Demystifying Executive Presence

I’ve been on the road the last several weeks with the SHAMBAUGH team, working with our clients’ leadership and executive groups. A common theme has arisen in a number of my interactions regarding executive presence, which is a somewhat intangible attribute that can be subtle to define and awkward to discuss. No wonder it’s an area people want to learn more about! So let’s explore this together and learn what executive presence is, why it’s important, and how you can show up with it.  

What Is Executive Presence?

Executive presence is less about your performance—it relates to the signals you send off when you engage in day-to-day interactions. We all have our own form of presence, which can include multi-dimensional traits and attributes that reflect a leader’s substance, style, and character. In SHAMBAUGH’s leadership development forums, we define executive presence as:  “The combination of behaviors and attitudes that enable you to clearly and confidently express your ideas and influence others.”


“Executive presence is the combination of behaviors and attitudes that enable you to clearly and confidently express your ideas and influence others.” — SHAMBAUGH Leadership


Why Is Executive Presence Important?

Executive presence is crucial to your success and overall effectiveness as a leader. One reason it’s so critical is that executive presence can be a determining factor during talent reviews and succession planning that affects whether your manager feels you are capable and ready to advance to the next level.

How Can You “Show Up Strategic”?

One of the most important dimensions of executive presence relates to being a strategic leader. Last week, I met with an executive to help him explore the possible advancement of one of his high-potential leaders. This executive shared with me: “I would like to promote this person, but she is just not strategic enough.”

I hear this repeatedly from executives and tend to gently push back to provide a different perspective. In such cases, I suggest that the executive consider that perhaps it’s not that the candidate lacks the potential to lead strategically. Rather, it’s that this person is currently failing to effectively tap into their strategic ability and show up as that strategic leader.

Does this sound familiar? You may be asking yourself if you are one of these leaders with untapped strategic potential. Or if you’re in a leadership position, maybe you have someone on your team who you would like to help grow and advance, but you’re uncertain about that person’s strategic readiness because of experiencing these same issues.

To help break the logjam, here are some coaching strategies and practices that high-potential employees can learn to incorporate into their leadership toolkit to bolster this important aspect of executive presence:

  • Have a vision. Strategic leaders need to be able to articulate an aspirational view of the future, along with a rationale for transformation, to help guide courses of individual and corporate action. Vision requires being able to connect the dots to show how your recommendations and decisions impact those in the room, including your staff and the company as a whole. This means having an enterprise view that focuses less on your own function or role, and more on the broader organization.
  • Leverage relationships strategically. One of the best ways to build and expand your strategic thinking is through cultivating and investing in broad strategic relationships. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and lose sight of the part of your job that involves cultivating new and diverse relationships—those you can learn from while expanding your knowledge about the business outside of your specific position, function, or department. Make time each week to reach out to someone outside of your team or functional area. Pick their brain to learn:
    • What piece of the whole puzzle they fit into
    • What their key goals and challenges are
    • How you can support them and cross-integrate as strategic business partners
  • Bring a solution with the challenge. After moderating a number of panels over the last several weeks on this topic, I’ve seen firsthand that most executives find it very frustrating when someone points out a problem but suggests no potential solutions. Leading strategically is about problem-solving, not just identifying challenging issues. To show up more strategic, do your homework and take the lead in solutions analysis. Go beyond the obvious to brainstorm fresh ideas and new approaches. It may not be the perfect answer, but offering ways to address problems demonstrates your ability to come up with some novel or clever solutions that are outside of your daily role.
  • Have an executive voice. It’s not always what you say but how you say it—and who you say it to. Particularly when briefing executives or senior leadership, it’s important to be concise and spell out up front what your intention is. Let people know clearly and articulately what role you want them to play in the conversation. Part of having an executive voice and presence is demystifying the content. Stay away from jargon and be a person of few words—but make those words impactful and powerful.
  • Stay calm under pressure. People with strong executive presence aren’t easily rattled. They provide cool, calm, level-headed leadership even when people around them are losing their composure. No matter how stressed you feel, it’s important from a presence perspective to stick with the facts versus getting caught up in an emotional tailspin.

There is much more on the topic of executive presence that I would be happy to explore with you. What are your specific questions or challenges regarding your own executive presence, or about improving the executive presence of those on your team? What actions or behaviors will you commit to stopping, changing, or continuing in order to grow this important aspect of your presence?

Learn More About Executive Presence!

Please join SHAMBAUGH in the launch of their WILL eLearning series this July and take a deeper dive into the four dimensions of presence. Work with one of our executive coaches to develop your personal roadmap for showing up with your authentic presence.

 To learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s key offerings visit:

Rebecca is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky FloorLeadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton, and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.



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Rebecca Shambaugh

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