Executive Presence

If you’re a manager with aspirations to move into an executive position in the corporate world, it pays to know about something called “executive presence.” If you have it, you’ve got a good chance of making it into the executive realms; if you don’t, you’re likely to stay in a manager role. But what exactly is this elusive thing called “executive presence”?


In the corporate world, demonstrated leadership is a must for an executive. This usually means that you’ve proactively taken on some project or initiative and brought it to a successful conclusion. Visibility is also important here; it doesn’t help to have leadership skills unless they get noticed by the decision makers. The ability to show accountability — both for yourself and for those you supervise — is critical.

This means that you are able to measurably demonstrate that you “walk your talk” and that you are able to hold others to their commitments. Having clear vision about your objectives — and then setting up action items to match those objectives — is crucial in managing accountability. The ability to delegate effectively is another important leadership skill. Closely related to accountability, delegating means that you can calibrate appropriately the amount of your own involvement that is necessary for the other person to be successful.

Micromanaging will bog you down (and decrease your popularity with capable people). “Dumping” tasks on someone without setting clear expectations doesn’t work well. A good leader will provide just the right amount of support based on the individual’s level of experience and skill. A good leader is someone who also lives the company values. Your words and your actions match. You don’t hold one set of standards for others and a different set for yourself.


In the executive world, you must be able to flex your own communication style to have rapport with people whose styles are different. You know when to be “bottom line” and direct and when to soften your approach. You can present the “big picture” or the step-by-step, more detailed explanation. You can be both task oriented and friendly. You can be sensitive but not lose control of your emotions.

Equally important, you know how to give — and receive — feedback. You don’t shy away from confrontation, no matter how unpleasant. You give people negative feedback when necessary, but in a respectful, caring way. And you are open to the feedback of other people and actively seek it out, letting others know that you are always interested in their viewpoints. In the corporate world, succinctness is highly valued.

Taking too long to state your point, wandering off on tangents, giving examples when people haven’t asked for them and getting too much into the “story” (rather than giving the conclusion) can keep you out of the executive suite.


Your personal appearance is critical for an executive position. You want to dress like the other executives in your company (“dress for the job you want rather than the job you have”). But it’s not just a matter of throwing on a suit or jacket. Your clothes must fit well. This means if you buy a suit, you want to get it tailored to fit your body. And you want your clothes to be pressed, not looking like you just took them out of the dryer. Shoes must look new — no scratches, worn heels, nicks, etc.

For most businesses, executive dress is conservative. Accessories must be classy and not overdone. Forget wearing 10 bracelets on your arm and funky earrings. Your grooming is also a part of your image. For men, this means regular haircuts, clean nails and no hair sticking out of ears or noses. For women, it means hair that isn’t flying all over the place (don’t forget to look in a mirror to see how the back of your head looks), and fingernails and toenails (if they show) that are clean and without nicks in the polish. No rainbows, frogs, ladybugs or other “cutsie” items on nails — save those for parties and nonbusiness situations.

No matter how professional your image, it can all be to no avail if you don’t have impeccable manners. Talking with food in your mouth, eating with your elbows on the table and having poor table etiquette will undo even the best of impressions. And, please, excuse yourself from the table if you need to blow your nose! In summary, having “executive presence” involves having the right actions, the rights words and the right look. Without all three, you’re less likely to make it into the executive suite.

Author: Judi Craig

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