Executive presence – how exceptional leaders project emotional intelligence

Bright_LightExecutive Presence is that hard-to-define, but immediately recognizable quality that makes certain leaders stand-out – often by their mere presence. It’s far more than image. Image is one component, but not the primary one. It has little to do with content or technical knowledge, and it has everything to do with communications, leadership, authenticity and credibility.

You know when a leader with strong executive presence is in the room, but NOT because they are aggressive, loud or over-the-top in any way. Others are aware of them even when they are not actively participating. Emerging executives often pattern themselves after them, modeling their appearance, attitude, even fashion choices.

Executive presence is essentially the way a leader projects emotional intelligence.

It begins with self-awareness, and contains the primary elements of the four EI skills[1] – self-awareness, self-control, social awareness and relationship management. What is commonly considered ‘Executive Presence’ is the ability to consistently and effectively project appropriate leadership qualities.

Executive Presence qualities include:

Demonstrated competence [different from ‘telling’ everyone what they have done/ can do]

Confidence: calmly confident; never arrogant. Never elevating themselves at someone else’s expense.

–        Confident enough to publicly own their own mistakes.

–        Comfortable in their own skin; they don’t fidget or adjust their clothing. They arrive put-together, prepared, and ready to focus on people and outcomes.

Influence: able to engage and energize others in pursuit of goals and new ideas.

Integrity and candor: they ‘walk the talk’ – deliver what they commit to – and surround themselves with others who do the same

Politically astute, but not overly ‘political’.

Communications: clear, concise, appropriately candid – and therefore, powerful. They ask questions to assure understanding and shared expectations.

Presence: A tuned-in executive is always ‘present’. Focus is paramount. They save introspection for private moments. They routinely demonstrate focused, reflective listening. They make eye contact, smile, ask questions and provide feedback. They are genuinely tuned-in and interested. They don’t check their smart phone in meetings – unless there’s an urgent reason or the meeting is running over.

Inclusive, warm and accepting: they remember and use others’ first names, whether they’re part of the power elite or not. Others want their eyes to land on them with approval in a meeting, and hope they weren’t paying attention to their recent faux pas.

Loyal – to the team and the organization. Not blindly loyal…but as long as you’re holding up your end of the bargain, you know they have your back.

Some elements of executive presence will vary depending on the organization’s leadership, culture or stage of development.

For additional views on executive presence:




[1] Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman



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