Body language experts agree that your mannerisms and conduct can speak volumes before you’ve said a single word. The way you communicate, groom yourself, your appearance, speech and ethics, can say a lot about you. This is especially true in a professional or formal setting. These, and many more factors, contribute to your executive presence. It has become a crucial part of one’s career growth and a necessity to scale the corporate ladder successfully. But how do you figure out how to conduct yourself among your peers and leaders? An executive presence coach can help you with this and guide you to reach the highest levels in your career.

To better understand the concept of executive presence, TC46 connected with India’s leading Executive Presence Coach for CEOs and bestselling author Shital Kakkar Mehra. Here, she 7 key tips on the importance of this skill for leadership roles, ways to evaluate your executive presence and vital tips for women leaders and entrepreneurs.

1. Communication, courage to speak up, confidence, executive maturity & more form an executive presence

In today’s competitive world, technical and intellectual skills are not enough to guarantee success as a business leader. While in-depth industry knowledge is the foundation of your career, your ability to deliver and articulate a confident message which engages your audience and is consistent with your company’s value system, and at times, even a calibrated response in stressful times, is a leadership skill called executive presence.

When asked to demystify this term, I received a set of diverse answers. The most common word used to define Executive Presence was ‘aura’. While your appearance and commanding body language are the visible parts of this iceberg, upon further probing, words like communication, courage to speak up, confidence, executive maturity and the ‘ability to get the contract’ find their way into the definition. Interestingly, words like humility, passion, energy, credibility, taking ownership started creeping in too. Clearly, it means different things to different people. Finally, they all recalled another mysterious trait: ‘you know it when you see it.’

2. Executive presence is about how others perceive you as a leader

Anyone who is currently in a leadership role or aspires for one knows that EP will always be a leadership skill that quickly demonstrates to others your ability to get the job done. While it’s directly connected with business results, it may not reflect your true capability – it’s about how others perceive you as a leader.

Your executive presence is on display when you:

  • Meet with prominent clients and important prospects
  • Communicate with internal teams sitting in different parts of the world
  • Work with stakeholders to get buy-in for your ideas
  • Increase your internal and external visibility at public forums and networking events
  • Present your company to the shareholders, investors and media

3. Awareness of your strengths and gaps can help build your executive presence

I embarked on a 3-year journey to demystify executive presence and am proud to share with you the POISE formula for leadership – it’s a blend of your physical, online, influencer, stage and engagement presence. It is India’s first research-based model for defining executive presence and was published as a book in 2020. The book has been declared a best-seller by Amazon.

It’s important to note that executive presence can be developed through a combination of self-awareness and coaching. In other words, you can learn to be a leader who can influence, inspire and motivate those around you. Is it possible to build an executive presence? Yes, it’s possible because it’s a skill and not a trait. Like any other skill, once you build awareness of your strengths and gaps, you can get coached on your shortcomings. 

As billionaire Warren Buffet famously remarked that his number one tip for success is, “Invest in yourself”.

4. The POISE formula for leadership can help evaluate your executive presence

Leaders know about this influential dimension and believe that communication is made up of both verbal and non-verbal components and know how to use both effectively. Your body movements, posture, facial expressions, gestures, eye contact and attire influence the audience and inspire trust. By integrating their verbal and non-verbal communication, they deliver a powerful signal saying ‘‘I am capable and confident’’. It’s necessary for creating a powerful impact when interacting with clients, board members, teams and shareholders. 

As defined by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence”.

The POISE formula for leadership serves as a diagnostic tool to help you evaluate your own executive presence and find your strengths and areas of improvement. After coaching and training thousands of leaders,  I have come up with a proprietary formula for assessing and developing executive presence – POISE:

P – Physical Presence

O – Online Presence

I – Influencer Presence

S – Stage Presence

E – Engagement Presence

5. Self-discipline is the key to a strong executive presence that fit a work from home module

One of the biggest game-changers of this decade has been the number of professionals who are working from home. In the past few months, corporations in India have been experimenting with different formats – some companies have quickly moved to work from home while others are recommending certain days of the week only. Whatever the format, working from home can pose several challenges as it requires working without supervision and the presence of your colleagues. Also, it requires oodles of self-discipline and can be a tough juggling act between your personal and professional life. Focus on the following points to enhance your productivity and efficiency as you continue to continue to convey a strong executive presence to stakeholders across the globe.

