Executive Presence – What Is It and How Do I Improve It

Recently I’ve had a number of clients ask me to help them with executive presence. I must admit I’m always skeptical when I hear a client ask for help with an industry buzzword.

I’m skeptical because buzzwords tend to make difficult things sound easy.

There are a plethora of articles available on the subject. The one that resonated most with me was an article in Fortune magazine by Suzanne Bates,


executive presence is the ability of the leader to engage, align, inspire, and move people to act.” The article goes on to give “The 15 Qualities of Executive Presence:

Character: authenticity, integrity, concern, restraint, humility

Substance: practical wisdom, confidence, composure, resonance, vision

Style: appearance, intentionality, interactivity, inclusiveness, assertiveness”

Yikes, Executive Presence, two simple words, immediately becomes 15 qualities and feels almost overwhelming to consider. The good news is that every one of the fifty plus articles I read said leaders can dramatically change others’ perceptions of their executive presence.

As with anything you want to improve the first place to start is with you. You need data and information about your current skill level.You need an understanding of how you are perceived (how others experience you) for each of the 15 qualities. That’s a lot. Start slow. Select one or two of the qualities and gather specific feedback from those who work with you.

Ask a few trusted peers to listen to what you say, watch how you behave, and give candid feedback. This will feel scary and it may also feel politically risky. Being vulnerable, by asking people to watch our behavior, is scary. But I bet something surprising, even interesting, will happen. Assuming you are sincere in your willingness to listen, your colleagues will be excited to help. They will give you the data you need to know.

Another interesting thing that will happen, you’ll stop making up what others think of you and start working from the facts. The anxiety of wondering how you are perceived is replaced by understanding and now you have the power to choose. You might choose to work on the one quality you now have specific information on. You may choose to ignore some of the information. You might choose to work on a completely different quality. The important word here is “choose”. You have a choice.

You won’t improve your executive presence unless you choose to dig a little deeper than the buzzword, understand the qualities that make up executive presence, accept critical feedback, and decide to make some changes.

BenchStrength Coaching works with leaders to increase self-awareness and produce lasting, transformational change to take their leadership to another level. To find out how we can help you or your organization, contact us at info@benchstrengthcoaching.com.

article written by Susan Gellatly