Executive presence is an unwritten competency for leaders and in today’s economy, it is a must if you want to accelerate in your career. Studies* among 4000 professionals show that executive presence constitutes 25% of what it takes to get promoted and equally important skills and qualities.
If you want to be a leader, you have to look like a leader and it goes beyond the appearance. Your presence has to combine those four elements:
- How you look
- How you act
- How you communicate
How you look – the appearance
Your appearance is a door to your success. Your outer presence simply reflects your qualities. Polished look, neat grooming and attention to details makes a positive impact and creates trust. You appear reliable, organized, tasteful. It is not the most important quality, but it is a good start.
How you act – behavior and nonverbal communication
The minute you walk through the door you make an impact. Your body speaks volume and before you get a chance to introduce yourself, your posture, movements and gestures are noticed. Handshake, tone of voice, face expressions adds to the first impression you make. The way you conduct yourself and your manners are part of the picture. If your body language supports what you are saying, you are doing really good.
How you communicate – verbal communication
Being able to express yourself clearly and in a nice manner, presenting facts and figures, but also being able to have small talk are a key to being listened to. If someone enjoys conversation with you, you are winning the game.
Your values – gravitas
Whether you are an entrepreneur, CEO or manager, people around you are looking for what constitutes you as a person and what brings the value to the group. They are looking for your ‘gravitas’. The ancient gravitas were authority, dignity, devotion, power and virtues.
Along with the skills required for the job, you need to be able to present your gravitas. In every action you take and word you say, people have to see those values. It is important that you emphasize your positive traits and characteristics. This what makes you stand out, and this is what constitutes a leader. Recognition of your gravitas builds a respect for you and people naturally starts being attracted to you.
If you want to be a leader you have to make people follow you, you have to appeal to them on many levels. The executive presence is a competency that you can learn.
*2012 Report made by Center for Talent Innovation (CTI)
Your image is a very first thing that is available to others and is immediately evaluated and judged. Even if you truly believe you care more for someone’s values, personality and character, you also judge others based on their appearance. It happens instantly and subconsciously. It is not about rational reasons, but about emotions and impressions. It just feels right or not.
Your image reflects who you are, not only your personality and lifestyle, but also your values and goals. It is a way of communication and says about you much more than you may think. Reflect for a minute on your image…
- Are you easily approachable or rather to be avoided?
- Do you appear confident or shy and timid?
- Do you look trustworthy or irresponsible?
- Do you appear competent and intelligent or inadequate and irrational?
There is no one right image. There is no good or bad image. There is an image that either supports or doesn’t your career and personal goals. Your image matters because it can help you accelerate in your professional and private life. And image is much more than the appearance. It is also about how you act and communicate. It matters because it is about You.
As an entrepreneur or a corporate executive, you are the business card of the company you represent. And before anyone does business with you, they must first like you and trust you. Now think, does your image and the first impression you make actually can attract people. Can it open them to you, to spend time with you, have a conversation? How likeable are you? How do you make people feel around you? How do you want them to feel?
Image matters because it is about trust. From the first impression you make, you must take responsibility for the way you are perceived. And you are the only person that is in control of it. If your outer presence reflects your qualities, then it is extremely important that your appearance supports the message of authenticity, honesty and reliability.
Image matters because it is one of the pillars of your personal branding. And if you feel confident about the appearance, you feel confident about your actions and you are more willing to take on challenges. Look good and feel good is a simple recipe for success. And it is not about the clothes you are wearing, but the general impression you make.
Image is about the outer presence, while the personal branding is all about the value. Your image is like a packaging for the product, it is either attractive or discouraging. And before people check what’s inside, they have to judge the product by its look. You have a choice to have a great packaging or a poor one. You decide what you communicate via your image. That’s why it matters…
Image perception and first impression creation process is somehow similar to the decision-making process when it comes to buying products. Economics Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes the decision making process theory in his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’.
While we would like to believe that we make decisions based on calculation of needs, price and product benefits, we actually based on our intuition and emotions. Kahneman describes two systems: System 1 is the lazy one – intuitive and emotional, the one he calls ‘a machine for jumping into conclusion’.
The conscious assessment of product features and benefits, comes later and requires effort and energy. That process is a rational system 2. As Kahneman says: ‘You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires’.
This is exactly what happens when it comes to first impression. The intuition, feelings and desires take over and we jump into conclusion. We do not have time to analyze all elements, it is the general feel that is created instantly that impacts us the most.
Similarly to packaging of the product and information the package contains. Customers rarely spend time to look at the detailed information. Our brain actively seeks information that conﬁrms its view of the world, and if the information is not available or missing, it simply fills the gaps by making up the stories, that it can access from its own memory.
When it comes to first impression of someone, we base our opinion on very little information. But our brain needs to fill the gaps, so it draws conclusions to create a full picture. That picture is a result of a person’s previous experience, hence the created image might be different and is more a reflection of own beliefs, values, expectations than the reality.
