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What is Executive Presence? What Makes You a Leader

Executive presence is undeniably a powerful attribute of leadership, serving as both a good-to-have and a need-to-have quality. Being new to this term, I was so intrigued, I made time to look up the origin of the term “executive presence” and found it attributed to economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett who wrote the book The Sponsor Effect. She describes it as having three pillars: Gravitas; Communication Skills; and Appearance. To me, it embodies the “x” factor based on this simple definition: “A leader is someone people follow.”

From a marketing perspective, each of us represents our own unique brand in the world. Our daily interactions, energy, and appearance all contribute to how others perceive us. This holds true whether in a corporate environment or on an entrepreneurial path, where every encounter shapes how we’re judged by those we engage with. As entrepreneurs, cultivating an executive presence is essential. It’s what inspires others to connect with us, trust us, and ultimately, do business with us. In the corporate world, we’re essentially selling ourselves, and our executive presence dictates how we’re perceived, influencing the trust, relationships, and success we achieve.

In essence, executive presence is the “art of selling oneself,” particularly in corporate environments where personal branding is paramount. It’s about instilling confidence in others to “buy into” our leadership and promote our advancement.

Central to this concept is self-awareness—the understanding of our identity, leadership style, and outward presentation. Gravitas, as described in the article, reflects the seriousness and importance attributed to our contributions, enhancing our ability to persuade and influence within an organization.

I especially found insightful the centering question, “If someone were to describe me to others, what would I want them to say?” I use a version of this in teaching branding, “How would you describe me to others? What do you think MY THING is?”

Authenticity plays a pivotal role in cultivating an executive presence. It’s not just about communication style but about being genuine, ensuring that our words and actions align with our true selves.

Transparency about our limitations builds credibility and trust. For instance, in the retreat business I founded in 2009, I would say to folks, “You don’t want to hire me to summit Mount Rainier. Why? Because I’ve never done it myself, although I’ve read about it being done successfully. And even if I could get you to the top, I wouldn’t know how to get you back down safely. However, if you want to experience the peaceful tranquility of La Dolce Vita in Tuscany, you should choose me. I know the secret places to support your healing and transformation. I know how to help you make a quantum leap in happiness.” By acknowledging what I don’t know, I’ve enhanced my perceived reliability and inspired confidence in my leadership abilities.

Ultimately, executive presence is the culmination of self-awareness, authenticity, and effective communication. It’s about crafting a compelling narrative that resonates with others, instilling trust, and positioning oneself as a credible and influential leader.

Presented by Silvia Mordini, MBA Candidate, Lake Forest Graduate School of Management

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Hi love, I’m Silvia!

I’m a specialist in starting over. 

Trauma revealed truths that took me to some faraway places for healing and wisdom. In Bali, South America, New Zealand, Australia, Laos, Hawaii and Malaysia, I soaked it up, took bold actions, and expanded what was possible for me.

Through all of this I learned something profound; the power of resiliency can be taught and even making a 5% change can change the future dramatically.

Now I teach women like you to access the power within you to change your life, celebrate your genius and start over to create any life you dare to dream.