ChannelAdvisor Bradley Hearn By Alana Fennessy

Executive Presence and Why It’s Critical to Your Career

The ChannelAdvisor Women’s Group is an affinity group that was established in 2016 to connect and develop women at ChannelAdvisor across our global offices.

  • The group is committed to guiding and empowering women at ChannelAdvisor by supporting each other to develop valuable professional skills through education, networking and inclusion.
  • We strive to have four meet-ups each year in London, Melbourne, Shanghai, and our global headquarters in Morrisville, NC.
  • Based on survey results from group members, the group chooses topics to focus on. One of the themes for this quarter is “executive presence.”

Much of how we are perceived at work is tied to the way we communicate and how we compose ourselves both physically and emotionally. Whether we’re communicating with our peers, our managers or our clients, communication and composure are tied to professional success.

Whether you call it charisma, confidence or compelling leadership, “executive presence” is the new corporate X-factor. And at some point or another, we will all display it or look up to someone else for having it. Of course, we’re talking about more than just making a great first impression at work. Executive presence is multi-factored, increases over time (just like wisdom) and is reflected in everything you say, feel and do in the workplace. 

Alana Fennessy, Head of Client Engagement, ChannelAdvisor (AU Office)

So what exactly is executive presence? I like to think of it as an art: It’s about developing your own voice, it’s deeply personal and it must be refined over time. This process can be fine-tuned through experimentation, through successes and through failures. But mostly, it’s perfected through repeated execution.

With that said, there are some seemingly obvious traits that professionals with strong executive presence often display. Let’s look at some.

Communication

Individuals with executive presence understand how to communicate with a vast array of people, in a vast array of situations, and know how to connect with others by adapting to their communication style. They’ll use empathy, trust and connection to motivate and inspire others. The majority of communication is actually non-verbal, so ask yourself, is your posture open and confident? Are your shoulders back and relaxed? Are you communicating to others through your body language that you are confident (e.g., a strong handshake)? Do you make eye contact with people as you communicate with them?

Composure

These individuals are almost always composed and have a deep sense of self awareness, as well as an ability to understand others. They have an ability to control their emotions, and recognise emotions in others to help them feel comfortable and at ease in any situation. This doesn’t mean you can’t show any emotion at work. It simply means that those emotions need to be displayed in an appropriate manner. After all, our ability to display a sense of passion about what we’re doing and why we are doing it is so important to our ability to succeed at work. What I like to think of as emotional presence is really about emotional intelligence and self-management.

Do you know how to manage yourself during stressful situations? Are you able to remain calm, read the situation and be flexible in your response?  When I am under pressure, I remind myself to take a deep breath and reflect before I speak. Taking a deep breath will not only help to calm you. It gives you time to think about your ultimate objective, so you can choose your words carefully and deliberately.  

Charisma

Those with executive presence are undoubtedly charismatic. Although this means different things to different people in different situations, this charisma  generally draws others to them. This doesn’t always mean you will be the most popular person in the office. It means people will turn to you for advice with challenges at work. But understand that it’s okay to say “no” to people, assert boundaries and remember you can’t please everyone. Not everyone will like you, but you must learn to accept that and ignore negative comments. On the other hand, taking constructive feedback is essential.

Confidence

Lastly, individuals with executive presence demonstrate a strong sense of confidence. This doesn’t mean they’re the loudest or most outspoken person in the room. It means they’re confident in their ability to communicate and their ability to perform a task. They are aware of their body language, use eye contact to engage and adjust the tone of their voice according to the situation.  

The wardrobe is obviously part of confidence as well. My advice is to wear what makes you feel good. In the corporate world, there are obvious limits, but all that matters is that you wear what you wear with the utmost pride and confidence. Not all of us can look like a supermodel, but we can present our best selves. What is appropriate in your job is based on your workplace culture and environment, so be attentive to how the people with credibility dress around you, and take inspiration from there.

With confidence comes the ability to execute with credibility and clarity. When communicating, avoid words like “um,” “uh,” and “so,” Ensure your intention is clear and ask yourself: “What am I trying to achieve? What is the message I want to make?” If you cannot articulate this clearly to yourself, others will surely get left behind. Avoid words like “sort of,” as they detract from your credibility to present your message concisely.

My advice: Come prepared. Avoid going to meetings unprepared and doubting your own value. Take the time to develop your own unique perspective based on your individual experiences. Think about the questions that your boss or client might have, prepare a well thought-out response and spend extra time beforehand to prepare yourself for anything.

As you grow, you’ll learn to set personal and developmental goals for yourself. I do this by self-reflecting. After every big meeting or project, ask yourself, what are three things you did well, and what are three areas where you can improve. Then take the time to act on those opportunities. Read more, watch more, get your head around something you didn’t already know. Push yourself to feel comfortable, so you can grow from that experience.

Presence alone starts deep within you. It comes from your intentions, your self-knowledge and your self-confidence. Executive presence is simply an extension of these values in a professional context.

Blog post by Alana Fennessy, Head of Client Engagement, ChannelAdvisor (AU Office)

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