DR. STEPHEN LONG, LEADERSHIP COACH TO FORTUNE 500 COMPANIES
Is acquiring 'Executive Presence' critical for CEOs?
Dr. Stephen Long, Renowned Leadership Coach to Fortune 500 Companies and NFL Teams and a Former Trainer at the US Air Force Academy writes on the importance and implications of acquiring 'Executive Presence' for CEOs and leaders of multinational corporations
Steven Philip Warner | Issue Date - 03/02/2012
Level Six Leadership is a revolutionary social operating system empirically proven to enhance individual and collective performance, develop leadership and transform organisational culture. The model challenges three assumptions currently in vogue in global business. First, more and more resources are being invested in identifying potential, and then hiring people with those skills and traits. It posits that once people demonstrate a certain ability level, then it’s more important to employ a system of developing that potential to the fullest degree possible. Second, business leaders spend enormous amounts of time and energy in developing a strategy to take full advantage of economic conditions with little regard to whether their people can actually execute the devised strategy. Strategies don’t have to be perfect; they just need to be sound. The important aspect of any plan is the ability to execute the strategy. The model enables people to execute strategy to a higher degree with a greater return on investment. Third, CEOs devise and employ a mass of systems throughout their organisations, but fail to recognise the importance of the people who actually occupy and perform within those systems. Here, we attempt to lay down a process for business leaders to deliver that high performance in the right way.
In the opening scene of the legendary film, Casablanca, an employee walks intently through the casino with a piece of paper in hand. The employee arrives at a table and reaches across to hand the paper to an unseen recipient. All the viewer can see is the recipient writing his signature authorising a payment of 1,000 francs with the words – Rick, OK. The camera slowly pans up to Humphrey Bogart’s face, and the viewer becomes aware of who Rick Blaine is. From the opening scene, Rick establishes that he’s the boss, and in the end, he has the Executive Presence to do the right thing!
So, what is Executive Presence?
Executive Presence is demonstrating the judgment and character to do the right thing – to be the leader who’ll get the job done with integrity and inspire others to fully commit to the task, mission and vision. Mark W. Sickles, an advisor to corporate boards and executive teams, knows Executive Presence when he sees it. “When executives with presence walk into the room, people think, ‘Now something good is going to happen’ says Sickles. “These leaders are respected for the job they’re doing, not just the job they’re in.”
How to Get It
Can a leader acquire Executive Presence? The answer is yes. Can any leader acquire Executive Presence? Though all executives can improve, developing true Executive Presence is probably not within everyone’s reach to the same degree. How does a leader acquire Executive Presence? The answer is simple to explain, but takes work and time to achieve.
1) Build a Foundation
Experience and a successful track record are a good start, though they’re only prerequisites. Developing it, though involves more than just putting in time and delivering the numbers. Like the Sun coming out from behind the clouds, Executive Presence emerges gradually throughout a career.
2) Establish Trust
Trust is the cornerstone of the leader-follower relationship. Over time, leaders earn the trust of followers and other stakeholders. Both trust and distrust are developed by the rule of three – one instance is an aberration, two is a trend and three is a law. After time and more evidence, trust is either firmly established or permanently lost based on whether they’ve seen consistent success or consistent failure.
3) Manage Yourself – Intellectually and Emotionally
Potential leaders initially develop the ability to manage and lead themselves before they’re able to manage and lead others. If executives are unable to lead and manage themselves, they’ll never be able to manage and lead others. According to John Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of Woodcraft Industries, leaders who lack self-management skills, also lack intellectual skills in risk analysis. “They fail to consider the consequences of their decisions, positive and negative, and they’re unable to predict what will happen next. They also lack decision-making discipline. Decisions are reflexive rather than reflective,” he states. Decisions based on fear and frustration rarely translates into productive actions. “Insecure people are revealed under pressure. They fail to address their weakness because they fail to admit their weaknesses to themselves,”
4) Manage Your Relationships
Just as with self-management, relationship management is a matter of the heart and the head. Leaders set the direction with their heads and then engage their employees with their hearts. Leaders are able to digest abstract concepts and turn them into practical action. This is where we’re going and this is how we’re going to get there. “The vision becomes reality”, says David Zumwalt, the Executive Director of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park Corporation (RTPark), “the strategy becomes achievable and people recognize that.”
David Cardenas of Olympus Partners witnessed leaders with Executive Presence be able to manage internally and externally. “Position power means nothing outside the organisation. While it’s important to manage downward and align people to the vision, it’s equally important to manage upward and outward. The ability to persuade people is crucial. If the leader relies too heavily on his position within the organisation, then he’ll never be effective outside the organisation.”
Do the Right Thing—Effectively and Authentically
In the end, Executive Presence is about character. Executive Presence is displayed by doing the right thing in the right way and getting consistent results. The leader strives to find solutions without cutting corners. “People won’t go all-in if they don’t trust the top guy” says Fitzpatrick. Without trust, employees resort to “survivalism” - paying more attention to their personal agendas than the organisational mission.
Executive Presence is a result of the head and heart working together to their maximum capabilities. “Judgment and wisdom, character and courage –these are the things that effective leaders convey consistently” says Sickles. “They do the right thing. "