Why Executive Presence Matters
At the heart of the ICF Core Competencies is “maintains presence.” ICF defines this competency as being: “fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded, and confident.”
Experienced leaders want to have a partner on a level playing field. They expect both support and challenge. To be identified and accepted as a partner on an equal footing, you as a coach need to shape a bright brand, beyond your track record and expertise. They might be required to get the foot in the door but will not be sufficient to convince executive clients. First and foremost, you are your most critical argument.
To be fully with the client, a high level of executive presence is required. Being open and flexible allows you to go with the flow. Being grounded and confident requires maturity and trust in yourself. It is this combination of curiosity, courage, determination, and agility that sets you apart and makes you a great coach.
What Clients Expect from an Executive Coach
Coaching executive clients means interacting with smart, successful individuals who have been promoted repeatedly. After some time, however, their learning curve has decreased, and despite their success factors, a glass ceiling might be reached. Sometimes, clients do not know why their career is no longer evolving. It is not the clients’ engagement, skills, or potential that is holding them back — often enough, it is a lack of executive presence. Therefore, executive clients often come with objectives such as:
- “I want to improve my executive presence.”
- “I was told that I need more gravitas.”
- “I want to stop having a ‘low profile.’”
These clients expect their coach to role model the expected behavior. Hence, you need to demonstrate your ability to radiate gravitas and natural authority (“grounded and confident”). At the same time, you want to dance in the moment and create moments of lightness (“open and flexible”).
What is Executive Presence
When it comes to executive presence, there are many definitions and opinions. Yet, executive presence can be defined based on observable and actionable behaviors.
Though it may seem that executive presence is innate, there is no evidence that it cannot be acquired. Most leaders admit in hindsight that they have changed and reshaped their behavior to some extent when being promoted to a bigger role.
Thus, executive presence is neither inborn nor is there any rare talent required to learn it. On the contrary, a specific set of behaviors constitutes the difference between a low level compared to a high level of executive presence.
For example, coach Joel Garfinkel describes executive presence in a 3×3 model as the combination of gravitas (confident, commanding, charismatic); authority (decisive, bold, influential); and expression (vocal, insightful and clear), i.e., how somebody shows up, how actions are taken, and how they communicate.
How to Strengthen Your Executive Presence
Setting the Ground
As a starting point, you may ask yourself the following questions:
- What limiting beliefs and habits may hold you back? What has served you well in the past that is not appropriate anymore?
- To what extent do you feel that you deserve to be where you are today?
- What behaviors are in line with executive presence? What behaviors do you want to start, continue, or stop doing? How will others react if you change your behavior in a way that reflects increased confidence? How will you deal with potentially negative reactions?
Setting the Stage
In a second step, let’s look at the context of your coaching offering from an executive client’s perspective.
- What is the quality and location of your premise? What material do you use?
- What message does this convey to potential executive clients?
- Does it reflect your brand and what you want to stand for?
Setting the Tone
Consider putting sufficient value on the form of your communication to achieve the intended impact. Avoid jeopardizing your executive presence by neglecting how you convey a message through your nonverbal behavior, e.g., the energy you radiate, movements and posture, and tone of voice.
Demonstrate your presence through the quality of your listening. Make others feel that you understand what they mean, summarize, and use reflective questions to go deeper in the conversation.
Make sure you radiate determination and courage. Allow yourself to be bold at times. Executive clients pay particular attention to your ability to counter and challenge them in a smooth, but direct way – The higher their rank in an organization, the less likely they are to receive frank feedback.
As an executive coach, communicate more strategically, consider what core message and effect you want to achieve, be succinct and precise, focus on the essentials, and go to the core of the matter.