Establishing Your Executive Presence

Article by:
Leslie Dickson EO Cleveland
Leslie Dickson
EO Cleveland

For nearly two decades, I have been working in the area of spoken communication … you know, the thing we all try to excel at as entrepreneurs. Recently, my business has gone global, which has given me a chance to teach business professionals around the world how to effectively communicate by building their executive presence. Executive presence is a critical component for effective communication, and it’s something that many entrepreneurs covet … but it’s hard to achieve.

The first step to achieving it is in the definition. What does it mean to you? Maybe you define executive presence as an unwavering sense of confidence, or perhaps it’s a commanding connection you have with other people. You might even see it as a balance of openness and strength. Of course, it is all of these things and more. Where it gets tricky is in your ability to consistently convey “it” no matter how you define it. Here’s the universal dilemma:

When it comes to our communication with others, or our executive presence, we evaluate ourselves based on our intent. Mean- while, other people evaluate us based on our observable behavior.

When you’ve achieved this elusive quality known as “executive presence,” you’ve consciously narrowed the gap between your intent and your behavior. Easy enough, right? Wrong! Even though your intent is to be clear, have you ever had someone misunderstand you? Do you worry more about the content of your message being right, even though your desire is to make the needs of the people you’re talking to a top priority? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, here are a few tips that can help you establish an executive presence and better match your behavior with your intent:

  • Avoid the Auto-Pilot Mode: As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to rush through the day and not really think about what we’re doing. I call this the “entrepreneur auto-pilot” mode. We’re so busy working that we don’t pay attention to anything around us, which can invite the opportunity for error. I’ve learned that my business and entrepreneurial journey chart a better course if I make choices in the moment. It’s hard to pause and let go of the past, but if you take a breath, be aware of your surroundings, notice how they impact you and then adapt, you’ll find yourself adopting the best approach for you and your business.
  • Say “Yes” to Feedback: Always be open to feedback— it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself and your business. Instead of thinking of feedback as something that’s inherently negative, change how you define it. Think of feedback as a gift. While it might be hard to hear at times, feedback of any sort is one of the best ways we can gain insight into our behavior and how that behavior compares to our intent. When I’m given feedback, I listen for what I can learn about myself, and then I adapt my behavior accordingly. When the feedback I receive is close to my intent, then I know I’m on the right track.
  • Make it about Others: Whenever you’re communicating with other people, give them something of value; i.e., skills, information, tips, best practices. If you focus your attention on how you are doing—getting the content perfect or coming across the best way you can—you’re creating an “it’s all about me” environment, which will minimize your ability to influence others. When you make it about them, however, you will create a positive setting and form the kind of bond that will help you now and in the future.

No matter where you live or work in the world, your executive presence is one of the most essential things you have going for you. As an entrepreneur, you are your own business card. In my experience, when you begin to own your executive presence, you will start to discover new forms of success in business and beyond.

Leslie Dickson (pictured) is the owner of VoicePro, an organization that teaches communication and executive–presence skills to Fortune 1000 companies around the world. Fun fact: Leslie loves challenges, including bicycling down the west coast of the United States, white water boating and hiking in Alaska.

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