EP: 134 Do You Have Executive Presence? Here Are Five Ways To Get “It”

BWW 134 | Executive Presence

I recently shared an article by Forbes on executive presence on my social media channels. I thought that would be it on that topic, but nope, I have decided to complete a whole podcast on it because (a) I’m still thinking about it and (b) it’s not talked about enough. So, let’s dive in. What exactly is executive presence and why should we care? According to one definition, Executive Presence is the ability to project confidence, competence, and charisma as a leader. An alternate description from the Forbes article is “the capacity to connect with others in a way that inspires.” You inspire confidence in others. You command authority. People want to listen to you and they respect your knowledge and opinions. You have a voice at the table, and you will be considered as a “hi-po,” an employee having high potential for future promotions. In summary, I call it the “It factor.” Hearing this, do you have executive presence? Do you have the “It factor”? If you do, awesome. Keep going! If not, no worries! The good news is that this is a skill that can be honed. And no, you do not need to be a people leader to have executive presence. You can possess this skill at any level in your career, so listen in!

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Do You Have Executive Presence? Here Are Five Ways To Get “It”

I’m so glad you’re here. How are you doing out there? I am recording in middle to late June 2023 as we speak, and it’s absolutely beautiful here. We’ve had a mild winter in Chicago land. I’m not going to say that too loud because the dog days of summer, which happened in August, it feels like you could literally fry an egg on the sidewalk. I’m also not going to complain because I just heard from my in-laws, who live in Texas, that it is 100 or more every day, that is Fahrenheit, not Celsius, but even still, it is hot, people. It is hot, you all, like the Texans say.

Quick personal update, I told you guys a few shows back that the Pestikas household was without one car and was carpooling all over town as a family. In fact, my husband actually had to take our one car and was driving all over in traffic, and he clocked that he was in the car for six hours in one day. I know it’s first-world problems, but I just wanted you guys to have an update.

Great news. I got my car back after five weeks of no loaner. When I got it back, I gave my car, which is not so small, it’s a Honda Pilot, a squeeze out of gratitude. It’s a reminder to me, and I’m hoping that the little things we may take for granted, like having a car, really matter. It makes our lives so much easier. Anyway, I’m so happy that my family has that behind us, and we have brighter and sunnier days ahead.

I’ve got a few other reminders before we jump into it. Bonus, you get just me. We’re going to talk about executive presence, what that means, and how we can go and get some. Let’s talk reminders. I’ve got new freebies on my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com that you can go and grab. The most popular one so far is called Getting Paid 10 Negotiation Tips. Go get it on my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com, and then you can go and get the benefits and the compensation you deserve.

The other freebies are 24 Career and Leadership Affirmations and 5 Ways to Master Imposter Syndrome. I want to arm you up with great free tools. Go get them now and use them at your leisure. Of course, if you’re enjoying Brave Women at Work, I would so appreciate it if you left a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Your ratings and reviews help the show gain more visibility and continue to grow. If you’ve already left a rating or review, I thank you so much.

Let’s talk about our topic for the show. I shared an article on Forbes on executive presence on my social media channels. I thought that would be it on the topic, but no. I’ve decided to complete a whole episode on it because, quite frankly, I’m still thinking about it and I also think it’s not talked about it enough. Let’s dive into my thoughts around executive presence.

Before we start with that, what exactly is executive presence? Let’s be honest, why should we care? According to one definition that I found in my research as I was prepping for the show, executive presence is the ability to project confidence, competence, and charisma as a leader. An alternate description from the Forbes article is the capacity to connect with others in a way that inspires.

These are my words. You inspire confidence in others. You command authority. When you have executive presence, they’re going to want to listen to you. They’re going to respect your knowledge and your opinions. You have a voice at the table. You will be considered a HIPO, which is an employee having high potential for future promotions. In summary, I call it the It Factor. I can tell you from times in my career when I did not have the It Factor. I can tell you in times when I’ve had the It Factor that it makes a difference. That’s why I wanted to talk with the wider audience and all of you.

