Do You Have Executive Presence?

"Executive presence" sounds mystical, so let's start with the opposite—executive absence.

Here's what absence sounds like if, for example, you're giving a presentation:

"I'm a little nervous up here," you might say, or, "I'm completely unprepared," or, "the entire left side of my body just went numb."

These openings all say the same thing: "Audience, don't expect too much. In fact, let's not focus on you at all. Let's worry about me."

Imagine if other professionals did this:

Pilot to passengers: "This is the first time I've ever flown such an enormous plane. Our flight today may be a little jumpy. God knows, I am. Hey, what's that gizmo over there—wonder if it does anything important?"


Doctor to patient: "You're not sick, are you? I hate that. Please cover your mouth, and stop coughing so much. I'm just getting over a horrible stomach virus. I really feel gross—much worse than this stupid thing you've got."

U.S. President to country: "I've never given a State of the Union before, and there was no time to prep this one. So please don't ask, 'how are things going in the USA?' I really have no idea."

What do doctors, pilots, and presidents have in common? Acting.

"There have been times in this office," Ronald Reagan said, "when I've wondered how you could do the job if you hadn't been an actor."

But we're not talking about professional acting. We're talking about "acting as if."

"If you want a quality, act as if you already had it," advised psychologist William James.

Years ago, a men's fashion magazine took some homeless men and gave them a complete makeover. Dressed up, the men looked like CEOs.

That's "acting as if," and that's roughly the same process you and I go through every morning when we straggle out of bed. We need to suit up.

Then, once at work, we need to act as if there's no place we'd rather be.

And that's the secret of "executive presence." It sounds like an inner state—but no one knows your inner state. People infer "executive presence" based on how you act.

How do you act?

Tip: Executive presence starts with confidence. You can ACT confident without feeling confident. Little things matter—posture, eye contact, vocal volume.

If you act confident enough times, eventually the feeling will show up. Don't wait.

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Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (, Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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