Executive Presence Evolution

The idea of executive presence (EP) has changed a lot over the past years. In most corporate settings, EP traditionally meant having three attributes: gravitas, strong communication skills, and the “right” appearance. But now, after years of social changes, new technologies, and a more global workforce, leaders need to show more than just these traits.

According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, today’s life demands that leaders demonstrate confidence, decisiveness, inclusiveness, respect for others, and authenticity. They must balance traditional EP elements with new expectations, such as mastering presence through virtual communication platforms and showcasing their authentic selves.

Here, I want to add an important point that I will focus on in my current blog.

If you manage a diverse team, it’s not your executive presence (as you imagine it) that matters most. It is your ability to adapt your executive presence to meet your team’s or audience’s expectations and needs without losing yourself that will move you closer to achieving your goals, delivering your message as intended, and building relationships as desired.

In other words, your executive presence requires living and breathing global dexterity, constantly and continuously sensing the “temperature around.”

Now, here are a couple of reminders that might be of help to you in the process:

a) Authenticity Does Not Mean Comfort

Being authentic is about being true to yourself and your values, but it doesn’t always mean staying in your comfort zone. True authenticity often requires stepping outside of what feels safe and familiar. It’s about showing vulnerability, admitting mistakes, and being open to feedback. You might feel accustomed to EP in a hierarchical culture, where your presence communicates your status through distance, directive sociolinguistics, and expensive watches. But if you authentically care about being perceived as a leader by team members who see this behavior as authoritative, you will need to get out of your comfort zone and adjust your behavior as a leader. Embrace the discomfort that comes with growth and change, and use it as an opportunity to connect more deeply with your team or audience.

b) Bias is Your Frenemy

Your biases make you feel that you know best, but this feeling is not the truth. This relates to your perception of your own EP and others on your team. Did you know, for example, that Asians are often seen as good workers but poor leaders, despite studies showing Asian leaders can excel in startups and during corporate crises? Asian professionals face barriers due to cultural differences, with many being immigrants. Their values, like humility and respect for authority, clash with the individualistic and assertive styles valued in Western corporate culture. This leads to feelings of alienation and disengagement at work. As a result, they are the least likely to ascend to leadership roles in North America. This underutilization of Asian talent affects individual careers and corporate productivity. Bias is ingrained in humans, but nowadays it does not serve us well. It is our frenemy, and we need to be constantly aware of it when thinking of executive presence behaviors in diverse environments.

c) Overthinking and Ruminating are Destructive

It does not matter how many articles or books on executive presence you read or how many times you talk to yourself in the mirror; you need to get out of your head and into the real world. Overthinking will paralyze decision-making and hinder your effectiveness as a leader. It’s essential to seek external perspectives. Engaging with a coach can provide you with valuable insights and feedback that you might not see on your own. From guidance on identifying different cultural values within your team to customizing your behavior so it does not feel foreign to you, a coach can help you handle culturally sensitive conversations and learn to listen and talk across differences in direct and indirect communication. You need someone in your corner to help you see yourself from the side.

Reach out if you need guidance navigating challenges, developing your executive presence in a diverse environment, and ensuring you are continuously growing and adapting to meet your team’s needs.

Most importantly, remember that executive presence is learnable, and you don’t have to wait to be in a VP seat to start investing in developing it. Quite the opposite, the sooner you realize that this capability is needed at any point in your professional life and that it is created in the eyes of the beholder (which is incredibly diverse), the sooner it might open your path to that Executive Leadership Table. Adapt your executive presence to lead a diverse team effectively. Embrace authenticity even when it’s uncomfortable, leverage your understanding of bias, and seek the support of a coach to avoid getting stuck in your own perceptions. This approach will help you achieve your goals, deliver your messages as intended, and build the meaningful relationships you desire.

In our monthly email, we shared insights on the most common challenges and how to deal with them across cultures (read culture here beyond national identities).

Please know that the number of countries you have traveled to as an “Executive Representative” of your team does not guarantee your cultural intelligence.

Risk being culturally curious.