Coach’s Corner Blog

What is Executive Presence and How Do I Get Some?

June 12, 2018 by 4 Comments

Executive Presence

Years ago, I had a thirtysomething client who was promoted to a very important and influential role. She had a fantastic work ethic, was well-versed in her area of specialty, managed external relationships well for the firm and remains genuinely a very nice person.

Part of my coaching with her in this new role was to help her figure out how to be more successful. She had all the attributes to continue to progress in her career except for one behavior that was mentioned in my 360° interviews.

Although she knew her stuff, there was room for improvement in her style of presenting in meetings and groups and it boiled down to her executive presence.

Executive presence is a term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and so I did some research. One name I came up with most frequently had to do with the work of Suzanne Bates at Bates Communication.

Through extensive research and dialogue, she has determined the following are the key elements of executive presence:

The 15 Qualities of Executive Presence

  • Character: authenticity, integrity, concern, restraint, humility
  • Substance: practical wisdom, confidence, composure, resonance, vision
  • Style: appearance, intentionality, interactivity, inclusiveness, assertiveness

According to these qualities, my client had opportunities for growth in the areas of:

  • confidence (self assured in decision making and action),
  • composure (steady in a crisis and able to bring objectivity to critical decisions),
  • resonance (connecting and responsive with others and deepens alignment), and;
  • assertiveness (speaking up and valuing constructive conflict).

On all other qualities, she rated very well and so we knew what we should focus on. She was a true subject matter expert so, it was all about her manner and that can be enhanced.

This description of executive presence may seem somewhat academic, and it is based on substantial research, but it does require some explaining.

An Air of Gravitas

I had another client years ago who became Chairman of a very successful company. He was a very accomplished leader in one key area of the firm but was somewhat unfamiliar with this firm’s largest line of business.

When he addressed this group, his style seemed stiff and uncomfortable. He reached out to the head of that group who was an outstanding speaker. That individual provided coaching to the chairman that proved extremely valuable and as his confidence grew, it lent him an air of gravitas when he spoke.

Today I would say he is an excellent speaker and is always on his game when talking about the success of his company and his vision for it.

Gravitas* is a Latin word that means high seriousness. In more general terms these are the elements of what is meant by a speaker who demonstrates gravitas:

  • Confident and graceful under pressure
  • Decisive
  • Acts with Integrity – speaks truth to power
  • Emotionally Intelligent
  • Has earned a Reputation and Standing in their field
  • Has Vision and can be Charismatic
  • Has an attractive personal presence; dresses well and is well groomed.

* Adapted from Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success

Let me be clear that speaking or handling yourself with gravitas is not just done from a podium or in front of a room. It can be from a conference room table, in a small group or even one on one.

It is a style that seems to command respect but is respectful of others as well. You can have gravitas without respecting others, but you won’t be thought of as much of a leader.

I would say that all these elements have one thing in common – they can all be learned and developed over time.

To improve, you must have feedback as the Chairman of the firm I spoke of had received. Fortunately for him, the person who gave the feedback was also a very good coach.

The very best leaders will all give credit to whomever they learned their craft from – be it a mentor, boss, trainer or coach. Don’t be afraid to ask how they developed their skills. Awareness first and then skill development.

Ask yourself:

  • How satisfied are you that you project the executive presence / gravitas you feel capable of?
  • Can you identify any of the qualities of executive presence that you feel you might lack?
  • Are you willing to seek constructive feedback along your path to develop this key set of skills?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments. Good luck in developing your executive presence.

Filed Under Miscellaneous


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    John Carlucci June 13, 2018, 1:59 pm

    Well done. A good reminder of need and process of lifelong learning.

    Also enjoyed this gem. “You can have gravitas without respecting others, but you won’t be thought of as much of a leader.’ or person 🙂


      Willy June 13, 2018, 6:17 pm

      Thanks for the comments. I am glad this connected with you and I meant that sentence to be especially meaningful. I hope all is well with you.



    Sara Davenport June 13, 2018, 2:46 pm

    While they are all inspiring and educational, this message really spoke to me. Not always easy to
    identify and sometimes sensitive to discuss with a client, you break down Gravitas/Executive Presence in an accessible, constructive manner. Well done! Thank you for your wisdom, Willy, and for continuing to share it with us!


      Willy June 13, 2018, 6:15 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. I am glad this resonated with you. Hope all is well.



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