Executive Presence in a Modern World

Ornate golden eye illustration on blue background.

Executive presence is your ability to inspire confidence among your peers, subordinates, and senior leaders, who are essential to your success. You must show that you are able, trustworthy, and a safe pair of hands with the potential for outstanding achievement. 

Your executive presence will indicate whether you can deliver on your strategic objectives and gain access to lucrative future opportunities. 

Executive presence in a modern world isn’t about domination and an enlarged ego. Instead, it is about building high-quality relationships within your network, showing you as trustworthy, courageous, and wise. Here are three development areas that will go a long way to improving your executive presence. 

Turn up like to mean it:

Visual appearance makes a first impression, and first impressions are powerful, whether conscious or subconscious. You want to ensure that your first impression inspires confidence. Make sure your appearance is appropriate for the setting and the company culture and consistent with others at the level you aspire to. 

Pay attention to your clothing choices, tailoring, and grooming, and ensure that nothing about your appearance distracts from the impression you want to leave. 

Even if you are online, avoid falling into the trap of wearing a T-shirt and hoody to a business meeting. Online business casual means smart. 

I’ve been coaching a junior leader who occasionally wears a shirt and tie to our sessions. He looks brilliant, and his attire inspires executive presence. 

Learn to listen with your eyes: 

Listening isn’t necessarily hearing the words spoken. According to American Psychologist Gerald Egan, words only account for 7% of communication, while the other 93% comprise visual signals, pauses, and noises. For this reason alone, you’ll miss much of what’s said if you’re not listening with your eyes. 

More than understanding what is being said, deeper listening significantly affirms the speaker, developing a solid relational bond. 

Listening with your eyes involves watching carefully for visual markers, such as when the speaker looks away or into space, suggesting taking time out for reflection. This is a critical time for the speaker and an opportunity for you to shut up and keep watching. When they’re back in the room, the speaker will make eye contact with you and want you to ask a question.  

Awareness of themes, repetition, avoidance tactics, silences, and pauses build an executive presence. You will be seen as trustworthy and safe to talk to about tricky subjects. 

Learn to ask valuable questions:

The quality of your questions will show how well you’re engaged with the speaker and other people in the room. Questions based on your ego will not build high-quality relationships, so slow things down and give yourself time to think. Part of your executive presence development will be to ask appropriate questions that build others’ confidence in you. 

Open questions are great for building executive presence because it’s harder for them to be ego-based. Open questions are not there to show how superior you are. Quite the opposite, they can show how supportive, engaged, and interested you can be. 

Open questions don’t close the conversation down by eliciting single-word answers. They may start with what, when, who, or what.  

Try phrases like:

“What went well?”

“What do you think happened during the product launch?”

Subsets of open questions include:

 If you want more details or suspect someone is avoiding issues, ask ‘probing questions’.

‘Reflective questions’ are good if something is unclear, or you haven’t fully understood a topic. They can affirm a shared understanding, building trust in a relationship. 

‘Challenging questions’ come with a health warning. Ensure you’ve checked your ego, that it is safely under lock and key, and that you’re asking questions in your group’s service. 

If you enjoyed this short blog, why not try these:

The Importance of Engagement in Innovation – Woodward Consulting (woodward-consulting.net)

The Learning Organisation Health Check – Woodward Consulting (woodward-consulting.net)

Influencing change – Woodward Consulting (woodward-consulting.net)

Free 30-Minute Consultation Sessions

Most of the CEOs, Board Directors and Executive Leaders I speak to now are experiencing a rapid increase in the pace and intensity of their working lives. Most have had to adapt to constant disruption in their organisations. Your aim should be to thrive in these fast-moving times.

We are experiencing massive changes, which will accelerate in the coming years. As a result, the way we build relationships, work, manage, and lead organisations will also change.

As leaders, you need space and time to think strategically more frequently than ever before.

A trusted partner can help you clarify your thoughts, motivations, and actions, keeping you focused and on top of your game.

If you are planning a transformation programme, I offer a 30-minute free consultation to establish your needs and next steps.



Andrew has over 25 years of extensive experience supporting business leaders and C-suite executives in reaching their full potential. 

He is an EMCC Accredited Executive Coach

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