After Hours

10 aspects of executive presence

Great leaders project a certain presence that's hard to pin down -- but unmistakable. See if you recognize these qualities in yourself or in the executives you admire.

Great leaders project a certain presence that's hard to pin down - but unmistakable. See if you recognize these qualities in yourself or in the executives you admire.

The first time I was considered for a CEO position I actually got the job, which surprised the heck out of me. When I asked the executive recruiter why I was chosen over what I thought were more experienced candidates, one of the things he said was that I had "CEO presence."

Admittedly, I'm not 100 percent sure what that means. But I have worked with hundreds of CEOs and other executives, so I thought I'd take a stab at what constitutes "executive presence." Whenever I attempt this sort of thing, the results are often counterintuitive, if not downright surprising. This is no exception.

For example, executive presence has nothing to do with polish, poise, sophistication, or even use of body language and gestures. In my opinion, executives with presence are just as likely to not posses these qualities. Most of them can be learned anyway, but why bother?

In this day and age, executive presence comes in many shapes and sizes, but I think I managed to boil it down to its essence — the 10 qualities or aspects that work across the board.

Here's another conclusion some will have a tough time swallowing. I don't think any of these qualities is easy to learn or practice. I'm sure you can cognitively develop and improve some of them, but not by much. Not that anyone's born with them; they develop over time with experience and maturity.

One caveat: Don't confuse this with speaking or presentation skills. Sure, they're part of the total package, but this is entirely about presence you project wherever you are and whatever you're doing.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Genuine

Open, straightforward, comfortable in your skin; no BS or sugarcoating.

2: Passion

You love and feel strongly about what you do and how you do it.

3: Clarity

Communicate thoughts, feelings, and insights in crystal clarity and simplicity.

4: Intelligence

No way around this one, and yes, it shows through.

5: Insight

Ability to boil complex factors and mounds of data down to rare conclusions.

6: Determination

Driven and full of purpose, determined to achieve and succeed.

7: Confidence

Not overconfident, but with enough self-doubt to be objective.

8: Humility

Willingness to admit mistakes, misjudgment, fear, and uncertainty is endearing.

9: Courage

Willing to take risks and take a position against considerable odds.

10: Humor

Not over-the-top, but in the right measure, brings down other's defenses.

Keep in mind that nobody possesses all of these qualities in abundance. For example, lots of successful CEOs with strong presence lack one or more of the likeability factors, like humor and humility. Larry Ellison and a few others you wouldn't know come to mind. But if you've got seven or eight of them, you're probably in pretty good shape.

How do you know if you've got executive presence? You don't. Few people possess that level of self-awareness and objectivity. But if you've got it, you'll eventually figure it out, albeit after the fact. That's just the way it is.

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