Cultivating Executive Presence: What it is, Why you need it and 5 steps to get it!

I have a purposeful walk. I have heard this statement many times in my life and sometimes I reflect on how my walk is perceived as purposeful. My head is held high, my gait is quick and I am often not taking in all of my surroundings. I have somewhere to go and I am focused on getting there. People perceive that I am in alignment with my purpose to get there.

But what if my response to the statement was, “Really? I don’t have anywhere to be. I was just walking.” 

The observer who made the comment about my purposeful walk may feel uneasy.  My cavalier response may cause them to question my authenticity. Social science has taught us that when we meet someone, we almost instantaneously begin to create stories about them. We are experts at reading faces and stereotyping based on appearance. But we don’t often discuss that we are also perceiving how aligned someone is with their authentic self. If we meet someone dressed in a formal wear we assign them a certain amount of power and influence. Inside this person may be feeling insecure, tired, or otherwise off, but if they maintain eye contact and have a firm handshake, we buy into their power.

This is the foundation of executive presence.

When we are aligned with the image we project, we have presence that is experienced by another human being. I’m not sure how many of you watched Mad Men in it’s heyday..if you did, you know that Don Draper sets the gold standard for executive presence. He embodies power and influence even if he was not feeling it inside.

Now that we know what executive presence is, how do we cultivate it? 

5 tips to cultivate Executive Presence:

  1. Understand the image you are portraying: Impressions matter so it makes sense to first understand what kind of image we are projecting. You can start by dressing the part like when Mark Zuckerberg showed up as a CEO to testify before congress wearing a suit instead of his Silicon Valley hoody.
  2. Bring your ideas as yourself: Talk about things that matter to you. Authenticity is felt by others and if you are talking about something you care or know little about the person on the other end will feel it. Prepare your own talking points in advance based on your unique perspective. Share how you see the world with others.
  3. Fake it until you Become It: Researcher Amy Cuddy, Ph.D. has studied thousands of students in a lab asking them to take a “power pose” to enhance their feeling of power and become more effective communicators. When participants take a power pose, expanding their physical body, their cortisol (stress hormone) decreases and their testosterone (power hormone) increases putting them at ease to take a risk.  This opportunity to be powerful and risk tolerant allows someone to be more articulate and successful in social situations. Amy further asserts that our bodies shape our minds and that practicing power posing can help build self-esteem and gain more personal power in social situations. Check out her TED talk here.
  4. Quiet that inner critic: Have a conversation with your inner critic to discover the negative truth it is affirming such as, “I don’t have the right degree or certification to do this job.” Then ask your inner advocate to give you an equally true statement that is positive such as, “I have more than enough experience to do this.” Share your positive truth with a trusted mentor or colleague or practice saying it aloud in a mirror. This practice refocuses your brain on what is good/working instead of what is negative/not working. Over time, you develop more of your wise advocate and quiet the critic.
  5. Connect with your audience: Powerful communication is far more than one-sided delivery. You audience needs to feel like they matter to you and are engaged. You can engage your audience by asking questions, gathering feedback and reading verbal and non-verbal cues. When you are connecting with your audience you can change your cadence, tone or words to match their needs and become a more effective communicator and leader.

Accessing Passion is Tricky Business

Passion has been a buzzword in the field of coaching for a long time, yet very rarely does a client show up at my door brimming with passion, ready to put it into action. A direct question about passion is often met with a blank stare from my clients who struggle to find something, anything that lights them up.

Most of us feel overwhelmed when asked about our passion. We may also feel stuck, trapped or anxious. Our creative brain can literally freeze and shut down due to the complexity of the passion question. It just feels too big to answer. Moreover, most people think there is something wrong with them if they do not know what they are passionate about or what their purpose is.

So how do we turn our creative brain back on and find some possibilities for a passion-filled life? Here are four ways to start:

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Are you a Multipotentialite?

This morning I was having a conversation with my daughter about college classes as some of her older cousins are going off to college in the Fall. She was wondering how many different classes you could take each semester and suggested that you could take classes in your major and your minor. I suggested the idea of taking a class just because you may be interested in the subject and she informed me that this was not allowed…she is eleven.

How does my daughter at age eleven already feel that you have to choose a course of study in college and follow that course into the world of work?

Cultural norms support the idea that we have one purpose; that we are meant to do one important thing here on this earth over and over again until we achieve mastery. This general cultural bias towards specialization leaves out the opportunity for one to experience a broad range of possibilities.

