There are many types of business leaders, but in our experience the ones with the most executive presence and influence have a balance of energy, credibility and charisma.
Energy combats inertia, but it doesn't necessarily inspire. Credibility promotes confidence, although not always loyalty or engagement. Vacuous charisma, while it may inspire and engage for a period, can become very dangerous. Cult and ego-driven leaders tend to fit this description.
They are very powerful communicators who can attract the disenfranchised to a point of blind faith. Most of these scenarios end in disaster. Our leadership studies have found that management styles vary dramatically, but each can be successful if it is genuine. One of the greatest lessons is that leadership is as much art as it is science. Likewise, executive presence is a skill that can be learned, refined and mastered over time.
Below are attitudes and behaviors that develop this presence, when practiced diligently and consistently.
- Know that your energy (positive or negative) is contagious. Newton's first law of motion is often stated as: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.” Use this physics principle constructively to energize and mobilize team members by exhibiting a “motivating presence.” This means being in tune, accessible and approachable to others. For example, proactively reaching out to offer your help or conducting routine “walk-arounds” to acknowledge performance and results within various departments can inject a healthy dose of optimism, focus or drive into otherwise mundane working environments. Also, team members often copy the attitudes and behaviors of their immediate supervisors, so remain cognizant that your actions, wittingly or not, mentor others.
- Credibility involves the intent to problem-solve. It takes more than voicing your domain knowledge in an authoritative voice to make others feel confident about your abilities and perspectives. No one likes egotistical or unfeeling “know-it-alls,” so it's critical to demonstrate a constructive intent when offering feedback or otherwise interacting with others. This means making it clear that your intention when contributing ideas or opinions is not to showcase your abilities at the expense of demeaning those of others. Instead, it's about servant leadership, or the principle of striving to make others successful by being empathic and solution-focused when dealing with people. In this way, you also gain trust and respect along with credibility.
- Charisma is grounded in relatability. Beyond being accessible and approachable, it's important to be tuned in and present in ways that others can relate. In other words, be mindful of whether your attitudes and behaviors reinforce or undermine a sense of positive “connectedness” to others. People are hard-wired to gravitate toward, like and trust those they see as most like themselves. Use this psychology principle to bring others along the journey of achieving an organization's vision or mission and accordingly shun the outdated “command and control” approach.
Executive presence does not mean being “larger than life,” a dynamic speaker or having a strong authoritative demeanor. Leaders stand out in their ability to focus on others and not themselves. This “service to others” is at the core of executive presence—it is inspirational in its message as well as in its ability to bring people together to realize a common goal.
Keith Kefgen is CEO and managing director and James Houran is managing director of Aethos Consulting Group, a hospitality-focused human capital advisory group. Kefgen can be contacted at [email protected] and Houran can be reached at [email protected].