Executive presence is a thing.

Sometimes it’s referred to as leadership presence – or even gravitas when describing a person who needs to be taken more seriously. It’s often a thing people climbing the career ladder are told they should have.


But what is it? Is executive presence how you dress and appear physically? Is it how you talk? Is it something people are born with? Can you learn it? Is there a checklist of elements that comprise executive presence?
I’m going to take an alternative view here today and offer up a one-word answer to the executive presence conundrum: presence. Yup, presence. The executive presence challenge can be conquered largely with presence. And by that, I mean being present.
Let me explain what I mean. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of aspiring ambitious professionals care very much about how they appear and what others – especially their superiors – think of them. I think it’s also fair to say that these same professionals are pretty concerned – perhaps even consumed – with wanting to sound smart when they open their mouths. So who are they thinking about when they’re in an important meeting or about to deliver a presentation? Who are they (mentally) connecting with in the room? You got it … themselves. And what effect do you think that might have on their executive presence? You got it … a diminishing effect.
Being present isn’t just a new-agey self-helpy thing – not that there’s anything wrong with that! It’s a business thing too. Presence is a state of mind, a willingness to subdue other thoughts and distractions for the sake of literally being with what’s right in front of you at any given moment. It’s an ease and a fluidity of motion, contact and conversation with the people, issues and ideas in front of you. It’s shelving those pesky, nagging self-conscious thoughts in favor of being available, accessible and real.
Let’s face it, preoccupation with yourself – worrying about your appearance and your slides/script – can result in a more detached and, for some, robotic presence, causing you to leave a dampened, diminished impression with your audience. But preoccupation with your audience – demonstrating a genuine desire to connect and be with them – is likely to result in you leaving a positive, memorable impression.
Executive presence doesn’t have to be some pre-conceived picture of a perfectly poised, poetically articulate version of you. It can come simply from the ease and the authenticity of your engagement with others. Your executive presence can come from your presence. Try it!
Beth Levine