Why Executive Presence Matters
As a professional coach practitioner, establishing your credibility with prospective clients and organizational decision-makers from day one is essential. You have just a brief time to establish rapport and the basis for developing a coaching relationship. If you do this you will consistently win business and enable your practice to thrive.
How does cultivating executive presence help you? In working with leaders we must communicate who we are and what we stand for through our words and interactions. The qualities of presence enable us to build trust, establish credibility and accelerate outcomes. Research in established theory and literature from psychology to management and leadership, communication and social action theory, as well as philosophy and ethics, enabled us to build a science based model of the qualities of leadership we can define as executive presence. We’ve learned by piloting this model with others, and then, by modeling these qualities, that we can win business and build strong relationships that sustain our practice.
The Bates ExPI is a model and assessment tool designed to break executive presence down into three dimensions: character, substance and style. The model further defines 15 unique and distinct facets—five per dimension. These 15 facets are the qualities of leadership we know make good leaders great, and also enable those who work with those leaders to become trusted advisors and influencers. We define executive presence as qualities that enable us to engage, align, inspire and move people to act. Clearly, these are qualities that coaches must have, too!
All of us have strengths, as well as areas we can develop. As a coach you may be known for your Practical Wisdom; you cut to the chase and ask penetrating questions, putting issues on the table and making them discussable. However, you may have other habits or ways of being that you don’t realize are preventing a client from fully appreciating your wisdom. Social-emotional qualities, such as Resonance and Concern, must be present in order for a client to trust us and believe us to be credible. Without this belief, they are unlikely to do the hard work of adapting and growing as leaders.
Let’s go a little deeper on these two qualities to appreciate how essential they are to good coaching. Concern is a quality in the character dimension of the model that relates to trust. It is defined as the ability to be attuned to a client’s ideas and feelings, conveying that what matters to them matters to you—it feels less transactional and very sincere. This can be conveyed by taking time to learn about the whole client; i.e., his or her professional and personal goals.
Resonance is an aspect of the substance dimension, demonstrated when you leave people feeling heard and understood. It goes beyond merely hearing words and grasping their semantic meaning to appreciate nonverbal behaviors, while letting others know through our responses that it is registering and affecting us.
Appreciating these qualities and modeling them for leaders is another way that we establish trust and create value in the relationship. For example, perhaps you’re working with a leader who is struggling with Composure and Restraint. This leader has an action bias: He is quite confident he has the answers. Perhaps he’s also perceived as lacking humility. The behavior that gets in the way is a tendency toward impulsiveness—an emotional way of handling issues. The leader may be inclined to overreact to situations, speak before listening or even make decisions before allowing others to weigh in.
How might you actually help the leader? In part by modeling more positive behaviors and guiding the leader to appreciate what they look like. A coach with Restraint exhibits moderation and reasonableness. You don’t lack emotion but you exhibit the capacity to self-regulate your feelings and thoughts. You ask questions and pause after listening to the leader’s response. You consider carefully what you’ve heard. Perhaps you restate it and ask a question posed as a hypothesis to demonstrate that you’re not making assumptions.
Similarly, as a coach you can model Composure by looking to deescalate emotion and focus discussion. Composure is a cultivated quality of mature leadership—a result of having navigated many challenging situations and staying steady during a crisis. It’s the quality of appearing unruffled when there is uncertainty, and helping others to think clearly by bringing perspective to the issue. You can be an avatar of this type of leadership from your very first interactions with a new client.
The qualities of executive presence can help you not only model behavior but promote healthy, productive dialogue and have richer conversations with your clients. Perhaps your client has received advice that she is too assertive and that her style is shutting people down. How can you help that leader appreciate the impact and encourage her to experiment to change her behaviors? Assertiveness is sometimes confused with aggressive or brash outspokenness. That is not what is meant in the model and research by assertiveness. The Assertive leader puts issues on the table without delay and helps others work through differences constructively.
As a coach you can not only model the quality, you can share client stories that offer concrete examples of how leaders have exhibited this quality. Speak authentically about a leader you worked with who had a similar challenge. Sharing this experience shows your own Confidence and Authenticity, as well as Resonance. Painting a picture of how that leader might adapt her style demonstrates your Intentionality. Your conversation with the client is more meaningful and memorable.
Many people think about the style dimension when the term executive presence arises. The model doesn’t ignore this critical aspect of our presence: It is one of the 15 qualities! Appearance extends not only to wardrobe and grooming but also energy and vitality. One way to establish credibility and build early rapport with a leader is by showing up looking the part. Your clothing choices should be high-quality and professional, whether business formal or business casual. It is a sign of respect, conveying Integrity, Resonance and even Practical Wisdom. You show an awareness and appreciation of the client’s environment, and respect for yourself and for her.
Appearance also goes to showing up looking and feeling healthy and alert— bringing vigor and engagement to your interactions. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you need to establish within the range of what is authentic to your posture, manners, voice tone and cadence that connect with others. This is essential to working with high-energy, high-achieving leaders. A client reads verbal and nonverbal clues to assess your capability, suitability and readiness to work with them at their level, and bring sustained, long-term value to the relationship.
Cultivating and polishing your executive presence is crucial to the successful growth of your practice. This science-based model of leadership establishes the nuanced aspects of executive presence. As you develop and project these qualities people gain confidence in you as a partner and professional. Emotional Presence isn’t just fluff: It’s the foundation for great relationships that enable your practice to thrive.
© Bates Communications 2016