  • Inculcate self-discipline
  • Make infrastructure investments
  • Establish the expected response time
  • Convey professionalism using technology
  • Network using technology
  • Display your ability to think independently
  • Enhance your visibility within your organisation and with clients
  • Make an effort to network within the firm
  • Update your knowledge resources
  • Stay fit, stay motivated

6. Visibility leads to more opportunities for women leaders & entrepreneurs

Strong body language:

While physical presence may be the tip of the iceberg, there is enough research to show that we form impressions within seconds of meeting a stranger. Aspiring women leaders need to move away from submissive and body-compressing gestures like rounding the shoulders, looking down frequently, hands folded in the lap, slouching over the table, making yourself small or acting invisible. Therefore, first impressions are about the energy you bring to the room from the moment you walk in and how it changes the dynamic within the room; it’s the volume of space you take up instantly as well as the space you take up in people’s minds long after the interaction has ended.

Learn to inspire:

Women leaders frequently face a few barriers which hold them back. A common one is the imposter syndrome- the persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of your own hard work. This barrier to female leadership makes us downplay our success or even feel like a fraud, believing we were plain lucky to get here in the first place. We often let our self-doubt affect our confidence which then negatively impact our career.

Another barrier is the fear of projecting authority in the workplace – the more powerful we appear, the lower is our likeability quotient. As women, we tend to care about what other people think of us, men do not face this dilemma which allows them to move up the ladder.

Improve your visibility

Every interaction matters!

Grabbing a coffee, a quick chat at the water cooler, a casual conversation during team drinks or a longer interaction during a networking event, each offers you a chance to display your executive presence. Research with senior women leaders has consistently shown that the top criterion for promotion was visibility.

Engaging in meaningful conversations, displaying curiosity teamed with good listening skills helps us grow and maintain our networks. Internally, volunteer for projects, highlight your team’s wins, participate in CSR initiatives. Externally be an active member of a professional body, a charity working for a cause you support or as a speaker.

In short, increase the width and depth of your networks. Collaborate with colleagues, clients and mentor display your ability to get along with people.

Visibility leads to more opportunities.

7. A leader can keep up with the changing work culture with structure, participation and trust

Leaders are expected to add value by inspiring and motivating remote teams; the traditional role of the leader as a supervisor is no longer relevant. As team members are capable of solving their own problems, they need a leader who is a coach and mentor. Simply put, leaders of remote teams have to make things smoother for their teams to achieve their targets and stay engaged with the organisation.

Embrace structure: 

As a leader, create a structure that allows a smoother flow of information. Spend time both at an individual level and at the group level getting to know your team members better. Get answers for critical questions: What are the work timings of each member? What is each member currently working on? How can you contribute towards their goals? Set the frequency of your check-in calls, their timings and the technology tool you will be using.

Encourage participation: 

A common complaint by all leaders is that team members appear distracted during face-to-face meetings. With remote teams, this problem has increased several folds. To encourage participation, assign and allocate agenda items to team members. Ask specific questions to individuals e.g. ‘what was the highlight of your last week’s project?’, ‘what more did you learn about this problem after speaking with the client?’ This encourages participation as it subtly forces each member to speak and opens the door to new ideas. Do set a few ground rules at the start of the call –  everyone should be on mute and only the assigned speaker will share his/her views.

Redefine trust: 

When you can see a team member sitting across the corridor, you automatically assume that they are working. On the other hand, if you see them once a month or twice a quarter, you might start doubting their productivity. Managers will have to learn to trust their remote teams by focusing on the deliverables, a major shift from the old order which gave credit to the number of hours spent at the desk.

Micromanaging is passé: 

Check in frequently but resist micromanaging. Maintain clarity of communication, track the deliverables and let your teams take ownership of their work. Be accessible in case they need help and have a clear understanding of what you expect from each other. By making teams within teams, you decentralize decision-making too, ensuring you are not the centre of every decision taken. Besides increasing productivity and reducing micromanaging, this strategy grooms future leaders and builds capability.

Enhance your listening skills: 

As a leader, an integral part of your job is listening to your teams and clients. With remote working, leaders are expected to further sharpen their ability to listen, offering support and encouragement. Listen effectively, focus on vocal intonations, summarize and repeat ensuring you have a good grip on the ‘real’ problem.

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