Executive presence training: Why every leader needs it
We’ve all seen leaders who seem to have “it” – an intangible collection of qualities that help them stand out, find success, and inspire others to follow. But those intangible “it” traits aren’t as indistinct as they might seem. They’re actually a combination of qualities known as executive presence that great leaders tend to exude – a way of being that communicates to others they’re either in charge, or they deserve to be.
Executive presence training can help leaders at every level harness those qualities for the betterment of their organizations.
What is executive presence training?
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, economist and author of Executive Presence, says that the distance between merit and success is bridged by subtle, leaderly signals communicated through one’s actions. These signals can be conveyed in three different ways:
- How they act – Does the person showcase that they really “know their stuff,” and seem like an expert in their field?
- How they speak – This refers not only to the way a person communicates ideas, but whether or not their ideas land with their full intent.
- How they look – The way a person dresses, stands, and generally carries oneself.
Executive presence training often targets these three distinct areas. One session might find leaders doing mock presentations; another might involve recording themselves to gain insight into how others perceive them.
And it isn’t just for leaders in executive roles today. A recent study found that 77% of HR professionals agree that people with strong executive presence progress quickly in their careers. By offering executive presence training to employees at junior levels, L&D can prepare them to one day advance into senior roles.
Here are three more reasons executive presence is a vital skill for leaders to develop.
Executive presence has a ripple effect
According to Forbes, leaders who possess strong executive presence inspire employees at every level – encouraging their team to follow them, their peers to trust them, and senior leadership to believe in them.
This is why executive presence training often focuses on developing charisma, connection, and confidence. An article by Indeed describes how these characteristics show up in day-to-day work. For example, showcasing confidence means a leader exerts boldness and composure when leading or attending meetings, giving others faith in their direction.
Leaders with these qualities enable an organization to rally around a singular direction and move as one. And most HR professionals agree that executive presence improves an organization’s overall performance.
It helps leaders communicate more effectively
Communication is commonly cited as one of the reasons projects either succeed or fail, and the cost of poor communication is staggering. Fortunately, effective communication is one of the most learnable components of executive presence, according to Hewlett. It’s comprised of three dimensions:
1. Concise and compelling presentation. This is the ability to talk through points efficiently, utilizing both data and storytelling techniques. To get better at this dimension, leaders must learn to simplify their message to no more than three points and consider whether the jargon they’re using supports their message or creates a smokescreen of complexity. Incorporating engaging personal stories can also help the audience connect to the points being made.
2. The ability to command the room. When a leader displays confidence in their body language it tells the audience they’re fully present and engaged. Leaders can master this dimension by over-rehearsing presentations until, much like a Hollywood actor, the presentation is committed to “muscle memory.” They can also learn to use verbal and nonverbal cues – like facial expressions and inflections – to convey the tone of their points.
3. The ability to read the room. This involves tailoring the message to stakeholders, addressing their biggest wants and needs. One of the best ways leaders can develop this dimension is to enter every conversation with a sense of curiosity. They can learn to ask engaging, open-ended questions during their presentations.
Each of these dimensions requires intentional practice, and L&D teams can create exercises that help develop the finer skills of each one. For example, leaders might attend a class on how to construct a compelling story before building their own. Or they might watch a video where they observe the body language of various leaders, from awful to great, and then discuss how it made them feel.
It helps leaders develop their EQ
Executive presence training can also help leaders develop emotional intelligence, so that they can better sense what their team members are feeling and when they need support. And this greater awareness of others is key to creating a psychologically-safe environment.
Leaders can learn how to convey to team members that it’s OK to bring their whole selves, and their ideas, into the workplace. Once they do, it opens the door to greater creativity and innovation. Leaders are likely to see team members flourish and develop their own executive presence as a result.
In addition to improving one’s awareness of others, developing EQ helps leaders increase awareness of themselves. As the author of “Ego is the Enemy” Ryan Holiday summises in the clip below, leaders need to learn how to leave ego at the door, accept feedback, and continually improve.
Greater self awareness can lead to better decision making, time management, and regulation of negative emotions during high-pressure situations. These are some of the greatest strengths any leader can have.
Executive presence training levels up an organization’s C-suite while building a leadership bench for the future. It also contributes to an overall healthier workplace culture which can reduce turnover and boost productivity.
For teams looking to jump-start an executive presence training program, investing in a content provider like Big Think+ that offers on-demand micro-lessons allows leaders the flexibility to learn around their busy schedules.