Friday, November 6, 2009

Building Your Executive Presence

I like Steve Tobak's idea: great executives are distinguished by their presence. Link here.

Presence is like some other things in life: you may not know what it is but you know it when you see it.

When an executive with presence is in a room, you know who is in charge. Perhaps it's an energy field; perhaps it is the way they look at others, their decorum, or the way they hold themselves. People with presence look like their clothes fit.

If you want to be a successful executive, you need to develop your presence. But, we ask, how?

Tobak has some useful suggestions. So does Marshall Goldsmith in an article on how to build your confidence. Link here.

I want to distill some of the basic points from these two articles. You build presence like you build anything else, from the ground up.

This is not quite self-evident. Chief executives set policy; they lay out strategy; they define company goals and choose the people who are charged with implementing them.

Chief executives are big-picture thinkers. They are high concept.

But how do you get to be a big-picture thinker? First, by mastering the details. You cannot have executive presence without having mastered your brief. You will need to work harder than others, to comb through details, and not to trust your associates or lieutenants to explain it all to you.

You must master the details and the operation before you can demonstrate presence. And you cannot master the details without having worked your way up.

You cannot get it by taking a seminar or attending a workshop. Presence comes to those who have put in the extra hours, who have done the scut work, who have seen their operation work at all levels.

CEO is not an entry-level job. If you use it for on-the-job training, people will never feel that you are fully present to the task at hand.

The most obvious current example of someone who lacks executive presence for not having worked his way up is... Pres. Obama. Our president did not work his way up the chain of command. Before assuming the presidency he had never even walked through the corridors of power. For as much he is tentative and unsure of himself when faced with major decisions, like Afghanistan.

And he is far too easily distracted, almost as though he has detached from reality. Today Obama supporters are beginning to question why he is putting his presidency on the line for health care reform and climate change legislation when the nation is suffering from a severe recession and unacceptable levels of unemployment.

It feels like tilting at windmills or fiddling while Rome is burning.

Second, a leader with presence must be completely and unimpeachably trustworthy. He must keep his word. He must ensure that there is no gap between what he says he will do and what he does.

An executive who says one thing and does another will not have presence; he will be divided against himself and thus be absent to any task at hand.

Presence implies knowing who you are. It involves a strong sense of identity. It involves being someone others can count on. And it always means that you are one person, not many.

Being one person means that your words and your actions correlate.

Once a leader makes a decision he must go all-in with his time, his energy, and his commitment. He must ensure that the project he has OKed will be implemented correctly and successfully.

This means that he should never reveal doubts, qualms, or second thoughts. When a leader starts second guessing himself he is throwing doubt on the success of his project, and is preparing himself to avoid taking responsibility.

How do you develop your executive presence? Begin small. Begin with everyday decisions and actions.

Begin with yourself. When you tell yourself that you are going to buy a wrench this afternoon, buy a wrench this afternoon. Do it because you told yourself that you would do it. Do it even if no one else knows that you made the vow. Do it even if you change your mind or don't feel like it.

When you plan to take your suits to the dry cleaner tomorrow morning, make sure you do it. When you decide that you are going to watch the football game tomorrow, watch it.

This way you will start developing the habit of keeping your word, of keeping it when no one else really notices. This way you will develop executive presence.

Next, and more obviously, keep your word to others. If you say you are going to be there, be there. If you commit to chair the meeting show up on time, prepared.

Executive presence will be yours when people start thinking that when you give your word to do something it is as good as done.

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