Recently, I participated in two separate panels where we discussed the importance of executive presence and how people can improve their own executive presences.
Now, you may be wondering exactly what “executive presence” is. There are many ways to define the phrase, but at its core, it simply refers to how people carry themselves. For example, a Business Insider article suggests executive presence comes from the combination of seven traits: composure, connection, charisma, confidence, credibility, clarity, and conciseness.
As you can see, many of these qualities are superficial. That’s unfortunate, but it makes sense. First impressions are made in about seven seconds, and hiring managers typically decide whether or not they’ll move forward with your candidacy within the first few minutes of the interview. This is why we often need to rely on our surface-level character traits to make quick connections in business.
Executive presence is even more important when you’re new to a career/company, or when you’re “different” in some way. At my first job, I redesigned parts on cars for General Motors. I was 19 years old when I started. Soon after I started, the plant manager called my boss and asked, “Who is this little girl, and what is she doing with my cars?”
It became clear to me that in order to get my job done, I needed to do my best to fit in. I worked to refine my executive presence. I dressed more formally. I made a conscious effort to speak more loudly and confidently. I paid attention to my posture. I made it a point to be on time and to keep the commitments I made.
My devotion to cultivating a strong executive presence paid off. Despite being young, I was promoted to director at 27 and to vice president five years after that.
Don’t get me wrong. The biases many of us face in the workplace are not necessarily fair, but they are real. Because of this, it’s important to be aware of these biases, how they influence your career, and how you can push back against them.
So, what can you do if you want to improve your executive presence? Start by observing the people around you. What do your colleagues wear to work? How do they communicate during meetings? Next, observe your own behaviors. How do you react under pressure? Do you follow through on your own commitments? Your colleagues will notice these things, and your behaviors will influence their perception of you.
Be genuine. Even if you behave professionally, an off-putting presence won’t help you in the long run.
Truthfully, career success is not about how smart you are or how well you do your job — not always. Often, it’s about how good you are with people — and how good you are with people is influenced by your executive presence.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.