Executive Presence | Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Summary of: Executive Presence: What Nobody Ever Tells You about Getting Ahead
By: Sylvia Ann Hewlett


Are you ready to discover the secret behind becoming a great leader that others admire? ‘Executive Presence: What Nobody Ever Tells You about Getting Ahead’ by Sylvia Ann Hewlett provides valuable insights to help you establish your authority and build a strong following. Delve into the three essential pillars of executive presence: gravitas, communication, and appearance. Learn to project confidence, courage, and integrity, even during crisis situations. Cultivate superior speaking skills that make you stand out and develop a sharp appearance that reflects your competence. No matter your profession, executive presence is the key to success and this summary will guide you towards unlocking your very own leadership potential.

Secrets of Executive Presence

Executive presence, the combination of qualities that convey leadership and competence, is vital for success in any field. It is often a deciding factor, even more so than actual skills – in the music world, for example, silent videos of pianist performances reveal that visual cues alone can successfully predict competition winners. In the business domain, executive presence revolves around three key elements: gravitas (how you act), communication (how you speak), and appearance (how you look). Embrace these and watch your chances of success skyrocket.

What makes someone a great leader, or an individual that stands out from the crowd? The answer lies within a powerful quality called executive presence. Whether you are a banker, salesperson, or musician, embodying executive presence paves the way for success. It is a blend of attributes that signal your authority or your potential for it, often proving to be a make-or-break factor.

Consider the Concert Artist Guild’s international competition, where countless talented applicants vie to be one of the twelve finalists. Undoubtedly, these skilled young musicians have exceptional artistic abilities, yet in the final round, the differentiating factor has little to do with the actual music. Instead, it comes down to something less tangible: executive presence.

The Guild President, Richard Weinert, shares insights about this fascinating trait. He emphasizes that it is evident in the way an artist moves on stage, their wardrobe choices, the sparkle in their eyes, and the emotions they convey.

Moreover, research underscores the significance of executive presence in the music world. According to a study, participants who watched silent videos of pianists performing were more successful in identifying the winners than those who watched with the music audible. This powerful display of executive presence extends to all professional environments.

An in-depth national survey by the Center for Talent Innovation sought to distill the essence of executive presence. The research team discovered that it hinges on three core pillars: gravitas (how you act), communication (how you speak), and appearance (how you look). By mastering and harnessing these facets, anyone can unlock the doors to a thriving career, seizing the spotlight and inspiring others.

Gravitas Amidst Crisis

Exceptional leaders exhibit gravitas, the ability to remain cool, composed, and convincing during social upheavals and crises. Over half of surveyed executives agree that gravitas is the cornerstone of executive presence, making one appear as a natural-born leader. Mastering gravitas means demonstrating integrity, courage, and confidence during challenging times. An example of gravitas in action can be seen in Bob Dudley, BP’s former managing director, who was tasked with handling the media following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Despite immense pressure, Dudley never shirked from answering questions and remained calm, which eventually led to him being viewed as a compassionate and competent leader. Every crisis presents an opportunity for leaders to showcase their gravitas by staying calm and confident, proving their true worth.

Balancing Compassion and Decisiveness

Being a good leader requires a balance between decisiveness and emotional intelligence. Gravitas is achieved when a leader can make difficult choices while remaining aware of how these decisions affect others. While taking bold moves can portray strength and dedication, it is also essential to remain compassionate and empathetic. Emotional intelligence involves having self-awareness and situational awareness, allowing a leader to make stronger connections with their team.

A common belief is that compassion and ruthless decision-making cannot coexist. However, exceptional leaders disprove this by exhibiting both qualities. To demonstrate gravitas, it is necessary for leaders to be decisive, even when making the best choice isn’t clear. Bold actions require courage and the willingness to accept responsibility for any resulting consequences.

One such example is Marissa Mayer, the former CEO of Yahoo. When she required all employees to work from company offices, her decision was met with mixed reviews. Nonetheless, her willingness to make a bold move showcased her grit and earned her respect among shareholders, which contributed to her perceived gravitas.

However, decisiveness may create negative impressions if not accompanied by empathy and compassion. Many leaders who exhibit strong decision-making skills but lack emotional warmth can be seen as egoistic, insensitive, or even arrogant. This is where emotional intelligence emerges as an essential component of gravitas. Possessing both self-awareness and situational awareness allows a leader to better understand and communicate with their team.

Mayer’s decisions, while indicative of her strength as a leader, also exposed her shortcomings. She was criticized not for her decisiveness, but for her apparent lack of empathy toward the challenges faced by working parents. This highlights the importance of not only making tough decisions but also showcasing compassion in leadership.

Ultimately, a leader’s ability to make unpopular decisions and enforce them is just one aspect of being in charge. Equally important is the manner in which these decisions are communicated and the empathy displayed in the process. A true leader must strike a balance between decisiveness and emotional intelligence to exhibit gravitas and build strong connections with their team.

Master Your Persuasive Voice

Having gravitas goes beyond the content of your speech; it’s about exuding passion, voice quality, and presence to convey authority. Executives often find inarticulateness, poor grammar, filler words, and an off-putting vocal pitch or accent to negatively impact one’s executive presence. Particularly, a shrill voice can alienate coworkers and clients, costing leadership opportunities. However, overcoming this issue doesn’t mean imitating a male voice; instead, aim for the optimally pleasing 125 Hz frequency. As your head’s bones distort your voice perception, get feedback from a mentor or speech coach to hone your delivery.

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