Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect

Chapter 1

Others marry us, hire us, fire us, promote us, lend us money, and follow us, not because of what we think of ourselves, but because of what they think of us.” - Robert Hogan (paraphrased)

Executive presence is anchored in what others perceive, not what we intend to communicate.

Key characteristics noticed in initial encounters:

  • Status and reputation
  • Physical appearance
  • Projected confidence
  • Communication ability
  • Engagement skills

Key characteristics noticed over the long run:

  • Interpersonal integrity
  • Values in action
  • Intellect and expertise
  • Ability to deliver outcomes
  • Willingness to use coercive power when appropriate

Senior executives agree gravitas is a core component of executive presence and climbing the corporate ladder:

  • Remaining confident and calm under pressure
  • Acting decisively
  • Displaying integrity and courage
  • Demonstrating EQ

Executive presence is how you’re perceived by others. It’s a set of skills and qualities you can learn. To acquire it you need to continually improve those skills

Low status leaders are often ignored or overlooked while high status get promoted above their ability.

Self assessment: ExecutivePresenceIndicator.com

Your job is to construct a compelling and authentic executive presence.

You need to be confident, bold, and calm under pressure.

When you’re in leadership, people read into your actions:

  • Frown? “The company is having problems” or “I did something wrong”
  • Talk to someone in hallway? “They must be good friends”
  • Make an offhand comment? Read into it

Some people don’t merely enter a room; they take possession of it. Their relaxed confidence is reflected in their walk, their posture, and the ease with which they engage others. Their eye contact is steady and their smile sincere. They’re socially appropriate in dress and conversation, and everyone they meet can’t help but feel their presence. Yet if that were all there is to executive presence, you’d be holding a pamphlet instead of a book right now.

Five Key Traits

  • Communication: mastering difficult conversations, engaging others, telling strategic stories, inspiring and persuading
  • Competence: having intellect and expertise, delivering results, acting decisively
  • Personal brand: having status and reputation, projecting calm under pressure, possessing a compelling physical appearance, projecting confidence, having interpersonal integrity
  • Courage: holding people accountable, speaking truth to power
  • Political savvy: networking and building alliances, managing up, generating buy in and support

Identify which areas you’re strongest and weakest and develop a plan for addressing the weak areas. You may have them in certain circumstances but not others.

Do you present well to peers but stumble in front of executives?

Do you make a better initial impression or longer term impression? Figure out why and develop the area where you’re weak.

Resource: The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization by Peter Senge

The path from observation to action:

  1. We start with what we observe: Data, context, facts
  2. We selectively focus on certain aspects based on our interests, biases, and beliefs, and prior experiences
  3. We make sense of this internally by interpreting meaning and making assumptions
  4. We draw conclusions based on assumptions that either reinforce or alter our beliefs
  5. We make decisions and take actions based on those assumptions and beliefs

First impressions are key; conquer them with warm, strength, and value

Warmth fosters trust and puts people in a receptive psychological frame for forming emotional connections known as approach vs avoid.

People are constantly wondering three things:

  • What’s happening?
  • What’s going to happen next?
  • How am I being treated?

People are highly protective of their status in group settings. Being tested coldly or indifferently makes people feel rejected, which triggers the avoid state. Rejection affects the same part of the brain as physical pain; which makes us withdraw or lash out in anger.

Showing warmth enables others to let their guard down as they assess our motives and intentions.


Important: The point of this is not to build yourself up but to let others know they are safe with you and not wasting their time.

Strength is conveyed by the way your carry yourself, your posture, tone of voice, heart rate and speaking rate, eagerness to engage, and confidence

You have to act calm even if you’re nervous, or you’ll raise suspicions about your competence and readiness.

Strong reputations, significant achievements, and impressive networks are associated with executive presence, especially in initial encounters

You have to link yourself to other trusted and respected people and organizations in a way that’s confident yet not arrogant.


When meeting someone, focus on what value you can deliver.

Don’t just say what your title is. Say what outcome you can provide and what your value proposition is.

For example:

  • Bad: Hi, I’m Richard. I’m the lead developer on X team.
  • Better: Hi, I’m Richard. I’m the lead deveoper on X team. I’m here to support and unblock the rest of our developers when they get stuck so we deliver the Y project on time.

Our business craves clarity and certainty. Providing this info stimulates the reward centers in the recipient’s brain.

Other ways to provide value are offering a proof of concept or other evidence of your success or achievements–units shipped, orders processed, prestigious awards, etc. When people can perceive the value you’ve provided others, it’s easier to imagine the value you can provide them.

Remember: Perception always beats reality. Remember what’s important to others.

Copyright © 2023 Richard Morgan.