our world group

Executive Presence: Not What You Think

Our World Group is proudly presenting Dr Kathryn Stanley‐Co founder
of Navigated Breakthrough Analytic Group and Professor of Organizational and Leadership studies.

Executive-PresenceHave any of the following experiences ever happened to you?
• Someone else gets promoted faster than you, when you’re just as qualified
• Someone else is sought for expertise, when you know just as much
• Someone else is seen as having “the right stuff” for leadership more than you are
• Someone else is seen as a strong contributor, when your ideas are just as good
• Someone else is treated with respect and appreciation, while you’re taken for granted.

There’s a common theme to all of these problems: someone else gets noticed, heard, and has impact, instead of you. I became curious about this phenomenon in 2004 when I noticed in meetings how some people were listened to and given the floor while others were talked over and their contributions (often brilliant) ignored. The question I wanted to answer was: Why do some people get heard and have an impact when others do not? I reviewed the popular and scientific literature on executive presence and I then interviewed leaders, managers, colleagues and friends. I found a limited understanding about what executive presence is and what to do about it. Management books on the topic were derived from personal stories based on a narrow range of experience. Partial remedies emerged from these books that emphasized developing characteristics that were in line with gender and skin color biases prevalent in our society including using big US style gestures, resonant
voice projection and apparel that impresses (preferably a corporate suit). While such qualities sometimes contribute to executive presence, they don’t cause it. However, a more in‐depth and broader look across cultures and countries reveals that some people with strong presence have all of these qualities, but many others have none of them, and nonetheless command respect and have significant impact. Great examples of people who do not fit the traditional “executive” package but have huge presence are Ghandi, Oprah, and Steve Jobs.
It became clear in my research that people with executive presence get seen and heard, and have impact. Others consistently pay attention to them because they expect to benefit. People with executive presence come across as worth listening to, and it’s not an act. I am not talking about people who are simply loud or self‐serving in drawing the spotlight to themselves. People who lack executive presence often get overlooked. Their effectiveness suffers on a variety of fronts: they’re seen as career limited, less effective leaders and team contributors, and less able to stand up for them-selves or for others. Weak presence in leaders and individual contributors undermines the organizations they work for. Such companies suffer lower returns on their investment in people and
miss potentially crucial contributions. Executive presence CAN be learned through feedback and reflection. You don’t have to be born with it. The Authentic Presence Inventory TM (API) tool was developed to help anyone build their executive presence. It is psycho-metrically valid, reliable and tested on over 500 executives. It can be used individually and for 3600 feedback from peers, supervisors and subordinates.
My book, a management fable, Which Bird Gets Heard? How To Have Influence Even In a Flock, co-authored with John Ullmen, also offers many practical tips on how presence works and how to improve yours.