Here's what Executive Presence IS and... is NOT

Executive Presence is kind of tricky to define. It’s not one specific leadership competency but it seems like you either have it or you don’t.

Often described as Gravitas, we all know someone who is highly influential, with or without the positional power of an authoritative job title. Leaders who have a certain ‘presence’ are highly respected, trusted and credible whilst being authentic, personable and honest.

Why Executive Presence Matters

Everyone wants to make a difference and have a positive impact. The best days at work are those when you know you’ve helped make something or someone’s life better in some way.

Think of the last time you know you made a positive difference – what happened and how did it feel?

Now imagine being able to achieve this every day and the impact it would have on your sense of fulfilment and self-worth. The cumulative effect of making a positive difference every day (even in small ways), has a profound ripple effect.

Observing the behaviours you model, team members and colleagues are motivated to ramp up their influence and the collective impact is magnified.

To strengthen your level of influence and impact, it’s first important to understand what Executive Presence is and, perhaps more importantly, what it is not….

Top 12 Characteristics of Executive Presence

The following summary captures the key ingredients of Executive Presence, contrasted with characteristics that often inadvertently erode credibility and influence.


  • Purpose and Vision driven – motivated by something bigger than self
  • Service focused – making things better for everyone
  • Broad, long term perspective – sees things from multiple viewpoints and keeps the end goal in mind always
  • Poise under pressure – remains genuinely calm, composed and focused especially when caught off guard or not ready
  • Acts with intention – says and does what needs to be done based on what outcome needs to be achieved
  • Highly self-aware and confident – backs own viewpoints whilst remaining open to changing course if new information becomes available
  • Is considered and careful – often speaks last in a meeting in a measured way, incorporating what’s already been said
  • Humble yet passionate
  • Presents fact and evidence based arguments with keen awareness of subjective considerations. Comfortable to not have all the answers
  • Others listen and actively seek out his/her opinion including on topics outside his/her area of expertise
  • Has a way of making others feel like their contribution is highly valued and genuinely appreciated
  • Dresses professionally based on work place dress code and culture


  • Vested interest driven – motivated by own agenda and self-interest
  • Self-focused - making things better for self or own team
  • Narrow, short term perspective – only sees things through a single lens and how they impact self
  • Demonstrates unhelpful behaviours under pressure – stress, frustration, anger, critical of others
  • Acts on autopilot – reacts impulsively and defensively to crises and others’ stress. Loses sight of the end goal
  • Unaware of impact on others – come across as arrogant and inflexible to hide low self-esteem.
  • Outspoken on everything – speaks first and often, rarely hearing or absorbing others’ opinions.
  • Opinionated yet flaky
  • When under prepared resorts to positional power – ‘Because I say so…’ Dismisses questions as irrelevant
  • Deflects conversations to conceal lack of knowledge. People ‘tune out’ and are often confused by his/her opinions.
  • Quickly dismisses alternative viewpoints and rarely acknowledges others contributions
  • Draws attention to appearance to distract from lack of substance

Case Study – A Tale of Two Leadership Styles

Stressed Leadership
Curios Leadership

Many years ago I was consulting for a high profile corporate client experiencing the significant disruption of major change. Deadlines were tight and stress levels were high. Juggling ‘business as usual’ with major change was impacting every division and team.

The Steering Committee for this change program was a 6 member Executive Team, led by the well-respected CIO. Plagued by constant tension, conflict and inflated egos, the team’s friction added to his challenges.

Alliances were formed; relationships were undermined and divisional silos created unnecessary complexity. At every Steering Committee meeting you could cut the air with a knife!

Observing the starkly contrasting leadership styles of two of the Executives, gave me a master class on the power of Executive Presence.

Ellen was a smart, passionate and committed leader – the only woman on the team. With a consulting background gained from working for one of the ‘Big 4’, she was quick to assess situations and form insightful opinions. But Ellen also demonstrated behaviours which seriously undermined her credibility and the respect of her peers.

Ellen’s passion often resulted in barely concealed frustration. Her male peers would, in jest, ‘wind her up’ and she frequently took the bait. She’d become openly defensive and exasperated.

When pushed to the edge, she’d grab her pink handbag (which she took to every meeting) and storm out with the sound of her colleagues derisive laughter ringing in her ears.

But not every member of this Exec Team was part of the ‘Boys’ Club’. Mark was quietly spoken, genuine and respectful. Without the various degrees of his younger colleagues, he’d worked his way up, earning the high regard of all who worked with and for him. Calm, honest and respectful, he was the CIO’s trusted confidante.

During one particular meeting where Ellen’s colleagues were yet again baiting her, Mark decided to speak up.

Printed on the back of everyone’s photo ID entry passes was the organisation’s core values and agreed behaviours. Placing his lD pass (values side up), on the table, Mark quietly yet firmly pointed out how the Executive Team’s behaviour was violating the core values and undermining their effectiveness as a leadership team.

As leaders they needed to do better… much better. The mood in the room changed instantly as his colleagues, realising the truth behind Mark’s words, shuffled uncomfortably in their seats.

After a long, silent pause, the CIO said, “Thank you Mark – I couldn’t have said that better myself.” He closed the meeting, asking everyone to think about how they’d contributed to the problem and how they intended to fix it.

When the team met again a fortnight later, they shared genuine apologies and committed to purposefully building a more respectful, collaborative team dynamic.

Such is the impact of Executive Presence. One careful, measured contribution from Mark held up a mirror to the team, helping them reflect and reset their behaviour. Unsurprisingly, everyone noticed the shift in leadership behaviours which had the ripple effect of increased respect, knowledge sharing and collaboration across teams.

Executive Presence - the Good News

If you’re not naturally charismatic or extroverted, don’t worry! Introverted, authentic, quietly confident leaders are usually far more effective than their more naturally outgoing colleagues.

You may not be strong in all 12 EP characteristics, but you don’t actually need all of them to be highly regarded and influential.

Executive Presence is established over time by how you think, what you say, the actions you take and how you lead every single day.

Consciously focus on one characteristic at a time until it comes naturally and notice the difference this makes to others.

And, if you've already mastered these, you can check out even more successful leadership characteristics here!

Carpe diem

Caroline Cameron

Keen to strengthen YOUR Executive Presence?

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About Caroline

Caroline Cameron is an award winning, master certified executive, career and business team coach, workshop facilitator and speaker. Caroline is on a mission to help mid-career professionals and evolving organisations harness the power of change to achieve success in business, work and life.

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