Executive Presence

One of the areas I always pay close attention to is knowing what skills I need to work on next to be a better version of my self. 

I recently realized for driving more impact at work and in the community, I need to work on my executive language and know how to communicate with C levels. 

During my search and after speaking with my mentors/colleagues at work I came across a Developing Executive Presence course by John Ullmen, PhD, a professor from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

The course is about the four key factors that drive executive presence.

  1. Passion
  2. Perspective (Thinking factor)
  3. Poise (Emotional factors)
  4. Projection (action factors)

I'm gathering the key points, questions and my personal views and answers as I'm going through the course. It's a live post and I keep updating its content. 


"The foundation of executive presence is a passion to make a positive difference for others"

What do you feel most strongly about how things can be better for others? What really resonates with you based on your own life experiences? 

I grew up in a developing country with a strongly male-dominated culture. I always wanted to change it, especially after I saw/felt some injustice first hand. 

When I was a teenager and during my 20s, I believed to fight injustice, you need to have financial freedom. You need to make sure you earn enough to be able to live independently. I was lucky enough to have the support of my family and have my dad as my mentor to persuade me toward a rewarding career path. I was lucky enough to study software engineering at university and met the love of my life while I was in uni.

After graduating from uni, Harry and I with few friends started our own business and had our start-up for five years. For financial and some personal reasons we decided to close the company. We got offers at different companies and you might not be surprised to know although Harry and I had exactly similar experience and skill set. Harry's salary was two times more than mine! Another fact to add to this equation is I had a bachelor degree while harry had an Associate degree in software engineering.

At the time I wasn't upset, I was thinking it's the norm! Then I accidentally caught in a conversation with a few female colleagues and find out they are getting paid half of my salary! It was absurd! 

My assumption was It happened because they weren't aware of the market salary range[specifically for males] and some knowledge gaps and lack of confidence.

That was a spark and made me start thinking about how can I help my female colleagues to grow in their career so at least they get paid similar to my wage! How can I be better so I can ask for raise and close my salary gap to my male colleagues!

For a while, I was looking at how can I earn more! What should I learn and what I  need to do to increase my compensation plan! I still do but with a different lens!

Since I was a little girl, I was puzzled why there is a massive difference in the number of people attending female and male funerals! Even their funeral notices were different. For most females on the funeral notice, it was saying "loving wife and mother" and for males, it had their job title or status and the impact they had in the community! How can I be sure when I die, hundreds of people coming to my funeral? I remember I asked my dad. His answer was if you work hard and be nice to people you will have it!

I can summarise my passions are 

1- Creating a pleasant environment for everyone to grow and feel fulfilment!

2- Solving business problems by utilising collective intelligence with minimum cost and effort

Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire.

Perspective (Thinking Factor)

The second factor is the perspective (Effective thinking patterns). People with executive presence, take a broader perspective beyond their personal concerns and nearsighted responses. They have perspective. They're fully engaged in the here and now while also attentive to possibilities and opportunities ahead in time and across stakeholders.

There are three categories of thinking patterns

1- Thinking about yourself

2- Thinking about others

3- Getting things done

To achieve executive presence we need to ace all of these three categories by replacing low presence thinking patterns with high presence alternatives 

Thinking about yourself: 

  • Rumination(worrying too much) vs Focus on controllable
  • Self-defeating self-talk vs Focus on your purpose
  • Need to be correct vs Need to be effective

The first point is the easiest one to do, you can easily write down the list of your worries and then cross of those you don't have zero control over them! Then you can easily put all of your attention on those items you are in control of and can change them.

The second point is a trap, I still sometimes find myself caught in it.  The thoughts of I'm not good enough! I should have been better in X or  Y! 
Sometimes, I embrace those thoughts for reminding myself hey you could do better and try harder! But I found out although these thoughts may help you to work harder it has negative effects on people's perception of you! You might miss opportunities because you unconsciously send an "I 'm not confident" signal and people won't trust you as much as they should to give you the next big challenge or assignment.
John Ullmen, in this course, have a very interesting solution which is recommending as soon as negative thoughts came into your mind start focusing on and remind yourself
1- I'm here to help
2- What can I do next to add value to others? (Just a note to the female readers, it doesn't mean you have to do low profile tasks like taking notes or getting coffee orders! Think with your expertise what values you can add!)

The third point is about channelling the energy from being correct to be effective. Some of the practical ways to be effective
1- I'm clear about my views
2- I'm open when I'm wrong
3- I'm open to learning

Thinking about others: 

  • Finding mistakes and faults vs look for the best in imperfect people
  • People are with me or against me vs treat people with respect and dignity even if they are against me
  • Take things personally vs take things purposefully
  • Focusing on who is in the room vs mindful of all stakeholders
  • I listen for what effects my agenda and I evaluate based on my interests vs pay attention to what people don't say too, and what that means

"If you want to maintain the loyalty of people who are present, always be loyal to those who are absent.", Steven Covey.

