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3 ways to develop executive presence


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Jessica Roper, MBA, Director of Career Services

This article has been reviewed by Jessica Roper, MBA, Director of Career Services

Anybody who is looking to enhance their career should pay attention to executive presence, says Jessica Roper, MBA.

As the director of Career Services at University of Phoenix, Roper has noticed an uptick in discussions about executive presence, which can impact everything from confidence to actual career growth. Here, she shares what it is and how anyone can develop it. 

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Defining executive presence

Executive presence is a relatively recent term and its meaning often subjective. Still, Roper says there are a few key characteristics:

  • Effective communication: Leaders practice clear and unambiguous messaging.
  • Charisma: That ineffable blend of competence and emotional intelligence.
  • Composure: Good executives maintain a level head during high-stress situations.
  • Appearance: Strong leaders leverage body language and attire to exude authority.

“I think what’s interesting is the concept of who is CEO,” Roper adds. She notes how tech startups have disrupted the traditional notions of what C-suite leaders can be. An executive at a financial company, for example, might dress or act differently from one at an app development company.

“It’ll be interesting to see how executive presence evolves as the world of work continues to evolve,” she says.

Strategies to develop executive presence

Best honed over years of practice and observation, here’s where to start your journey toward executive presence.

1.   Practice active listening

Leaders have to pay attention to everything. Even dull meetings that don’t seem to pertain to their responsibilities.

“If you’re in a meeting or working with somebody where what they’re doing or saying doesn’t apply directly to you, being mindful and staying engaged is going to help you,” Roper says.

It shows you’re curious and you care — and that your attention span can go the distance.

2.   Refine communication skills

Learning how to streamline your communication so you convey your message effectively, succinctly and convincingly is part of strong executive leadership.

Start with books or training to learn the structure of good communication. Then, look for opportunities to put it into practice.

“You can read every book on the subject. You can attend every training on how to be a more effective communicator or a better public speaker, but the only way you’re going to get better is by actually doing it,” Roper says.

3.   Look inward

When it comes to developing your leadership style, there’s no substitute for self-reflection and self-awareness.

“It’s easy to go about your day without really taking the time to reflect on how you’re showing up,” Roper says.

To do this, you have to seek feedback, maybe enlist a mentor and be really honest with yourself. Are you connecting with people in a genuine and authentic way, or are you emulating what you think a leader should be?

“You’re never going to be able to develop any sort of skill if you’re not willing to be honest with yourself and open to seeing your own inadequacies,” Roper says.

“Or,” she adds, “where your own opportunities lie.”

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Elizabeth Exline has been telling stories ever since she won a writing contest in third grade. She's covered design and architecture, travel, parenting, lifestyle content and a host of other topics for national, regional, local and brand publications. Additionally, she's worked in content development for Marriott International and manuscript development for a variety of authors. Today, if given a free hour and the choice, she'd still prefer to curl up with a good story.


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