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…
Body language impacts how others perceive you. What really matters, it is not what you say, but how you say it and, most importantly, how your body conveys that message.
According to the research studies – words, tone of voice and body language – account differently when it comes to our perception of another person. And while we like to think that it is the content that matters, only 7% accounts for the words. The tone of your voice is more important 38%, but the real focus should be on body language which accounts for 55%. Your message is only as strong, as convincing is your body language and tone of your voice.
Your body language also reveals how you feel and think about yourself. The way you enter the boardroom or the meeting, can make a good first impression, build credibility and trust if you feel good and confident. Your posture, your walk, speed of movements, hand gestures can show your confidence and high self-esteem.
5 tips on body language to make a good first impression
Good posture makes you look confident, shows good energy and health. Remember to keep straight, roll back your shoulders and keep your chin up. Try to avoid crossing arms, while it may be simply a comfortable position but it may be taken as you are not open to the conversation.
If you walk confidently, you will be able to build instant credibility and the reaction to you will be noticeable different. Try to keep a moderate pace of your walk. If you rush, you look stressed and chaotic. But if you are very slow in your movements, it may be taken as a sign of poor confidence, insecurity or health issues.
Give a firm, confident handshake when you meet your client or business partner. Do not try to power the other person down. Offer a straight vertical hand instead of palm down one to take control. Avoid the ‘wet noodle’ handshake that comes from timid and easily intimidated people.
Keep a comfortable space between you and the other person. If you are too far away offering a handshake you will have to lean forward and bow, if you are too close the handshake may feel uncomfortable as you are invading someones personal zone.
Eye contact is essential to create successful personal and business relationship, but so many of us find it difficult to do it effectively.
Keep an eye contact when shaking hand and maintain it during the meeting. Inconsistent eye contact is a sign that you are either not interested or extremely unconsidered.
You also do not want to look down when making a point, as it may look like you are uncomfortable or unsure with the statement.
Smile to show you feel comfortable and relaxed in business or social gatherings. Use smile at your business meeting to greet clients and partners, respond with smile if the conversation is to break the ice and of casual topics. But avoid smiling during serious negotiations as it may be taken for a sign of insecurity.
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.
A word „image” has a broader meaning and denotes a subjective perception of a given person, an image created by fragmentary and random capture of particular features and details of the appearance and behaviour, and resulting from the relation in which we leave a given person. An image is a multi-layered and dynamic construct which is permanently changing. Our knowledge about a given person expands, we can notice new features, therefore our subjective perception changes, yet it is remains a mosaic of many details. However, it never is a real picture, but it serves as the point of reference in our social or professional contacts.
A particularly important element of the image is appearance, which encompasses three types of features – 1) permanent, unchangeable features, 2) relatively changeable features, and 3) easily changeable features. Height is a permanent feature, whereas hair colour, weight, posture are changeable; nevertheless, the possibility of modifying these elements is limited. What can be fully modified and changed are clothes, make-up and haircut.
Attributes of the appearance can be recognised within the first few second, and their perception creates the so-called “first impression” and determines the way of perceiving a given person for a longer period of time. The appearance is frequently understood and interpreted in the way which goes beyond the sphere of clothes, make-up and haircut. It is a carrier of information, which is not expressed directly, but associated with a certain appearance. These associations are based on stereotypical convictions related to certain elements of appearance and our tendency to drawing simple conclusions basing on the extrinsic features.
Another element of the image is behaviour, which reveals person’s nature and personal traits. By means of speech, walk, gestures and the whole range of non-verbal signs, we learn person’s internal construction. It is not enough to spend a while in order to construe this code. It consists of a number of signs and contrary to the appearance, it is not unequivocally interpreted.
The process of perceiving another person does not only involve observation of the appearance and the behaviour, but primarily interpretation and drawing conclusions regarding intrinsic features which are not directly exposed.
The last element of the image are individual features of personality, predispositions, competences and knowledge. These, however, take its target form in the long process of upbringing and socialisation, and are dependent on the length and quality of the process of education. They have however a considerable impact on man’s identity and the way it is perceived by our surrounding. Similarly, a family and financial status, as well as professional position will influence the assessment of the image.
In order to render the image convincing, it must be complete, consistent and real. A suitable clothes cannot make up for gaps with respect to behaviour and education, but competences devoid of a suitable appearance cannot evoke trust. Elements of the image, being in harmony and real, have a positive influence on the way of behaving and relations with the surrounding. They strengthen the sense of self-esteem and help overcome the sense of uncertainty with regard to contacts with other people.
The image is not a regular label we are provided with. Changing and reshaping it, we can have an influence on the way other people perceive us. Particular elements can be subject to transformation. Some of them can be quickly changed, others are time-consuming and require hard work and significant financial input. The most important is that all of our actions, aimed at shaping our positive image, are taken consciously, deliberately and consistently. This is the reason for taking professionals’ pieces of advice.