In Search of the Executive ‘It’ Factor
GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: by Kristi Hedges, author of "The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others."
There's a lot of buzz about “executive presence” these days. It’s the business "it" factor.
We notice it immediately in others, and covet its power. Yet, most people have no clue how to get it.
Everyone is crystal clear on only one thing: presence is a major determinant in professional success.
Presence has become a core competency in companies, with a prominent place on performance reviews and recruiting check lists. A partner at a global recruiting firm recently shared that presence is #2 on their candidate evaluation.
For small business owners, presence hits a particular nerve as it's a matter of sheer survival. Owners are the windows to their businesses — perceptions created by their presence become opinions about the entire company. How do you feel about buying legal advice from a nervous attorney or a complicated software product from a visionless entrepreneur?
In her career column in the Wall Street Journal, Joann Lublinrecently wrote about the heightened trend of companies hiring experts to cultivate presence in their executives. I see the need for presence growing as leaders struggle to manage rapid change in flatter organizations. Influence is the way we accomplish work and move ideas forward.
Unfortunately, most people don't have access to a presence consultant. Small businesses often lack the resources — yet if they can't influence, they can't land their first customer or develop their most recent employee.
Developing an influential presence is a near universal struggle, with a chorus of unhelpful, ineffective guidance to address it. We've done a poor job defining presence and even worse, coaching it in others. In my work with leaders on this issue, I see not just bad advice — but the wrong conversation entirely. This inspired me to write "The Power of Presence,"to put what I've seen work repeatedly in the hands of more people.
Presence is generally considered too simply, with a focus on stylistic traits or unattainable (much less sustainable) attributes. Presence is not about unabashed confidence, power postures, or innate charisma. It's doesn't require a person to display preternatural eloquence.
Rather, presence is the ability to connect with others and to inspire them. It requires leaders to be have confidence, yes, but confidence derived from authenticity, connection, and trust.
With the right approach, developing presence is straightforward. Presence is cultivated from the inside out (rather than the reverse, as most advice goes). Everyone has the ability to build it — introverts and extroverts, job seekers, small business owners and corporate CEOs—by focusing on three core aspects, which I call I-Presence:
1. Intentionality: Most of our communication is unintentional, affecting how we communicate and are perceived. By taking as few as five minutes to set intentions before a key event, you can increase effectiveness five-fold. Start by knowing the reaction you desire before you say one word, and learning to debunk derailing thoughts.
2. Individual connections: Much energy goes into trying to be a perfect A-game player, but perfection is alienating. Leaders need to create an aura that draws others to them, and makes them knowable and approachable. People remember not what you said, but how you made them feel. Instead of trying to be the best; focus on getting the best out of others by cultivating empathy and trust. These deep connections drive business, loyalty, and career success.
3. Inspiration: Meeting rooms are filled with boring talk that's quickly forgotten. A leader's job is not to inform, but to inspire. Leaders need to move others to action, and it's necessary to play on a larger stage. Use the platform of everyday occurrences—meetings, presentations, one-on-one meetings—to use inspirational language, vision-filled declarations and persuasive communications to encourage change and innovation. Every conversation a leader has where they aren't inspiring others is a wasted opportunity.
Kristi Hedges is a senior leadership coach with a specialty in executive communications, and the author of "The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others." Her workshops and leadership coaching programs have been utilized by CEOs and teams of all sizes in companies spanning the Fortune 500, government, non-profit and privately held small to mid-sized businesses. She runs her own coaching practice, The Hedges Company, and is a founding partner in the leadership development firm, Element North. Kristi writes about leadership for Forbes.com. Follow her @kristihedges or at her blog at kristihedges.com.