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That mystifying quality of “executive presence” — and how you can get it.

Gilda Joffe, Executive Coach, shares her advice.

Executive woman with presence

By Gilda Joffe

How does watching a marvelous performance on stage make you feel? Curious, alert, in the zone, transformed, enthralled? And what about the performers? What keeps your eye peeled for their next move or word? What magic do they have that you wish you could emulate? 

As it turns out, it isn’t magic as we know it, but nevertheless something cloaked in a bit of mystery — it’s PRESENCE.

Presence, that indefinable something that makes you sit up and notice when someone enters a room. Something about them, the way they carry themselves, move, or speak, intrigues you and keeps your eyeballs following their every move.

I’m remembering two very well-known women ballet dancers from a bygone era that showed up long ago to the Carnegie Hall stage door where, as a great lover of dance, I had attended a performance. With a side eye and trying not to stare, I noticed that they (who had seemed so tall and magnificent on stage in their youth), were now, because of advanced age, quite diminished. However, with postures like giraffes, coupled with commanding presence, they swept in with an air of royalty!

The presence that you wish to develop, however, is far different. 

Not the alienating sort, but very much the opposite — the kind that can produce an amazingly powerful positive effect on your career. The ambiance you create around yourself determines instantly how people see you, and how they will consciously or unconsciously begin to relate with you.

So, what is this Executive Presence, and why is it important?

Shortly said, executive presence is a charismatic quality which enables others to feel trust, respect, confidence and real interest in the decisions and ideas of the person who possesses it. Furthermore, it is not a luxury to have, but a prized necessity in work and life which directly influences the productivity and advancement of an organization, and tremendously affects self-development. 

When you develop executive presence, it has a ripple effect on the people around you in whatever type of organizational fishbowl you swim, because your attitudes and behaviors:

  • Instill confidence in the person to whom you are speaking — making it easier for them to feel heard, understood, and ultimately psychologically safe to share their ideas. (It’s not hard to see how this relates to creativity, whether individually or in teams.)
  • Allow others to feel your genuine respect, thereby enabling them to mirror that respect back to themselves, and their colleagues.
  • Let you present a clear vision in an inspiring and authentic manner.
  • Show that you are able to communicate skillfully — not by fear-based demands, but by creating an atmosphere of trust and opportunity.
  • Are examples to others of how not to be afraid of mistakes, since by watching you they learn that owning up to mistakes is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Let you handle challenges with dignity and poise, qualities which affect the productivity and emotions of those in your surroundings.

And how does Executive Presence help you personally?

  • By taking responsibility for your emotional patterns and behaviors, you not only raise yourself to a higher level, but are able to show others how you handle chaos without falling apart or resorting to unproductive behaviors.
  • When you cultivate Executive Presence you show your capabilities to others in senior positions, helping them to keep you foremost in their minds for promotions and opportunities.
  • You learn to think more quickly under pressure, to stay calm and recalibrate yourself during or after a stressful situation.
  • Your self-confidence increases enormously in all areas of work and presentation. It IS possible to generally feel very confident even if you are overwhelmed in a specific situation.
  • It gives you a good understanding of how others might perceive you. Looking at yourself from an outside perspective is important to understand what physical or emotional impressions are coming across to others.
  • Your listening and speaking skills, crucial components of Executive Presence, vastly improve, so that you never appear flustered, out of your depth, or emotionally out of balance.
  • You dress appropriately with style and confidence, signaling to others what you think about yourself. If style is not your thing, hire someone to give you a few tips! Everyone needs a little advice now and then.
  • Taking time to ground yourself in your own presence, gives you a platform from which to read and understand your audience. And it is only from that vantage point that you can understand their needs and how to couple them with your own objectives. 

“Executive presence is quite similar to stage presence, so necessary for people in the public eye, since they both require the necessary skills to handle super-charged relationships with many different types of colleagues and listeners.”

To start developing Executive Presence, consider the following areas; they’ll help you assess how you come across to others both personally and professionally:

  • Engaging speaking skills: What is the pitch of your voice? How fast or slow are you speaking? What impact does this have on your listeners? What kind of sentence flow, vocabulary do you use?
  • Reassuring Body Language: Are you tense, closed and constricted? Or open and welcoming? Physical movements calm and reassuring or small and agitated? Facial expressions?
  • Outstanding Communication skills: Can you be assertive without being acerbic? Can you handle difficult people? Situations? Interruptions? Make decisions under pressure? Show authority without an authoritarian attitude? How are your listening skills?
  • High Confidence: Not only project it but feel it! Necessary to allow others to trust in your capabilities, and for others to feel your trust in them.
  • Personal Resilience: Are you on an emotionally and physically stable keel? or constantly stressed, with not enough sleep, and an unhelpful diet? Do you recognize that other aspects of your life are just as important for your life- as for your work?
  • Productive Action: Can you recover quickly from mistakes (we all make them) and continue on decisively with calm? Can you see the bigger picture? Create a vision for yourself and others? Do you have the passion to make a difference? Can you become a mentor to others?

Executive presence is quite similar to stage presence, so necessary for people in the public eye, since they both require the necessary skills to handle super-charged relationships with many different types of colleagues and listeners. In almost all high level professions you will find communication problems, difficult people, and knotty financial /artistic corporate decisions which must be made. Having “Executive Presence” means that you have acquired the kind of mindset which enables wiser decisions and productive actions. Being in command of yourself, before you lead others, is paramount if you wish to have successful outcomes in any career.

To sum it up, no matter what your career, on stage or off, in the boardroom, running a meeting, presenting to your angel investors, developing financial strategies or having an eye on a promotion, your presence and how you express your thoughts will be the determining factor in other people’s decisions about you and your capabilities. The advantage of taking time to develop your executive presence is clear, since it serves the expansion of your company’s horizons, as well as your personal opportunities!

In addition, the very same skills that produce results at work are those that we can use in our everyday lives. When we are secure in our own presence we can then go forward to deliver our gifts, realize our goals, and become the conduits for other’s dreams and visions as well.

What better possibility can there be?

Picture of Gilda Joffe

Gilda Joffe

Gilda Joffe, Executive Female Coach and former international performer, works with women worldwide to transform negative mindsets and fears preventing release of creative and business potential. Her 25+ years of coaching and performing experience, has helped hundreds of women to recast issues of confidence, performance anxiety, negative internal dialogues, imposter syndrome issues, into compelling executive presence. She is the author of Dancing With Your Muse: How to Release Fear and Embrace Creativity (Exisle Publishing) set for release in December 2021. Contact Gilda on LinkedIn or