Demystifying Executive Presence

Working with leaders who are excited for an annual review is always a pleasure. When I think of those who fall into this category I am reminded of a coaching conversation with Taylor; he always looked forward to his review. As a high achiever in his job, Taylor appreciated that his reviews offered collaborative experiences for planning development and discussions focused on advancement opportunities. He was even more excited this year, as he was receiving 360 feedback and felt he was ready for a promotion. Unfortunately, as Taylor’s review meeting began, it was not at all similar to past years. As the conversation flowed on, a sinking feeling came over him; this was not going as he expected and Taylor thought to himself, “What the heck is executive presence?” Once Taylor went back to his desk and sat down, he flipped through the pages again. As he perused through the feedback notes, trying to make sense of what to do next, he thought, “I got it; I’ll do the always reliable internet search.” After an hour or two, Taylor felt overwhelmed and mystified as to “what” to do next. He found habits, traits, books, and training, but no specific answers for his personal dilemma. Knowing that his future promotion hinged on his need for executive presence, Taylor was still in need of solutions.

Ever been in Taylor’s shoes? Have you ever received or given feedback that an executive presence was lacking?  Feedback stating the need for “executive presence” is used, because it is valued in professional settings. And yes, often times the feedback is given with little to no information explaining the specific behaviors observed. So, what do you do? Taylor started his journey to understanding “what” he needed to work on to possess executive presence by conducting research. Can this work? Of course it can, but it can also generate unnecessary work, initiate feelings of frustration, and add confusion to development action planning.

A best first step is to talk to the source of the feedback. If this is an option, ask them, “What did you notice?” “What behavior did you observe?” These are great open-ended powerful questions to gain detailed insight and concrete information that will help in the quest to create a realistic development plan. But what about the majority of the time when the feedback is given in an anonymous fashion? In those situations, asking the individual who provided the feedback is not possible. The solution; ask peers, teammates, mentors, and your boss for additional feedback. Admittedly, this request was a challenge for Taylor to consider. Why? Well, he is not as outgoing as some of his teammates; although Taylor feels he is more than qualified for a promotion, he confessed that asking for direct feedback continues to be difficult for him. 



We’ll check back in with Taylor’s journey shortly to see if he musters up the courage to take this important step to executive presence success.

Take the first step in faith. You don't have to have the whole staircase. Just take the first step.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Executive presence is a combination of behaviors that help us to inspire others and exude confidence through our actions. Many of the decisions made, that can impact personal and professional opportunities, happen when you are not in the room. This further supports how possessing executive presence attributes can maximize your options. Think of all the people who could potentially be inspired by an individual who displays effective executive presence. Consider your Senior Leadership; they will feel your potential for achieving new opportunities and accomplishing goals. What about your peers? Imagine them looking to you for insight; feeling you are capable and reliable, inspired by your actions. Let’s not forget how this passes on to direct reports. Direct reports will follow your lead and vision and look to you for leadership, staying longer and telling others about their inspiring boss. Does this help solidify why Taylor was advised to reach out to his colleagues for insight and feedback? This is a great first step to building confidence; showing others that you are willing to listen and embrace feedback for behavioral change.

As you review the 10 Key Characteristics of Executive Presence below, make a note of areas that are your current strengths and those weaker areas that need development to elevate your presence. Don’t allow this list of characteristics to overwhelm you, Taylor can do it and through personal development so can you. Change can be a little scary, but it is necessary to elevate your actions in order to get where you want to go.

