It’s attained by position. By authority. By control.
But it’s also attained by personal behavior. By attitude. Through intentional techniques designed to cultivate it.
If you don’t have the position, authority, or control to grant you executive presence, you can still attain it through behavior, attitude, and technique.
And even if you do have the position, authority, or control to command executive presence, you really don’t have it unless you’re capable of managing your behavior and attitude, and exercising technique. (It’s the difference between managing by fear and managing by respect.)
The IT Challenge
Executive presence needs to be cultivated, and this is an important challenge for anyone. But those of us in IT face a particular uphill battle. We’re often most visible when things go wrong. The breakdown of our area of responsibility attracts lots of attention. It’s smooth operation does not.
Also, everyone these days feels that they are a technology expert of some sort. Personal experience with technology is pervasive in everyone’s daily work and personal lives. Understanding of systems concepts is widespread. Heck, words like download, bandwidth, and reboot are commonplace and used metaphorically in discussions about all sorts of aspects of the human experience.
These faux insights into the world of IT can make it difficult to garner respect for what it takes to do the work, to lead the way. This is what leads us to the classic mistake: the desire to show everyone what’s behind the curtain. To explain to them exactly how hard the work is. To get them to understand the immense pressure we can feel. To reveal how we persistently work against long odds to achieve success.
That’s whining. And it’s about as ineffective as you can get for commanding respect. Going in the opposite direction is the better choice.
Executive thinking is strategic thinking. It’s about getting to the essence of the issue before you and helping to determine the best possible course of action, given a variety of constraints, variables, and goals – many of which conflict with each other in sometimes convoluted ways.
Demonstrating this thought process is crucial for developing executive presence. But how you do it is just as important.
Cool under pressure. Open to ideas. Respectful of others. Thoughtful and wise. Confident. Flexible. Clever. These are some of the attributes we might assign to someone with the sort of executive presence we might want to emulate.
Behaviors, Attitudes, and Techniques
To develop your own executive presence skills, first observe others. Those you respect and admire. Watch how they carry themselves. Listen to what they say. Learn from what they ask. Look at small behaviors. Consider their larger attitudes and approaches. Deduce their techniques.
Then, watch yourself. Do you carry yourself in the same confident way or do you present a more meek demeanor? Do you stand straight, with your head up or do you slouch and look to the ground? Do you make and sustain eye contact or do you avoid it? Do you listen when others speak or are you worried more about what you’re going to say next? Do you speak up when you have a point to make, when you disagree with someone’s opinion, or when you have an important question to ask?
There are lots of important things to watch for in others and in yourself. Start with the simple, most easily observable facets.
Body Language demonstrates a lot. The way you carry yourself. The way you stand, sit, shake hands, make eye contact, lean in or lean away when talking and listening – all of this nonverbal communication conveys a lot, and is an important component of your presence. Body language shows a lot about how you feel, whether you’re confident, controlled, and dynamic, or overwhelmed, unsure, and inflexible.
Questions and answers show how you think. A line of questioning, the phrasing of a particular question, and the perspective from which a question is posed show a lot about your capability for strategic thinking. Similarly, the way answers are focused, framed, and constructed shows insight into how you think about a particular matter. The content of your communications will show a lot about whether you’re a big picture thinker or not.
Other observable details can convey more nuance too. Are your things neat and orderly, or in disarray? Do you fumble with a smartphone during a meeting or leave it behind? Are you the person who never remembers to bring a pen? Little things can provide additional insights into what someone is thinking or how they may be feeling.
Watch others. Watch yourself. Note the types of things that you think contributed to executive presence, and those things that don’t. Keep score for a while and see if you can uncover some common themes. Then, work to improve your presence one thing at a time. As you practice each new thing, it will eventually become habitual. Add more over time and continually build your executive presence. This will allow you to stand out in the IT field, immensely.
Photo credit: malabooboo