Are you struggling to get noticed by your organization’s succession planners? Hoping for a promotion but plateaued at your level? You might be surprised how your words and actions are holding you back. Here are a few secrets to enhancing your executive presence.

Pay attention to how you look

You need to look like a leader. I’m not talking about plastic surgery here, but take a look in the mirror; what does your ensemble say about you? If the first things that come to mind are scruffy, harried, or disheveled, you’re sending the signal that you don’t care about yourself; and if you don’t care about yourself, why should anyone else.

Alternatively, if you’re wearing your Sunday best in a culture that tends toward jeans and flannel, you’re also getting it all wrong.  Your blue suit is telling people that you’re managing impressions—and that is not cool.

Look at the people who are more senior than you.  How do they show up?  Take your cues from them.

How much space do you take up?

You need to take up space in the room. When you walk into a room, do people notice, or do you quietly slip in and find the least assuming spot at the table? It’s important to walk into a room demonstrating confidence with your head held up.

Arrive in time to find a seat at the table that gives you good eye lines to your teammates and your team leader.  Make sure your body language is open and confident: if you tend to cross your arms or make yourself smaller, concentrate on putting your arms on the arm rests. Make eye contact with people as they speak—it makes a world of difference.

How do you come across?

You need to speak with weight. What you say needs to inspire confidence in those around you. Avoid sharing opinions and instead, share a point of view—a series of observations with a “so what” attached. Speak in crisp and concise headlines and pause before providing additional detail so that your point has time to land with your audience.

Where possible, use strong words such as “I have observed” rather than “I think” and avoid the wiggle words such as “maybe,” “somewhat,” “might,” and “sort of” that signal your discomfort and uncertainty. Enlist a teammate to jot down a few notes to help you key in on areas you could improve.

Stand your ground

Executive presence is also about holding your own. Not only do you need to add new ideas to the discussion, but you also need to at least occasionally disagree with the perspectives or recommendations of others.  When you disagree, state your case firmly and politely.  Always demonstrate your openness by ending your point with a question. “I heard you say that our oil & gas customers are the most profitable. When I have analyzed profitability including soft dollar costs, oil & gas looks much less attractive. What do we want to include in our calculations?”

Who do you interact with?

You need to be visible. It is unlikely that you will be promoted if you are an unknown quantity to those senior to you. Start finding opportunities to interact with them.  Use the casual time on the way into or out of meetings to chat with people you wouldn’t normally be exposed to. Ask their impressions of the discussion, share an interesting tidbit from the news, or just engage with them socially—human to human.

If you could magically look down on yourself at work, what would you see? A calm, confident, collected person who is going places or someone who is struggling to make an impact even at your present level? Systematically stretch yourself in these 5 areas and you’ll start to notice that you get noticed.

Further Reading

Communicate with, not to

Checklist for Effective Business Communication

When your Team needs a New Leader

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