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Executive Leadership: The Presence of An Executive
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Executive Leadership: The Presence of An Executive - Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: The Presence of An Executive

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: The Presence of An Executive

Your experience, education, brains, and skills have put you in position to make the leap into an executive role. What could possibly get in your way? Plenty, says Sylvia Ann Hewlitt, author of Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success (HarperCollins, 2014). When you're competing for top positions, everyone on the shortlists is smart and experienced. What might separate you from others is executive presence, or EP, as Hewlitt calls it. The stuff on your resume is of great importance, but the way you present all the great things you're made of can be the difference-maker. In fact, EP is "a condition for success whether you are a cellist, a salesperson, or a Wall Street Banker."

Hewlitt insists that EP is not a measure of ability or performance, but a measure of image, a signal to others that you "have what it takes, that you're star material." The author's own Center for Talent Innovation set out to identify the components of EP, so that it is not just some vague notion of havin "it," but something that can be practiced and applied. Surveying more than 4,000 college-educated professionals, including 268 executives, the study broke EP down into three universal dimensions, each with several components: gravitas, communication, and appearance, or how you act, how you speak, and how you look.

While there was impressive agreement that gravitas carries by far the most weight, and that how you look carries the least, it is the appearance dimension that usually makes the first impression, and it therefore must not be overlooked. It may come as a relief to know that most of the appearance components have more to do with how you present the physical attributes your genes gave you than what those natural attributes are: grooming, clothing, and posture, for example, are better influencers than supermodel looks, although attractiveness and physical height are some things that work in your favor. The author emphasizes multiple times that there is a kind of tension between presenting according to established norms (tattoos and piercings are listed as appearance blunders, for example) and presenting as a unique person, but she gives specific, solid advice on finding that balance, citing real-life examples of super-successful people who have signature styles.

Hewlitt spends far more time breaking down the gravitas and communication aspects of executive presence, and those specific, real-life examples come heavily into play as she illustrates the many ways they can be managed well, managed poorly, ignored, or developed and nurtured. She uses her own speaking accent as an example of how early impressions can be misformed, and how learning to speak with a more neutral-sounding accent helped her move past those misconceptions. People with EP communicate grace under pressure, the ability to speak truth to power, decisiveness, and authenticity, among other traits, and while it's not necessary to have them all mastered, it is necessary, for those ready to make the next step, to be aware of how these traits are broadcast.

Will you break out into a cold sweat and then take too long to make your point when asked a tough question, or will you look your audience in the eye and project confidence and competence? Hewlitt helps you avoid the former while moving deliberately toward the later, with specific advice about honing and polishing your executive presence.


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