Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Develop Your Executive Presence: Part I

Your performance reviews are solid, you know you’re good at what you do and yet when that latest promotion opportunity arose … you weren’t selected.

To paraphrase the first President Bush, it just might be the “executive presence thing.”

More and more, requests for executive coaching are couched in phrases that imply a need for developing executive presence.

“He’s a little rough around the edges,” “She lacks a convincing tone in her presentations,” “Can’t put him in front of the Board just yet,” “Doesn’t inspire confidence” and a host of similar comments indicate a lack of executive presence.

While the exact definition is open to interpretation, there are certain attributes almost everyone agrees upon. Chief among them is looking, acting and sounding in a manner that inspires confidence, enhances credibility and projects a strong professional image.

Let’s tackle the easiest one first.

Look the part

A well-known publicly traded company in the NY tri-state area recently requested my assistance in “polishing up” their Director of Transportation. He reported directly to the SVP of Operations, excelled at the complexities of his function and was well liked by both his peers and direct reports. However, the Company was having difficulty seeing him move up the ladder.

The reason: In any future assignments being considered, he would need to make presentations to the Board of Directors and represent the company at numerous professional functions. As the VP of HR told me, “for him to go further, he needs a makeover.”

When I met him, I concurred.

While the company adopted a casual dress code, both the top male and female officers were pretty “buttoned up.” But not the Transportation Director. He was unflatteringly dressed in ill-fitting clothes and scuffed shoes, and sporting what was unmistakably a very bad haircut. In no way, did he reflect the executive image this company wanted.

Having started as a driver and risen steadily through the ranks, he gave little credence to the idea that how he looked was material to his position. He was convinced his career trajectory depended solely upon the results he produced. Wrong assumption.

Appearance matters … a lot

Several sessions later, dressed and coiffed more like his colleagues, he acknowledged that his stature in the company appeared to improve, that he had been placed on committees and task forces previously denied him and that discussions about future opportunities had taken place.

While there was still work to be done on acting and sounding the part, overcoming the first hurdle and looking the part was already paying dividends.

That’s the superficial part of executive presence. The next installment will deal with more substantive issues.


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