By Dr. Claire Muselman
As I sat down in a meeting with the President of our organization in 2018, the term executive presence is exchanged. The concept of executive presence is not one I knew much about at the time. I became quite inquisitive about the context, as well as the meaning. The late Michael A. Lex walked me through the importance of this topic and why he felt it to be such a valuable concept within leadership…one we all must possess. I will never forget this day because it changed how I pay attention to a person’s energy, how they speak, and how they carry themselves.
This article is dedicated to Mr. Lex – a gentleman who not only changed the entire culture of an organization, but also shaped my leadership capabilities.
Executive Presence is a competency becoming more and more relevant in the workplace. It is a concept thrown around by leaders, mentors, and executive management. But what is meant by Executive Presence and how do you know if you have it or what to do to get it?
Executive presence is one of the most important characteristics a leader can possess. The ability to walk into a room and demand respect of all participants is one that is not innately given. It is one that must be earned, cultivated, and continually enhanced. Executive presence cultivates meaningfulness, purpose, accountability, authenticity, vulnerability, and truly showcases who this human being is so that when they walk into a physical space or enter a virtual space, their energy is felt.
Executive presence inspires confidence. It means having the ability to inspire confidence in your team members and with your colleagues – they want to follow you because you are capable and reliable. It also shows senior leadership you have what it takes to cultivate great achievements.
Executive presence also takes an inward look at who you truly are. It is the perception of how people see you and is incredibly important for those conversations when you are not in the room. Opportunities gained and presented come from the confidence you have been able to inspire with decision makers. The more significant the assignment or challenge, the greater need for executive presence.
How do I know if I have it?
To determine if you possess this competency, ask. Ask your direct reports, indirect reports, your peers, other colleagues, those with whom you respect, and senior leaders. Ask people for feedback not only in your organization but in other groups or clubs who may collaborate with you in a different manner. How you are seen by your indirect reports may differ from how you are seen by senior leaders as well as how you are perceived outside your organization.
Solicit feedback in an authentic and transparent manner. The method of 360-degree feedback can be quite helpful to determine how you are perceived by others. It can cultivate awareness and provide significant insight to grow and develop your personal brand. From this information, you can then create actionable items to enhance yourself in a multitude of ways.
What do I do to get/enhance my executive presence?
Start with your vision and how you have shared it with others. Having a clear vision and articulating it well matters. To secure followers, your vision needs to be seen by others as the collective goal they can envision achieving with you. Providing this helps your team and colleagues imagine their role in the process. Add in meaning and purpose with your vision and your team can understand the why they should join in on this journey with you. This is a very effective method when implementing change management.
Build your communication skills. Active listening and seeking to understand can put you at an advantage in this space because it allows you to engage with your full attention. Ask questions, engage others, explore ideas, and seek opportunities to encompass the whole group. Effective listening acknowledges individual contributors and can illicit collective buy-in as you are able to see things from a holistic perspective. It also double checks how consumable the information you share is to the people receiving the message.
Consumable information is the name of the game. How you present to your senior leaders will be different than how you communicate to your peers and followers. Take time to notice how you deliver information, and take notice of the audience you present the information to, in order to come across in a confident and reputable manner.
Take stock in who you are. Know how to keep your composure when in stressful situations and be conscious of your reactions when collaborating in a group dynamic or when receiving information. Not only is it important to clearly communicate through written and oral mediums, body language and energy can be seen as well as felt by others. This holds true in a virtual situation as well. Learn to know what can cause you agitation and have tools handy in your mind for how to defuse these situations.
Remember, executive presence is a like a muscle you can train. Provide yourself with the proper training and you can build upon this skill to create the confidence and charisma you desire both within and outside of the workplace. You can make positive changes to enhance how you are seen, heard, and experienced.
By Dr. Claire Muselman
Dr. Claire Muselman is the Vice President of the Workers’ Compensation Center of Excellence at North American Risk Services, Inc., bringing passion-filled purpose and energy with a dose of glitter and sparkles to the industry. With over 17 years of direct claims experience, Claire has been a thought leader in workers’ compensation. She created the first ever Workers’ Recovery Unit, co-hosted ADJUSTED, a claims podcast, is a monthly contributor for WorkersCompensation.com and Captive.com, as well as Just Begin Magazine and is a bi-weekly columnist for IN TOUCH WC, sharing her love for innovation in the workers’ compensation space.
She is an Ambassador for the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation, Board Member for Kids Chance of Iowa, Board Member for the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance (CLM) – Workers’ Compensation Advisory Board, Founding Member for the Women in Insurance & Financial Services – Iowa Chapter and is President of the Insurance Association of Greater Des Moines (part of the International Association of Insurance Professionals).
In her free time, Claire enjoys being an Adjunct Professor at Drake University teaching Compensation and Benefits, Leadership, and Public Speaking to students in the College of Business and Public Administration.