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Do you have executive presence at work? Do you even know what it is?

If you’ve been passed over for a promotion lately and you don’t know why, you might be lacking executive presence.

And even though you’re successful and considered an expert in your field, commanding attention and getting to the next level seems elusive.

Your executives struggle to see you as one of them.

So, what is executive presence?

This is the ability to maturely project self-confidence in a way that others can easily envision you as someone ready for the next level, or even higher.


It's a combination of personal traits and outward behaviors that create an image of leadership, competence, and trustworthiness to those around you.

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Whether you like it or not, you're constantly displaying your traits to those around you, both positive and negative.

Like a car in the showroom, you may possess the reliability to always start and get from Point A to Point B comfortably, but another car edges you out.

Is it because the other car’s paint has more luster and sheen than yours? It’s all about recognizing those finishing touches that give you the edge over your competition.


Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the author of "Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success," defines executive presence as the way one acts (gravitas), speaks (communication skills), and looks (appearance).

It’s likely that subconsciously, you’ve picked up some quirks in your actions, words, and outward style.

How do you know if you have executive presence?

When you possess executive presence, you’re more than a go-to person in your area of expertise. You're also able to provide advice you can stand behind as well as interact professionally with executives without being overly deferential.

When you sense that they are beginning to see you as a peer, you may already possess executive presence.


Here are 3 ways to develop your executive presence so you have more confidence at work.

1. Find a leader you admire.

One of the best ways to begin your pursuit toward a more senior role is to consider leaders who you admire. They may be someone you know personally, a composite of many leaders, or even a celebrity or historical figure.

What do you like about them? What is it about the way they carry themselves that exudes a leadership presence? What are their manners of speaking and interacting that make you feel that this is a person you would follow?

What is it about their appearance and dress that projects the confidence of a leader? Which of these qualities could you authentically emulate?

2. Seek a mentor.

A mentor is a few steps ahead of you on the career path. Perhaps, this is the person you admire most as a leader. They have more years of both practice and experience and are at or near the top of their game.


When they veered slightly from the path, they made corrections before heading for the bushes. If they did spend time in the bushes, they learned from it, picked themselves up, and got back on the path.

You can learn from their success and their slip-ups. It’s also likely they would honor the opportunity to support a protégé seeking executive presence.

3. Work with a coach.

Working with a coach can provide you with the feedback and accountability you need to help you stand out in the competitive career showroom.

Through active listening, observation, and in-session exercises like role-playing, your coach can help you discover the clarity to focus on the areas that need a little extra buffing.


The weekly action steps you co-design with your coach will provide you a series of small successes as your confidence builds.

Experience, degrees, certificates, and credentials all count, but those are often not what opens the door to the next-level leadership opportunity.

Having executive presence means you recognize the impact that gravitas, communication, and appearance can have on whether the people at the top see you as a confident executive ready for the next big role.

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Can executive presence be learned?

It's possible to unlearn bad habits and replace them with new ways to show up and interact at work.


You can decide whether polishing the rough spots in your actions, speech, and the way you carry yourself is worth the bit of focused effort and determination it takes.

Even if it feels like you have a lot to work on, you can reinvent yourself.

With focused effort, you can overcome feelings of being passed over as you work toward a more confident and refined future. People are more likely to remember how you finished.

Start by gaining some clarity and precision on both the lackluster areas in need of a shine, even areas where some deeper bodywork is required.

Behavior and Track Record

Temperament: Do your colleagues, direct reports, and bosses cringe when the stress increases, not knowing whether you’ll lose your cool?


Show up late: Do you blow off meetings or show up late, offering a weak excuse?

Trustworthiness: Do you follow through with the things you said you’d do?

Conversation and Situational Awareness

Uptalk: Does every sentence you speak sound like it needs a question mark at the end?

Not enough or too much: Do you like to talk? A lot? Or, are you known for being quiet in general and offering little in meetings?

Inappropriate conversations: Do you talk a lot about your personal life at work?

Reading the room: Do you possess the self-awareness to read the room? Can you accurately sense how you are perceived?


Attire and Decor

Clothes and office culture clash: Do you adhere to corporate dress codes or do you often dress casually while the higher-ups are more buttoned-down?

Do you dress like your peers, or a level or two higher, or do you dress like you have an iron deficiency (the kind that removes wrinkles)?

Environment: Does your office décor send the message that you’d rather be somewhere else? For example, is it plastered with vacation photos or purely personal pursuits? What books, framed photos and certificates, and other peripheries are visible in your workspace?

If you work from home and participate in video meetings, what story does the space behind you tell others on the call? If you use a digital background with Zoom, is it professional-looking?


How well you act, speak, and look in the workplace can be difficult to measure.

If you possess the self-awareness to recognize the need for fine-tuning your executive presence, you’re ready to get started.

Once you have a handle on where you are, you can take steps to move toward the executive presence you desire.

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Brent Roy, PCC, CPLC, a certified executive, career and personal development coach, works with men and women who want to increase their confidence and boost their executive presence to prepare them for promotion or a new career. For more helpful content like this, visit his website, www.brentroy.com.