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Developing Executive Presence

You know it when you see it. Executive presence. Obama has it. So does Sheryl Sandberg. George Clooney definitely has it. There’s that confidence and delivery. There’s that way they walk into a room. What is it about them? And is it teachable?

In her book, Executive Presence, author Sylvia Hewitt writes that executive presence boils down to 3 things: (1) how we look; (2) how we speak; and (3) how we act. Perception is everything. She has great tips based on research for increasing each of these areas to fully develop our executive presence.

I believe, however, there is one more critical component. Our looks, what we say, and how we act all grows from what we believe about ourselves. In other words, how we THINK about whether we have executive presence is at the core of building anything. For example, if we believe that we’re not a “corporate” kind of person, then guess what? We’re not. We’re not going to wear suits easily. We’re certainly not going to speak well at corporate events. If we believe that we aren’t yet a manager or partner, then guess what? We’re not. We’re not going to act that way, nor lead the future of the firm.

Here are some tips to build executive presence from the ground up:

1. What does executive presence mean to you? Do you like this definition? If not, what’s a better definition that serves you?

2. How do you think you fit the bill? What can you leverage? Ask for feedback here.

3. Of all the areas (look, speak, act), where do you want to bring more of yourself? Also, ask for feedback here.

4. Check out your story in these areas. If you don’t feel good about yourself in any area, give yourself permission to write a different story. And if that seems too big, then just do it for a day. You can always go back to the old story. For example, if I want to develop excellence in presentations, telling myself “I don’t know how to,” or that “I am too serious” doesn’t really help me, does it? Instead, I might try on: “Of course, I’ve got a sense of humor.” “Of course, I know what I’m talking about.” “Of course, I’m an excellent storyteller.” In other words, what can you begin to believe differently about yourself?

5. Get your body involved and practice. Step into your new story just as you see it. Again, tell yourself it’s just for now and you can always go back. Put on the elegant shirt with the cuffs. Or wear the good looking heels. Practice walking into the room imagining it. Practice delivering those stories. Practice your presentation in front of a mirror (always good!) In other words, feel into it.

What’s amazing is what happens to us while we try on these new belief systems. We actually begin to inhabit them, even a little bit. And by inhabiting them, and our bodies recognizing physiological and emotional rewards that come with it. So we do it a bit more. And more. Honing those skills. And before you know it, you’re developing your executive presence.

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