Executive Presence: The Art Of Projecting Leadership

Think about the best leader you’ve ever witnessed, listened to, or seen in action.

What made her/him compelling? I am sure there is a wide range of answers that you might give to explain what made them compelling. But among the many different answers, there would absolutely be some answers centered around said leader’s presence. Many of us would answer with some version of “They just had a great presence… they had ‘it’… their energy and charisma was off the charts.”

It may be hard to believe, but “it” — that combination of confidence, gravitas and personality that makes an executive engaging and inspiring — isn’t necessarily an inherent trait. Sure, some people are born with a natural charisma. But for the vast majority of us, practice and preparation can help cultivate that “it” that we might refer to as “executive presence.”

Executive presence is about many things, connecting to an audience, building credibility and inspiring action among them. And it doesn’t just show up in the form of a presentation or a speech; it can be in the way you conduct a conversation in the hallway, in the way you handle a phone call, or in your day-to-day interactions with your peers and your reports.

I think of executive presence as a figurative “structure,” that is built on three pillars. And as we work to bolster our pillars, that structure becomes more stable and robust. But if any of the pillars is missing or weak, the structure is in danger of falling down.

So let’s spend a few minutes talking about the pillars.


Think about the context of with whom and why you are having a conversation. Think about what information you have that might be interesting or relevant to your audience. Many of us get stuck in a mindset that if we have information, we have to simply relay it in its rawest form to whomever we are speaking. But a leader takes the basic information they hold and communicates it in a way that is meaningful for the audience and makes that person feel important and valued.


Spend some time cultivating the ways that make others feel connected to you. Work on your ability to remember names, for instance. Listen attentively and respond with questions. Make meaningful eye contact and avoid multitasking. If you are a leader in your company because of your title, people will do what you ask because they have no choice. If you are a leader because you have credibility and respect among your peers and reports, they’ll do what you ask because they choose to. Which is better?


Sometimes, our habits undermine us. We bite our nails, stammer over “ums” and “ahs” or jingle our keys in our pockets. These small things have a way of making us look nervous, unsure or ill-prepared, even if we are not. And if we are nervous, we can often mask that nervousness by practicing how we sound and behave. Take a hard look in the mirror — whether you record yourself speaking in front of a group or enlist a trusted colleague to give you some honest feedback — can help you project an aura of calm competence, even when it doesn’t feel that way inside.

Like any skill, executive presence takes practice. The key here is to know that the more you practice and prepare, the greater your skill, and the more leadership presence you will project.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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2 responses to “Executive Presence: The Art Of Projecting Leadership”

  1. Sue Monahan says:

    Thank you for this great advice – making “IT” work means the what and the way we communicate are equally important to effective leadership- we should also be mindful of in person dialogue 1×1 or with groups vs email or virtual methods – for some messages, there is no substitute for in person conversations

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.