“He needs executive presence,” a CEO explained to me recently, as he was describing the coaching he wanted me to give one of his VPs. “What exactly do you mean?” I asked, trying to identify some specific behaviors to focus on. With a lot of behavioral probing I was finally able to get a clearer picture of what the executive needed to work on.
It’s no surprise that the CEO was struggling to identify what separates an executive from a supervisor or even a manager. I often hear, “You know it when you see it.” But as an executive coach that’s not good enough.
One way to figure out an executive’s gaps is to ask the people he or she works with to give me examples of what the person does well and what he or she needs to work on. Over the years some common examples have emerged.
Here are some frequently cited examples of what executive presence looks like:
They command respect when they speak. It’s not that they are demanding, loud or insistent. They are confident in their position and assert their views.
The strongest executives also know how to listen. Because they are confident, they aren’t intimidated by contrary views. They listen intently and know how to draw out the other person. They want the full story and the whole picture before they make a decision.
They will draw out alternative views but then will decide. There is no waffling or endless meeting upon meeting to make a decision. They have the ability to gather enough information—but not have to endlessly study the problem. They are comfortable making the decision without each and every detail. They would rather take a bit of a risk and capitalize on a situation, than to have a perfect solution too late.
Under stress they are calm and in control. Adversity seems to bring out their best leadership ability. They click into “command central” mode, issuing directives and processing data. They can go to the heart of the matter and drive for a practical solution. They are the calm in the eye of the storm.
They know how to capture both the hearts and minds of their people. They take the time to get to know people on a personal level. They know that employees who feel cared about will care more about the company. They get out of their office and walk through departments, hold town hall meetings to talk through issues and answer questions. They don’t set themselves “above” with trappings of status and authority. They don’t have to because people want to listen to them and follow them.
They know how to explain the big picture and yet bring it down to ground level so employees can connect it to what they do on a daily basis. They talk about the bigger goal often—referencing it in presentations and one-on-one coaching.
They can execute the strategy. They know what the practical steps should be to make the vision happen and they are able to convey those steps to others.
They can present upward and know how to create a concise executive summary, and yet are close enough to the details so they can answer most questions, or at least know where to get the answers. Even if they came up through the ranks they can extricate themselves from the details of their functional specialty to explain things in a common language. And they can speak to multiple audiences and come at the subject from the point of view of the listener.
They dress and look the part. Even if the dress code is business casual they know how to take it up just a notch—with polish and a crisp crease.
They think before they speak, knowing what they say carries more weight. They don’t share personal information, they don’t make idle threats, they are careful about thinking out loud because they know it can send shock waves throughout the organization.
They don’t lose touch with the internal and external customer. They aren’t holed up in their office or in their department. They reach out to peers and collaborate on cross-department initiatives. They look for opportunities to visit or talk to outside customers.
They listen to feedback and take it to heart. They may not like what they hear but they reflect on it and try to find ways to be more effective. They are a good role model for being willing to change.
They live the values of the enterprise. They proactively communicate, they build trust, they support quality, and they hold people accountable.
They keep the balance between being too hands off and too hands on. They have enough meetings with their direct reports to keep abreast of what is going on but they don’t try to micromanage them. They let people know the desired outcome and give them room to get there. But when a person is struggling they dive down deeper and get more involved in helping the person get their performance back on track.
Does all of this sound like executives have to perform in super human ways? Of course not—these examples are what executives strive for. But they are held to a higher standard—they have the responsibility of leading the organization toward its goals. And when they have performance gaps, the negative ramifications have a more serious negative affect on everyone around them.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and team building, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized training (leadership skills, presentation skills, internal consulting skills & facilitation skills), team conflict resolution and retreat facilitation.
Joan Lloyd & Associates