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart", Nelson Mandela.

Getting things done:

  • Focus almost exclusively on getting results vs focus on going for great results in ways that also strengthen my relationships and reputation
  • Focus on what's urgent vs stay on track, on purpose, on the top priorities
  • Focus on showing what I know vs focus on bringing out the best that everyone here knows, including me.

I'm a big supporter of including everyone in the decision-making process and try my best to build up relationships as much as I can. However, I admit I'm guilty of getting a result as my highest priority and sometimes I may forget to build up relationships or there were few instances I hurt a few people's feelings unintentionally. 

We all experienced getting urgent messages, meetings and action items comes to us daily. This a great tip to ask ourselves "This sound urgent. How does it affect what's most important?"

Poise (Emotional Factor)

People with executive presence tend to stay poised. They govern the flux and flow of their feelings, avoiding in the moment mistakes that can undermine their credibility and career. They maintain composure, despite stress, fear, or uncertainty, but they're not emotionless. 

These are simple steps that could help to stay poised and use emotions to increase, instead of undermining positive impact on others.

1- Begin with the emotional end in mind

Whatever you're doing, meetings, presentations, discussions, strive to start with your best emotional state. Knowing you're doing something so fundamentally worthwhile is itself a source of strong positive feeling and you automatically feel excellent. You're going for something great, you're putting yourself in situations to make progress on something you know with your deepest core conviction is valuable and meaningful. That's the emotional presence to bring at the beginning of things.

Identify your emotions at your best? Energized, Motivated, Proud, Confident, Enthused, Purposeful, Empowered, Encouraged, Productive, Accomplished, Appreciative, Inspired

Before any executive presence situation, meetings, discussions, presentations, remind yourself

A: How the situation connects to your passion to make things better 
B: How you feel when you're at your best when you're making progress on that passion. 

Then put A and B together in a simple statement you can say to yourself to help you start emotionally strong. 

Emotions have a contagious effect, both positive and negative. The dominant emotional tone at the beginning can change the entire course of a conversation or a meeting. 

When you lose your poise or self-assurance, what specifically are the dominant feelings you experience? Typical loss of poise feelings are being frustrated, angry, insecure, scared, fearful, flustered, exposed, intimidated, isolated, deficient, belittled, ashamed, or stuck.  
Negative emotion isn't a destination. It's a sign. It's a sign we're going in a direction we might want to reconsider.  Identify which emotion will get you back on track. Define which ones work best for you. You can feel determined, tenacious, committed, persevering, resolute, or disciplined. 

Projection (Action factors)

We all heard about the first impression and its effects. It may not fair or rational but it's part of our psychology to form a mental image of others when we first interact with them.
How to put our actions into work and send signals of confidence to others. 

1- What we do (non-verbal communications)
  • Posture: Adjust your posture even before the meeting starts. 
  • Movement and gesture: Move with purpose, use your hand gestures in sync with the points
  • Facial expression: Show Emotion consistent with your purpose, avoid highly extreme emotions that may move your face into an unnatural and unattractive shape or position (anger, surprise,...)
  • Eye contact and connect with people
  • Appearance, dress in a way that adds your credibility and doesn't distract attention 

The most important one which I need to focus on is my facial expressions. Especially in remote/virtual meetings, I have noticed sometimes the video freezes and people might see my contorted face on their screen!

2- What we say and how we say it

  • Speak Decisively (Express clear point of view when you want to weigh in on a topic, be ready to speak at beginning and end to make a first and last impression)
  • Support your viewpoints with facts and data
  • Respond when challenged (don't be defensive but when you are in the spotlight don't go silent. be ready, be clear and be on-point)
  • Admit you are wrong with Strenght(Say Thank you with confidence when you corrected. You are going for truth and not self-interest! Don't over apologize. say, "You are right about that, thanks for pointing that out", then move on)
  • Stay on course, stay close to what matters most.
  • Keep it simple
  • Be concise 
  • Engage others with Kudos and Questions, give others space to speak and encourage diverse viewpoints, ask thoughtful questions
  • Align your pitch, Pace and Tone
  • Speak with Volume, speak from your diaphragm
priming is activating specific associations such as images, words, memories or sounds to influence what to do next. Use priming for improving your executive presence.

Be Present
Be fully present persistency! A Present is a gift, to project your best self more frequently with more people is a gift you give yourself and others too