Executive Presence: Why You Don’t Have to be an Executive to Have it

Nov 16, 2020

What is executive presence? First and foremost, you don’t have to be an executive to have it. Many people find executive presence indescribable, but they recognize it when they see it. The important thing to note about executive presence is it takes cultivating. The best way to do this is to focus on how you relate to people, not whether you have executive presence or not. Executive presence is a by-product of how much you believe in yourself. No one will recognize it in you until you wholeheartedly recognize it in yourself.

Author Sylvia Ann Hewlett, writes in her book, Executive Presence, that Executive Presence is a precondition for success.

Sylvia breaks executive presence into three pillars: Gravitas, Communication, Appearance.


Gravitas is how you act. Communication is how you speak. And Appearance is how you look. Gravitas is a core characteristic and critical first factor. Gravitas has a lot to do with living and leading into your values. When you do you can’t help but to exemplify integrity.


Next is communication. Every verbal encounter is an important opportunity to create and nurture a positive memorable executive presence. More than anything, it’s about engaging your audience and making yourself human. A confident humility is a trait that binds and connects you to the rest of the human race and in turn delivers permission for others to be real too.

Paying attention is a keystone to all effective communication. To radiate presence, you have to be present. This starts with listening. Listening flexes your empathy muscle and draws people to you.

Some things to be mindful of when it comes to listening are your mind wandering, waiting to jump in with the next word, talking over people, or responding to something unrelated. These are all warning signs that you are not paying full attention and deeply listening. It’s really about tuning yourself out in order to tune in the needs and wants of the person in front of you.

Eye contact is also an important part of effective communication. It signals complete attention, and nothing boosts your executive presence more than eye contact because it communicates to the other person that you are fully present and they have your complete attention.

This gets a little tricky in the virtual environment because eye contact is not a one to one ratio when it comes to this setting. Many of us were taught to look people directly in the eye. That works with in person networking, but when it comes to virtual networking, it depends on the person’s placement on your digital screen. You may or may not be making direct eye contact. . In this particular environment, the little black dot on your computer serves as the window into the other person’s eyes.


Last, appearance. Appearance is important in the short run. It’s the connection between looking well and looking capable. Appearance is typically the filter through which actions and communications skills are evaluated.

Your appearance should focus people on your professional competencies. Whether meeting someone in person or virtual, let your appearance reflect the job you want.

Overall, executive presence is about inspiring trust and confidence in others. There is nothing more complimentary to executive presence than self-awareness. Not only do you need to read your audience, but you also need to be able to read yourself.

Be clear about the value and strengths you bring to the table and you can’t help but to signal executive presence.