Executive Presence: “Gravitas”, Communication…and Appearance?

Executive Presence is intuitively considered essential to effectively execute key leadership roles.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, economist, prolific researcher and CEO of Center for Talent Innovation, conducted 18 focus groups and 60 interviews to systematically investigate behavioral and attitudinal aspects of “Executive Presence” (EP).

She acknowledged that organizational advancement assumes knowledge, skill, competence, and “authenticity” tempered with “cultural fit.”
Interviewees opined that three elements are crucial components of “Executive Presence,” required for advancement to highest organizational levels, and estimated that  “EP” accounts for more than a quarter of factors that determine a next promotion:Executive Presence

  •  “Gravitas” – Authoritative Behavior
    • Confidence, composure
    • Decisiveness
    • Integrity
    • Emotional Intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, interpersonal skills
    • Clear personal “brand” reputation
    • Vision for leadership
    • Communication
      • Strong speaking skills  – Voice tone, clear articulation, grammatical speech convey competence, credibility

        • Racially-biased comments
        • Off-color jokes
        • Crying
        • Swearing
        • Flirting
        • Scratching
        • Avoiding eye contact
        • Rambling
        • Giggling
        • Speaking shrilly
        • Posting critical or provocative online content
  • Presence”, “bearing”,  “charisma” including assertiveness, humor, and humility
  • Ability to sense audience engagement, emotion, interests
  • Appearance
    • Attention to grooming, posture
    • Physical attractiveness, normal weight
    • Well-maintained, professional attire

Executive Presence - MonarthHarrison Monarth, author of Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO, emphasized “Image Management” via communication and self-marketing skills:

  • Creating and maintaining a compelling personal “brand” to influence others’ perceptions and willingness to collaborate
  • Managing online reputation, and recovering when communications go awry
  • Effectively persuading those who disagree, and gaining followers
  • Demonstrating “Emotional Intelligence” skills of self-awareness, awareness of others (empathic insight)

Monarth emphasized appearance’s importance less than Hewlett and Stanford legal scholar Deborah Rhode, whose The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law, reported long-standing findings of the “Halo Effect” – that appearance and non-verbal behavior influence available options for education, relationships, career advancement, salary negotiation, social status, and other life opportunities.

The Beauty BiasRhode estimated that annual world-wide investment in appearance is close to $200 billion in 2010 currency, and she contended that bias based on appearance:

  • Is prevalent
  • Infringes on individuals’ fundamental rights
  • Compromises merit principles
  • Reinforces negative stereotypes
  • Compounds disadvantages facing members of non-dominant races, classes, and gender.

“Executive Presence” is widely recognized as a prerequisite for leadership roles, yet its components have remained loosely-defined until systematic investigation by Hewlett’s team, Monarth’s consulting-based approach, and Rhode’s legal analysis.

-*Which elements seem most essential to “Executive Presence”?

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6 thoughts on “Executive Presence: “Gravitas”, Communication…and Appearance?

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