What behaviors and characteristics are associated with “Executive Presence?”
Communication, “Gravitas”, and Appearance were most-frequently cited attributes in a study by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation.
Interviews with 34 professionals, conducted by Perspex Consulting’s Gavin Dagley and Cadeyrn J. Gaskin, formerly of Deakin University, identified more elements than Hewitt’s proposed triad of qualities.
Most executives described as having “presence” were men, and five “presence” characteristics were observable during initial contact:
- Status and reputation, similar to “gravitas” discussed by Hewitt,
- Physical appearance, also mentioned by Hewitt,
- Communication ability, included in Hewitt’s “presence” triad,
- Interpersonal engagement skills.
Five additional presence attributes emerge during repeated contacts that lead to evaluations over time:
- Interpersonal integrity,
- Intellect and expertise,
- Outcome delivery,
- Coercive power.
These qualities combine in different ways to form four presence “archetypes”:
- Positive presence, based on favorable impressions of confidence, communication, appearance, and engagement skills plus favorable evaluations of values, intellect, and expertise,
- Unexpected presence, linked to unfavorable impressions of confidence plus favorable evaluations of intellect, expertise, and values,
- Unsustainable presence combines favorable impressions of confidence, status, reputation, communication, and engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values and integrity,
- “Dark presence” is associated with unfavorable perceptions of engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values, integrity, and coercive use of power.
Another typology of executive presence characteristics was identified by Sharon V. Voros and Bain’s Philippe de Backer.
They prioritized elements in order of importance for life outcomes:
- Focus on long term, strategic drivers,
- Charisma, combining confidence, intensity, commitment, plus demeanor of care, concern and interest in others,
- Communication skills,
- Cultural fit,
University of Nebraska’s Fred Luthans and Stuart Rosenkrantz with Richard M. Hodgetts of Florida International University investigated the relationship between “executive presence” and career “success.”
They observed nearly 300 managers across levels at large and small mainstream organizations as they:
- Engaged in “traditional management” activities, including planning, decision making, controlling,
- Managed human resource issues.
Communication and interpersonal skills elements of presence, coupled with intentional networking and political acumen enabled managers to rapidly advance in their organizations.
These managers were identified as “successful” leaders because they advanced more rapidly than “effective” managers, measured by participants’ organizational level compared with their organizational tenure.
In contrast, “effective” managers demonstrated greater managerial skill than “successful” managers, but were not promoted as quickly.
“Effective” managers spent most time managing employees’ activities including:
- Managing conflict,
- Training/developing team members,
- Communicating by exchanging information,
- Processing paperwork.
Subordinates of “effective” managers reported more:
“Successful” managers spent little time in managerial activities, but invested more effort in networking, socializing, politicking, and interacting with outsiders.
Their networking activities were most strongly related to career advancement but weakly associated with “effectiveness.”
Few managers were both “successful” and “effective”: Only about 10% were among the top third of both successful managers and effective managers.
This suggests that effective managers who support employee performance may not be advance as rapidly as managers who prioritize their own career over their employees’ careers.
Gender differences in gravitas, communication, and political acumen may explain why men more often are seen as possessing “executive presence.”
Women who aspire to organizational advancement benefit from cultivate both gravitas and proactive networking to complement communication and interpersonal skills.
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