The more information we have about the other person, the more contacts and interactions, the more detailed the picture is. Another important factor is time. With time we can actually think and assess the information. We suppress the first impression and feelings and we start rationalizing.
It is striking, how many resemblances it has with a buying process. The less information and time we have to make a buying decision, the more likely we are to make an intuitive, emotional purchase. The cheaper the product, the more likely we are to make the quick decision. If we are buying an expensive product like a house or a car, we take our time, we analyze and compare.
Very similarly we react to people. We heavily rely on first impression and we quickly jump into conclusions based on persons appearance and behavior. But when it comes to important matters like choosing an employee, we run an extensive process. We gather information, conduct meetings, compare and evaluate. The first impression gives us the feel, that impacts the way we perceive the candidate. If it is positive we are more likely to interpret the other information to his or her benefit. If the impression is not positive, even best resume will not convince us.
“First impression is an idea, feeling or opinion about a person formed without conscious thought or on the basis of little evidence.”
We deeply believe that it is our character and personality that counts, but the reality is that people make judgements about who we are based on first impression. It is not always the most accurate representation. And because it is formed in very short time and based on a very little information, it is always related to the other persons personal experience. Hence it is someone’s perception of you and not a real image. The accuracy of the image increases with the time. With every event or meeting with that person, we gather more information and that brings more clarity to whom he or she is.
We need to think about first impression as a snapshot, a snapshot that captures the moment and nothing else. And those few first seconds are sufficient to make a conclusion about fresh acquaintances. The first impression is created in seconds at the very first encounter – either in person or over the phone or even via email or website. Surprisingly, it has a lasting effect, as we reckon it impacts the way we perceive the person in 60%.
First impression is also about the initial feeling people have meeting you. How you make them feel is more important than what you are saying. Your appearance together with your body language and the tone of your voice create the atmosphere of the meeting. You can make others feel comfortable and relaxed or stressed and pressured. Think of how people respond to you.
From the scientific point of view, our brain is a thousand years old structure. Thanks to the increased use of our brain capability, we evolved as homo sapiens. But many reactions were inherited from our ancestors, like the one that allows our brain to recognize another human as a threat or friend in a few milliseconds. It has been trained for a thousand years to judge the situation and react very quickly based on little information.
The first impression is not the same for various people. They heavily depend on their expectations, prejudices, beliefs and stereotypes. We all have a tendency to interpret situations, events and objects in our own unique way and the distortion of opinion is the result of personal experience. In the same way we differ in interpreting another person’s appearance and behavior. It is not always a bad thing, it makes life interesting and meeting people an exciting experience.
What we need to remember is that to every person their own opinion looks real, true and solid. While it is only an illusion, their perception is their reality.
Understanding that client’s perception of you impacts your relationship and your business is a first step to look into your personal brand.
If you do not have yet a strategy for developing and maintaining your personal branding, here are 5 elements you need to consider.
1. Positioning – start with thinking how you are positioned in the minds of your clients, how you are perceived and how would you like to be perceived. Then evaluate your appearance, behavior and communication to support the message you want to pass. With every action you take, consider how it will be received, what emotions will trigger and how will it reflect on your personal brand. If your behavior will be perceived in a negative way, it will surely influence the way you are perceived and it will become an obstacle to achieving your business goals.
2. Consistency – keep in mind that your image and brand is constantly evaluated and every action is assessed and judged. Therefore, you should work hard on achieving consistency in all three areas – appearance, behavior, communication – to strengthen your brand. If it is perceived as consistent, it gives your clients reassurance on what to expect from you in any given situation. If you consistently deliver on targets, meets deadlines, have a professional look, you are considered reliable and trustworthy.
3. Authority – your personal brand of expert or leader has to command authority. While authority can be imposed by seniority, higher rank, longer service, it is equally important to be earned. And all elements of the image have to support it. If you look good, appear comfortable and confident then the focus is on the conversation and your appearance doesn’t distract from your message. There are many experts in the field, but not all of them are authorities. The difference is, the experts have the knowledge, authorities have the knowledge and the audience because they earned their trust.
4. Branding– your professional image reflects your products and services. You are the business card of your business and very often you are the first point of contact for your clients. Ensure that your appearance is consistent with your message and your image is consistent with your brand. Always strive to be the best possible representation of your company.
5. Timing – timing can make or break everything. Think strategically on introduction of various aspects of your image. Make sure that is not overwhelming. If it is too perfect, too well planned and executed, as it might be perceived as staged or fake. It has to come naturally from within and you have to consistently deliver the same values and qualities. If you are starting with building your personal brand, best take one step at the time and embrace the change. Let it become you first, before you show it to the world. You have to own it and control it, and it has to be an immanent part of you.
- Do you feel like you are not fulfilling your business and personal potential?
- Do you feel like you have more to offer than people see?
- Do you feel your outer presentation doesn’t endorse you in a way you would like it?
Probably it is time to look at your image and see if it you can take charge of the message you truly want to deliver. If you came to the conclusion that your client’s perception of you and your business is not as you would like it to be, it is time to make the decision to focus and invest in areas that impact the way you are perceived.
