executive presence

In the business world, executive presence plays a crucial role – as it directly impacts how one is perceived (plus the level of influence they can exert within the organization). Developing a strong presence is a vital requirement for both career advancement and leadership success.

Quick links

What is Executive Presence?

It’s an amalgam of qualities that telegraphs that you are in charge or deserve to be.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Executive presence is the combination of personality and character traits that make a dynamic executive. It is the capacity to encourage people to be forceful in their jobs – by demonstrating constant confidence and unambiguous leadership. A strong presence enables leaders to grasp the requirements of their team members in relation to the needs of the business.

Many attributes that make up executive presence are also necessary for leadership – examples include confidence, competence, trustworthiness, communication skills, and professional appearance. When combined, they bring about a sense of power and authority that has the power to inspire and motivate others. As a result, people who demonstrate such a presence are frequently entrusted with management positions.

Common signs of a person with strong executive presence:

  • They ask for more responsibility, request a raise, pursue a promotion, or give presentations with confidence and clarity.
  • They address the media, attend meetings, or interject suggestions with composure and credibility.
  • They stand tall with perfect posture, lean into the conversation with body language, and dress impeccably.
  • They ask questions that establish themselves as strong or influential leaders, such as “What’s the biggest hurdle here for you/us?”.
  • They demonstrate a positive mindset, a clear vision, and a high level of emotional intelligence.
  • They captivate a room with their charisma, inspire trust and admiration, and bring people together to achieve collective goals.

8 Characteristics of Executive Presence

  1. Composure

Composure encompasses self-awareness and the skill to present oneself in a disciplined yet captivating manner. It involves controlling emotions and professionally responding to unexpected situations in the workplace. This trait is crucial for effectively managing unforeseen circumstances and handling the emotions of team members.

  1. Connection

Connection refers to the interpersonal abilities that foster professional relationships and enhance productivity. These relational skills facilitate teamwork and enable leaders to recognize differences in communication styles. In addition, they also enable adaptation to new work preferences and promote effective communication.

  1. Confidence

Executive confidence embodies the capacity to approach daily responsibilities with self-assurance and poise. It encompasses the display of boldness and composure when taking charge in various scenarios, such as leading meetings, attending important gatherings, conducting presentations, or interacting with team members.

Confidence, being a multidimensional trait, is influenced by several factors, including adeptness in nonverbal communication and maintaining consistency in mannerisms when engaging with people at different levels within the organization.

  1. Credibility

Credibility refers to the manner in which you effectively convey messages to others. It encompasses the language and resources utilized to provide information or guidance. Your reputation serves as a vital pillar supporting this communication, as it lends crucial credentials to the information you convey.

Additionally, credibility encompasses the processes involved in gathering information and crediting relevant sources. People perceive executives as credible not only due to their adept communication methods – but also because they believe in their competence to present reliable and trustworthy information.

  1. Character

Character encompasses the inner traits and values that define an executive. It encompasses one’s personal beliefs about themselves, others, and the world in which they operate. Executives with a notable presence often exhibit high emotional intelligence, enabling them to effectively connect with team members at all levels.

Additionally, character also encompasses the ethical and moral principles an executive upholds, and how these principles shape their approach to work and decision-making.

  1. Command

Command refers to the efficient ability to lead and guide a team. It encompasses a broad spectrum of skills crucial for effective leadership based on trust and confidence. This includes the capacity to articulate ideas persuasively, attentively listen to others, provide clear directions, and delegate tasks appropriately.

Remarkable leaders are known for possessing the acumen to make decisions that benefit not only the entire organization – but also the individual members of their team.

  1. Charisma

Charisma signifies your aptitude to engage others and inspire trust and reliance. It encompasses powerful communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal.

Charisma also involves the ability to focus on specific situations and discern their impact on the overall goals of the business. By fostering a compelling aura, charismatic leaders motivate others to interact and collaborate, fostering an environment of synergy and productivity.

  1. Conciseness

Conciseness refers to the skill of managing time effectively by providing information with clarity and direction. It involves the ability to present all necessary details without overwhelming or burdening others.

Moreover, conciseness includes the capacity to assess an individual’s level of understanding – and adjust the communication approach accordingly. By promoting concise and focused communication among team members, conciseness contributes to enhanced productivity and streamlined collaboration.

