Executive Presence – Do You Look the Part?

By Maren Perry, MA, PCC

Arden Executive Coaching | Executive Presence – Do You Look the Part?We all feel we “know it when we see it” when it comes to someone carrying themselves with Executive Presence. But if you’re one of the many managers or executives who’s either gotten feedback (or begun to suspect) that they are not walking around with optimal presence, where do you start in knowing what areas are weak and then what do you do about them?!

Let’s first look at what areas of your professional life you might consider examining:

  • Your person (how you dress, your hair, make-up, accessories: anything that comes with you when you enter a room, including your style of speaking)
  • Your office (your desk, walls, chairs, and what decorates them)
  • Anything else a colleague or client may observe about you (rental car, luggage, your child who comes to visit)

So what gives these things an executive presence or not? Business casual may mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another… one person’s fun, creative office is another person’s pigsty.

Of course, we can all “err” on the side of being conservative and never stray from a perfectly organized desk and a perfectly pressed three piece suit every day, but that tends to get old fast, not to mention being unattainable or at least undesirable for most. Most of us seek a sense of authenticity and naturalness in our working lives – in addition to emanating an executive presence.

Here’s what I encourage my clients to do when it comes to finding their tone for presentation (what they wear, how their office looks, etc):

1. Decide what your objective is. Sometimes it helps to cut out pictures from magazines or imagine your favorite business icons. What is it you admire in them about their presentation? Always perfectly quaffed? Simple? Elaborate? Colorful, or not? See if you can identify what the characteristics are so you know what you’re going for yourself.

2. Here’s the hardest part: you need to take an inventory of how you currently come across. What’s the current state of affairs? We need to know how far you have to go to get to your goal. You can find this out by asking others for their candid opinion (Great idea! Survey Monkey anyone?), though ideally you want to develop the self-awareness to be able to tell on your own. How do you do that?

3. Well, I usually start off by asking them to brainstorm all the possible ways someone else could interpret their office – for example, one with piles and piles of paper stacked on every surface. How could someone interpret that? That may look something like this:

  • She’s so busy she doesn’t have time to put anything awayArden Executive Coaching | Executive Presence – Do You Look the Part?
  • She’s a slob
  • She’s so important she doesn’t do her own filing
  • If she can’t even organize her office, how can she possibly take care of me as a client?
  • She’s clueless – she doesn’t notice how bad that looks
  • She must be brilliant and very important to the company to have that huge workload
  • I didn’t even notice – mine looks the same way

4. Once you have that list, take a look at how far some of them are from the ideal you identified in Step One. While not everyone may be thinking those, you have to realize that some people may be. Those some people may be very important to you, and you’d never know. Your job is to be responsible for ALL of the interpretations people might have, and then take the actions that will help form an impression that is MOST like your ideal. You’ll never get it there 100% (someone can look at the tidiest desk and have a negative interpretation) but you want to account for as many as possible.

  • Here’s an example: I heard of a consultant in California who worked with large prestigious companies, and he worked in sandals and Hawaiian shirts. Meeting in a restaurant? Same thing. Meeting in a board room? Same thing. You can imagine that people had all types of interpretations about that consultant. Some people would never work with him because if it. Some people did work with him specifically because of it! But his responsibility was to never say  “I wish I could work with those companies that turned me down based on my clothing” because he’d made the choice to dress that way, and he had to own it.
  • It’s completely OK if you want your office to look like a bomb went off in it – IF you can own all the interpretations someone might have as a result – including if it’s your boss firing you or clients turning you down, or direct reports disrespecting you.

5. Now that you’ve chosen your direction, take actions to move you toward your desired state from Step One.

Once you’ve tackled your office space, you can do the same for your own physical person and anything else colleagues and clients see.

If you want some assistance, or help with that crucial outside perspective, contact us for a complimentary consultation on achieving executive presence.