It’s the ability of a leader to engage, align, inspire, and move people to act. Of course this definition goes way beyond the way most people think about it – as commanding the room, polish, savvy or charisma. These words often need their own definitions.
— Q&A with Suzanne —
"All the Leader You Can Be deftly translates the “you know it when you see it” aspects of leadership and executive presence into specific behaviors and attributes that can be identified and measured – the pathway to change. The book demystifies a “black box” area of leadership development by defining tools for success that are accessible to all.”
— Lisa G. Bisaccia, EVP & Chief Human Resources Officer, CVS Health
Fortunately, the answer is neither! We aren’t hard-wired, nor do we inherit these qualities. We develop them over time and experience as leaders. Some of the qualities, like Restraint, Humility, Integrity and Authenticity tend to develop earlier in life, and some like Practical Wisdom, Vision and Resonance, come with time. What’s exciting for leaders is that we can develop more of all of these qualities to have a greater influence and impact.
Executive presence has been a mysterious “X-Factor” in leadership for many years. We’d often ask people to define it and they’d say, “I know it when I see it.” That’s frustrating for leaders who want to be all they can be. So we decided to look at the science behind it. We thought it was time that leaders had actionable advice and a path to developing the qualities that matter.
We started by talking with leaders, and people who support them, to learn why they cared about executive presence, and the reasons it matters not only to them, but to the organization. Then we cast our net widely, reviewing decades of research in leadership, management, psychology, social action theory, communication theory, philosophy and ethics. We wanted to get to those deeper, character qualities that are not part of most leadership models. We developed the assessment and validated it with independent Ph.D. experts, and piloted it in 20 global companies before its release.
All 15 qualities matter – that’s why they’re in the model! But it doesn’t mean that we all have equal amounts of them. We all have strengths and gaps. What’s important to know is that when we assess a leader, what we’re looking at are the perceptions of others, and we’re comparing these to the leader’s intentions. Very often, there’s a gap between how we mean to “show up” and how others see us. That’s why having an assessment is so valuable – we can give you accurate data in all 15 categories, to help you leverage your strengths and guide your personal development.
Very often little behaviors can create negative impressions, and often we don’t even know what impact they have. Canceling your one-on –one meetings with your team can actually lead to lower perceptions of Integrity – not moral integrity, but behavioral integrity – doing what you say you’ll do. Showing up late or unprepared has a negative impact on people’s perceptions of your appearance – defined as “readiness for the game”. Having your mobile phone on the conference room table and checking your messages constantly lowers perceptions of Resonance – whether you’re tuned in and responsive top people’s thoughts, feelings and motivations. The model of executive presence gives people specific feedback on behaviors large and small that can help or hinder your presence. And when you have the information you can do something about it.
As you move higher in your career, you’re standing on a bigger stage. More people are watching and noticing everything you say and do. They want to know, is this a leader I can trust? Is this a leader I want to follow? Is this someone who makes me want to go above and beyond? The qualities of executive presence matter at every level of leadership, especially the top, as senior leaders set the pace and create the culture for the entire organization.
Our research shows two of the qualities that leaders struggle with most are Composure and Restraint. A leader with composure is steady in a crisis, able to calm and focus others. This kind of leader helps people to be objective when there’s trouble, and helps them to gain perspective. A leader with restraint is the kind of person who doesn’t have a lot of emotional ups and downs – they are calm, and reasonable. For leaders to thrive in a crisis and overcome daily challenges, they need to cultivate these qualities. It’s important not only to surviving and thriving, but helping your organization stay focused and get things done.
Many leaders communicate the what, but not the why. They fail to connect with hearts and minds. If they could do this, they would ignite people who long to be part of something greater than themselves and to contribute to the greater good.
Three qualities of executive presence that CEOs need to have in spades are Vision (painting an inspiring, enterprise wide picture of what could be; Authenticity (the ability to be real, genuine, transparent and sincere) and Humility (openness to others ideas and a belief that everyone has something to contribute).
Confidence, the way we measure it, is what others see in us. The good news from our research is that very often, people see you as a confident leader, even if you have some doubts. We define confidence in our model of executive presence as being self0assured in decision making and action, being ready to accept risk and responsibility, and taking action in a timely way. As leaders, we need to evaluate the risks, accept responsibility and make the call. This has a powerful impact on those around us and helps us foster a confident organization.
