According to a new study from the Center for Talent Innovation, 268 senior executives cited executive presence, or being perceived as leadership material, as an essential component to getting ahead. In fact, executive presence accounted for, on average, 25 percent of what it takes to get promoted. Co-sponsored by Marie Claire, the research initiative was led by my colleague Sylvia Hewlett, who often studies the barriers faced by women in achieving workplace equality.
Executive presence: the two magic words
Apparently, the desire for work/life balance and other oft-cited female challenges are not actually the reasons so few women make it to the C suite. The principal factor women are neglecting is executive presence. The majority of female executives don’t understand it and don’t know how to display it effectively.
According to the study, the three areas that comprise executive presence are:
- Gravitas: The ability to project confidence, poise under pressure, and decisiveness. Sixty-seven percent of senior executives surveyed cited gravitas as the core characteristic of executive presence.
- Communication: includes excellent speaking skills, assertiveness, and the ability to read an audience or situation. Twenty-eight percent of surveyed executives felt that good communication telegraphs that you’re leadership material.
- Appearance: While how you look and dress does affect your executive presence, it’s not nearly as critical as the first two factors. Only 5 percent of the executives thought appearance was the #1 consideration in the decision to promote.
In addition to having a strong executive presence, sounding educated is essential if you want to ascend to the next level. Nearly sixty percent of executives felt that unprofessional, uninformed speech detracts from executive presence.
Good news: Executive presence can be learned
Professionals of every age should think carefully about how they can hone executive presence. A leadership course like Dale Carnegie is often very effective, or you might invest in a speaking or career coach who can help you objectively evaluate and improve upon your strengths and weaknesses.
When you receive feedback on your executive presence, listen and take it seriously. If the comments aren’t universally positive, don’t get offended. Recognize that the person is only trying to help you and that your promotability will be enhanced in the long-run. No one is perfect, but the most successful leaders learn as we go along.