How to Build Your Executive Presence

Posted on 04-28-2017

At HIMSS, I had a conversation with a talented CIO I’ve known for years.  He is by many accounts achieving success.  For instance, he consistently hits budget targets and drives innovation at his organization.  However, he confided that he is deeply dissatisfied because despite his accomplishments, the CEO will not give him a seat at the executive table.  Some CIOs are excluded from the executive table due to organizational politics.  In this case I immediately suspected this leader’s lack of executive presence was the reason he is not included “at the table”.

While “executive presence” has many definitions, key dimensions include emotional intelligence, poise and charisma—in most cases you just know it when you see it.  The good news is that the latest research indicates that executive presence isn’t necessarily something you’re born with.  It can be learned.

At Kirby Partners we regularly work with CIOs and senior leaders and frequently see behavior and skills gaps.  Often, “executive presence” shortcomings are relatively easy-to-fix.  Our suggestions include:

  • Build Connections: Sometimes leaders are so busy they focus on transactions rather than relationships. Something as simple as putting away your mobile device and being present during conversations can solidify your connections with others and make them feel valued. Prioritize finding shared interests and building rapport with your colleagues and team members.
  • Communicate concisely: Clarity, brevity, and effective communication of technical information to non-technical audiences are critical skills for senior leaders. When asked for your expertise, focus on distilling your message into two to three points unless more are absolutely needed—verbosity will kill any semblance of executive presence and detract from your message.
  • Convey confidence: Posture, dressing professionally, and acting authoritatively impact how others perceive you. Carefully evaluate and refine your use of eye contact, conversational style, how you walk, and your posture both in casual and more formal situations.
  • Cultivate self-awareness: Do you value the opinion of others or think you are always right? Are you critical of others?  Are you cool under fire?  Do you listen…or often interrupt?  Make sure you are aware of how you’re perceived and adjust your behaviors where needed.

I encourage leaders to periodically ask peers they trust for feedback, and then take steps to grow their executive presence.  It doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a seat at the executive table but it will be much harder to get there and succeed without it.

This article was originally posted in the April 2017 edition of the HIT Strategies Newsletter. 

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