When thinking about Personal Branding you can’t forget about 3 elements – Unique, Reliable, Consistent
You need to stand out from the rest. If you, as an executive or entrepreneur, are like the others, why anyone would choose you, how would they know you deliver better value than anyone else. How would you differentiate yourself and make yourself and the business you represent special, remarkable and irresistible?
Be different, do not be afraid to stand out, find your uniqueness and market it. Present yourself in a personal way and put emphasis on authenticity and qualities that make you stand out from competitors and colleagues.
People need to be able to build relationship with you – whether it is business or private life and it all starts with trust. Your personal brand’s most powerful feature is reliability, and it is built on belief that you are credible, solid and honest in your relationship with business partners, co-workers and friends.
You should have strong business ethics and show high level of professionalism on every occasion. If people know they can rely on you, they put their trust and hope in you. You are then destined to become recognized as an expert and leader.
All parts of your brand must be congruent, they must match each other and they need to pass the same message. Elements of your appearance, your behavior and your manners, as well as business ethics have to contribute to a clear picture. If you are a creative person, you may want to emphasize your originality and boldness, but find a way your uniqueness supports your business goals.
When considering your personal brand and image, you must be aware of every single element and make it special to provide a unique experience. This is what I call a signature stuff.
You may consider to use specific colors for your logo, website, stationery, office uniforms and interior design and even company vehicles.
You may have a signature greeting, something that will make you memorable every time you pick up the phone or greet someone in person. You may use it, especially if you are bilingual or working in a foreign country. It would be perfectly appropriate and warmly welcomed by others. You could even use the greeting as the opening of the emails or letters to be consistent even further.
You may choose to have a signature accessory like John Lennon had his glasses, Jerry Springer and his suspenders, Karl Lagerfeld and his high collar shirt. It doesn’t need to be extraordinary, but rather well fitted to your lifestyle and taste, but still noticeable and unique.
Every single part of you really is this opportunity to brand. For those working in creative environment – artists, musicians, celebrities – but also graphic designers, advertisement experts, this could be a great opportunity to experiment and let your personality be expressed in a creative way.
Some men do not even need to work on their signature characteristic. We all remember Steve Jobs black turtleneck sweater and washed off jeans and Donald Trump or Boris Johnsons hairstyle.
If there is something special about your appearance or look, embrace it and use it into your advantage. Even if people do not remember your name, they will be able to recall that one characteristic and you will stay in their memory longer than any other suited up business man they met at the event.
And if you are consistent in your appearance and behavior, you will be very quickly recognizable. Being recognizable is an advantage, because people feel more at ease with people they already know. And if their experience with you is the same today as it was yesterday, it gives them the reassurance of the experience of tomorrow. It gives them the feeling of familiarity, it builds trust because they know what they are going to get. If the expectations conflict with the actual behavior, then we have a tremendous conflict. You want to build an expectation of what they are going to get through every single interaction. And your job is to deliver the value they are expecting and strengthen that relationship. That really is a hallmark of a great personal brand.
Your personal brand audience is all the people you have contact with and every interaction you have with them, whether random or frequent, has an impact on your image and your brand as an individual.
Now that you have assessed your personal brand, it is time to look into relationship other people have with You. Take into the consideration the following:
- Who is your audience?
- Where is your audience?
- How do you communicate with your audience?
- Who would you like your audience to be?
Who is your audience?
Your audience is all the people you have contact with – whether face to face, over the phone, digitally via email, social media networks or website. People you are in regular contact – your family, friends, co-workers, business partners and clients – but also random people you meet in various places and during various occasions – taxi driver, waiter in the restaurant, your doctor’s assistant. All of them are your audience, although you remain in different relationships with them and you most probably communicate with them in different ways.
- Private zone – people with whom you have a personal relationship: family members, friends, colleagues, sport club members, your child’s school teachers
- Business zone – people with whom you have work-related relationship: co-workers, clients, business partners, board members, suppliers, contractors etc.
- Random contacts – people you meet, but do not establish long term relationship: taxi driver, shop assistant, flight attendant, waiter in the restaurant
Where is your audience?
For personal branding this question may be tricky, because everyone everywhere is your audience. But you need to understand that depending on their physical location, your contact with them is of a different nature. Personal contact with people is different than contact over the internet and they way you speak with someone on the phone differs from the way you communicate over social media or personal hobby blog.
How do you communicate with your audience?
Once you know where your audiences are, you need to consider the way you talk with them. As sender of a message you take responsibility for being understood. You need to speak the language that will be easily understood by your audience. You need to adjust your vocabulary and tone of voice to the receiver of the message. The way you describe your job is different if you speak to the business partner and the way you explain it to a 10-year old nephew.
The tone of voice you use when you speak during the board meeting is different than when you talk with family members, or when you write a post on your hobby blog. You are in different roles and your messaging needs to be adjusted to the situation.