The 5 qualities of Character in our research are the ones that matter most in inspiring trust.
- Authenticity is the quality of being transparent and sincere which enables others to trust that who they see is who they get.
- Integrity is the quality of being true to your values and maintaining high standards of promise keeping – which gives others confidence they work for an organization that does the right thing
- Concern means demonstrating interest in others – which promotes a healthy, sustainable culture
- Restraint is being reasonable and calm – which gives others the confidence they can come to the leader with anything
- Humility enables a leader to encourage others to speak up because all people have something to contribute – when we believe others respect our views we trust them and want to be part of their organizations
Body language matters because as human beings we’re wired to interpret what we see. Our brains are sophisticated which is why in our research we affirmed that you can’t fake these qualities of executive presence. You need to look and act the part of an able leader, adapt your dress and demeanor to the situation, and show up looking energized. This matters because that energy has an impact on everyone around you.
We like to say it’s important for the leader to stand out by fitting in perfectly. A professional image is a way of communicating respect for oneself and others. There are rules for professional dress, of course, which flex depending upon the situation (business professional, business casual, formal, etc.) but once you know the rules, you add the flair that is yours alone.
Appearance is one of the 15 qualities of presence because of course, it matters! We communicate who we are through professional image, and these non-verbal messages also provide others with insights about other aspects of our presence. Being “on trend” in our wardrobe choices can help others see us as Visionary; being attuned to the right wardrobe choice for the right day indicates Resonance; an appropriately polished, put-together image conveys Confidence. That’s why it’s important for a leader to appreciate what message he or she is sending, and to use his or her wardrobe as a communication tool.
In my view, great leaders have many of the qualities of executive presence in spades, but some we might guess would be “known” for one – Steve Jobs for Vision; Ronald Reagan for Confidence; Angela Merkel for Practical Wisdom; Pope Francis for Concern, Winston Churchill for Composure. I believe very often when the right leader appears at the right time it’s because they have a combination of strengths that are required at that moment.
Yes, they do! In the lead up to the primaries, the political pundits have been baffled by how “outsiders” like Trump and Sanders have captured the imaginations of the voters, and that personality seems to have trumped political stands on the issues. That’s because the American voter is looking first at the candidate who they believe has the qualities of leadership that matter to them. In times of change and challenge, it isn’t surprising that voters are responding to candidates they perceive as Authentic, Confident and Assertive. This isn’t to say that these are the only qualities that matter – but uncertain times are more likely to favor leaders who appear to have the answers. It could explain why even though people admire leaders with Composure, Concern, and Humility, that these qualities have not been the ones in this election cycle that people have responded to most.
I was a television news reporter and anchor in my first career, so I learned a lot about the power of presence being on camera every night. What I discovered was that appearance mattered, of course, but the people I most admired conveyed qualities of presence like Integrity, Confidence, and Humility – these qualities came through in their verbal and non-verbal communication – you can’t fool the camera – these lessons were the ones I carried with me when I began to work with leaders and to appreciate what separated the good from the great.
It’s important to have people around you who can reflect back what they see in you – to have mentors, peers, and advisors who will honestly share feedback. Embrace feedback early and often in your career, and take it upon yourself to develop as a leader. Through your career, you’ll hit many inflection points – when you’ll need people around you to help you keep growing. Look at leadership as a life-long journey – the best leaders keep learning all their lives.
One of the interesting findings in our analysis of the data is that many of the qualities leaders need to develop are the social emotional qualities – being attentive to others, connecting and responding, demonstrating interest in them, and taking time to understand and deepen alignment. As we study the phenomenon and work with leaders we’re learning more and more about how to accelerate the leader’s development in these areas.
Organizations need to see leaders as individuals, and create leadership development opportunities that enable them to work on their specific areas of development. There are no one-size-fits all solutions to developing great leaders. That’s why the ExPI doesn’t put leaders in a box, or label them, as many assessments do. We know that when leaders get accurate data and specific advice about how to influence and make an impact, it make a big impact, and helps the entire organization thrive.