What Is Executive Presence: The Elusive Quality Of Great Business Leaders

by Benjamin Miller

What is executive presence?

Executive presence is one of the most important yet elusive qualities in great business leaders. Many of us know it when we see it. But have you considered what it takes to develop executive presence for yourself?

There’s a reason an entire industry exists around executive presence training and executive presence coaching. As a leader, it’s critical to be perceived by others as being capable and worthy of a given executive role. The value of executive presence cannot be understated, considering the importance of first impressions and reputations in business. And that goes for both established and aspiring executives.

So what is executive presence exactly and what goes into developing it? In this post, we answer your key questions around executive presence. Towards the end, we also recommend a specific mini MBA course that can serve to accelerate your executive presence training. It’s a perfect fit for anyone looking to improve their aptitude for this crucial entrepreneurial quality.

What Is Executive Presence?

Executive presence looks different depending on who is manifesting it. For that reason, there is no singular executive presence definition that captures the concept in one fell swoop. Our definition? 

Executive presence can be defined as the combination of hard and soft skills that make someone a strong, dynamic, and well-respected executive. When business leaders have strong executive presence, they are able to inspire trust and confidence in their employees, teams, and external stakeholders.

5 Defining Characteristics of Executive Presence

A majority of professionals agree that it’s difficult to pinpoint an executive presence definition. But few would debate some of the most common building blocks of a rock-solid executive presence. To expand upon our executive presence definition above, here are five defining characteristics of a leader with executive presence.

1. The Ability to Inspire

The best executives inspire their teams to work towards a common business goal, to get excited about the company’s mission, and to continue bringing their best on a day-to-day basis. In other words, to have executive presence means to be a source of inspiration for those around you. 

To fully understand the importance of team inspiration, think about what it’s like to work among an uninspired team. Imagine the executive who leads a group of capable yet unenthusiastic employees. That executive must find ways to be a more captivating leader, otherwise employees will churn and company goals will suffer.

In any company, employees and managers are always looking higher up in the leadership chain for inspiration. As role models, executives provide stated and unstated queues on how to act in the workplace. 

One of the best ways for leaders to inspire their employees is to hold their ground as an evangelist of the company’s core values. If a company stands for certain values, those values must be demonstrated at the highest levels of the organization. That means there is a direct correlation between leading by example and achieving executive presence. People expect executives to inspire by embodying their company’s mission through the examples they set. Failure to fill those shoes as an executive will put an immediate chink in your executive presence armor.

2. Excellent Communication Skills

Great communication is one of the most obvious ways any executive  can be perceived as a smart, thoughtful leader. Whether in an all-hands meeting, a leadership team meeting, or simply speaking with individual employees, executives must be able to communicate easily with all audiences. For many, this improving communication involves developing EQ, learning how to give and receive feedback, and code switching.   

To some degree, executive presence is about sounding the part. That means being able to clearly communicate around business goals, mission, and values. Ever seen the video of Steve Jobs explaining Apple’s new marketing campaign to Apple employees in 1997? Jobs uses his excellent communication skills to inspire, and to be a walking example of Apple’s big-picture values. With strong executive presence, he sounds and looks like he belongs on that stage.

3. Confident, Yet Curious

Business men and women with strong executive presence have confidence and conviction in their ideas. In order to drive a company up and to the right at a healthy pace, executives must make key decisions. And to rally an entire organization behind those decisions, confidence is key. 

With that said, confidence is no excuse to give up on the possibility that your conviction could be misguided. That’s why a healthy executive presence is also about staying curious and listening to every voice in the room. For example, a curious executive might go the extra mile to hear out the person playing devil’s advocate during a hiring debate, as opposed to quickly discarding that less-popular viewpoint. No executive gets it right every time. Having the humility to operate with that understanding will lead to better business decisions and healthier relationships within any team.

4. Industry Track Record

Becoming an executive in the first place requires having a track record as a capable operator who moves the needle. But even once in an executive position, that running track record continues to play a factor in maintaining your executive presence. Having cold-hard proof of your success certainly helps to quiet any doubters of your claim to your executive role. Part of executive presence is simply reinforcing trust in people that you are deserving of having a seat at the executive table.

5. Business Sense

Business sense, also known as business acumen, is the ability to make sharp business decisions in a wide range of different situations. While business sense is inherent in some individuals, it is a skill that can be developed just like any other skill – especially when developed in a dedicated, hands-on learning environment.

Business sense is an all encompassing aspect of executive presence. Depending on the specific executive role, business sense is relevant in all areas of business, including the eight core business skills taught in Business Intensive: Strategy & Finance, Pricing, Web Development, Communication & Presentation, Sales & Influence, Customer Research, Marketing, Branding.

Executive Presence Training

It’s no secret that pursuing a leadership position in business comes with its perks – higher pay, more influence, more status, to name a few. For anyone with aspirations to get to the top, seeking out experiences that help develop executive presence is essential.

Executive presence coaching or training is a way for business leaders to develop the five defining characteristics of executive presence discussed above. While some life and work coaching is designed to focus on a wide breadth of goals, executive presence coaching takes on a much more narrow focus around the topics in this post. With executive presence training, things like public speaking, idea formulation, pitch delivery, and interpersonal communication take center stage.

The Mini MBA for Executive Presence Development

A great executive presence training course gives participants an opportunity to work in a hands-on business environment where they can practice the five key characteristics of executive presence. For both aspiring and existing executives, brunchwork’s Business Intensive provides that exact environment.

Through Business Intensive, students have an opportunity to build executive presence through a number of immersive co-learning projects. These projects are designed to simulate real-world business situations, and include:

• Refining and test a business concept
• Running a market sizing, revenue growth and competitor analysis
• Delivering a high-caliber presentation
• Analyzing financial reports and models
• Developing a brand strategy
• Building a no-code website
• Conducting user interviews
• Developing and execute a marketing and sales plan
• Pitching a business idea with conviction and charisma

The 7-week mini-MBA program has been named by Forbes as one of the best MBA programs. And it costs less than $2,000, a fraction of the cost of traditional MBA programs. Weekly guest speakers include high profile business leaders, like former Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang, PayPal Founding COO David Sacks, Ellevest Co-founder and CEO Sallie Krawcheck, and Peloton Co-founder, Graham Stanton.

To learn more and to sign up for Business Intensive, future executive presence experts can read up here.