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Developing Executive Presence: What It Is and Why It Matters

The other day, I was meeting with an old friend and former colleague, and we were talking about women in leadership. Specifically, what makes an executive presence. Is it a look, an effect, or a role? And more so, what does executive presence look like for women?

My friend is a younger generation than me, and it was fascinating to hear her perspective on it all. To her, executive presence is more about skill, charisma and influence. She was strongly in the mindset that looks don’t matter, blue hair and tattoos are cool, and wearing suits conforms to the traditional male-dominated board room. And you can do that in any attire. It’s more about lifting others up, and never dimming other’s light. I love these sentiments so much, and we align in so many ways. Here is our combined list of tips to keep in mind:

Self-Confidence: Your self-confidence shows through your communication, discussions and actions. Maintaining your confidence will give others in the room confidence in you.

Speaking Ability: The ability to speak your beliefs, opinions and ideas is critical in an executive presence.

Demeanor: First impressions matter, and so do the second, third and fourth. The more even demeanor you can display no matter the situation, the better. The term “grace under pressure” gets at the heart of executive presence.

Inspire Others: Be that leader that others want to follow. To me, inspiring people create positivity, possibility and hope. You can see yourself in them. They leave you feeling uplifted and energized. But beware, you must remember that you are always “on”- you never know who is watching and listening to you. Or as my friend says, “Never dim another’s light”.

What was so fascinating to me is that we agree on these points. I also believe that how we physically show up matters too. I have caught myself in the past making snap judgments on leadership aptitude based on people dress and present themselves. I am a work in progress.

Style: Here is where my friend and I differ. I believe that your style matters. This doesn’t mean a formal suit at all times, but it also doesn’t mean different colored socks and ripped hoodies either. Representation really matters here too- so culturally identifying attire, hairstyles and body coverings need to be respected and embraced.

What I learned from my friend is that executive presence is not one definition. It is not stagnant and is changing with the times. It is fluid based on the roles, the work environment, and your generation. The bad news is there is no straightforward answer. The good news? You get to develop your own presence.

So, what will your executive presence be? I can’t wait to see it!

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