The Atlas

Why 'executive presence' isn't just for executives

Now that I've wrapped up my series on the 12 Elements of Employee Engagement, I was looking over my list of notes on other topics I've been putting in a parking lot since before the holidays. Interestingly, they are pretty thematically consistent with a great book I always find super valuable: Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO by Harrison Monarth.

I like the term "executive presence" because I think it is well-understood, but sometimes I find it hard to convince people who are not (and don't see themselves as ever being) executives to understand why it still matters to them. So that's where I'll start today, and then work my way through the list over the coming weeks.

Why 'executive presence' isn't just for executives

At its most basic, executive presence is the art of influencing how you are interacting with others in order to maximize your opportunity to persuade.

And while we call it 'executive presence,' the truth is that we see this type of skill in far more than just executives -- social justice leaders, political figures, clergy, teachers, sports team captains and everyday people are all common examples of where we can often find this skill.

In many circles this is often referred to as 'charisma.' And while I really like that word better, I think it has a tendency of sounding a bit too much like a hard-coded aspect of a person's DNA that can't be influenced. And if there is one thing I believe above all else in this world, it's that we have the power to influence -- both ourselves and others.

  • When was the last time you wanted to persuade someone of something?
  • Were you trying to sell something or close a deal?
  • Were you trying to coax them into changing their behavior?
  • Were you trying to get them to complete a task they didn't like?
  • Were you trying to make the case for someone to hire or promote you?
  • Were you trying to get them excited to take on a new project?
  • Were you looking to cultivate buy-in to make a big change?

In Daniel Pink's fantastic book, To Sell is Human, he breaks down the mundane things your average non-sales knowledge worker does every day that is about persuading others -- everything from building a project plan, to a marketing campaign, to fulfilling a customer service request. In a world where so much of our work is driven by collaboration, intellectual horsepower and creative output,persuasion is the most important currency we have at our disposal.

In the work I do with clients, this topic comes up again and again. And despite the common "but I'm NOT an executive!" protests, we always come back to the same bottom line: whatever your role, the power to persuade other people is vital to your success. Over the next few weeks, I'll break down some of the components and useful tools I've learned over the years, and which my clients have found most effective.

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