Over my career journey I have coached hundreds of people, and when they told me what they wished they would have completed I asked, “What stopped you?” The answers ranged from someone they spoke to who convinced them of their inability to succeed, to their environment, or circumstances. A few years ago, when I asked one of my coachees, Joseph, this question, he told me about his situation and a conversation with his boss, Marty. Joseph outlined the conversation he had with Marty and how he shared his readiness to move up in the organization to a titled leadership position. Joseph felt the timing for the conversation was right. He had received consistent feedback over the last couple of years, noting how his work on several projects brought about an increase in the teams overall performance levels. Joseph also reminded his boss of the month he stepped in to support the team, while Marty was out on emergency leave.  Joseph’s team leadership brought about the submission of quarterly recognition by executive leadership. This recognition outlined his ability to reduce costs while increasing results. Unfortunately, Joseph’s conversation ended with Marty expressing lack of support for his goals, and stating there were no positions in the department for him to move up to. Marty’s words convinced Joseph that he was not ready.

It is easy to read this scenario and blame the boss. Could the boss have provided help for Joseph? Could he have been less discouraging? The answers are yes and yes, he could have. But we have no control over someone else’s words or actions; we can only control how we respond. There are also scenarios like Joseph’s where the boss is correct. The individual is not ready and they need to create a development plan that will prepare them to “be ready”, but that was not the case in this situation. Joseph was ready, I could tell from the moment I met him that he was a victim of his circumstances and allowed himself to be convinced he was not ready for a titled leadership position by taking advice from the wrong person.

How does this happen? What stopped Joseph from believing in his vision?

10 Key Characteristic of Executive Presence

  1. Communicate a Vision: Create a vision for where you are going and share consistently
  2. Formulate Goals: Effective goals will support taking a vision into reality
  3. Establish a Mentor(s) and Support: Create a village for support and continued feedback
  4. Reflect Often: Confident people are self-aware and honest what’s  going well and what’s not
  5. Effective Communication: Written, verbal, public speaking, and virtual. Think collaboration
  6. Build an Effective Network: Create new connections and avenues for engagement
  7. Word Usage: Learn and use the language of influence in your organization, think higher values
  8. Connected Vision: A vision’s goals should speak to organization, association, or corporate values
  9. Emotional Intelligence: Managing your emotions is a critical component to executive presence
  10. Outer Appearance: We are viewed from the outside in, don’t let appearance create limitations
These 10 characteristics are a roadmap for success in demystifying executive presence, but just like Taylor, it begins with a willingness to embrace change and a growth mindset. As a coach and mentor, I know all too well that challenging ourselves and others to move to the uncomfortable zone of change can feel like an unachievable task. Starting with Key Characteristic #1, begin by taking a deep breath and minimize this overwhelming feeling with your vision as a foundation to development success. Ask yourself, “Where do I see myself?” “What is my dream of success?” If you are like Taylor and looking forward to a promotion, envision yourself in the role you seek? What does it feel like? What does it look like? How is your life better? Then move to Key Characteristic #2, Formulate Goals. These goals should work to help you complete your vision. Move down the list and assesses your present skills, actions, and behaviors. Focus on 3 to 5, and take it one day at a time. Key Characteristic #3 will assist you in gaining continued feedback and support, as well as, help you to determine what you are doing well and continued opportunities for executive presence success.

As we work to solve the mystery of executive presence let’s check back in and find out how Taylor did on his quest. A round of applause for Taylor, go ahead, stand-up and clap, recognition feels good! Although it was challenging, he reached back out to his boss and a few coworkers to learn more about his behaviors and actions. He determined the key behaviors that needed more work and gained feedback that he was already doing well in several of the 10 Key Characteristics of Executive Presence. He has connected with a coach and scheduled an appointment to create his personal vision. Admittedly, Taylor is still a bit nervous about stretching to the extrovert zone when needed, but his training on emotional intelligence will help him gain skills to manage his emotions in challenging situations.

Taylor journey to developing executive presence continues. What have you learned about your own presence? How could elevating your executive presence help you with your personal and professional development? Are you ready to work with a coach to create a plan for success? Go to “contact us” page and request a consultation today.

Davi Machen is an owner and consultant of DavIn Consulting. Taylor embodies the Leadership of Life coaching gained as a client at DavIn. Learn more at