Today, it’s crucial for aspiring leaders to understand that skills, ambition and drive are only the starting blocks. Executive Presence is essential, not optional, a must-have. Instead of narrowly focusing on productivity or technical skills, aspiring leaders must prove they are adept at interacting and communicating across every organizational level. In other words, they must-have EP.
A would-be leader without EP is like a car without an engine
Outwardly both appear functional but the all-important, critical pieces are missing.
To take them where they want to go, aspiring leaders must learn to drive the complex engine of communication skills and engagement expertise that comprise Executive Presence.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett,* the long-standing proponent of EP, describes its essence as “the missing link between merit and success.” EP sends a clear signal: this person has what it takes to lead.
In her widely acclaimed book, Executive Presence, Hewlett describes a University of London study that illustrates those with, and without it. The study showed that when large audiences watched silent videos of pianists performing in international competitions, they selected winners more frequently than people who watched and listened to the sound track. The winning competitors could communicate expertise and passion through body language and facial expressions.
This is precisely the dynamic that emerging leaders, like the winning pianists, must consistently convey to engage and communicate their potential. EP training ensures aspiring leaders understand the fundamentals – but the real work has just begun. How does the pianist get to Carnegie Hall? With practice, practice and more practice. Not just the technical part – the music – but the presence, authority, body language. In other words, constantly applying EP’s principles, so that with time, these “must-have” actions become second nature.
The resistance movement
Occasionally, during corporate EP training sessions, we encounter participants who are resistant to its value, role and application. How do we identify these resistors? The greatest marker is negative body language. Surprisingly, the body language segment can be the turning point for these participants. When they realize we can actually read emotions, that what they think portrays confidence comes across as arrogance, for example, they begin to see the merit of training.
Or, an a-ha moment may take place when they can’t demonstrate how a presentation should be structured, based on the previous day’s training. It’s amazing to watch all the negative energy become positive, immediately following these personal wake-up calls.
The millennial perspective
For new hires and recruits, Professional Presence is a “must-have.” Although many are excited or even thrilled with the concept of professional development, there are detractors. Typically, they flaunt the adage, “I want to be judged on my own merit. Period.”
We explain that when starting a career, with no experience and little more than a degree, it’s critical to signal commitment at every opportunity. When people act like they don’t care, and one of the biggest betrayers is an untidy and poorly groomed appearance, they send a message of indifference.
Takeaway: Qualifications alone do not advance a career
The greatest insight EP training provides to both millennials and more seasoned, aspiring leaders is the recognition that their credentials, degrees and technical knowledge provide only the foundation. Qualifications alone do not advance a career. A solid foundation, however, is essential to build on. Once this base is in place, just like erecting a building, supports are added and construction begins. When aspiring leaders at every level understand that EP supports their foundation and provides a framework to build on, they eagerly apply its principles to achieve their goals.
In today’s competitive workplace, considering EP as nice-to-have or an option entirely misses the point. EP is mandatory, an absolute must-have.
*Sylvia Ann Hewlett is the founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation; an economist with 20 years of experience in global talent management; acclaimed author; Kennedy Scholar and graduate of Cambridge University, Hewlett earned her PhD in economics at London University.
CCI develops Customized Workshops for Organizations tailored to every organizational level – from C-Suite and senior leaders to emerging leaders, management, and high-potentials.