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.

24 comments
GeoPink
GeoPink

...but this list is about the aspects that we present to others. See this sentence in the last paragraph before the list: "but this is entirely about presence you project wherever you are and whatever you?re doing." I know for a fact that I have many, if not most, of these qualities. However, the judge of this IMHO is if you can see these qualities in an individual who is across the room, before you have even spoken with them; then, they have *presence*.

Eric Hall
Eric Hall

This is one of the most smug and unabashedly immodest articles I've ever encountered on this site. Shameless! (But apparently successful?) Hmm

Englebert
Englebert

Where was Leadership ? The ability to lead or project such Would've also like to see the ability to communicate. Nice article though.

shemtaggart
shemtaggart

I've been told I have all of those qualities and it was very affirming; it helped me enjoy being me. What is even greater is that my immediate supervisors (Ops Mngr and her assistant) and general manager have those qualities - we work hard together under a lot of pressure with an abundance of hilarious laughing.

danpat1_2000
danpat1_2000

This is great as I now know what is wrong with the country. All of these qualities are absent in Obama.

geo
geo

Having retired as a trainer for a large transportation company, I didn't realize it at the time, but I lived by all these qualities. Maybe not perfect, but as close as I could. I had an almost perfect relationship with all the workers, supervisors and other management members. This would be a good list to refer to from time to time if you are still part of the chain. (?`?._.?ns??v??._.???)

slobato_ocampo
slobato_ocampo

I would add another key trait: Integrity... as they say, Cesar's woman has to be pure and look like pure. Sebastian Lobato (Madrid)

santeewelding
santeewelding

On a stage, which is called, stage presence. Goes for teachers, too. Sometimes, serendipitously, for a beautiful woman making her entrance without a word. Often, not.

jmwelschplace
jmwelschplace

Intelligence and Determination... but not good news without the others.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Let's look at the list point by point. Genuine - Nope, but how many politicians are? Some can fake it, but few seem truly sincere. Passion - I'd say he's passionate. I may or may not) agree with his objectives or methods for achieving them, but he comes across as feeling strongly about them. Clarity - Got it. Intelligence - Ditto. Insight - Undetermined. Determination - Unlike 'genuine', most politicians have to demonstrate their determination every 2 to 6 years. Confidence - See 'determination'. Humility - See 'genuine'. Courage - Undetermined. Humor - Got it. By my count that gives Obama credit for six of these attributes, no credit for two, and two items are a toss-up.

draack
draack

Nuff Said! I'm sure there are many who feel that way (me included), but are all too often intimidated by the "tolerant" into keeping silent. The whole administration is rife with problems.

ian_hardie
ian_hardie

Your political rant is unappreciated here. I could say the same thing about Bush for his 8 years and his father. Granted Clinton was not a poster child but what you say is not fair to Obama - he has to live and try to fix past problems of previous administrions like all other Presidents.

alobato
alobato

Hi, mister Lobato. I agree with you, cause a good leader must be measured by it?s principal characteristics, but somewhow I think that in today business world this is a rare quality, unfortunatelly.

ian_hardie
ian_hardie

Give me an administration that isn't riffed with problems!

jmwelschplace
jmwelschplace

I think it was an accurate observation except I say our President HAS 1) Intelligence and 2)Determination.

bobp
bobp

But the whole subject is better left somewhere else. This is not a political discussion blog.

draack
draack

Maybe unappreciated by some, but please don't speak for us all.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Not with your 'Whatever!", a word whose use should result in flogging. I do agree that most administrations are ate up like a bucket of chicken.

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