Demystifying Executive PresenceShyamli Rathore
Imagine that you are the vice president of a software company. You have been very successful in project execution, undertaking client needs and delivering solutions within tight deadlines. You have managed your teams excellently despite huge talent attrition in the market. You are now assigned a new role – where among other things – you are the de facto organizational brand ambassador and have to quickly understand its subtle nuances and implications, pitch to clients, and simultaneously build your equity with them. Or else, you could be the director of an international bank, handling the backend function for a particular vertical where you are now expected to meet a lot of internal customers and build your network with them to proactively offer business solutions. At such junctures, your technical skills, no matter how strong, will not be enough to catapult you into the next organizational level. In short – you will need to build a strong executive presence.
Executive presence is not just the clothes you wear, how firm your handshake is and how you come across. It is an alignment of your mind, body and words. It comes from understanding your own value proposition combined with effective communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, and an ability to build your credibility across multiple stakeholders.
To put it simply, executive presence is the ability to consistently articulate your value proposition, demonstrate a sense of quiet self-confidence and gravitas, and influence a wide cross-section of your stakeholders. This definition has the distinct element of both – intangible and tangible elements.
Take the case of Akash, a recently promoted Vice President for an international bank who was invited to participate in a strategy planning meeting by the senior management team. He was very excited to be sitting with his new group of peers. But as he listened to his peers he felt like a ‘kid invited to sit on the grownups table’. He had things to contribute but because of his deference to his erstwhile superiors he did not speak up. As a result of his own inner voice constraining him, Akash lost a golden chance of establishing his presence with these important stakeholders. Here are three things which can be done for understanding your own value proposition
- Do a strength check: A strength check is not restricted to only your success in handling various projects or your number crunching skills. Rather, this exercise is aimed at giving you clarity on your leadership strengths. A simple exercise is to conduct your own informal ‘360 degree’ interviews with a set of trusted people. You might think you already know how others view you, but you might be surprised. You could use simple questions like: what are the three words you would use to describe me? What are some of my strengths and some of my blind spots? What do you recommend I should do more, in view of this new role or role I am aspiring for? After doing this exercise with four or five trusted stakeholders you will find a story emerge about yourself.
- Understanding your core values: Values are often demonstrated though words, responses and decisions, and lead to shaping the culture you will bring as a leader. Very often the lack of alignment between our values and our work creates a huge dissonance or can act like a derailer. For example, it will be hugely stressful for an executive who values flexibility to work in an extremely process-driven environment. When you feel aligned to your core values, you will feel energized and be in an optimum stage of productivity. Uncovering your values will help you understand what motivates you, what defines success for you, what gives meaning to your life and helps to create an authentic leadership presence.
- Understand what success looks like in your new role: A new role could have distinctly different parameters of success from your previous role and unfortunately most of this in not written in your new job description. Many of us get caught out wearing a hat of our immediate function rather than stepping up on a more strategic level.
Being clear about your personal brand – what you bring to the table, your values, and what is needed from a role perspective will generate a lot of confidence. Once this is done, the next step is to build your tangible attributes and how you present yourself.
Understanding your audience: The first golden rule of projecting your presence is to know your audience. Most technical professionals often make the mistake of engaging critical stakeholders in technical discussions rather than focussing on building a personal rapport. Sometimes because of a short time window, you might feel constrained to jump into your pitch right away during your meeting. However, it is worthwhile to do a quick stakeholder analysis before critical meetings. For example, answering simple questions such as (a) what is the person’s background or history (b) what could be the critical outcome from the meeting for this person, and (c) what is his communication style, can help you frame your communication which will more impactful.
Advocacy: This is the ability to put forth your own point of view or perspective with clarity. Advocacy will come through in multiple scenarios – be it making a presentation to your senior leadership team, communicating your vision for the coming year to your team, or having a one-on-one. Being absolutely clear in your own mind of your main points and how you want your audience to respond will help you communicate using the recommended ‘bottom line upfront’ approach. A simple technique is to focus on the results and the outcomes rather than get stuck in details and processes, coming up with recommendations rather than just talking about the issue at hand.
Listening to your stakeholders: There is a lot of management literature on being a mindful leader. One aspect of mindfulness is to focus your complete attention on who you are speaking to, because it is in these moments of total attention that interpersonal chemistry occurs. People may forget what you said but they will seldom forget how you make them feel. This singular act of being a powerful listener can lead to alchemy of ideas as you start building a powerful personal rapport by gifting that person your complete attention.
Energy: Are you demonstrating vitality and energy or do you come across as a low energy person. Many of us can go off to sleep, four minutes into a presentation, by the monotonous voice and low energy of the speaker. According to Harvard Business School professor Amy J.C. Cuddy, holding one’s body in ‘high-power’ poses even for short time periods of up to two minutes can summon an extra surge of power and sense of well-being when needed.
Integrating both the intangible and tangible elements and consciously using the above techniques will help you develop your unique brand of executive presence and redefine your value proposition, shaping many new opportunities for you.