In some of us, it creates anxiety over the consequences of choosing the wrong major, or taking the wrong job, or wanting to switch career paths in midlife. What if you want to study many subjects or have many careers or would like to pursue many interests? 

What if you’re an e-Ticket kind of person who just wants to do it all!! 

Well, you may be a Multipotentialite: A person with many interests and creative pursuits. And for you, there are likely many paths.

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Have You Met the New You? Updating Your Operating System for the New Year

A new operating system comes out and we rush to update our devices, but what about ourselves?  Are we integrating the newest version of us? This holiday season with all of the rushing around, try to take some time out to update yourself before jumping into a New Year.

Now, you may be one who waits to install the update until you see how it works for others or until the bugs are all worked out. Or maybe you feel you have always been doing something the same way and it is working out for you, like that old chocolate chip cookie recipe that makes everyone happy.  If this is sincerely the case, then keep on doing it the same way! But if you want to do something different or want a different result, you have to update your data to the new you. You have new life experience, new information, new preferences and even new values.  You may wish to work with new people or in a new environment.

Don’t bring the old you to a new situation. Update your operating system before the New Year!

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Are You a Free Agent?

Are you tired of working hard for a company that lacks good leadership?

Are you disenchanted working for an organization that doesn’t share your values, but not quite ready to go it alone?  

I work with many people who are considering working for themselves to make work more fulfilling, but the solitary path is not an easy one and it is certainly not for everyone. For many workers who are feeling stuck, there is a growing movement called the Free Agent economy. Free agents are people who work in flexible environments and set up their own work rules.  They can operate within larger companies on a contract basis, or they can be self-employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 40% of all U.S. workers now operate on a part-time or contract basis.

What exactly is a “free agent” and what is the advantage of being one?

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Taking the Hit as a Gift

The Hit

About three months ago, my husband was unexpectedly laid off.  It was a huge blow for him and our family as we were unprepared for this situation.  However, as the news started to sink in, I found myself strangely happy and relieved.  I saw his layoff as gift; it presented an opportunity for him to find a more positive environment where his skills and expertise would be utilized and he would feel challenged.

My aikido teacher, George Leonard, called this awareness, “taking the hit as a gift.”  At various times in life we all receive “hits.”  They can take the form of injury or accident, relationship struggles, career pitfalls, family crises or disappointments.  Some are more forceful than others.  When we receive the hit and label it as “bad” or “negative” we lose the opportunity to grow.  If we receive the hit and look at it as a “gift” we can open up to the possibility to change a pattern, belief, behavior or relationship in our life that is no longer serving us.  We are empowered by this wake-up-call to act in a way that improves our health and wholeness thus embracing the pain or challenge for what it is…an opportunity.

Here are a couple of ways that you can take your next “hit” as a gift:

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Setting Goals that Stick

Have you ever set a goal in the waning hours of the year that seemed doable at the time, but fizzled out around mid-January?  Something like, “this year I will smile more, spend more time with my friends and be easier on myself” or “this year I will save more money.”  These are all worthy goals, but what do they really mean? Are goals like this serving your growth?  And can you stick to them?

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Testimonials Help Transitions

Fall equinox marks more than the changing of seasons for many parents.  With kids back in school and a solid routine in place, we have more time to take care of ourselves and refocus our energy on our goals. I typically welcome this time to invigorate my coaching practice.  This year, however, as I began planning workshops, speaking engagements and accepting more clients, I felt a sense of doubt that I was still a good coach.

I’ve had doubts about my effectiveness as a coach before and a few public speaking-induced panic attacks, but I can usually quiet these fears with

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Positive Procrastination

My house is never cleaner than when I have something really important to do. I am like a Tasmanian devil of de-cluttering and cleaning. I have a standing excuse that I need an uncluttered environment to think, but deep down I feel more benefits to procrastination than a clean work space. Here are a few:

  • You get to put off unpleasant tasks in favor of more enjoyable things
  • Problems may end up getting solved without any effort from you
  • You can delay challenging decisions to gather more information
  • Open space and time enhance creativity
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Making a Change? Get an Accountability Partner

About six months ago, I was faced with the challenge of how to grow my business through social media. I had just walked out of an inspiring seminar armed with information on Facebook pages, Twitter handles and LinkedIn profiles…I was ready to get to work! But a few weeks later, I had not made any progress toward my goal. I flipped back through my notes from the seminar and found a scrawled notation in the margin: “get an accountability partner!” An accountability partner is someone

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