As we follow closely this very colorful Presidential Election Campaign, I often hear people say that various candidates are not “Presidential”. What they mean is that the candidate does not embody or project the qualities that we would want the leader of our country to possess; and more importantly, the qualities that we associate with success in this very complex and critical role.
As an Executive Coach, one of the most frequently identified goals of my coaching clients—and their employers—is the development of executive presence. It makes sense, as it is often viewed as the missing lynchpin in the repertoire of otherwise high potential employees. Clients often feel that without executive presence they will be passed over for promotion to a position of more responsibility and visibility. Senior management and executives are reluctant to promote someone who lacks executive presence as they understand the importance of it in leadership and in fitting in with a peer group of executives.
What makes it particularly challenging is that executive presence isn’t any particular skill but rather a host of elusive and intangible qualities such as confidence, trustworthiness, integrity, appearance, presentation skills, ability to network, knowledge, communication and social graces. In other words, being “presidential” in a corporate sense. There is no single workshop, class or program that you can complete that will teach you executive presence. It is a skill set that needs to be acquired and compiled over time. More importantly, once you have the skills, you need to demonstrate them so that you project executive presence. It does you no good if your skills are a well-kept secret.
The qualities associated with executive presence are a factor of who you are, what you know and what you do. In reality, most of my clients already have many, if not all, of the qualities they need to project an executive presence. They have conducted themselves in their professional lives in an honorable and ethical manner and they are subject experts in their field. No amount of coaching is going to make you trustworthy or replace subject knowledge. They are already two-thirds of the way there. However, it is what they do, or don’t do, with these qualities that makes the difference. The “soft skills” such as effective communication, networking, appearance, presentation and good social skills are often what trip aspiring leaders up and hold them back.
From an employer’s perspective, it can be very frustrating and costly to have identified and often cultivated a bright, talented person over time only to have them fall short in such an important area. Let’s face it; these soft skills are not ones that are typically addressed in management or supervisory relationships. Managers often are not comfortable addressing such personal and emotionally charged subjects and often have far more pressing concerns to deal with. Consequently, very often, a high potential employee is left to stagnate in their position rather than being promoted, ultimately moving to a new employer out of frustration and feeling unappreciated.
All of these qualities come naturally to very few of us. Where executive presence is concerned, there are rarely born leaders. Most people who excel in these areas have had to work at some or all of them. By identifying the areas that are interfering with a client’s continued success and developing very strategic and measurable goals, an Executive Coach can help an otherwise talented person achieve the greatness they desire and deserve. The client can reach their optimum potential and an employer can reap the benefits of a relatively minimal investment in their high potential employees.