I’m going to start with some questions. Do you think that you have executive presence? Do you have the ability to project confidence, competence, and charisma, or do you have the capacity to connect with others in a way that inspires? In my words, do you have the It Factor? If you do, awesome, the show is still for you. You can reaffirm the skills that you already have. It’s a muscle that you hone and continue to build and strengthen as you move along your career. If you don’t, it’s okay. No worries.

The good news is that this skill can be honed and the muscle can be built. The other thing is that it sounds like I keep using the word leader, manager, leader, manager. No, you do not need to be a people leader to have executive presence. It is often used in a leadership role. You can do it as an individual contributor and just having colleagues in a team. You can possess this skill at any level in your career. Please read on.

Before we dive into, “Jen, how do we get this executive presence that you talk about and its importance?” you might be wondering if I’ve always had it. It’s funny because I’ve had the absolute opposite of executive presence. As I was prepping for the show, I was thinking about when did I get executive presence. Honestly, it was a long slog. I was originally very shy at work. I was the office doormat. I worked really hard. I hoped that people would recognize and promote me, but I didn’t have a voice at the table for a very long time. I was passed over for a promotion or two along the way, which was very painful. I’m not going to pull any punches on that. I was told during talent management reviews or employee reviews that I didn’t have leadership potential.

Now, I’m a senior vice president. I’m not just throwing out SVP for any reason. I’m just showing you what’s possible. If you put in the time, you put in your talent, you work really hard, you can do it too. You can get executive presence. This is something that I’ve worked towards and it’s something that I work towards every single day. I believe that you can, too. I made a list of five, maybe I slipped in a sixth one. You’ll have to see until the end of the tips that I have for you on ways to develop executive presence.

Have Self-Awareness

Let’s dive into the first tip. The first one is that you need to have self-awareness. What do I mean by self-awareness? To me, it means the ability to know how you come off to others. Are you aware of how you’re regarded in your department, in your organization, by your boss? If you are, are you willing to make slight course corrections if needed? I have been regarded in some instances at phases in my career as an opportunist, a self-promoter, a bull in a China shop. I’ve also been regarded as a driver, someone who executes well. It just depends on the phase of my career, my management’s perspective of me but I’ve had to make course corrections.

I want to be clear. I’m not asking you to twist yourself into a pretzel. I’m not asking for you to change the core of who you are. That’s not what the message is here, but I will give you some examples. You’re blurting out questions in a meeting, which I’ve done, or you’re talking over others and are regarded as someone who doesn’t listen. Done that too. Be mindful of those behaviors and correcting or enhancing your behavior. Those things can go a long way to develop your executive presence muscles.

I’m going to dive in and give you a deeper personal example that I’m continually working on. At work, you might not think this because you’re reading the show. You’re like, “She seems really nice.” Yes, I am really nice. In a work setting, I can be perceived as someone that is cool or even aloof in the office environment. Why? My personality type is an INFJ. That I is Introverted, for those that are familiar with Myers-Briggs. If you’re not, go on to Google and I think you can get free tests now for Myers-Briggs. I love personality typing. I talked about it before. I’ll continue to talk about it.

My personality type is an INFJ. That leans me towards more intro introversion than extroversion. I can get right down to business before spending any time on small talk and asking you about your weekend. I go right into it. It’s like, “We get in on Monday.” I’m like, “Let’s get to the project.” That can be seen or come off as not caring, which is not true. I care about my people. I care about my colleagues. I just have to put extra effort towards coming forward with my team, asking them those small talk questions like, “How was your weekend?” or joking with them. I know this might sound silly for our extroverts out there. They’re like, “This is so easy for me. I love talking to people.” For me, it does take work to build those office relationships.

The key with self-awareness is that you are willing to receive feedback from others and start to observe your own behavior and make tweaks. If you struggle with receiving feedback like I did for a long time, and, “Hello perfectionism,” this is going to block your ability to develop executive presence. If a manager told me, “Jen, you really need to stop blurting out a question or an answer in a meeting,” I would take that personally. That blocks my ability to say, “What can I do to be slightly different?”

