One of the most frequent issues clients ask me for help with is “executive presence”. It’s one of those beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder issues to some extent. What works for some people is a turnoff to others. Approaches or styles which are considered appropriate in one organization may be the fastlane to the exit door in another company. But there are a few guidelines which are consistent across most organizations.
If you are getting feedback that your “style” or “approach” needs some polishing, odds are that clear concise direction hasn’t come with the feedback because it’s often tough to package.
These are three of the key ones on which I focus my clients;
1. Men think to talk. Women talk to think. When genders are working together it can sound like a personal relationship on occasion. Women asking the guys why they don’t participate in a discussion but then leave the meeting and have a bunch of ideas; or men asking the gals why they take so long to make a point.
The way our brains are wired, according to recent research out of UC at Berkley really makes a difference in our processing. Women are more prone to thinking aloud and using that to come to a position while men go radio silent while they are noodling inside before making a statement.
If you’re a woman in a male dominated environment, don’t go processing aloud – it can frustrate the men who just want an answer. If your a man in a female dominated environment, don’t give the appearance that you’ve shutdown by processing internally without telling those around you what you’re thinking.
2. When in Rome wear a toga. Dress codes are really vague. Most senior company leaders say that they understand that the days of suits and dresses are long gone. I’m often told by them that they “get it” that their employees want fewer rules and regs which have little to do with performance.
But later, they will make comments which are inconsistent. Behind closed doors they get a little more forthcoming. I’ve been told that capri pants are too much for a work environment or that if so and so should stop wearing pants without his underwear showing if he ever expects to get ahead. “Flip flops? Not what future leaders should be wearing.” Lots of other comments in this vein about both genders.
The real world is that the boss really wants people to follow his or her lead when it comes to standards of dress. If the boss is wearing a sports coat with Dockers, or a businessy skirt with a cotton button down collar, they are sending a signal. Disregard such signals at your own peril.
3. Take your time before you answer. Or don’t. Ever notice how some bosses make a decision in a quarter of a second while others want to have endless meetings or papers written before any movement forward?
How we make our decisions has a lot to do with our personal value systems. Some leaders have learned that any important decision requires a lot of input and noodling, while others show disdain for anything but an immediate answer and direction.
If you have one approach but your boss has the other I suggest you change. Or at least give the impression that you have. Otherwise you risk making your boss nervous – and nobody succeeds when they have a nervous boss. If the boss believes in lengthy and thoughtful consideration before coming to a conclusion but you think that fast decisions are the best; (s)he may start to worry about the caliber of your thoughts and directions. This can lead to doubt about your promotional prospects as well. Same holds true if your boss is one of those shoot-from-the-hip types and you seem to be ponderous and slow off the mark. Don’t try to teach your boss that you have a better style – it doesn’t often work.