8 characteristics of executive presence

Read more: 12 Leadership Principles for Excellence

Differences Between Leadership and Executive Presence

Leadership and executive presence are related but not identical concepts. The former involves guiding, motivating, and inspiring others to achieve a common goal. On the other hand, the latter refers to the ability to inspire confidence and move people to act through the demonstration of leadership, credibility, and assertiveness.

In other words, leadership is what you do, and executive presence is how you do it.

A leader can perform their job without having executive presence, but they may not be as effective or influential in their role as they could be. For this reason, one must learn to develop a strong presence – so as to maximize their potential and impact.

Why is Executive Presence Important?

Executive presence influences how others perceive you, how credible and trustworthy you are, and how likely you are to advance in your career. According to a survey of CIOs by Gartner, this trait was ranked #2nd among the top 20 desired leadership characteristics – in another study by the Center for Talent Innovation, it was cited as an essential component to getting ahead, accounting for about 25% of the chance to land a promotion.

On an organizational level, possessing a commanding presence impacts the team as a whole – by improving communication, increasing productivity, and boosting team spirit.

Some of the most notable benefits of having a strong executive presence are:

  • Enhanced employee morale

Leaders with a commanding aura serve as a catalyst for improving company morale. Through their energetic leadership style, these executives foster an environment where employees feel valued, engaged, and satisfied in their roles.

The presence of such influential figures ignites a sense of purpose and enthusiasm among employees, as they become more aware of the significance of their job duties and their performance ratings. Consequently, a positive ripple effect is generated, leading to an overall boost in employee morale throughout the organization.

  • Reduced turnover rates

One of the tangible outcomes of improved morale is the subsequent reduction in turnover rates. As executive presence contributes to a more positive and fulfilling work environment, talented members become more inclined to remain with the company. Higher job satisfaction and a sense of being respected and appreciated by their leaders act as powerful incentives for them to stay committed to their roles and the organization.

The decrease in turnover rates not only fosters stability, but also alleviates the financial burden associated with hiring and training new employees. By minimizing these costs, companies can allocate their resources more efficiently, maximizing productivity and overall performance.

  • Heightened productivity rates

The positive influence of executive presence extends to employee productivity as well. When employees feel valued and respected by their leaders, they are motivated to invest their best efforts into their work. The sense of empowerment and recognition fosters a stronger work ethic and a heightened commitment to achieving goals. As a result, productivity rates soar, leading to improved business success rates.

The alignment between executive presence and employee productivity creates a virtuous cycle, where the dedication of team members is reciprocated by the support and guidance provided by their influential leaders.

  • Facilitated awareness of necessary changes

A critical characteristic associated with executive presence is self-awareness. Executives possessing this attribute are more attuned to the evolving needs of the business and the industry at large. Their heightened awareness enables them to identify necessary changes and adapt to the shifting landscape, proactively addressing emerging challenges.

Moreover, the executive’s keen awareness extends to their team, as they guide and prepare their teammates to navigate the changing work environment effectively. By embracing necessary changes early on, organizations can stay ahead of the curve and foster a culture of agility, resilience, and innovation.

  • Expanded career opportunities

By cultivating executive presence, individuals position themselves for a broader range of career opportunities. This is because executive presence enables them to effectively navigate the complexities of their roles, communicate their ideas with clarity and impact, and build strong relationships with colleagues and superiors. This expanded skill set and reputation open doors to new and exciting career prospects.

Executive Presence

Examples of Leaders with Executive Presence

  • Oprah Winfrey: The media mogul and philanthropist is known for her charisma, confidence, and credibility. She has the ability to connect with people from all walks of life, inspire them with her vision and values, and communicate her messages with clarity and passion.
  • Barack Obama: The former president of the United States is widely admired for his composure, gravitas, and communication skills. He has the ability to handle challenging situations, feedback, or criticism with grace and professionalism. He also has a clear vision and a positive mindset that he can present flawlessly in any circumstance.
  • Sheryl Sandberg: The chief operating officer of Facebook and the author of Lean In is a role model for many women in leadership positions. She has the ability to demonstrate her competence, influence others with her skills and experience, and create a positive workplace culture. She also has a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy that she can use to foster meaningful connections.

