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Fake or Authentic? The Secret to Executive Presence

(posted: July 29th, 2014)

You can stop worrying right now - Executive presence is not about faking it, or putting on airs.

The kind of presence that inspires your team to great feats, easily converts others to your point of view, and moves you forward is based in your genuineness. It stems from your authenticity.

When you are more of the real you, people are naturally attracted to you and to your ideas and vision.

Recently I'm finding myself involved in a lot of conversations around executive presence as both a skill and a trait, and there seems to be a new book published on the subject every couple of months. Some of them are quite good; a couple of my favorites are:

Real Leadership, Real Presence

I think it's clear that we are looking for real leaders and real leadership, with the charisma and force of personality to inspire us to greatness.

In her great book, Hedges offers a lot of examples of presence and tips pulled from current research to get you moving towards uncovering your own executive presence. I often recommend this book to my clients, whether they are in leadership roles or not.

But the real root of presence is being genuine, and connecting with people genuinely.

That sounds simple, and it is, but it certainly isn't easy!

Su and Wilkins speak to this in Own The Room, contending that when you connect authentically with others, you develop what they call your "signature voice" - Your unique leadership presence. It is confident, authentic, and effective across a variety of situations and audiences. Like your signature, this presence is recognizable and leaves an impression on everyone around you.

One way to develop executive presence is to offer your undivided attention

Regular readers of my blog will recognize this! It is a concept that underpins much of what I teach, including better listening and presentation skills.

I like to say that the greatest gift you can give is your attention.

You may have experienced it yourself, when you found yourself in the presence of an exceptional leader. They focus all their attention on the person in front of them, with laser-like intensity, even if it is only for the length of a handshake and a greeting. The person on the receiving end usually ends up feeling touched, accepted and understood, even in such a short interaction!

As our world becomes more interconnected and diverse, it becomes even more important for us to connect genuinely with people and offer our undivided attention. When cultural differences in the workplace might cause problems, the simple act of offering your attention can build bridges.

At the same time, we are drawn to do more, multi-task more, with our always-on technology options, both at work and at home. And doing two (or more) things at once makes it impossible to give anything our complete attention.

So, What Do We Do?

Just being aware of the need to focus on one person at a time is a great start!

This is one of those places where you can apply some of your time management skills, like limiting when and where you reply to emails and other boundary-setting practices. This will reduce your stress and help create the conditions needed for you to be engaged and attentive.

  • Identify your intentions for a given communication. Is it as simple as making sure the person you are talking with feels heard? Focus on that. If you need to communicate more broadly, spend more time on your intentions.
  • Be brave. It's hard to be genuine all the time, and it's hard to try a new behavior. Working to be more attentive may prove uncomfortable at times, so summon your courage and remember your goal: To develop your own authentic executive presence.
  • Make a conscious effort not to multitask. There are times when multitasking is useful, but it also exacts a high price, in mistakes, lost focus and lack of attention. The key is to be aware of it, and stop, particularly when you need to interact or connect with someone.

Choose to Connect Authentically

It can be remarkably hard to connect authentically with every person you encounter. It's no accident that cultures have spent centuries practicing to be present and attentive in the moment! But it is a key to your executive presence.

A wonderful exercise to try is the following, which may be familiar to some of you. (I discovered it from Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.)

When the phone rings, instead of grabbing it right away, use it as a cue to practice your awareness.

Pause, take a single deep, slow breath, focus on the phone, and then answer.

In addition to reminding us to be aware, this focus also allows us to be fully present for the caller.

I urge you to make the effort to be present and authentic in your interactions, and see how your executive presence begins to blossom.

Challenge Yourself
  • Tell us about a time you experienced a strong executive presence - How did you feel?
  • What are some other tips you've found useful for being genuine and attentive in our dealings with each other?

We'll talk more about Executive Presence in future posts, so stay tuned! Or, Sign Up for our monthly newsletter and never miss another post.



Images licensed from 123RF

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KLR Post

Pat, that is such a wonderful story. I completely understand your initial frustration with that leader, yet what a great experience to have had!

I had a similar experience just today, when a colleague I was meeting with arrived while I was completing a task on my phone. Rather than dividing my attention between her and my task, I asked her for a moment to finish my task, and then I was able to focus fully on her and on our interaction.

Pat, if you want to go deeper on this subject, please drop me an email. In particular, I have a great HBR article that I'd be delighted to send your way.

Thanks so much for sharing!

Posted by Kristi

(on Jan 14th, 2015  2:54 PM)

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Nice blog, Kristi. I strongly agree on the importance of a leader being fully present to where they are now. I remember I walked into an executive's office once and he told me to wait a few minutes while he completed a task. I was a bit angry as we had scheduled the meeting at this time and I felt the other task was not more important. Well, he finished the task, faced me fully and said, "Now I can focus all my attention on you. How can I help you?" And he did...fully present. I have so much respect for what he did and his modeling in the moment.

Posted by Pat

(on Jan 14th, 2015  8:49 AM)

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