Executive Presence: From Emotional Intelligence to Body Language

Executive presence can seem like a difficult quality to bring into focus. Some say it defies definition: you just “know it when you see it.” The trouble is, if you can’t define something and break it down into its component elements, you can’t teach it, learn it, or develop it.

Arden Coaching’s executive coaching practice has a proven track record of helping managers, leaders, and aspiring leaders build and enhance their executive presence. As vague as it might at first appear, working with our clients, we successfully identify and develop the characteristics of executive presence every day.

In many respects, executive presence is the connective tissue that links expertise, ability, and talent with success and meaningful achievement. It’s the secret sauce that helps you inspire your team, lead subordinates, and become an effective advocate throughout your organization.

An appealing set of soft skills wrapped in an attractive package

We begin with your emotional intelligence and mindset. We’ve all met people who look the part — then they open their mouths and the behaviors don’t match the package. Key elements of executive presence that are based on emotional intelligence and mindset include:

Strong listening skills. The ability to listen fosters meaningful insight, builds relationships, and leverages the advantages of being in the moment. For more, read Arden Coaching’s “Beyond Active Listening: The Power of Level Three Listening.”

Communication. Leaders with executive presence keep their eye on the big picture. They have a vision for their industry, their company, and their profession. They have a position and they can articulate it clearly. Those with executive presence are not self-important or belligerent, but they do know their own mind.

Connections. As important as clarity is, leaders with executive presence have honed their ability to speak and interact with others in a way that makes their audience comfortable — they have learned to relate and understand how others experience them.

Calm and cool under pressure. The ability to remain calm, even tempered, and focused under pressure sets those with executive presence apart. Managing your own emotions and recognizing the emotions of others in stressful situations is critical to leadership.

For more about soft skills and executive presence, read Arden Coaching’s “Top 10 Soft Skills that Compose Executive Presence.”

Appearances matter too. Your body language, speech patterns, demeanor, and looks make a critical impression. External traits can overshadow and detract from soft skills and weaken your executive presence.

Confidence. It is amazing how positively people react to someone with good posture, appropriate and assured hand gestures, and steady eye contact with others. The physical projection of confidence — stage presence if you will — makes others comfortable and attentive.

Speak with clarity. Leaders with strong executive presence have learned to avoid “um,” “ah,” “like,” “you know,” and the many other verbal pauses we interject in our day-to-day speech. Those verbal pauses suggest uncertainty, indecision, and vague thinking. Leaders with executive presence have practiced to become concise speakers. 

Research has demonstrated that another negative speech pattern — a pattern which particularly impacts women — is the tendency to raise the pitch of your voice at the end of a statement. This makes the statement sound like a question (when we ask questions, our voice tends to go up). This in turn communicates to listeners that you’re not really very confident about what you just said or that you are testing the waters for agreement.

Physical appearance. Many suggest dressing appropriately for specific contexts, or dressing “up” to the next level of an organization. In an increasingly business casual world, what’s most important is that you not allow what you are wearing, how you do your hair, or how you accessorize to be a distraction. First impressions really are important — if all anyone remembers about your presentation are the socks you wore, you’ve done yourself a disservice.

Read more about executive presence: 

Manager to Leader: Where Executive Presence Fits In”
“You Don’t Have to be a Captain to be a Leader”

When we engage in coaching with leaders and aspiring leaders to develop their executive presence, we begin with their mindset to develop true insights about perceptions, assumptions, and behaviors. At times, we talk about “stage presence,” but executive presence has nothing to do with acting. It can’t be faked. Executive presence needs to be authentic and genuine. And that comes with coaching, personal reflection, and practice.

To learn more about executive presence and executive coaching contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.