“What do Executive Presence and the Loch Ness Monster have in common?”
There were a few smiles and then one of the ladies in the workshop volunteered the answer I was looking for, “they are both difficult to define and elusive”. The fact that the concept is challenging gave my colleagues and I the recent opportunity to spend a morning exploring the meaning and importance of Executive Presence (EP) with 20 women from various professional backgrounds and experiences.
The idea for the EP workshop was born and raised at my dining room table over coffee with my Working Improv colleagues. We discussed leadership challenges we had faced and shared anecdotes about times we had to adopt an approach that was different from our normal state of being to get the job done. We realized that collectively we had much experience in this area to draw on and decided that we wanted to help others figure out how to project presence in a way that is individually authentic.
Jump back to last Thursday at the Hard Rock Café in Toronto (our partner in this effort) where decoding of the EP mystery was in progress…
Breaking the Ice with Super Powers Introductions and a discussion of the “super powers” we would like to have let us get to know each other and start the day off with a few laughs. We also made it clear that everyone had permission to treat the day as a learning experience and refrain from self-judgement. Too often, we spend valuable time criticizing ourselves and not enough time giving credit to what we are accomplishing.
EP Explained Next up was defining EP and articulating why it is important. An effective explanation from the research done by the Center for Talent Innovation was shared. This research identifies gravitas (how one acts), communication, and appearance as the three main components of EP. Of the three elements, gravitas is the most important with 67% of senior executive surveyed pointing to it first. Gravitas is followed by communication at 28%, and 5% identifying appearance at the most important.
Self-Assessment and Exercises After the background, we then worked through a self-assessment giving the group a chance to reflect on their individual levels of self-confidence, use of language, physicality, decisiveness, and other elements that convey leadership before we a chance to show how competent we are.
With the group’s priorities identified, we then used a variety of improvisation exercises to build some new skills that help to project confidence, poise under pressure, and harness the power of “saying yes”. The group discussion offered up excellent points and experiences in the spirit of helping each other learn.
Action Planning and Style Action planning provided an opportunity for participants to think about what they wanted to do with their key learning from the session. To wrap up the day, Erin Nadler of Better Styled joined us to talk about visual image and making an impact with personal style. Remember the 5% of executives in the research who identified appearance as the most critical component of EP? The low number is actually deceiving in that it acts as a gate to the rest of the elements of EP. In other words, if someone shows up without looking well-groomed and polished, chances of establishing EP are gone—it does not even matter how well they are addressing the other 95% of the EP equation.
Success through Sharing From the Loch Ness Monster to the power of “saying yes”, the EP workshop last week took a different approach to a topic that 81% of women surveyed find confusing and contradictory. While I am pleased with the success participants enjoyed through the content and structure of the session, I am especially proud that we succeeded in created a time and space for learning, where a mix of diverse people came together and willingly shared their experiences to help each other build their EP strength.
 Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Executive Presence The Missing Link Between Merit and Success. Toronto, Canada. 2014; Harper Collins