Practical analysis for investment professionals
11 October 2016

Executive Presence: How to Present Yourself as a Leader

Julie Jansen

Everyone wants to be seen as a competent professional with leadership potential. While we have all encountered “leaders” who are exceptions to this rule, we also know that top managers are seldom looking around and wondering, “Who is the most mediocre person around here? We’d like to promote them and advance their career.”

The burden is on us to burnish our own presentation skills, and at the 2016 Alpha and Gender Diversity: The Competitive Edge conference, Julie Jansen, executive coach and author of I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Gratifying Work, shared some valuable tips for self-motivated learners.

Jansen highlighted some familiar leadership competencies, including decisiveness, confidence, flexibility, intelligence, perseverance, and respect. But she also noted a few others that deserve a closer examination:

  • Curiosity: a thirst for knowledge.
  • Empathy: a willingness to understand another’s perspective.
  • Humor: the ability to diffuse tense situations and lift spirits quickly.
  • Optimism: understanding that despite difficult circumstances, there is opportunity for improvement.
  • Self-Awareness: having an accurate perception of both your image and your behavioral tendencies.

For each of these competencies, Jansen recommended regularly evaluating what your strengths are and what areas you need to develop. Just as importantly, consider what competencies you might be overusing.

Take humor, for example. If you make too many jokes, you can quickly create the perception that you do not take situations and people as seriously as you should.

When you have a good sense of how you fare in terms of leadership competencies, then focus on consistently demonstrating them to others. This is called developing an executive presence which Jansen defines as “displaying a consistent view of self as a compelling force” in your organization and industry.

She touched on three essential actions to present yourself as a leader:

Project Confidence

Jansen recommends reading The Confidence Gap, by Russ Harris, to enhance your confidence skills. She noted that it is easier to be confident and to engage in respectful self-promotion when you are genuinely excited about your accomplishments — specifically, the positive effect you have on others, whether it’s making a client’s life better or helping teammates succeed.

Other habits that can help build confidence include practicing your ask, using positive language to talk about yourself, developing a personal mantra you can repeat to yourself in stressful moments, giving credit to others, reflecting regularly on your achievements, and taking small but meaningful personal risks.

Communication Skills

Jansen explained that people make inferences about your intelligence from how you communicate. Indeed, both your personal and professional effectiveness is largely dependent on that ability to communicate with others.

It is critical that you become consciously aware of your communication style and persistent in your efforts to improve it. Specifically, Jansen recommends offering a bit of personal information — a self-disclosure — to establish a connection with others. She also encourages being assertive, though not aggressive, active listening, and regularly offering constructive feedback.

Cultivate a Professional Image

It takes less than 15 seconds for people to form an impression of us, Jansen explained. Because a large portion of our brains are committed to processing visual information, our physical presentation is important. Jansen stressed, however, the psychology of our physical presentation can have a great deal of influence as well.

For example, if you view someone as a few pounds overweight with some gray hair and a few wrinkles, your impression of them will be very different if they are low energy, embarrassed, muffled, and trudging, as opposed to high energy, confident, assertive, and clear. In other words, brush your hair, clean the smudges off your glasses, and convey a confident image.

Beneath all of this is the importance of understanding your organization. Be aware of the culture of your environment. Nuances about how confidence is perceived and how communication succeeds is largely influenced by the firm’s culture.

Ideas to understand the organizational culture include:

  • Learn who the key decision makers are.
  • Personally connect with colleagues to understand what constitutes a “win” for them.
  • Ask people what communication method they prefer.
  • Follow the chain of command.
  • Share your time and knowledge broadly.
  • Learn from those who have achieved success.

What is the best advice you’ve received? What tips have you found work well to develop an executive presence? Share your insights in the comments below.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: Courtesy of Monica Pedynkowski

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Key Takeaways

  1. It is easier to be confident and to engage in respectful self-promotion when you are genuinely excited about your accomplishments — specifically, the positive effect you have on others, whether it’s making a client’s life better or helping teammates succeed.
  2. It is critical that you become consciously aware of your communication style and persistent in your efforts to improve it.
  3. Be aware of the culture of your environment. Nuances about how confidence is perceived and how communication succeeds is largely influenced by the firm’s culture.

Transcript

Executive Presence: Behaving and Performing as a Leader
Julie Jansen

View the full transcript (PDF).


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About the Author(s)
Julia VanDeren

Julia VanDeren, manager, career services at CFA Institute, serves as the subject matter expert in career management skills, curating and developing career resources for members and program candidates. Previously, she served CFA Institute as career services representative, managing the CFA Institute JobLine (now Career Center) and Career Centre (now Career Tools) resources. VanDeren holds a BA from the University of Virginia and an MPA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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