Career Now Series: Learning to Lead and “Executive Presence”

As promised, we’re back with our first official installment of the #CareerNow series! This week, our millennial expert – Joan Kuhl – will be teaching us about the power of Executive Presence. After you’ve finished reading, be sure to check out the #Passion2Action podcast series for additional information and advice.

Let’s get started!


Executive Presence. Have you heard of it? If you haven’t, you’ve probably seen it without even realizing.

Picture this: someone walks into a room and they just own it. Their style, their mannerisms, their entire way of being has an instant effect. You feel an immediate respect and some amount of awe toward them. They command attention and win over everyone that is present – they have that IT factor.

The Center for Talent Innovation calls this it-factor Executive Presence (EP). You can find people with Executive Presence everywhere – in your 8am class, a student club gathering, an off-campus event. The good news is that YOU can learn to exude it too! Sure…some people might just have it, but chances are, they worked really hard to achieve this way of being.

Many have referred to Executive Presence as the secret ingredient to career success! For that exact reason, we’re here to teach you the basics of EP and how it will help advance your career. Let’s start by breaking it down into three parts: communication, appearance, and gravitas.

Part 1: Communication

It’s important to be easy to talk to in a professional environment. Communication is not just what you say, but how you say it – so it’s important to be conversational and receptive to an open dialogue. You want to make sure you come across as a person that listens and values others’ opinions.

Additionally, it’s important to be succinct…especially when speaking to a larger group. By being clear and concise, you’ll indicate you really know your subject matter and that you’re not here to waste time. The easiest way to do this? Go in over prepared so you can get right to the point and answer any questions as they come through.
CareerNow_InArticle_700x225Part 2: Appearance

You don’t need to look like a supermodel or dress like James Bond to exude Executive Presence. However, it is very important to look well-groomed, put together, and confident with your look. It’s key that you feel comfortable with your ensemble, so it doesn’t take away from your confidence! Keep in mind the “3 P’s” – Poised, Polished, and Presentable.

Dress not to distract, but to appropriately fit with the culture where you want to make a strong first impression.

Part 3: Gravitas

Gravitas is, perhaps, the hardest of the three to nail down. It refers to a certain level of dignity, presence, or influence that a person gives off. It means you are able to own your place in the room, speak up, and be heard with confidence. It also can refer to having grace under fire – remaining calm, cool, and collected even when there are many reasons to stress out. People that exude this characteristic are often leaders, as they are able to take action and lead despite feeling uncertainty. They can manage multiple challenges without spreading stress or anxiety to the group.


Feeling inspired? Want even more information about Executive Presence? Check out the #Passion2Action podcast series! Our partners at Why Millennials Matter will be sharing tons of great information here each week, covering of all the most important career-focused topics. Tune in and tweet us your thoughts or questions, just tag them #CareerNow!

In the meantime, check out our recent posts from the Career Now series!


#Passion2Action | ACTION ITEM: The IT of EP

Put your learnings into practice! Check out this exclusive action item from our Why Millennials Matter partners.

  1. Identify 2-3 people that exude Executive Presence. (These can be actors, politicians, professors family members, philanthropists, etc…)
  2. What was the situation and how did they handle it?
  3. What attributes and/or behaviors did they demonstrate that you can practice on? (Their smile, posture, eye contact, pace of speech, volume of voice, use of language, etc…?)
  4. Think about an upcoming event or project coming up that stresses you out. If you don’t have one, look on the events calendar at your career center and pick out a few networking or alumni event to attend! Ask Yourself: How can I best prepare yourself? What do I need to do in order to exude Executive Presence? COMMUNICATION: How will you communicate & introduce yourself? APPEARANCE: What outfit will you wear? GRAVITAS: How will you exude gravitas?

Remember: Exuding Executive Presence is a skill that requires practice. Let us know how it goes!

Recommended Reading: Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success by Sylvia Ann Hewlett


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