Fewer researchers have empirically investigated behaviors and characteristics associated with “Executive Presence” than the number of consultants offering recommendations on how to develop this quality and its potential association with career advancement.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Communication, “Gravitas”, and Appearance were associated with “executive presence” 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, uncovered more elements than Hewitt’s proposed triad of qualities.
They found that most executives described as having “presence” were men, reinforcing Hewitt’s assertion that women interested in career advancement should focus on conveying executive presence attributes to observers.
Dagley and Gaskin identified ten characteristics including those mentioned by Hewitt.
The first five characteristics are based on first impressions 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.
The final five attributes derive from evaluations over time during repeated contacts:
- 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.
Philippe De Backer
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 to purportedly related 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,
Most people assume a relationship between “executive presence” and career “success,” even if the causal connection has not been demonstrated.
However, University of Nebraska’s Fred Luthans and Stuart Rosenkrantz with Richard M. Hodgetts of Florida International University investigated this relationship by observing nearly 300 managers from various 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.
Luthans and team identified these managers as “successful” leaders because they advanced more rapidly than “effective” managers, measured by participants’ organizational level compare 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 human resource activities including:
- Managing conflict,
- Training/developing team members,
- Communicating by exchanging information,
- Processing paperwork.
Their subordinates reported more positive attitudes and behaviors than subordinates of “successful” managers for:
- Job satisfaction,
- Organizational commitment,
- High team performance quality,
- High team performance quantity.
Differences in advancement and subordinate reactions to “successful” and “effective” managers appear related to differing managerial behaviors.
“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% of volunteers were among the top third of both successful managers and effective managers.
These findings can lead to discouragement and cynicism, noting that effective managers who support employee performance may not be rewarded with advancement as rapidly as managers who prioritize their career over that of their employees.
These studies suggest that gravitas, communication, and political acumen may explain the gender difference for perceived “executive presence.”
Women who aspire to organizational advancement seem to benefit from cultivating both gravitas and proactive networking to complement communication and interpersonal skills.
-*Which behaviors and characteristics are essential to “Executive Presence”?