Thinking through my fingers

How To Become Overly Acceptable To All

American President Barack Obama has it in droves. So does business-woman Wendy Luhabe – and, controversially, so did Adolf Hitler. Julius Malema had it, but lost it, while Donald Trump thinks he has it, but doesn’t. We’re talking about executive presence: the elusive, compelling quality that makes people sit up when an individual enters a room. It makes them want to follow them too.

Lynn Baker, MD of Executive Presence, an organisation which specialises in training executives, has spent years researching the attributes of presence. “Executive presence is largely decided by the perceptions people have of us and the impressions we leave with them. Understanding this is the starting point of building your personal brand and professional image,” she explains.

Her findings show that it’s an extremely complex quality (she calls it “an intangible combination of behaviours, characteristics, attributes and emotions”). Hearteningly, though, she’s also found that it can be learnt and developed.

Before you dismiss executive presence as a new-fangled or faddish concept, consider that a 2012 study of it by the Centre for Talent Innovation was supported by the likes of American Express, Deutsche Bank, Marie Claire and E&Y: evidence that this factor’s now considered as crucial as any qualification when it comes to identifying the corporate stars of the future.

Baker cites a study by the USA’s Carnegie Foundation and Stanford University which found that only 15% of a person’s success can be attributed to their hard skills. The other 85% can be attributed to soft skills, including emotional and social intelligence, communication and professional image. “When you first enter the world of work, potential employers are most interested in your qualifications. But as you go further up the corporate ladder, your soft skills become more important, as these determine how adept you are at managing, motivating, engaging and empowering the people around you,” she says.

This isn’t to say that Baker’s dismissing the importance of qualifications and acumen. Far from it.

Competence is at the very core of personal presence, which is the foundation of executive presence. When you feel able to do something well, you also feel confident – and confidence is the foundation for building a powerful presence,”

she says. Indeed, the question she’s most frequently asked is: “How can I become more confident?” Invariably, her answer is: “Invest in yourself, whether that means becoming more aware of and in tune with your emotional intelligence, developing interpersonal and relationship management skills or enhancing your professional image.”

Confidence is also at the root of charisma, which is one of the most important characteristics for those seeking to develop their executive presence. Baker defines charisma as “a contagious energy that inspires others”: so, while you might believe you’re either born with Liberace-style flair or you’re not, she insists it can be cultivated. It’s simply a matter of growing that confidence, as this feeds your personal energy – which, in turn, has a strong impact on body language.

“Research by Prof Amy Cuddy at Harvard University has shown that if you adopt a low power pose – slumped, shoulders drooping, head hanging – for two minutes, your dominance hormone (testosterone) decreases, while your stress hormone (cortisol) surges. Consequently, you begin to feel down and demotivated – and this is the perception people will have of you.”

Conversely, if you adopt a high power pose, with a straight spine and shoulders, a level chin and (crucially) a smile, your cortisol levels drop, while your testosterone increases.

In other words, the more powerfully you present yourself, the more powerful you become,

says Baker. Interacting with peers and colleagues is another key component contributing to personal presence, says Baker, and it hinges not only on emotional intelligence and social competence, but also on appearance. “

People make a decision about you within seven to 27 seconds of meeting you – and the only thing on which they can base that decision is your personal appearance: what you’re wearing, your posture and body language,

she points out.

Unless you’re Sir Richard Branson or Aliko Dangote and have your own supremely successful brand to support your quirkiness, this means adhering to the classic rules of power dressing: think well-cut suits in classic colours (black, grey, navy and red), simple accessories and immaculate grooming.

However, even the most impeccably dressed individual will fail if their communication skills are lacking, Baker warns. She advocates active listening as a tool to make people feel they’re being heard and that what they have to say matters.

“Stop whatever you’re doing, look your interlocutor in the eye and give them air time without interrupting.”

This helps to establish rapport which, in turn, nurtures your relationship.

A number of other skills also need to be mastered in order to acquire executive presence. The first is public speaking. “No-one becomes successful if they can’t speak well in public. It’s a non-negotiable,” Baker states. Again, this hinges not only on what you’re telling your audience, but also on how confidently you present yourself without mumbling, stammering or repeating yourself.

The final element is gravitas, which Baker defines as “mojo”, or energy. “It’s grace under fire – facing crises without getting into a flap. It’s also decisiveness: listening to the opinions of others and giving them weight, then using this information to take action without vacillating,” she says.

An unshakeable value system is another critical ingredient in the gravitas mix. For Baker, honesty, integrity, respect, trust and compassion are the North Stars that provide guidance in even the most challenging situations. Finally, gravitas is about having strategic vision, as well as managing your reputation; a vital component in developing a personal brand profile.

Essentially, executive presence can be reduced to six core components: competencies, characteristics, connection, credibility, communication and gravitas.

These must be tied together with authenticity and humility. “There’s a fine line between confidence – which endears you to people – and arrogance, which alienates them,” cautions Baker. “Presence is about making people want to follow you. Being focused on your own self-aggrandizement has the opposite effect.

“It takes time to develop each of these elements, but the good news is that it can be done,” Baker says. “Moreover, you can choose the extent to which you want to develop them. Some people are happy to fly under the radar. Others want to shine – and they can.”

You need a persona that speaks loud without introduction and this you can achieve by cultivating and mastering these points made and you’re the next big thing. How do you like me now?….*smiles*

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By a brilliant mind,read gratuituously!!


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