The Pulse

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Education, hard work and success may not be enough to get you to the top.

But if you’ve got executive presence – the wow factor that identifies you as leadership material the minute you walk into a room – there’s a good chance you’ll reach your goal of making it to the C-suite.

A recent study released by the Center for Talent Innovation found that how other people perceive your skills is just as important as the reality.

In fact, senior executives surveyed for the report indicated executive presence accounts for 26 per cent of what it takes to climb the corporate ladder.

So what is executive presence and how do we know if we’ve got it? That is a question many professionals grapple with thanks to hopelessly contradictory information on the powerful trait.

In an attempt to close that gap, the New York think tank identifies three main areas in its report that it believes contributes to the EP package:

Gravitas, one of the Roman virtues and the core characteristic of executive presence. Those with gravitas are decisive, calm under pressure and exude confidence.

Communication. The ability to speak publicly with assertiveness, and to read an audience or situation are considered superior traits.

Appearance. Looks do matter, and those with executive presence appear polished and well put together.

Where do the CEOs stand? A whopping 67 per cent of the 268 executives surveyed identified gravitas as the most important aspect of executive presence. Twenty-eight per cent said exceptional communication skills are what define leadership material.

Though only five per cent considered appearance to be a key factor in EP, all the senior execs agreed it has the potential to curtail talented trailblazers. The biggest blunders are unkempt attire and provocative clothing.

Coming across as uneducated is also a big no-no.

The study consulted with 4,000 college-educated professionals and 18 focus groups, along with sitting down for over 50 one-on-one interviews with high-level executives.

Women and multicultural professionals surveyed felt they received conflicting information on expectations in the workplace, and were held to higher standards of executive presence. Many felt at odds between their own identity and the need to conform to corporate culture.

Global Leadership Council founder Josh Ehrlich has identified six principles to improve executive presence, which he shared with the Harvard Business Review.

1. Focus: Channeling your attention can ease nervousness and help you relax.

2. Use Body Language: Pay attention to your posture and the messages your body sends.

3. Reflect On Your Habits: What are your mannerisms? Take some time to reflect on your identity and face your fears.

4. Practice With Support: Let those around you know you are working to improve your presence, which can help boost skills and confidence.

5. Connect, Don’t Transact: If you are a nervous public speaker, videotape yourself to identify ways you can improve. Learn to tell engaging and captivating stories instead of delivering dry, scripted addresses.

6. Be Still: Ditch your impulsivity and learn to stay cool and calm under pressure.

Make a plan and put it into practice to help improve your executive presence and the next promotion may be yours.

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