By Suzanne Bates
April 17, 2016

What is executive presence? And why do some people seem to have it in spades? There’s so much mediocre advice out there – and none of it really captures what makes leaders stand out! Popular books and articles are helpful but tend to oversimplify the phenomenon. Executive presence is more than commanding the room, wearing the right suit, or giving a great presentation. The question is, what is it, and how can you achieve it?

We have spent years researching this “X factor” in leadership. Let’s start with a broad definition: executive presence is the ability of the leader to engage, align, inspire, and move people to act. This definition is game-changing. It explains why it matters – and why you should care. Let’s look at the qualities that science tells us define 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

Cover image courtesy of McGraw-Hill.

Character qualities such as authenticity and humility build trust. Substance qualities such as vision and practical wisdom win you credibility. Style qualities like appearance and Intentionality help you influence others to get things done – in short, business execution.

Can You Develop a Stronger, More Powerful Executive Presence?

Yes, you can! By tracking historical data from the Bates Executive Presence Index Assessment, and analyzing hundreds of client cases, we’ve documented that leaders can dramatically change perceptions of their executive presence. When assessing clients, we use this multi-rater online assessment to ask your boss, direct reports, peers, board of directors, clients what they think of you. There are 90 items we use to rate leader “behaviors” that have been verified by an independent panel of experts. But you don’t need to complete an assessment to start working on presence today. Begin by familiarizing yourself with the qualities of executive presence, and opening up a dialogue with your trusted advisors.

Seek to Know Yourself – and the Way Others View You as a Leader

Your executive presence is your brand, in a way–how others think about you when you’re not around. What would people say?

  • Are you someone who is decisive when making the tough calls? That’s confidence.
  • Are you someone who and cares about others and helps them succeed? That’s concern.
  • Are you cool in a crisis? That’s a part of Composure.
  • Do you ask questions that get to the heart of the matter? That’s one part of practical wisdom.

Start by asking others what they think of your strengths and gaps. Here are five steps to get started:

Step 1: Identify your trusted advisors

A trusted advisor is in a position to “notice” your behaviors in real-life situations. Look for a business person or close associate who cares about you, and is willing and adept at sharing candid, constructive feedback. You may have a mentor, peer mentors, HR business partner, advisor, or supervisor who plays an important role in your life. If not, cultivate these relationships by asking them to share their views.

Step 2: Ask for their feedback

Ask your trusted advisor(s) to review the 15 qualities of executive presence and weigh in on two questions: 1. What would you say are my strengths, based on these definitions? 2. What are my areas of development?

Step 3: Compare these views to your intentions

Consider the “face value” of the advice you’ve been given and ask yourself, “How does this differ from what I intend to project?” Our intentions aren’t always in synch with others’ perceptions.

Step 4: Look for Role Models

Executive presence is not something you’re born with. Look around for role models who are strong in these areas, watch what they do, and adapt it to your own situation.

Step 5: Be Willing to Try Something New

Executive presence is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon. As you try new approaches, you will feel uncomfortable. It’s like trying on a beautiful new pair of shoes that fit but need to be broken in — well worth the investment and a little pain. Small changes often can make a big difference.

Start Today

Do you want help? You can learn to leverage your strengths, and also enhance underdeveloped aspects of your presence. Organizations invest in developing skilled, competent leaders who have the attitude and motivation. So ask! The best leaders we know are lifelong learners. They know they can be better. They invest time and energy in becoming all they can be.

About the Author

Suzanne Bates is a CEO Coach, CEO of Bates Communications, and author of several books including her latest, All the Leader You Can Be: The Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence. To take a complimentary pre-assessment survey on your executive presence, go to:


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