When hiring influencers and powerful executives speak on leadership qualities most valued in C-level candidates, they often mention executive presence. While it does come easier to some, it’s not hard to learn to improve your executive presence. It’s not so much a checklist of one-and-done things to learn, but a list of valuable habits and traits to develop in yourself as you grow in your career. This list is as valuable to current executives as it is to new college graduates. It’s never too early or too late to develop crucial leadership skills.
Make eye contact.
As simple as this sounds, it’s a matter of not just paying attention to the conversation, but also appearing to pay attention. Even while giving a presentation, make eye contact briefly with your audience, making sure to face every corner of the room and speak to every seat in the house at least once.
Get a firm grip.
Practice the perfect handshake. Don’t just read up on it, actually practice shaking hands with someone who will give you feedback. Whether you choose a friend, your spouse, a parent, or even a bored traveller in the airport, the knowledge and confidence you’ll gain is worth the potential embarrassment. If you’re really stuck for a handshake partner, attend a meeting or two of Toastmasters or a similar group. Everyone else is there to develop their own leadership potential.
Cultivate a professional appearance. The old adage to dress for the position you’d like to attain holds true today. Maintain good grooming, including regular haircuts, neat hairstyles, and a clean-shaven face. Even when male models sport facial hair on every magazine and billboard, a close shave looks more polished and professional. Tight or revealing clothing is not appropriate for an executive on the job or while networking. Accessories matter, too. Tasteful choices, limited jewelry, and polished shoes speak volumes about the care with which you dress.
On time means 10-15 minutes early. It’s not simply about courtesy, although that’s on the list, too. Arriving early shows that you plan ahead, value others’ time, and displays a good work ethic. Your arrival time speaks volumes about your character and your potential.
Workplace and job search etiquette are important. Being courteous to others shows respect and care for the team and the organization in which you play a part, and it sets a good example for others. Respect, courtesy, and kindness are never out of fashion.
Make a point of studying the corporate culture, aligning your actions and your intent to follow closely. This is an easy way to add value in every position you attain.
Grow your network.
Attend networking events and cultivate connections. Becoming the business leader who knows “everyone” is as simple as following a few simple steps to more effective networking, and those skills can last an entire career.
Take care of the basics.
Get enough sleep, make sure you eat before long strategy sessions and network events. Dozing off in meetings or munching your way through an event is not the best way to make a good impression. You’re there to work, to add value, and to improve your performance. You cannot do that on 4 hours of sleep and an energy bar, at least, not on a regular basis.
Communication is key.
Calm, confident, decisive communication is a hallmark of executive presence. Take advantage of every opportunity to enhance your public speaking skills. From your tone of voice, to your body language, to maintaining your poise under fire, all of these contribute to that commanding presence expected of C-level executives.
Grace under pressure.
Cultivate the ability to think and act calmly under deadlines, Q&A, and everyday corporate pressures. One of the best ways to practice this is to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Speak to large gatherings, attend networking events and introduce yourself to strangers, learn a new skill, etc. Getting used to those feelings of stress and adapting to change makes them familiar and easier to handle. When those emotions come up in business, you’ll be able to recognize and respond with executive presence rather than panic.