Podcast Episode 42: A Fresh Perspective on Executive Presence (and how to up-level regardless of your title)

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You’re smart, hard-working, and honest. That should be enough for success but it’s not always sufficient. Executive Presence is what sets you apart from your colleagues. 

In this episode we’ll discuss:  

  • What is Executive Presence and why it’s important in any career at every level
  • Why the common definition of Executive Presence is biased and contributes to ageism, sexism, and racism. 
  • A fresh perspective on Executive Presence and how you can up-level your approach 
  • How to leverage your strengths to improve your Executive Presence

To me, executive presence is being able to read a room and identify what motivates, inspires and engages an audience of varying levels and influences opinion, rallys support, and builds credibility. 

Mentioned on the show: 

Amplify Your Strengths Group Coaching Program


Company Culture Part 1: How to identify a positive company culture

Company Culture Part 2: How to identify a positive company culture

Follow @jillGriffinOfficial on Instagram daily inspiration. 

Visit JillGriffinCoaching.com for free content and strategies to refresh your career.

Read the Transcript
Welcome back everyone. I’m glad you are here. 

This week I want to talk about executive presence. 

It’s funny how there always ends up being themes in my work with clients and Lately many of my clients have been eager to ground and uplevel their executive presence. 

Executive Presence, or EP, is about creating and curating your personal brand. You have to craft it before it’s crafted for you. 

Executive presence is the a-mal-gum (amalgam) of a few qualities but it can be hard at times to put your finger on what exactly it –Confidence, poise, and authenticity are the qualities that are typically associated with EP. 

EP is viewed as essential for your success as you up-level your career–regardless of your field or occupation. 

Your executive presence determines whether you gain access to opportunity. 
There’s a saying in leadership, “All the important decisions about you will be made when you’re not in the room.” 
And at times that becomes the reality. 

Whether it’s a decision about an important opportunity, a promotion to a critical role or an assignment to a high-visibility project, you won’t be in the room. 
The opportunities you gain access to depends on the confidence you’ve inspired in the decision makers. 
And, the more significant the opportunity, the more important executive presence becomes.
Most of the books on the topic are 10+ years old and are pretty outdated. Sometimes offensively so. 

The core of the outdated thinking is that by conforming to norms set by conservative white culture you’ll move up the corporate ladder. 

EP is often described by the 3 core pillars: how you act/gravitas, speak, and the big woof, your appearance. 

And before we go further digging into EP, I want to call out that these pillars can be incredibly biased, leading towards ageism, sexism, and racism. 

Our own bias’ have the potential to detract and marginalize a colleague and the result limits diversity of thinking, innovation, and thought leadership. 

Outdated and inherently biased thinking may have an expectation that you dress and speak by the outdated professional standards–meaning classic use of language, navy suits, and straight-laced grooming and polish.

If you feel great about yourself using what is defined as a classic approach, then by all means do it. 

Your confidence and stature will soar when you feel good about yourself.  

But if you are doing it because you feel like you have to to fit in, then it’s going to show in your energy and performance. 

You’ll be struggling for words and you’ll feel inauthentic. 

Speech and appearance-related bias infringes fundamental rights, compromises merit principles, reinforces debilitating stereotypes, and compounds the disadvantages of race, class, age, and gender. 

We need to broaden our view of executive presence. This is why I am doing this podcast. It’s also why DE&I training must be mandatory within every company. 

So for anyone who leads people and you’re listening, EP is not about colleagues being more like someone else. 

I’ve smashed the former approach and I have a fresh take on executive presence that I applied when I was still working in corporate and it’s now what I work with my private clients on. 

My mission is so that employees everywhere have access to new ways of thinking and exposure and the opportunity to create a positive workplace culture. It’s why I do this work and put out this podcast each week. 

I believe EP is how you anticipate, communicate, and activate yourself and others. 

We need to smash the nonsense that others need to conform to a our way of being in order to succeed. I am not talking about results or goals. Those are priorities that are set at the ELT level. I am talking about smashing our previous notion of EP.  

So let’s unpack my approach to EP and the pillars of anticipate, communication and activate. 

At times they may blur into each other as it’s hard to slice your thoughts from the words you may speak. 

Not everyone is going to be strong on all pillars but this is an area to leverage your strengths. The first pillar is anticipate. 

Anticipate This is about thinking and strategically planning what’s to come. 

This is about a little bit of healthy neurosis that keeps you incredibly effective and solution orientated. 

You want to think about the energy and the mindset you need to bring to a situation. 

Your energy can repel or be magnetic. Your results are going to be created because you anticipated the situation and thought through how you want to tackle a challenge.

Fear and chaos is contagious. So is positivity. 

It can be helpful to run through positive scenarios in your head. 

What needs to happen, how do you want to show up? See yourself bringing positive energy to the challenge. 

Visualizing yourself answering questions and speaking to colleagues, imagining yourself presenting to the group, seeing their faces nod and align in agreement. 

This helps because it relaxes any stress or anxiety that you are experiencing and your brain then gets to practice how to act and respond in advance.  

It’s really asking yourself what would a person who knew how to handle this situation already do? 

If you were already that person who got the opportunity, how would that person act. 

