The Expectations of Executive Presence
In the last few months, we began our research for an updated release of our first book, The Hidden Factor. Written more than a decade ago, the book defined presence and offered executive-level insights on how presence helps some employees get ahead while the lack of it holds other employees back. Presence was viewed as a collection of attributes and expectations that increased with more visibility and responsibility across a career.
Our first book provided executive-level input on how employees show up in a business setting, and we’ve coached to those impressions and expectations for thirty years. In fact, we would say that the concepts of presence: Confidence, Commitment and Connection, are validated over and over again as we talk to managers and leaders about impact and influence.
But a decade ago now seems like a lifetime ago. And as we continue to provide expertise on presence, we’ve collected new insights to challenge and confirm our direction. And in our recent surveys and interviews, we researched two different perspectives: how employees think about presence in a leader and how leaders observe presence in employees.
As our work continues on our fifth book, here are some preliminary thoughts that may help you consider presence in your work environment today:
A Leader’s Presence – the Employees’ Perspective
Ten years ago, we ranked the attributes of presence. And while most of the original concepts are still there, the order of importance has shifted. While confidence, credibility and professionalism led the pack originally, today’s employees focus more on authenticity, believability and engagement.
It doesn’t mean that confidence and credibility are less important. It means to really influence an employee, a leader has to have more than that.
And leaders got a lot of that feedback and coaching during the pandemic. They were guided to share more about themselves and to start with a human connection before a business concept. It has elevated expectations of a leader to a compelling communicator. And leaders are seeking skills to become memorable and repeatable. It taps into our work on storytelling, and in many cases, the pandemic helped leaders get a jumpstart on this skill.
Storytelling is valued enough to be considered an expected attribute of presence in leaders. If you lead a large division or a function with multiple teams and you haven’t mastered storytelling, you’re behind your peers. It’s the element of presence that brings content and style together by helping a communicator establish lasting impressions and repeatable sound bites.
But if leaders are a little ahead on new expectations, employees themselves may be behind.
An Employee’s Presence – the Leaders’ Perspective:
When you ask leaders to think about how they notice presence in employees, there are some new dynamics to consider. Working remote or hybrid has had an impact on how easy or difficult it is to establish presence with leaders. And in several of our discussion groups, managers called this out directly. They say establishing presence is harder because they just don’t get as many opportunities. And it seems leaders feel the same.
Here are three themes we identified in surveys and conversations with leaders.
First, presence hasn’t changed. Choices have.
Leaders have stayed consistent to impressions and how they describe the impact of presence on someone’s visibility and opportunity. Bottom-line: “Like everyone else, I form an impression of you from how you communicate and how you present yourself in business settings.” But as employees have shifted with flexible hours, flexible settings and flexible everything else, the opportunity for comparison is more obvious.
Leaders would say an employee with presence stands out so much more today because of all the other choices being made around them. From how people show up in meetings to when they show up in the office, from lack of focus to lack of clarity, from being prepared to being unclear. And by extending the boundaries of how we work, we’ve also opened up more opportunities to miss the mark.
Second, in-person presence trumps virtual presence. Every time.
“You can’t confuse the convenience of virtual with the influence of in-person.”
A good analogy is this: You’re sitting in a room with a person and the television is on. You’re watching something together. But as you engage with each other, it’s easy for the show to be drowned out as you take more of an interest in your conversation with each other. You feed on each other’s enthusiasm which is expressed through body language and voice energy. There’s just more to take in and more to influence when you’re with someone.
It doesn’t mean that virtual can’t work. By focusing on the television, you and the other person in the room can choose to make the television the focal point. But it takes agreement and combined focus to make it happen. And in a business setting, a really good facilitator. And that puts your ability to make an impact in the hands of someone else.
Third, leveraging impressions is a lot about relationships. They matter.
If your presence is established as an initial impression, it takes repetition of that impression for people to attach presence to your brand. It’s how people begin to think about you and talk about you when you’re not around. They describe you to others, and they leverage you in different places.
Presence opens the door to new relationships. But leaders are talking a lot about the lack of relationships with newer employees.
In our discussions, one leader said: “If I’ve seen you twice a month in a virtual meeting and you’re one of ten people, I don’t really know you. I don’t think of that as a relationship. I only know you related to the skills you’re discussing in the meeting.” And without the more relaxed opportunity to form a relationship, it’s harder for leaders to assess expanded responsibility and consider promotion. For employees, it’s harder to have a network of champions.
As we head into another year of hybrid working and expanded choices, you should think about how presence shows up in your business setting. From leaders to managers, the expectations of presence have stayed consistent. But a lot about how we establish a presence has changed. And that’s going to take more effort around fewer opportunities. It means learning how to have a presence in the way you’ve been asked to work or the way you’ve chosen to work.
Resetting presence is a priority for us in the year ahead. And we anticipate 2024 will add another book to our resources.
Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!