What is executive presence? Some people call it gravitas, charisma, or that Je ne sais quoi!
Overall, executive presence is each leader’s unique expression of their leadership style. Executive presence allows for respect, trust, and likeability amongst your seniors, peers, direct reports, and other stakeholders. It’s the ability to express compassionate authority, or said differently, confidence, warmth, and know-how.
Executive presence is an external reflection of how you feel internally, about yourself, the topic at hand, and others in the room.
Why You Need Executive Presence
Executive presence provides access to opportunities and to “insider” discussions. If you’re not included in the senior meeting discussing next year’s strategic initiatives, your great ideas will never stand a chance.
Additionally, we want executive presence because it enables the ability to influence others, which is critical in almost any professional position as you move up the ladder.
How to Build Executive Presence: A Structured Approach
There is no one correct formula to achieve executive presence; it is not 1+1 = 2. Consider different personality types such as Steve Jobs and Michelle Obama. Their divergent presence styles align to their authentic personalities.
We can use the common threads observed across different types of presence styles to help you discover and define your own brand of executive presence. We can incorporate additional tools from the holistic physical, emotional, and mental realms to practice executing your newfound style. This structured approach through the Espeland Method™ is as illustrated below.
The importance of executive presence cannot be overstated, and it is a skill that can be learned and perfected.
Literal - Physical
Your literal communication of your authentic self is through your voice, body, and appearance.
Voice: your voice or the sounds your body creates are one of the key methods of expressing ourselves and connecting to others.
Body: being at ease and releasing tension is the back door to broadcasting confidence. Your body is an instrument you can play to create the desired effect.
Appearance: cultural norms, bias, and style in our appearance will always affect how others perceive us. Perception is reality.
Figurative - Emotional & Mental
Authenticity: you need to be in touch with yourself in order to share who you are and thus effectively connect with others. Humans are a social species and naturally curious about each other.
Confidence: the feeling of confidence (outsides of your physicality described above) allows even the worst laid plans to sound reasonable. Alternatively, an excellent insight said without confidence may never be seriously considered.
Vision: your vision is how you view the world and your goals. This is a guiding light that should be informed by your authenticity.
Vision allows for clarity in how you communicate ideas to others, allowing for a larger chance of being understood and adopted.
Vision allows for consistency in how you respond to "off the cuff" or unforeseen questions and circumstances, which is hugely impactful in your overall presence.
Vision that you are truly bought into allows for you to communicate with more "gusto" and emotion, therefore aiding overall presence.
Your style can be aided or diminished by the environment or culture you're in.
Having executive presence requires some self-awareness. You can cultivate self-awareness through various means such as mindfulness, meditation, and soliciting ongoing feedback.
Melanie Espeland is a fashionista turned consultant, turned executive coach, keynote speaker, and entrepreneur.
Through her podcasts, radio appearances, and webinars for the likes of Fairygodboss and Cornell University, she’s been able to support 100’s of leaders discover their authentic voices and executive presence, gain clarity on their path, and overall lead a more successful professional life. Melanie is a Member of Forbes Council, and has been featured in outlets such as Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, California Herald, and more.
Why Invest in Coaching?
The Fortune 500's Secret Weapon
For decades, leaders of some of the most iconic and successful companies have harnessed the power of executive coaches, including: Jeff Bezos, Former CEO of Amazon and Larry Page, Co-Founder of Google. Goldman Sachs believes in it so much that they speak to their coaching commitment on their website.
In fact, HR consulting firm Hay Group estimates that up to 40% of Fortune 500 companies utilize executive coaches. Demand is estimated to reach $11.2B this year. Per a survey of HR and learning and development professionals, 68% expect demand to continue to increase.
So why do the major players invest in these services? Professionals have described an average return of 7x, and over a quarter reported an impressive ROI of 10 to 49x.
Additionally, Harvard Business Review found that multiple stock portfolios composed of companies that "spend aggressively on employee development" each outperformed the S&P 500 by 17 to 35%.
Diverse levers can be attributed to coaching ROI, with a typical engagement looking like the following:
Improved relationships with direct reports, peers, and other stakeholders
Increased commitment to the organization
Increased job satisfaction
Bottom Line Impacts
Higher customer satisfaction
Perhaps executive coaching is the missing link for your organization. If so, here’s what you need to do next:
1/ Find the perfect coach
Many companies hire external executive coaches or coaching firms due to their expertise. To find the right coach, consider the following:
Do they have both quantitative and qualitative skills? Are they able to measure impact and ROI with ease?
Are they a strong verbal and written communicator?
Does their client portfolio match your cohort?
Do they understand any relevant technical jargon relevant to your industry or cohort?
Have they been in your cohort’s shoes? For example, have they ever been an executive at a Fortune 500?
You may find that different coaches may be needed for various cohorts in your company, such as one for junior level rising stars and one for the C-suite.
2/ Embrace coaching
Make sure your organization is strongly communicating support of its coaches or coaching program. One of the best and most practical ways to do this is to offer coaching widely throughout your organization with limited barriers to entry.
3/ Ensure accountability
Ensure that your Executive Coaches hold employees accountable to their scheduled sessions, goals, and homework. This not only allows for the employee to remain on track, but helps them to take the engagement seriously and further appreciate the endeavor.
4/ Share the data
Communicate to your organization ongoing results from your coaching engagement. This will not only encourage continued use, but also encourage skeptics to give it a try.
Achieving company-wide growth, one employee at a time.
What is executive presence? Some people call it gravitas, charisma, or that Je ne sais quoi! Whatever your word of choice, we’re here to help you discover and harness it.
Espeland Enterprises' Founder and CEO Melanie Espeland offers executive presence coaching services to organizations seeking to elevate employee performance and productivity. Melanie harnesses her years of coaching, McKinsey consulting experience, and Columbia Business School MBA to identify an employee’s growth opportunities and upskilling priorities. She tailors her coaching to each individual’s unique needs as well as the organization’s specific goals.
Melanie has achieved success with executives from startups to Fortune 100 companies, increasing team productivity and career satisfaction across diverse industries and functions.
Espeland Enterprises offers the following flexible options for delivery of executive presence coaching to organizations:
Structured workshops scheduled regularly (annually, quarterly, etc.) to achieve set departmental or company-wide goals over a specified period of time. Workshops are engaging and highly participatory, including take-home exercises and personal/organizational goal alignment to promote ongoing accountability.
One-on-one coaching engagements for individuals in specific groups within an organization, such as executives-in-training, C-suites, onboarding cohorts, or DEI groups.
Designated executive presence coaching services, sponsored by the organization but initiated and scheduled by individual employees.