Don’t say you don’t know. 

You have examples around you from literature, film, and people you know that inspires you to know how you want to act. 

Picture yourself in the room where it is happening… so to speak…

Visualizing the successful completion of the project is going to positively impact your energy and how you maintain your cool and how you operate under stress.  

Shawn Anchor is a psychiatrist who studies psychology, happiness, and human potential. He calls it the science of happiness. 

What Shawn tells us is that if you can raise someone’s level of positivity in the present, their brain then experiences what is called the happiness advantage. That’s the name of his book btw. 

Your brain fueled on positivity performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed state.

Your intelligence, creativity and your energy level all rise when you have a positive mindset. 

Every business outcome improves. increase in sales, more collaboration, increase resiliency to a decrease in burnout. 

Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. 

75% of job success is predicted by your optimism levels, your social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge vs a threat.  
If you can find the way to become positive in the present then your brain works to be even more successful. 

If you can change the lens of how you view something you change your reality. 

The most practiced thinking is the one that wins.

Leveraging your strengths of self and situational awareness, empathy, and resilience will serve you well in the anticipate pillar. 

The next pillar of EP is Communicate. This pillar is about your tone of voice, body language, eye contact, thinking through who you want to be in order to communicate, connect, inspire, create buy-in with others. 

That is a softer skill that some folks are just born with, but it certainly is something that can be learned with the right coaching.

Being a strong leader involves effectively delegating tasks and ensuring all team members are meeting the goals. 
It’s creating and communicating the plan or the path forward with transparency and in a way that teammates are motivated and inspired. 

Communication is finding the way to make it about their needs, not yours while still upholding the company’s priorities and core values. 

This is where you really think through how you want to Leverage your strengths and use your excellent communication and negotiation skills. 

It’s how you choose your words to create a collaborative and culturally inclusive dynamic with teammates. You can inspire or incit. 

How do you want to weld your influence – and we all have influence regardless of our title. 
Possessing strong communication skills helps mitigate and avoid conflicts. 

And when conflict arises you’ve built a reputation of transparency and trust which will aid in a mutually beneficial resolution. 

Being able to effectively and fairly negotiate is necessary for both business success and maintaining positive relationships across your team, vendors, and clients. 
No one wants to work with a partner who has left little breathing room in the final deal. 

I always suggest that my clients think of the 10 things you want in your negotiation and get clear in the non-negotiables. 

Then you have some wiggle room and the other party doesn’t feel like they’ve given everything–this is what lends itself to fairness and greater chance for little to no resentment. It’s leveraging your strengths of consistency and harmony. 

Remember after the negotiation is the stewardship. Effective communication will carry the stewardship, build trust, and increase the overall satisfaction.  

Effective listening is probably the most important aspect of the pillar of communication. 

If you find yourself in the position of already thinking of your answer while the other person is still talking that you’re probably not listening. 

Communicate pillar is thinking about what needs to be said, how you want to say it, and finding the commonality and relatability between parties. It’s not about winning. 

Often I hear clients tell me they want to win the argument or the negotiation. That means someone loses. If you are never going to work with that person again, ok, losing may not be a problem. 

But losing is crushing the other. The communicate pillar of EP is finding what motivates the other so that you can move towards the end goal. 

But if you are creating a partnership, whether this is as a cross-athlete working across departments or with your direct reports, everyone needs to feel like they have a some sort of win so that are motivated create the outcome. 

The last pillar is Activate 

As a leader, if you define your job in terms of the end product delivered, then we downshift leadership into technical work. 

While managing results, staying on budget etc are all necessary, you are in leadership to nurture employee engagement, career progression, thought leadership, and team development so that your team is increasing productivity and performance. 

You don’t get results without the people. 

Your work as a leader is to activate others. That’s not synonymous with the team’s technical work. 

Your work is more about the people than the work. 

Leadership is defined as many things but for this conversation I am looking at how I can activate others and use my skills as a way to achieve something that I can not achieve alone– and therefore must engage and motivate others. Your role as a leader is to create the capacity for the result, not doing the result. 

This looks like telling the team what the end result or goal is but not micromanaging along the way. 

I often hear, “it’s easier if I just do it myself” and I get that. But that is not thinking and activating how to train another team member. 

You want to think about their strengths and the tools you can use in order to amplify their strengths. 

what would be possible if you stepped out of the weeds and allowed the team to do the work while you anticipate the next challenge and create a plan to activate the solution. 

To me, executive presence is being able to read a room and identify what motivates, inspires and engages an audience of varying levels and influences opinion, rallys support, and builds credibility. 

Study others executive presence–communication, positivity, confidence, poise, decisiveness, calm under stress, vision, collaboration. 

Decide what aspects you want to emulate or practice. This will require mindset work but you can totally up-level your executive presence and create enormous opportunities for yourself. It’s possible.  

Ok my friends. 

If you are looking for support I’d love to be your coach. 

I am launching a career strengths group coaching program that will help you leverage your strengths, get clear on your skills and values, plus help you create your career narrative – which is essential especially if you are interviewing for a new job or making a career change.

I’ll put the link to get on the list for more information in the show notes. 

Have a great week and I will see you next time.