A client I recently coached comes to mind as an example of the need for executive presence. The woman had been with a company since its inception – more than twenty years. She’d advanced to senior manager level, then about ten years ago stopped being promoted to positions of greater responsibility. Although she was widely respected for her ability to “get things done” and was often called upon to “do the impossible” when a project was in trouble, she hadn’t been selected for a newly established executive position.
The day she learned she hadn’t been selected she came to see me. I’ve rarely seen someone so devastated. She was at a loss to understand why, after all her contributions and hard work, she hadn’t been selected. I’d been working with the organization for some time, been privy to the selection process, had worked with her on several initiatives, and knew the issue.
The company had a relaxed dress code she embraced and she put little effort into her grooming. Her desk was cluttered with the soft drinks and snacks that she consumed incessantly. Because her computer screen was visible to every passerby, a standing company joke was the amount of time she spent mindlessly surfing the Internet or on personal calls.
Her communications were informal and laden with slang. During several presentations I attended it was apparent she was unprepared.
She was known to gossip andhad a strong informal network that often worked around established processes and procedures. While on the surface this was seen as a strength, the company’s growth had plateaued, largely due to the tendency to abandon standard processes and work in crisis mode.
The person who had been selected for the position dressed well and was impeccably groomed. In her previous position at the company she’d transformed her department by establishing measurable goals and enabling her team to meet their goals.
Her reputation was stellar. She was warm and friendly, but with executive reserve. She was always prepared and the tone and level of her communications were always professional.
In short, she had executive presence.
Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups. Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in late 2017.