How’s Your Executive Presence?

One of my passions is reading about research on women who are taking on leadership roles., whether in large corporations, small businesses, or as entrepreneurs. So as part of my interest in supporting daughters like you,  from time to time I’m going to share with you some of the ideas that I’ve been reading about in the hopes that you’ll find them interesting and applicable to you.

This week, instead of my usual Ask Amy column, I’d like to share a few ideas from a recent book on a topic you may be hearing about: Executive Presence.  It’s certainly not a precise phrase, but I think most of us can think about men and women who “have it.”  They are people who seem comfortable in their own skin, who can raise a question or argue a point with confidence, but not arrogance. We trust them, we admire them, and often, we follow them.

One of the benefits of research is that it forces the researcher to be precise about his/her terms. In her recent book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist, describes her research on the topic. Hewlett says that executive presence is comprised of three elements:  appearance, communication, and a quality she calls “gravitas.”  In her research, “gravitas” was the most important facet of executive presence.  

Gravitas is “how you act,” and it refers to the kind of steely self-confidence that allows you to take on any situation in a way that conveys depth and understanding.  People with gravitas “know their stuff”, and that leads others to respect them.

One finding about gravitas–a finding that Hewlett calls “surprising”–is that eye contact with an audience or a group can be “transformative.”

Thinking about Hewlett’s research, and thinking about daughters in family businesses (for a change!) I wonder if the simple act of making eye contact–turning off your phone, looking away from your computer and toward a family member who’s speaking with you–may actually transform your relationships at work.  Family members are often casual with each other, and may be less attentive than they would be to people in a non-family business.  Perhaps, just by intentionally using eye contact, you’ll begin to develop the kind of “presence” that will help the people you work with see you in a new way.

Amy KatzI’ll be curious about your thoughts about executive presence, about the ways you’re trying to develop it….and how it’s working for you.

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