3Ps of Executive Presence

  1. Appearance

Appearance at the workplace goes beyond physical attractiveness or personality – it encompasses how you present yourself professionally. While there may not be explicit rules governing appearance, it is crucial to understand that confidence is not solely derived from wearing a suit and tie. The way you carry yourself, whether in formal attire or casual clothing, determines the measure of impact you pose on others.

To project the right self-image, it is important to understand what works best for you. Additionally, the setting and culture of your workplace also significantly influence how you should adapt your appearance. For instance, in a banking services organization, wearing denim would be inappropriate, whereas in a casual workplace, a black tie may seem out of place.

The key is to know when to wear certain attire and how to carry yourself with confidence as if it were the designated dress code for the day.

  1. Gravitas

Do you find that people take you seriously in the workplace? Is your word valued and respected by your colleagues and peers? Do others hesitate to question or doubt your statements and decisions?

If you answered yes to these questions, then congratulations! You possess gravitas – which is essentially the amalgamation of your personality’s weight and the confidence you exude through your demeanor.

It is important to recognize that gravitas is not an innate quality; rather, it is a skill that can be carefully cultivated over time. In fact, even your CEO, who commands respect and exudes gravitas, may have once been an awkward teenager or a carefree individual in their twenties. Who would have guessed?

  1. Communication

Executive presence requires excellent communication abilities. You must be able to communicate your views in a clear, succinct, and compelling manner. It is critical for attaining your organization’s objectives.

If you must give your message in person, plan out what you want to say ahead of time. Most people are not born with the ability to be excellent public speakers; however, such a skill may be learnt.

When speaking, use a neutral tone of voice and urge your colleagues to engage in the debate. Make your coworkers feel heard and understood by demonstrating active listening. Keep an eye on their reactions as you talk to ensure they grasp what you’re saying. Take all the time necessary to respond to their doubts and questions.

3Ps of Executive Presence

Is Executive Presence a Skill or a Trait?

Executive presence is not a trait that you are born with or not; rather, it is a skill that can be learned and developed over time. Anyone can improve their presence by focusing on the components discussed above – and practicing them in various real-life situations.

Additionally,to develop this ability, you can also seek feedback from others, work with a coach or mentor, and learn from successful leaders.

Common Challenges in Developing Executive Presence

Some common obstacles that individuals face when trying to enhance their executive presence are:

  • Lack of self-awareness

Many people are not aware of how they come across to others; hence, they struggle to identify areas for improvement in their appearance, communication, and gravitas. Blind spots/ personal biases hinder their ability to objectively assess their own strengths and weaknesses – as well as prompt them to underestimate/ disregard others’ input.

Without self-awareness, one may find it challenging to make meaningful changes and progress in their executive presence journey.

  • Lack of confidence

On the other hand, some are plagued with self-doubts – they constantly question their own abilities, skills, or values. Impostor syndrome, fear of failure, and fear of rejection are among the factors that undermine their faith in themselves – thereby impacting their performance, communication, and potential as effective leaders.

  • Lack of authenticity

Another significant obstacle to developing executive presence is the tendency to imitate others or conform to a predefined image of what a leader presence should be. In doing so, one gets disconnected from their sense of identity, personality, and values. This leads to a lack of authenticity, making them appear fake, insincere, or inconsistent.

Authenticity is crucial for building credibility, trustworthiness, and influence. Without it, one will struggle to establish a genuine connection with others.

  • Lack of adaptability

Some individuals face challenges in adapting their executive presence to different situations, audiences, or cultural contexts. They may cling to a singular style or approach that works for them but may not resonate with others. Additionally, a resistance to change, feedback, or learning can limit their effectiveness, impact, and growth. Flexibility is essential for building rapport, establishing rapport, and effectively influencing others.

Executive Presence

Strategies for Developing Executive Presence

  1. Define your personal branding

First thing first, you need to start with a vivid understanding of the kind of leader you aspire to be. Reflect on your values, strengths, and leadership style. Set specific goals and create action plans to enhance your skills and characteristics that align with the impression you wish to leave on others.

Read more: Leadership Branding – How to Craft an Inspiring Personal Identity

  1. Have a positive mindset

Cultivating a positive mindset is crucial for developing executive presence. Believe in your abilities and focus on your strengths rather than dwelling on weaknesses. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and view setbacks as learning experiences.

