I liken the desired “understated elegance” quality of Executive Presence to what it feels like when we dress for an event.
Imagine Scenario #1: Have you ever gone to an event where you felt really uncomfortable even though you were wearing the required attire? (suit and tie or ballroom gown). It’s like you were “uncomfortable in your own skin?” Perhaps nervous or jumpy … tongue-tied … just not in a good place?
And now imagine the opposite … Scenario #2 … have you ever had the experience where you dress up and go to an event and you feel at the top of your game? Charismatic, alive, everything is going your way?
If you have had both of these experiences, you know the feeling … but you might not be able to avoid the first scenario and create the second one every time. Maybe you’ve never even really thought about it before, but sometimes we’re just not in control of how well the event goes and how we feel … or one thing could change the entire effect.
Of course, we would all prefer Scenario #2, but simply knowing that both scenarios are possibilities may not help us create the one we want.
The same is true with Executive Presence. There’s a quality of “understated elegance” when an executive walks into the room and everyone knows it and is eager and ready to hear what s/he has to say. There’s the way that everyone gets silent and notices when the person enters the room: a certain mystique and anticipation. When the person walks across the room, it’s a graceful gliding with that same spirit of intrigue. When the person speaks, everyone listens attentively.
There was a series of vintage tv commercials from the 70’s and 80’s, advertising a broker named EF Hutton. In the commercial, a couple of people could be at a table in a crowded, noisy restaurant having lunch, and one of them would ask the other for advice, and the person would respond by first stating that EF Hutton was his/her broker, and suddenly all the chatter in the room would come to a halt, and everyone would turn to hear what advice this person had gotten, and a man’s voice would announce, “When EF Hutton talks, people listen”. Here’s a link to a few of these commercials:
THAT is executive presence.
Somehow EF Hutton personifies executive presence because it’s not something he does explicitly to gain this quality; it’s how people feel about him. It’s a reputation he possesses. It’s a power he has. It’s an understated elegance. And according to the commercials, it’s not open to interpretation … he is the best source of information in his field. It’s a given. He has presence.
Once we have a deep seated knowledge of what executive presence is, we can begin to let it manifest in our own lives, in our own unique ways, as the understated elegance it is, rather than a forcing presence as a quality based on overdoing, overachieving or trying too hard.
When you talk, do other people listen?