Being taken seriously by direct reports, peers and upper management is a key component of leadership success. The issue is often addressed as “executive presence.”
Think of some examples of leaders you would describe as having a big dose of leadership presence. The examples may be quite different from one another. Some leaders are quiet and intense. Some are energetic and engaging. Some are provocative and creative. There are many ways to display executive presence.
The key to developing your executive presence is being a best you – a you that captures people’s attention in a way that says “I should listen to what that person has to say.”
For some of my clients I recommend a book called Own the Room by Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins. The message from the book is to develop a Signature Voice. A signature voice is a position of speaking and thinking that balances a voice for others and a voice for self.
The authors describe how people can slide into a “driving voice” that is too directive and all about our own agenda or perspective. Other people might tend to have a “supportive voice” that is all about addressing the needs of others. Leaders with powerful executive presence can balance both and advocate strongly for themselves as well as advocate strongly for the needs of the organization. (Note: Another possible dimension is the “passive voice” which is weak in both advocating for self and others.)
What is your voice? Do you tend to be in the driver? Executive presence can be hampered by drivers being perceived as short sighted or just interested in one part of the organization.
Do you tend toward the supportive side? Executive presence can be hampered by being overly understanding or deferential.
Consider the following dimension as you develop a signature voice that works for you:
Energy. What is your natural energy? Low? High? People will typically sync with the energy of those around them. So how do you want your audience to respond? You will want to go with your typical energy level but adjust for the needs of the situation. If you tend to be very high energy, but may want to tone down a bit. If you are low, methodical energy you may want to boost it up 20%.
Confidence. Confidence is an essential element of executive presence. Are there assumptions about yourself or others that are eroding your confidence? If people do not see you believing in yourself, it will be hard (or impossible) for them to believe in your ideas and plans.
Playing to strengths. Know your strengths and play to them. If you are the creative strategy person show it. If you are the driving for execution person show that. If you are the connector/collaborator highlight that.
Have an opinion. If there is an important issue on the table, don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Your opinion can be qualified by limitations in experience or data, but based on what you know you can have some thought or perspective that is valid. Let people know what it is.
Above all, avoid trying to be everything to everyone. Be your own self. Be courteous and aware of others, but don’t feel like success is making sure that everyone is pleased or happy. That is an expectation that is unlikely to be met.