The key to self-awareness is that you are willing to receive feedback from others and start to observe your own behavior and make tweaks. Share on X

Not slightly different in that I’m changing my personality, but how can I modify the way I present myself in meetings and take that in? Suck that down a little bit, even though it may be bitter or painful, but make the tweaks that I feel are necessary to come off as more executive in nature, have that executive presence and inspire confidence in others.

If you’re willing to do this, ask your manager, your mentor, sponsor, or trusted colleague for feedback in this area. The questions you may want to ask are, “How am I perceived at the organization? What do you see are my strengths? What are some areas I can work on to improve my leadership or executive presence?” If they know that you are looking for that feedback, you will get some responses. You’re going to be amazed at what you hear if you really take it in. That’s the key of that whole tip is that you have to ask, you have to hear and you have to really take it in and make a decision to make it actionable.

Be Vulnerable

The next tip is don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in front of others. Men and women alike, but especially women, have been taught not to cry or show much of any vulnerability at the office. Here’s the problem with that. We are not human doings. We are human beings. Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shed a tear in the bathroom throughout my career. If anyone else has been head shaking, head nodding, raise your hand and be like, “Yes. I did it too.” What’s funny is that in the moments that I have been vulnerable with my team, I’ve truly showed myself. Those are the moments that my team has respected me most and we’ve really connected.

BWW 134 | Executive Presence
Brave Women at Work: Stories of Resilience

I’m going to give you another example or a story. One of my team members read my chapter in my first book called Brave Women at Work: Stories of Resilience. It dealt with my burnout. It dealt with secondary infertility and everything that led to my burnout. He asked me about the chapter and I was honest. I told him what I struggled with. He, in turn, over the years, has shared some of his more personal stories. We’ve built a great work relationship over the 8 or 9 years we have worked together.

When things get stressful at work, he has my back and he’ll come in and challenge me not to take on too much. I doubt that we would have this type of working relationship if we were not vulnerable with one another. Also, by creating an environment where employees feel safe to share, you’re going to learn more about what makes your employees tick, how to retain them, how to praise them, and so much more. They’re not going to hold back from you because you are someone that’s approachable and willing to be vulnerable.

Show Empathy

The next tip is showing empathy. I watched a video on the differences between empathy and sympathy by Brené Brown. I believe it is also in the book, Atlas of the Heart, which is an encyclopedia of emotions. If you don’t have that, I highly recommend it. Atlas of the Heart is not light reading. It is difficult reading, but it’s so helpful to understand the different emotions. Empathy and sympathy are included in the index of the emotion she reviews.

According to Brené, empathy means to use our own experiences to understand others’ thoughts, feelings and behaviors from their perspectives without judgment. Empathy is a skill that strengthens with practice. It involves listening and holding space without judgment. Empathy is a skill that strengthens with practice and involves listening, withholding that judgment, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message of you are not alone.

Empathy is a skill that strengthens with practice and involves listening, withholding that judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you are not alone. Share on X

By displaying empathy, people are going to know they’re not alone in their personal or professional struggles. This is different than sympathy. When we sympathize, according to Brené Brown, we don’t take the other person’s perspective. We just feel sorry for them. We don’t connect with them on a deeper emotional level. We only react to what they feel.

Unfortunately, it’s usually our default feeling towards people. We want to separate ourselves from others and their problems. Showing empathy instead of sympathy is another key for employees and other colleagues to feel like they can share what’s going on with them. Of course, within reason. We’re leaders, managers and colleagues. We’re not therapists or social workers. I get that. There’s a professional line, but sometimes things get a little squishy or wavy at work.

You hear about people’s big pivots in their lives. People go through divorces. People have deaths in their families. People have new babies and they’re exhausted or they want a promotion and they’re frustrated because they can’t get it. If they don’t share that at work or they don’t feel safe to share that at work, they’re probably not going to see their long-term because we all know, because of all the hours we put in at the office, that we spend more time with our work people than often our families. We have to be able to share and to feel like people empathize and can be vulnerable with us or trust us. When people know that you can be real, they’re going to respect you and your ideas more. A big one on empathy versus sympathy.

