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7 Steps To Developing Your Executive Presence

A characteristic that so many of my clients seek in senior leaders is executive presence. No more so than in roles that influence digital change and company transformation. It’s also a characteristic or skill that is almost always singled out as a quality that will differentiate candidates on a shortlist and see them achieve internal promotion. It’s therefore essential to consider your own executive presence as you manage your C-suite career and aspirations.

So how can you build or enhance your executive presence to stand out from your competition in a recruitment and search process and make yourself more effective as a leader?

In this blog I will be sharing 7 steps for developing your executive presence.

What Does Executive Presence Actually Mean?

Put simply, executive presence is about your ability to inspire a level of confidence from others – whether you’re in that interview setting or delivering on your executive responsibilities. Whilst it comes to some more naturally than others, it’s also a skill that can be developed with practice.

So here are 7 observations from my 25 years in executive search that will put you at an advantage in a job interview and serve you well in your career generally.

1.Start with understanding how you’re perceived by others

How much feedback have you solicited from people? Quite often, as a senior executive the answer is very little. It can feel uncomfortable asking for feedback especially if we’re nervous about what we might hear. But more often than not, it’s simply a case that our busy routines don’t prompt us to stop, take stock and focus on self-development. And a really good starting point is soliciting feedback from confidantes – be they colleagues, mentors, coaches or even family members. Only with the power of that feedback, can you address any perceptions that might be holding you back in an interview scenario.

2 Know your pressure triggers

Stress is generally seen as a negative condition and putting boundaries in place to control it is imperative. However, in anticipation of an important interview, a bit of adrenalin is no bad thing but it’s likely to create heightened emotions which can be interpreted as nervousness or over-eagerness.

If you’re meeting the CEO or a Board as part of the interview, it’s much more likely that it will be a discussion, which is precisely where you need to be projecting the composure that reflects how you’d behave in a senior executive setting at the company.

The most effective executives demonstrate considerable poise and are calm under pressure to ensure balanced decision making.

Think three C’s – Composed, Credibility, Clarity

3. Keep your language simple

Have you ever noticed how the most impressive leaders are those able to articulate a relatively complex matter in very straightforward language? This isn’t easy and takes a lot of practice. Most leaders will have been professionally coached on this and at the very least will have practiced it for hundreds of hours either consciously or subconsciously throughout their careers. This is why executive presence generally (but not always) improves with experience.

Tip – Remove the detail and focus on the impact of your example. It’s not what you did, it’s how and why that gets the attention.

4. Be succinct and slow it down

There is a natural tendency to want to fill voids or pauses in an interview. Invariably this can lead you to over-talk. This is especially the case if you don’t control the adrenalin. Manage any exuberance without extinguishing your energy and don’t talk over someone else. If you happen to do this, pause and acknowledge you’ve done it and let them finish. A comfort level with a few seconds of silence, which always feels like a lot longer between exchanges projects a remarkable level of confidence in itself.

5. Actively listen

Have you ever noticed how tiring it is to chair management meetings or conduct an interview for a hire in your team? That’s because you are probably applying greater levels of active listening. It requires great concentration and the same applies as an interviewee. Be tuned into your interviewer, acknowledge what they are saying and don’t be afraid to scribble a few notes without writing an essay. Executive Presence is about reading the room, sensing what’s going on and adjusting accordingly.

6. Look the Part & Smile

This might seem relatively minor, but I think it’s really important to show up polished whilst bringing a bit of your own identity to your dress. What does your style say about you?

Enjoy an interview and project a demeanour that you are approachable and build rapport easily. Authenticity is critical – most CEOs will be looking for the real you. Smiling engenders further confidence in people and since interviews can be a reasonably qualitative form of assessment, if there is a strong sense of chemistry and cultural fit then you have a far greater chance of landing that job. If your interviewer is dead-pan and very serious, my advice is still to show warmth through smiling as they might be testing you out. And what if you’re a very serious person who doesn’t naturally smile much? My counsel is to work on that because I’ve had countless occasions where executives are ruled out for being ‘too serious’

7. Consider working with an executive coach

We’ve all heard the expression that ‘it’s lonely at the top’. Unless you’re working in a much larger company, the chances are your development may fall squarely on your own shoulders so working with an executive coach can make a considerable impact. Often bigger companies will pay for this and have their own ‘panel’ of coaches to work with. My sister company NewlandRock includes executive coaching in its areas of specialisation and you can access further details in the link in this blog. Find a coach with the business acumen, qualification and a track record that matches what your needs are. The results can be transformational.

Remember, executive presence isn’t a dark art but it is something that will underpin your success and is absolutely something that can be developed over time. Now, this is far from an exhaustive list but these recommendations are drawn from interactions with some very impressive C-level business leaders across a range of functions.

Nail these recommendations and you’re increasing your chances of landing the next big job and making yourself a more effective leader.


About BartonRock: We are the executive search partner for companies where data-driven digital leadership is intrinsic to growth.

We manage the careers of leaders whose know-how and commercial acumen within digital steers the strategic direction and future survival of companies.

Our assignments search for executives who understand how to implement and lead data-centric digital agendas.

For more information visit: or contact or call +44 (0) 20 8092 6048.

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