As we are approaching the last quarter, the minds of corporate managers and executives start leaning in, with a mix of anticipation and dread, towards the end-of-year feedback. ‘What should be my next year’s development focus?’ some wonder.

Developing ‘Executive Presence’ shows up on many feedback cards. It was a term I heard often during the appraisal review panels I used to facilitate as HR manager. For some reason, executive presence was mentioned more often about high-achieving/high-potential women than men.

In this piece I would like to demystify the importance of Executive Presence for Women, or at least redefine it through the lens of feminine leadership.

Quentin Tarantino said: Bill, Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent.

Before having Executive Presence, you need to show others that you have presence, real presence. The English dictionary defines presence as the state of being present or a personal appearance or bearing, esp. of a dignified nature or an imposing or dignified personality.

If you throw the world ‘executive’ in the mix you could easily see how this concept becomes scary for women who were taught that feminine means gentle and caring. What if we replace the world ‘executive’ with dignifying, what happens than? I could easily name Queen Elisabeth II and Mother Theresa as two women leaders with a dignifying leadership presence but with a calm under toned energy instead of the confident executive presence.

The Leadership presence is like old wine, you can only enjoy it when you have truly understood, accepted and loved who you really are, your core personality, with both strengths and shadows.

But how about this famous Latin saying:

‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ says a Latin Quote.

When operating in a certain corporate culture, the so called ‘executive presence’ of an individual has less to do with the individual and more to do with the organizational culture biases towards a certain type of leader. In companies with charismatic CEO founders, there is a tendency to develop a ‘ mini Me’ type of leader.

The Benchmark for the executive presence is a masculine type of presence, which means that some young women wearing feminine dresses might still need to display a masculine body language and a masculine type of self-confidence in order to be accepted at the next level. Is it worthy it? Well, each woman will have a different answer to that question. Even I have days when I wear suit-pants, as you can see in the picture.

Beyond individual choices, what I do know is that:

Truly inclusive organizational cultures create a safe space for everyone to be themselves, this includes a space for feminine executive presence and, yes LGBT executive presence as well.

For many women, the feeling of “belonging in the room” requires overcoming personal insecurities and recognizing that they deserve to be there. Both women and men can have the ‘imposter syndrome’, but women suffer from it a bit more.
If Leadership Presence and inclusive cultures are more important than one’s Executive Presence, when does executive presence become crucial for professional business women?

The true value of Executive presence shows up during job interviews. Recruiters will judge your executive presence based on how you shook their hand, looked in the camera during the zoom call or giggled at their side comments. They will feel if you followed the mood or inspired it.

According to Gerry Valentine , “In its simplest terms, Executive presence is the ability to inspire confidence… it’s something you can cultivate and build.”

He defines it through a combination of personality and character traits that make a dynamic executive. The executive presence character traits that make a good impression during an interview are: composure, confidence, credibility, character, command, consciousness(ability to manage time) and connection.

That being said, a woman will show command and connection differently than a men. Please don’t try to be someone else but do try to flex your style to fit the situation and the interviewees.

If you are not Superman or Wonder woman, and you still feel that you need to work on honing in your executive presence, here are my 3 tips:

  1. Know yourself (your strengths, vulnerabilities and biases), but be willing to get out of your comfort zone, to flex your style without forgetting your core essence
  2. Know that you are not the centre of the universe – focus your attention on others, on the big issues of these world and be willing to not take yourself too seriously. The less you talk about yourself, the more executive you sound.
  3. Give yourself the time to Pause, Listen, Reflect and then talk or act.

And a bonus tip for Executive Presence on email, do follow the New York Times rule – don’t put anything in an email today you wouldn’t want to read in the New York Times tomorrow.

Would your lawyer or your grand-mother be upset about it, than don’t send it. All emails are or can be read by others, they don’t belong to you.

As a last thought… have you made up your mind, wether you want to “dress like the Romans”, or not? Do you know how others might be perceiving your executive presence?

If you want to increase your executive presence while staying true to who we are, I might be able to help. Let’s get in touch.

Steliana Economu is the author of Mothers as Leaders and a leadership coach specialised in emotional and positive intelligence( PQ and EQ). If you liked this article and want to enjoy more of this type of resources do follow

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