The last thing on empathy versus sympathy is when things get really hard, I don’t know if it’s an American thing or a human thing, I don’t want to stereotype just Americans, but It’s difficult for us to sit with pain. That’s why we sympathize, “I’m so sorry,” and then we run away from the problem. I would love for us to get trained up in just sitting with it and not solving every issue.

I’ve had to talk with my husband about, “I just need you to sit with me on this. I don’t need you to solve my problem.” I’ve had to do that with female friends too, where they jump in and they’re like, “Jen, let’s solve this issue.” I’m like, “No, I’m still in the feeling. Can we just stay there?” That also, I think, is a symbol of empathy. Being able to be in the muck, like I said at the beginning of the show, versus running away from the issue.

Practice Your Presentation Skills

The next tip is practicing your presentation skills. We want you to be able to present your ideas and opinions powerfully so people will listen. This means that you’re going to have to practice. I’ve done quite a few episodes on presentation skills and owning the room. Go back into the library of shows to learn more. There are several. There are at least 2 or 3 in there sprinkled throughout the 130 or more episodes. Go back and check those out. I wanted to give you a quick reminder of some of the key presentation tips.

The first one is be clear on your materials and your point of view. That means you’re going to have to prepare in advance. What are you talking about? What is the why? What are you trying to get out of the presentation? What are you trying to get people to learn? You need to be very clear. Anytime that I’ve tried to wing a presentation, sometimes if fairy dust will sprinkle on me that morning, I’m pretty good. Oftentimes, if I try to wing a presentation, I’m just not that good. I would need more practice to get there and I need to prepare.

The second point of tip, that goes into dry runs of your presentation. Practice with trusted colleagues or in front of the mirror. Just practice. As a caveat, don’t over practice. It’s almost like, when I was learning to drive, I would hold the wheel too tight. Overcorrection can be as just as, if not more, dangerous than having a loose grip on the wheel or a loose command of your presentation. If you over-prepare, you’re going to be more nervous and you’re not going to be as loose and as open, as free with your presentation at go time. Don’t over-prepare.

BWW 134 | Executive Presence
Executive Presence: Overcorrection can be just as, if not more, dangerous than having a loose grip on the wheel or a loose command of your presentation.

The third tip here underneath presentation skills is watching your body language. Are your arms crossed or are they in your pockets? You’re going to seem closed off or not trustworthy. Are you pacing back and forth? You might seem pretty nervous. Is your head rolling around like on a swivel on your neck? It’s just those little ticks that we don’t know that we’re doing or saying. That’s why practice is so important. Part and parcel with practice is record yourself early and often, and watch your presentations for areas of improvement. Watch for those ticks, language, or just things you don’t even know you’re doing.

Almost everyone has a smartphone now with amazing cameras, with amazing video technology. No one has an excuse. They can record themselves. You can get a tripod. It doesn’t even have to be expensive anymore but record yourself. Watch for weak language. You’re going to watch for filler words like, “Um, I think, maybe, you know,” and more. I’ve used this in the show. That’s why I have a great editor that’ll take some of that stuff out. You want to be real but don’t want to sound wishy-washy. You want to display your confidence and expertise, not doubt. This can also be improved with practice and recording yourself.

The next sub-point here is don’t do Death by PowerPoint, which I’ve borrowed that title, Death by PowerPoint. Don’t put your entire presentation on each slide. Have you seen those presentations where they have twelve bullets on one slide? It’s just exhausting to look at. What happens is you disconnect from the audience. The audience disconnects from you because they’re reading. They want to see all the stuff, so they’re reading and they completely disconnected from you. They’re not listening and not looking at you. People want to hear you. They don’t want to read slides.

The slide should contain an image, a quote, a couple of very minor points you would like to stress. It should not contain tons of content. Look back at your presentation and then edit it before you even start your presentation. Edit back because, with the presentation, you can tell a story, you can use a quote, or you can stress a point. It just doesn’t all have to be on a slide or, better yet, don’t have slides at all.

