A leader’s guide to growing your executive presence

by Erik Dees ([email protected]) 479 views 

The popular phrase “executive presence” can mean different things to different people. Some define it as the way an executive leader presents themselves to others. Although true, there are more layers to peel back on the topic.

I remember early in my career when I had my first big meeting with executive leaders. I was expected to lay out strategic priorities for the upcoming business year at the meeting. The anxiety I felt was unmistakable. I was very intimidated by the tough audience. Before the meeting, an endless stream of toxic questions ran through my mind.

  • Who are you to speak to these seasoned professionals?
  • Why should these people pay any attention to what you have to say?
  • How will you handle their challenges?
  • How can I make myself look good in front of them?

I felt like such an imposter.

Before the meeting, I remember having a little self-talk about how I would approach the experience. There were two approaches I could have used that day. The first choice would have been to be short, direct, clear, not flashy and to the point with my message since there was a lengthy agenda.

Or, second choice, use the meeting to make me feel better about myself by inspiring the audience with brilliant ideas, metaphors and analogies. Unfortunately, I chose the latter. At one point in the meeting, I moved into “teaching” mode by referencing Roman history. It didn’t go well. I failed to value the executive’s time. Due to my concern with needing to impress, I lost the confidence and trust from the executives. Confidence is lost in buckets and replenished in drops. What a painful lesson. Instead of simply providing an update, I went into teaching mode. My message and mode of delivery were not effectively aligned.

Erik Dees

According to a 2018 Forbes article, executive presence is about inspiring confidence. Inspiring confidence in our leadership provides organizational stability and increases the likelihood that people will give us the benefit of the doubt.

So, how does a leader grow their ability to inspire confidence? One of the most essential practices of a leader who inspires confidence is aligning their message with their mode. In so doing, communication is more efficient and effective. Leaders may be shrinking other’s confidence in them by simply mismatching their message and the mode. Think of my story. By choosing the worst time to “teach a lesson,” I mismatched my message and mode. In other words, I was not tuned into the right mix of message and mode of communication.

Communication might be one of the most critical factors in inspiring confidence. Often, we may send an email and assume we’ve communicated. While email is efficient, it’s not always the most effective mode. Convenience may prompt leaders to text when they should have sent an email.

When considering your mode selection, here are some suggestions: email messages are best suited for non-urgent messages, fact-based, low emotion, straightforward, not requiring discussion, confirming details, capturing accuracy and not confidential. Face-to-face meetings are important if the message is confidential, sensitive, requires empathy, is complex and is specific to a few. A phone call works well for urgency, quick clarification and specific messaging. Texts are good for urgent, informal, short, unemotional and clarifying messages.

The time invested in choosing the right communication mode will pay dividends by ensuring your message is more likely to be received. By identifying the right message and mode mix, a leader is sure to inspire more confidence and grow their executive presence.

Erik Dees is a partner with Milestone Leadership. Milestone Leadership’s Mission is to “Build Leaders Worth Following.” He can be reached at 319-504-3083. The opinions expressed are those of the author.