“She has a great track record, but she doesn’t look like a leader.”
Being perceived as a leader is the essence of executive presence. It’s the ability to walk into a room to deliver a message, with everyone hanging on your every word.
Do you command a room?
While seemingly not as important as competence, education, experience and ability, your personal presentation – how you look, sound and act – makes a difference. It’s sort of an unwritten competency for leaders. And in a male-dominated, senior management level environment, it’s even more important that women distinguish themselves with a powerful presence.
So how can you enhance that “in charge” quality? By developing your own voice and having “a deep understanding of the impact of your appearance, your body language, your emotional state, and how well you communicate your key messages,” says leadership coach Carol Kinsey Goman, author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help or Hurt How You Lead.
7 ways to power up your presence
So how do you begin to embody executive presence? By asking yourself the following seven questions, says Goman, and carefully considering your answers.
- Are you a clear communicator?
Use the “head – heart – hands” formula to get your point across clearly to employees, colleagues or customers, says Goman:
Head: What facts, data or information do you want them to understand?
Heart: What emotional reaction are you after?
Hands: What action steps do you want them to take?
- Do you speak with conviction?
“Sometimes the smallest word choice can have a big impact,” says Goman. Leaders who speak with conviction say “I won’t” (which indicates a key decision has been made) rather than “I can’t” (which implies that you lack the skills/talents for the job).
When you communicate, it’s just as important to eliminate qualifiers (“I think” or “I could be wrong … ”), fillers (“um” or “you know”) or minimizers (“sort of”).
- Do you tell stories?
“People make decisions based on what facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves,” says Goman. “Stories give facts meaning.”
When you have a message to convey, think of how you can tie it to something in your own life or consider things you have read or heard about in the past. Telling a story will make others more willing to get on board.
- What does your body language say?
Leadership presence is comprised of two sets of nonverbal signals:
Powerful posture: You display a powerful presence by standing or sitting tall with your feet hip distance apart, head straight and shoulders back.
Empathy cues: You convey likeability and warmth through smiles, positive eye contact and open palm gestures.
When you project both power and empathy, you have a “winning combination for being perceived as confident, influential and caring,” says Goman.
- Do you dress for success?
Like it or not, appearance does influence how leaders are perceived. That’s why you need to be a keen observer of what other senior level leaders wear in your company.
Dressing for success doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wear a suit when you go to work. But “whatever you wear should reinforce people’s perception of you as a polished and competent professional,” says the leadership coach. Leaders need to make a statement when they enter a room. What statement are you making?
- Are you poised under pressure?
In any high pressure situation, your team will be looking to you for emotional cues. “So take a deep breath and ask yourself, ‘How can I take charge of the situation and use it to achieve positive results?’” says Goman. Force yourself to focus on solutions, not problems. Brainstorm. Ask for input so solutions can begin to surface.
- Do you inspire others?
The most inspirational leaders listen to others, acknowledge them, work with them and encourage them. They’re enthusiastic about their mission and they set the bar high for their team. Inspiration, says Goman, is at the heart of leadership presence.
As you continually nurture your leadership, you will inevitably look like a leader since executive presence will become so ingrained in your professional personality.