Does Executive Presence Matter?

Now – people read the title of this and either have one of 3 answeres: Yes, No or Maybe.

If you say “No” – you don’t have Executive Presence.

If you say “Yes” – you probably are working on your Executive Presence.

If you say “Maybe” – you just might have it.

How do I know this?  I’ve had two very strong mentors, both former supervisors, who I worked for a very large organziations that had “Executive Presence”.  Both were men, but I don’t think that is necessarily a trait you have to have to have Executive Presence (although statistics on leadership will show you that it doesn’t hurt – do you hear me Glass Ceiling!?).   Anyway – these two guys had some things in common (besides being male) that gave them Executive Presence –

1. I won’t say “conservative” dress, but let’s say they didn’t stand out – you get the idea navy suit, white button down, clean, crisp, $200-$300 shoes, nice watch.

2. They didn’t speak first – they listened first – took just enough time not to awkward, then responded with a safe answer. Never controversial.

3. They never saw a problem as dire – but methodically went about solving it – staying in control – confident a solution eminent.

4. They never let you know who their emenies were – or really who there friends were either. (why is that important – because it causes both groups to want to find out where they fall – leaving that individual in control)

5. They were present – but never the first one in the room.

I have the belief that Executive Presence can’t be taught.  If you have it, it can be nurtured, but if you don’t, all the training in the world is probably just going to make you annoying.  It’s the standard “Leadership” arguement – you either have it or you don’t – it can’t be taught – unless of course that’s the training you’re selling – than well for $1495 I can teach you how to be a great leader (that always cracks me up – does a true leader really feel the need to pay money to become a better leader?).  Now, can you train someone to be an effective, heck -even a great, manager -yes – but that’s different than being a leader.

How can you gauge if you are a good leader?  Well, I could sell you a great 360 assessment with coaching for $5k! (just kidding, but if you have $5K you want to throw away I’ll give you the best 360 you’ve ever had in your life, I’ll tell you things your soul wouldn’t tell you!) – or you could just find out who you know who is a really good leader, the best one you know, personally – and ask them. You see, good leaders can usually point out other good leaders when they are asked about it.  You’ll catch them off guard, but when they take their minute to think about it (because they’ll do that if they’re good – one is they’ll try and figure out why you are asking them that question)  they’ll frame their answer in a way that will usually open up a larger conversation.  If they value you, they’ll tell you the truth – yep, you are and here’s why or nope you’re not, but here’s what you can do to get better.

Executive Presence matters – it matters a whole lot for your organization – and you can’t discount this trait when looking at your future leaders.  I don’t care if you have Gallups OD department – you aren’t going to “train” executive presense into those who don’t have it.  So, make this competency number one on your succession plan calibration chart – it will make weeding through your middle managers a bit easier.

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