Get In The Mud With Others

The next point is get in the mud with others. If it’s a tough time at work or a season that has a lot of projects, get in there and help others get the work done. If you’re a manager, show that you are not above working alongside your people. Offer to help where you can within reason. As a side note, I have often done too much for my people. This can be a slippery slope for your employees to take a step back because they know you’re going to do everything. You’re going to go like a mom that puts away their teen’s clothes and makes their bed every day, all that kind of stuff. The teen’s like, “Sweet. Mom’s going to do everything.”

That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s about jumping in with discretion when you see that your employees or colleagues need help. By helping others, they’re going to be more willing to help you in return when things get challenging or the workload is heavy for you. Yes, I know the old cliché, “You scratch my back, I scratch yours.” It’s beyond that. It’s about showing like, “They’re willing to get in there and help me too. It just builds relationships. As I told you at the beginning, I’m giving you a bonus tip. Thank you for reading towards the end of the show.

Pour Into Yourself

The last tip, this is the sixth tip, is you pour into yourself to develop executive presence. What do I mean by pouring into yourself? This is going to mean putting in the work so you feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong. It’s going to vary by person, but that may mean reading books. I’m a big book reader, going back to school, listening to podcasts, going to therapy, working with a coach, finding a mentor or sponsor, meditating, praying, going to church, building your network, leaning on your friends, family, and community. This list goes on and on. You get the drift. It can be a mixture of all those.

Think about what you need to have a full cup because you can’t give to others if you don’t come from a place of fullness. I’m learning that I’ve got to have my own back because no one else is going to do it for me. I’ve got to protect myself and my energy. I’m reminding you and me of this, but all women, we have this tendency to give and give some more than others, but we give without giving back to ourselves.

I’m going to tell you. You do not have to feel guilty for giving to yourself. Make a list of all the ways that you can fill your cup and then go and do some of those things, just a little at a time or maybe all of one day. It doesn’t really matter. The combination of all these things, including being self-aware, being open to being vulnerable, showing empathy, practicing your presentations, getting to work with others and pouring into yourself, by doing all these things, your executive presence will soon be off the charts. I absolutely promise you.

I would love to hear your experience with that. Feel free to send me an email at Hello@BraveWomenAtWork.com to tell me your experience after reading the show or DM me on Instagram, LinkedIn, or wherever you find me because I’d love to hear your experience on executive presence.

Thank you so much for reading. I hope you found the show both valuable and inspiring. Until next time, think about what we covered with getting executive presence and what I say, It Factor. Out of the skills I mentioned, which ones do you feel comfortable with? Which ones do you want to work on? Consider adding these items to your personal or professional goal list during your midyear or year-end review.

Remember, building executive presence is not just for managers. It is for every employee. Yes, it obviously takes work, but it is something that will set you apart professionally and personally. This is one of the many things that brave women at work do. Until next time, show up, build your executive presence and be brave.

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About JENNIFER PESTIKAS

BWW 128 | Comfort During Slow TimesJennifer Pestikas is an executive with over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. She is currently the Senior Vice President of Business Development of a Chicagoland financial institution. Jen understands the necessary skills to make significant leaps in your career, including mindset, asking for what you want, interviewing skills, the ability to negotiate, professional presence and more.

In addition to her corporate work, Jen is now leveraging her experience with her personal company, Brave Women at Work. At Brave Women at Work, Jen offers career and leadership coaching for women. She helps her clients better identify their strengths, what they want, what is holding them back and how to remove these barriers so they can take bolder and braver action in their careers.

Jen has a Bachelors in French and Spanish from Indiana University and an M.B.A. from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. She is also a Certified Professional Coach and an Energy Leadership Index (ELI) Master Practitioner from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC).

You can find Jen online at bravewomenatwork.com. Please also connect with Jen on LinkedIn or listen to her podcast, Brave Women at Work, which is available on Apple and Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify. You can also pick up a copy of Jen’s book, Brave Women at Work: Stories of Resilience, which is an anthology of women’s real-life stories of overcoming professional and personal challenges, wherever books are sold.

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