Executive Presence: A Short Course

Several years ago I developed an assessment of executive presence for use with leaders. It became quite popular, widely used, and helpful. In the course of doing that work, it became clear to me that developing one’s executive presence, could become a form of adaptive, role-based identity development. As such, it could involve a further shaping of the person’s character, judgement, and approach to action.

Character

Know what you value and how your values align with your goals and actions. We can sort some of this out through private reflection, but doing it in dialogue with others works even better. When concretely examined in this way, we’re brought into close contact with our most vital strivings in life. It’s almost always also an act of reconciliation that restores or at least bolsters fidelity to our heartfelt beliefs and priorities. 

And when this is done, why wouldn’t we want to act from a consciousness of these bearings? Wouldn’t doing so present us with greatest sincerity and integrity? Would it not also express the kinder angels of our nature? In doing this, we discover just how necessary such reexamination of self, life, and what is most important us is. Virtue is never gained once and for all, not for we mortals.  

Judgment

Engaging in our role-based duties and guided by a consciousness of what is good, right, and proper, we see more clearly. We recognize moments of confusion and frustration, our own and others. Rather than sweeping past them, we consider them, without bracing or resisting, to see what they hold. In this way, the broader context and meaning come into view and pathways of informed action arise.  

And we’re then reminded that prudential wisdom favors the curious and receptive mind. Even as we welcome the ease of adaptive habits, we allow ourselves to notice the unease evoked by novel conditions for which they’re unsuited. New answers and decisions, those not yet born, require that we see how some habits now fail us. We see the new only when we first stop looking for what we expect or want to see. 

Action

All action expresses, asserts, and effects something. We can never fully discern the contingencies we will meet. But if our action is communicative and includes, involves, and coordinates the intentions and acts of all relevant actors, we’ll be best positioned to see and prudently respond to the contingencies that unfold before us. Strategic action is iterative, and it’s adaptively reasserted through execution.   

Is our character such as to make others trust, believe, speak honestly, share their feelings? And is our judgment free enough of fear, frustration, and arrogance to discern things as they really are? Are we, any of us who lead, formally or informally, contributing to this tenor of mind? If we can answer these questions in the affirmative, our approach to action will be more favorable, more adaptive.