips to develop executive presence at work:

“First, speak the languages of the leaders above you. Do they use certain vocabulary? Learn it and use it as well. Second, dress the part, especially on recorded calls. Finally, find a mentor internally who was promoted and learn what they did. Most people are generally open to sharing their tips.”

Failure is key to success

Beth Galetti, Senior Vice President, People eXperience and Technology at Amazon, remarks that one of the keys to success as you develop your leadership persona, is to be unafraid of failure.

While most of us tend to shun making mistakes, Galetti suggests that embracing them, even though uncomfortable, encourages career growth, while also fostering a culture of transparency: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and fail – and when you do make a mistake, own it, learn from it, and really examine it so you can understand where you can improve in the future. I find that speaking openly about what I’m struggling with or when I’ve made a mistake earns trust, and I encourage everyone on my team to do the same.”

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Curiosity is a virtue

Becoming curious as a leader is essential to operating effectively, so you can have a detailed view of the business. “Leaders are never done learning, and they seek diverse perspectives. Asking questions is how we all learn,” Galetti adds.

Beyond this, seek to ask questions that no one has ever asked or thought of yet. Parul Somani, a Harvard Business School graduate who led a 15+ year career in management consulting at Bain & Company and in senior operations roles in Silicon Valley start-ups, advises: “When you don’t have the knowledge base to know the right answers, tap into your intellectual curiosity and ask insightful questions. Those can serve to advance a team’s thinking and productivity just as much, if not more so, than the answers to the obvious questions.”

Or as previous team operations manager for Apple, Google, and Microsoft Lia Garvin puts it, “When in a meeting, pay attention to what is not being said, identify gaps, and ask thoughtful questions that draw connections or uncover assumptions.”

Strengthen your financial acumen

“If you’re looking to establish an executive presence, you have to consider the company’s bottom line in your daily work,” Managing Partner Kimberly Marek, of Marek CPA & Business Consulting says.

“As a young HR Generalist, I wanted to launch a new employee onboarding system. Rather than simply stating that, I developed a business case and presented it to senior leadership for consideration. My proposal included projected ROI, break even analysis, and the internal rate of return. You need to go above and beyond to demonstrate that you’re considering the company’s financial position in your decision making.”

Share perspectives on the whiteboard

Another highly visible and powerful executive move is that of getting up in team meetings (or volunteering virtually on a Zoom call) and outlining ideas and recommendations on the whiteboard to gather a consensus, while being an independent and creative thinker.

Asian Businesswoman Leading Meeting At Boardroom Table
Businesswoman Leading Meeting At Boardroom TableGETTY

Marek adds, “As appropriate, get up from the table and use the whiteboard to convey discussion points visually, capture key takeaways, etc. Don’t just be a notetaker immediately writing down what others have said, but converse and add your own perspective to it.”

Create a memorable impression through storytelling

John Grace, Founder of Investor’s Advantage, says that especially in the realm of finance, numbers often take center stage. However, it is indeed possible to interweave storytelling, even through numbers. “Weaving your insights into a compelling story can set you apart,” he says.

“Consider the less-traveled path of using anecdotes or real-world scenarios to illustrate complex financial concepts during presentations. Sharing a relatable story not only engages your audience but also showcases your ability to connect with people on a personal level while delivering valuable information. By blending data with narrative, you’ll not only communicate effectively but also establish yourself as a dynamic and influential communicator.”

Consider your body language

Executive presence is after all, not solely concerned with your actions, but also the aura of confidence that you project to others.

To occupy space with confidence, square your shoulders, give firm handshakes, maintain eye contact, smile pleasantly, and walk promptly with purpose and intentionality.

Be in command of your reactions to change

Managing Director Roy Castleman observes, “People that have a strong executive presence always give off the impression of being cool, level-headed, composed, well-prepared, and in command of the situation. This gives them the confidence that they can handle even more responsibility. In life, the only thing that stays the same is change. A positive reaction to change will motivate other members of the team to adapt to the quick changes that are occurring.”

Smiling businesswoman greeting a colleague on a meeting
Businesswomen shaking hands in the officeGETTY

Of course, building executive presence at work extends way beyond the suggestions in this article. However, it is indeed possible, through adopting just a few of these leadership habits and mindsets, to establish this presence and quickly ascend through the ranks. Begin today to embrace failures, ask smart questions, build your financial awareness, proactively participate in team meetings, harness the power of storytelling, and control your body language and responses to critical situations.

Source – Forbes

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