Take a second and think of a great leader. It could be a political figure, a sports team captain, or even a fictional superhero. What do they all have in common? What are the traits that set them apart? Is it the way they speak or the way they solve problems? Leadership is an essential component of success. But the traits that make a great leader are most often a combination of things. All these traits can be summarized as executive presence and influential leadership. Let us dive in and learn more.
Not every manager is a leader. A leader is someone who exudes poise, confidence, and overall respect. Establishing an executive presence is an art that has been mastered by very few. In a recent webinar hosted by Emeritus, two experts, Cesar Salas, Head of HRIS Implementation Americas at AP Moller-Maerskas, and Milton N Green, Jr, SPHR/certified Change Consultant, Sr. Human Resources Business Partner at TuSimple, discussed how the future looks for executive leadership. Read on to know what changes need to be adopted in order to be a successful leader in the new normal.
What is Executive Presence?
Salas: I have worked with managers at all levels. From first-line managers to CXOs, I have noticed what sets good leaders apart. Executive presence just doesn’t happen. It is a deliberate act that elevates one’s influence and personal branding. Successful leaders are highly effective influencers. They have a very commanding presence. It’s not like that of a dictator, there is a fine balance and good leaders know where to draw that line. They are compassionate and empathetic. This is very rare but extremely important and respected. Such leaders are also courageous and pushy.
Successful leaders also share a balance between business results and managing the people in the business, and those are the executives that really make the cut. Another couple of common traits I have noticed are great communication skills and being conscious about their appearance.
Green: When such leaders walk into a room they get noticed. People respect them because they want to, not just because they have to! They are people-oriented and highly empathetic. As they grow, they are more conscious of their actions and are aware of how to shape and influence organizational culture. They motivate, energize, and push employees toward strategic goals.
How Can Leaders Be More Influential?
Salas: In order for leaders to be influential in any organization, they need to first understand the employees. What are their pain points, needs, skills, accomplishments, interests, backgrounds, and more? This will not only help leaders be more effective and empathetic, but it will also help them tailor their style better. Having an open conversation with employees at all levels is a great place to start.
I was especially lucky to get some great leaders when I joined the corporate world 25 years ago. They were my mentors and taught me some of my biggest leadership lessons. The ability to understand and respect the strengths and weaknesses of my team members is on top of that list. Only a leader who connects well with the employees can be influential.
Green: You’ve got to be tuned in to what’s going on around you. Number one, look at the data and see what it tells you but spend some time walking the floor to get an honest opinion of what people are doing. Employees want to see you as a leader who is someone who is accessible, who is not someone up on a high horse. A good leader walks the floor and a great leader gets to know their people. Not only from the metrics but also from anecdotal information they’re getting from the people.
Can Executive Presence Impact an Organization’s Vision?
Green: It most definitely can! Leaders with executive presence spend time letting employees know how they fit into the larger vision. Once they have some ownership in that vision, team members will go to the wall for the company and that’s what you really, really want to get with your employees. Employees slowly understand how their position impacts the business.
Salas: It gives them more pride, it gives them a sense of what it is that this whole process of working is doing for them and doing for the organization. Once you can get people to understand that they are part of this whole wheel being put together, you can get people to do pretty much anything for you.
Again, you have to listen, you have to be empathetic, and you have to be respectful. Spend some time dealing with people directly one-on-one or in group settings and not be afraid to do those things that improve their well-being within the company. This will positively impact the organization’s vision as it improves employee morale.
How Can Leaders Develop Executive Presence?
Salas: When I use the word manager, I always mean someone who manages people and leads them toward an end goal. As a leader, we sometimes get so busy (and lost) helping others that we forget to focus on ourselves. But you have to work on yourself also. As a leader especially because it’s not that you just go to a training on ‘How to be a leader’ and you’re done. It is an ongoing process and you need to stay abreast of everything happening in the organization, as well as the sector and global marketplace.
Green: While working on your personal growth and development, you will make a lot of mistakes. This is perfectly normal. Educating yourself, going to seminars, joining leadership communities, reading relevant articles and books, and always being open to continuous learning. It all starts with a fair amount of humility. Companies can no longer focus only on results. Executives need to understand what their workforce wants and needs if they wish to meet and break targets. You should be open to feedback, the good, bad, and the ugly. A couple of ways to measure your effectiveness as leaders are engagement surveys and focus groups.
The 5 C’s of Executive Presence
- Composure – It’s the ability to control emotions and respond to situations professionally. Composure in the workplace is an important characteristic for managing unexpected situations and the emotions of team members.
- Connection – Connection refers to the interpersonal skills that you can use to develop professional relationships and encourage productivity.
- Confidence – Executive confidence is the ability to engage in daily responsibilities in a self-assured manner. This includes exerting boldness and composure when leading or attending meetings, conducting presentations, or interacting with team members.
- Credibility – Credibility refers to the method by which you communicate messages to others. It also includes the processes by which you gather information and credit sources. People listen to an executive not only because of their powerful communication skills, but because they believe they’re qualified to present the information.
- Charisma – Charisma is your ability to engage others and encourage them to trust and rely on you. It encompasses powerful communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal. It encourages people to engage with you and look up to you.
What is the Future of Executive Presence and Leadership?
In a recent study by MIT, only 10% of working professionals felt that their leaders had the required skill sets to lead and ensure that their companies would thrive in the current economic conditions. In another survey of CEOs by Fortune, only 7% believed their companies were building effective global leaders. This shows the need for upskilling. Automation, big data, and artificial intelligence are taking over the world. The leaders of tomorrow need to improve their technical skills in order to stay relevant. Being confident, capable, and credible are vital aspects of executive leadership.
Salas: Fundamentally, leadership has not changed. The core skills and traits are the same. There are just new layers of complexity pushing leaders to be more agile and flexible with remote employees, understand technology, encourage innovation, etc.
Green: Being a leader has never been easy. Somebody who is ambitious, and not afraid to fail. and really willing to step out of their comfort zone. There is never a better time to get started. That’s my only advice to those looking to enter the world of leadership.
Emeritus, in collaboration with the world’s best universities, offers top leadership courses. We understand that organizations today are complex and difficult to manage. Master the art of executive presence, and create sustainable strategies to drive business innovation and long-term growth. Check out the entire portfolio of leadership courses here.
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By Manasa Ramakrishnan
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