Owning and Expanding Your Executive Presence

April Event Review: “Owning and Expanding Your Executive Presence” with JD Schramm, Ed.D., Class of 1978 Lecturer, Organizational Behavior, Stanford Graduate School of Business

By Vinesh Thakur

How do we identify a leader?  Why would we spend time and money just to hear him/her talk?  What is it that makes them different?  In the April 5th session of SVPMA, JD Schramm shed light on the effect of Executive Presence on a leader’s ability to effectively communicate to and lead people.  Executive presence is a recipe of skills that enhances the perception of an individual as a leader.  It provides a sense of confidence in a leader’s ability to make critical decisions in stressful situations.  It is what distinguishes them from the crowd and makes people stop and listen when they talk.

Effective communication is key in establishing executive presence.  A well-crafted message with a clear call to action boosts a leader’s credibility.  JD shared the AIM model for delivering coherent messages.  It involves understanding the Audience, identifying the Intent for the message, and finally using the right channels to get the Message out.  This framework can be used to convey messages and ideas for maximum impact.  In addition, by using the right channels, leaders can make their messages interactive.  This will help them build a connection with their audience and further their executive presence.

As an example of building a framework to measure executive presence, JD described key characteristics of effective crisis communication: commitment, empathy, transparency and expertise.  In 1982, Johnson and Johnson faced a tremendous crisis when seven people in Chicago were reported dead after taking its painkiller medication, Tylenol.  The company reacted to this crisis by taking responsibility and issuing an immediate nationwide product recall.  It cost them millions of dollars; however, it built a reputation of putting customers first and was key in recapturing the company’s lost market share.  Johnson and Johnson scored high on commitment, empathy and transparency while scoring low on expertise due to the unfamiliarity of the situation.

Drawing parallels from this framework, JD identified the four main characteristics for measuring executive presence: Authenticity, Confidence, Competence and Connection.  Aspiring authentic leaders need to make time for introspection so that they are clear on what they stand for.  In addition, they need to seek feedback from others around them so that they are continuously improving.  This is the most important characteristic for building executive presence.  If leaders are perceived as artificial, they run the risk of losing their following.  Authenticity also instills confidence in one’s ability to lead.  Since you are representing yourself accurately, confidence simply follows from that.  Competence is another important characteristic to build executive presence.  If you demonstrate competence, people will respect your opinions and decisions as a leader more.  Building a connection with your audience further develops your executive presence.  Effective storytelling is an easy way to build this connection.

Developing your brand based on how you act, how you speak and how you look can add greatly to your executive presence and help you make the most out of leadership opportunities.  Using these strategies, you can build your executive presence in order to be an effective leader.

Vinesh Thakur currently works as a Software Engineer at Cisco Systems.  He has previously held engineering positions at Juniper Networks and Citrix Systems in routing and security domains.  With almost 5 years of experience working as a software developer, Vinesh has worked on several different products across the development lifecycle.  He plans to use his ingenuity to develop innovative products as a future product manager, taking ideas from concept to successful launches.