You can feel it when you see it.

The aura, comportment, carriage, girded with practical wisdom and competence, qualities that seem natural to people who you see leading successfully.

Usually, you find these people inspiring, with their exceptional ability to communicate what matters, carry everyone along, and challenge teammates to reach out for more than themselves. You see it in the way they handle themselves and others in crisis situations, and you marvel at the ease of their dexterity. Suave, that’s how you describe them, and though you may not be able to define in words what exactly it is, you know something is different about the men and women who possess and exude these qualities. It’s called executive presence.

In this article, we will discuss what it means to have executive presence, consider why it is important in your career, and briefly state some practices that will help you build it.


Different attempts have been made to define the concept of executive presence. These two definitions, however, stand out:

“Executive presence is your ability to inspire confidence-inspiring confidence in your subordinates that you’re the leader they want to follow, inspiring confidence among peers that you’re capable and reliable and, most importantly, inspiring confidence among senior leaders that you have the potential for great achievements.” – Gary Valentine

 “The ability of the leader to engage, align, inspire, and move people to act.” – Suzanne Bates

Both definitions point at certain vital elements of Executive presence: confidence, leadership, action-orientation and communication skills.

Executive presence is essentially communicated not only through words, but through how the executive acts, handles social and business affairs, and treats people.


Much of your progress in career is hinged on your ability to project executive presence.

People who have mastered executive presence are the ones who get to occupy positions of leadership.

Etiquette icon, Mavi Isibor, aptly sums up the need for executive presence: “Executive presence is about projecting your personality, and just like every viable, valuable, and needful product will die a normal death without being projected, so can your personality die if not projected properly.”


Mavi Isibor goes on to highlight three areas to pay attention to in building executive presence:

  • Appearance – a combination of appropriate dressing, carriage, and posture.
  • Demeanour – outward bearing or behavior that stems from an inner state.
  • Poise – your composure influenced by your sense of value.

Dann Albright shares four practices that will help you build and achieve the much needed executive presence:

  1. Practice Mindfulness – Mindfulness is the understanding of what’s happening in your mind without acting on it. It is a sense of self-awareness that enables you to maintain control.

Start a mindful journaling practice. Use a pen and paper, and spend 10 minutes each morning or evening writing down your thoughts. They can be business-related or not. Pay attention to how you feel about those thoughts and what that means for your leadership.

  • Build Good Daily habits: Habits like appropriate dressing, positive self-talk, checking your phone less, posture, thinking before talking, and identifying three primary tasks daily are examples of good habits that will help you achieve executive presence.

Identify one habit that you’d like to build, and make recurring calendar entries to remind yourself to take action. You don’t have to schedule something every day of the week. Even three days a week will help you build new habits.

  • Communicate Powerfully: Communication is a big part of executive presence. If you hedge a lot and use other “weak” communication practices, people will see you as less sure of yourself. And that undermines your persona.

Start being intentional about how you communicate. Get rid of hedges like “I think” and “Maybe we should.” Make sure that your instructions and requests are as clear as possible (usually this means using fewer words). Be polite, and say “please,” “thank you,” “sir,” “miss,” and “ma’am.”

And don’t be afraid of silence. Filling quiet spots in conversation with meaningless chatter makes you look less confident.

  • Build a Strong Network: Having a valuable network is great for any executive—but if you’re looking to establish your executive presence, it’s crucial.

How do you build this network? By being helpful. When someone at your company needs help, volunteer your time and effort. Go to networking events and conferences with the goal of finding someone who could use your expertise, and offers it freely.

Executive presence may be hard to pin down, but it isn’t impossible to achieve. Commit to the practice of it and soon you’ll find yourself taking the lead.


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