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How to Strengthen Your Personal and Executive Presence

Find out how to develop the "It" factor you need to be a brand people follow.
How to Strengthen Your Personal and Executive Presence
Image credit: Rekha Garton | Getty Images
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The following excerpt is from Karen Tiber Leland’s new book The Brand Mapping Strategy. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

Do you have it? You know, the “It” factor -- that winning leadership cocktail of people skills, communication abilities and influence over others combined with a reputation for high performance. In short -- executive presence.

The question is, how can today’s enterprise leaders act as role models for the values and priorities they espouse while simultaneously shepherding initiatives from creation to implementation in high-demand work environments?

I believe that personal branding is one of the key factors that influence the moment-to-moment choices that enable effective CEOs to achieve a strong executive presence. By creating a dedicated mode of living, as opposed to a default one, leaders bring their brand promise into every interaction across the board. The results are higher performance, greater influence and increased competence, cooperation and engagement with their staff, colleagues, customers, industry and the public at large.

In a 2013 study from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), the senior executives surveyed said that “executive presence” accounted for 26 percent of what’s required for promotion.

The same study showed that of the three most important aspects of executive presence -- gravitas, communication skills and appearance -- gravitas by far carried the most weight and was composed of six core traits: confidence, decisiveness, integrity, emotional intelligence, vision and reputation.

Interestingly, “The CEO Reputation Premium” report from Weber Shandwick and KRC Research revealed that similar attributes drive strong CEO reputation, including:

  • Having a clear vision for the company
  • Inspiring and motivating others
  • Being honest and ethical
  • Being a good communicator internally
  • Caring that the company is a good place to work
  • Having a global business outlook
  • Being a good communicator externally
  • Being decisive
  • Being focused on customers

I think most executives and CEOs would agree that developing and refining these qualities takes a lifetime of practice. There are, however, some important ways you can use a personal branding approach to improve the odds -- and speed up the process.

Assess the current state of your personal brand and executive presence

What do friends and colleagues say about your approach to work? Are you always invited to a certain type of brainstorming session, or are you recruited to help with particular problems? Do people enjoy working with you because you bring a creative touch, or are you able to break big issues down into bite-size pieces? Cross-reference these answers to find the similarities.

In addition to doing your own research, you may want to consider hiring a consultant to do some further assessment, including:

  • Telephone interviews with selected managers, co-workers, clients and staff on their perception of your executive presence, personal brand and current level of advocacy.
  • A confidential, 360-degree web-based questionnaire to determine the strengths and challenges of your current executive or CEO brand.
  • Intake and evaluation of your current online reputation and brand­ing collateral, including social media, bio, resume and Google results.

Create personal brand projects

Once you have a good handle on what your current personal brand and state of executive presence are, it’s time to translate your personal brand into a series of targeted projects and work-specific behaviors. I encourage you to choose projects that meet the following criteria. The projects should:

  • Directly benefit your executive presence and personal brand, resulting in an increased leadership capability.
  • Directly benefit your work group, segment or the com­pany at large.
  • Directly work toward outcomes that go beyond “feel good” to prac­tical application on the job and/or in your overall career.
  • Be actionable and observable in present-day and immediate or future work/life situations.
  • Be capable of completion or achieving substantial progress within a three- to four-month time frame.

Here’s an example: Martha is the CIO of a large financial services firm. After discussing her personal brand and talking to some of her colleagues, boss and staff, it became clear she was respected by the people she worked with. However, her current executive presence wasn’t sufficient for her mandate to transform the way technology was implemented and used within the business.

In short, Martha’s current brand was seen as being “a manager who effectively problem solves and is known for hands-on implementation.” Not a bad brand, but insufficient for the task entrusted to her.

Martha wanted to be seen as an “influential leader who’s creating a culture of continuous improvement, where people are empowered to problem solve and implement.”

In light of Martha’s desired executive presence, she came up with several brand projects that would begin to shift how she was perceived. One of the projects involved a series of town hall meetings designed to get her team excited about the IT transformation and buy in to supporting it. In alignment with her goal, Martha created a fun and inclusive agenda for the meeting and a highly visual presentation -- the opposite of the usual boring, text-oriented presentation staff were used to.

Martha called me after the first series of town halls telling me that her meetings were the talk of the town. “Staff keep coming up to me and telling me that was the best town hall we’ve ever had,” she said. “Their level of enthusiasm for what we’re trying to do is obvious. I’m having fun.”