Last week, I went to an excellent seminar from a well-known and inspiring corporate image consultant. Image, or the perception people have of us, is important to me — as someone who works in the space of executive story or brand. I left the meeting room that day, slightly self-conscious about the boots I was wearing, and asking myself the question, what percentage of executive presence is really about how we dress and groom ourselves?
I’m a story person, and for me, data or research is the foundation for the best kind of story. Let’s take a look at what it really takes, beyond our appearance or being exceptionally good at our jobs, to be perceived as having “executive presence.”
Executive Presence Research
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, conducted focus group surveys and interviews of 268 senior executives and her research uncovered three essential elements of “presence:” Gravitas (how you act,) communication (how you speak,) and appearance (how you look.) Gravitas, especially confidence in your own abilities and knowledge, is by far the most important of the three, according to 67% of those polled, although gravitas overlaps with communication, which received 28% of the vote. Appearance — defined by grooming and fitness, not movie-star good looks — came in at a tiny 5%.
The data in Hewlett’s story means literally that the story we share and the story experience we build in speeches, meetings, and interactions is, by far, the biggest factor in determining whether people perceive us as having executive presence. To put the research in revenue dollars, the consumption of your story experiences really does add to your bottom line.
Story is the biggest factor in the perception of executive presence. A chunk of the story experiences you build is due to your appearance, your appearance contributes to your story. What story experiences are you known for sharing? Is your story and the way you share your story one that enhances the perception of your executive presence? If there is one thing to do in 2016 in the way of building your presence or brand, being thoughtful about the stories you build and share with the people who matter the most should be at the top of the list.
Michelle LeBow helps executives and their teams build and share their story in speech and media.