  1. Redirect your focus

Every interaction with those around you is an opportunity to build genuine connections – hence, make sure to be fully present and attentive during every conversation. Listen actively, demonstrate empathy, and show genuine interest in others’ perspectives, ideas, and experiences. This will enable you to establish rapport and create a positive impact.

Only by taking yourself out of the equation can you assess accurately what is important to the other person, which is the key to harnessing the power of reading people.

Harrison Monarth, author of “Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO”

  1. Be aware of your breathing

Your breath serves as a powerful tool to manage stress and enhance your presence. Practice deep breathing techniques to calm down, center your awareness, and focus your attention on the present moment. Controlled and steady breathing should aid in projecting a composed and confident demeanor, even in challenging situations.

  1. Master body language

Nonverbal communication plays a significant role in executive presence. Remember to utilize eye contact to establish connections and convey attentiveness. Also, maintain an upright posture that reflects confidence and authority – and use purposeful gestures to emphasize key points and engage your audience.

  1. Develop your communication skills

Effective communication is essential for establishing a commanding executive presence. Strive to be clear, concise, and articulate in your verbal and written communication. Tailor your message to your audience, considering their needs, perspectives, and preferred communication channels. At the same time, make sure to continually practice active listening – by paying attention, asking clarifying questions, and demonstrating curiosity to foster meaningful dialogue.

  1. Demonstrate competence and credibility

There is no way a leader can build up a strong presence without demonstrating competence and credibility in their field. For this reason, it is crucial that you continuously develop your knowledge, skills, and expertise through learning opportunities, training, and staying informed about industry trends. Deliver results consistently – and be prepared to back up your claims with evidence of your achievements.

  1. Have a clear vision

A clear vision is what provides direction, motivates others, and fosters a sense of purpose within the organization. Define what you want to achieve and why it matters – then communicate it clearly to inspire and align your team. Ensure that your actions and decisions reflect your values and goals.

  1. Be authentic and genuine

Being genuine helps build trust and rapport, as it enables you to connect with others on a deeper level. Show honesty, respect, and humility in your interactions, and acknowledge your limitations. Embracing authenticity allows you to cultivate an environment of openness and collaboration.

  1. Seek feedback and improvement

Developing executive presence is an ongoing journey. During this process, it is recommended that you actively seek constructive feedback and suggestions from trusted mentors, colleagues, and team members. Embrace their insights as opportunities for growth and improvement.

Similarly, provide input to others in a respectful and helpful manner to foster a culture of continuous learning. Seek out mentors who can provide guidance and support as you develop your skills and expand your knowledge base.

By implementing the strategies outlined above, you should be confident in your ability to inspire, lead, and make a positive impact in your professional endeavors.

Read more: Coaching Culture – How to Cultivate One at Work

Resources on How to Develop Executive Presence


TED Talk videos:

Executive Presence Self-assessment – by Brenda Bence:

Why Leaders Need Executive Presence Training

In today’s competitive business landscape, organizations actively seek individuals who possess leadership skills and the ability to make a positive impact. Leaders with a strong executive presence not only deliver results but also possess the credibility, confidence, and interpersonal skills needed to create a lasting impression. As a result, investing in executive presence training provides a great chance for one to reap long-lasting benefits throughout their careers.

Feeling interested, but unsure where to start? Attending ITD World’s Global Leadership Team Conference (GLTC) this year should be a solid starting point – at our conference, you will have the opportunity to be mentored by a world-class executive presence master – Ms. Brenda Bence!

Additionally, attendees may also expect to gain fresh perspectives, new insights, and great ideas to thrive sustainably – both at a personal and organizational level.

Global Leadership Team Conference (GLTC)

Other resources you might be interested in:

ITD Vietnam is part of ITD World – a top ranked provider of Talent & Leadership Development, Executive Coaching, Corporate Training & Consulting services.

ITD Vietnam




Let's see how our coaching, training & leadership development solutions may bring a difference to you and your organization.

Let's keep in touch

Stay up to date with the latest insights into Coaching, Leadership & HR Management - as well as with ITD's upcoming leadership training programs and workshops.

Latest posts