Like looking through different windows to a house, each of us likely has a different point of view when answering the question of what executive leadership presence looks like. Of all the inquiries that came across my desk in the last few months, this one has been showing up with the greatest frequency. 

Especially when an individual contributor is newly promoted to an executive role, they are feeling overwhelmed with all the accompanying changes. Let’s take this apart and look at the elements that create strong presence in a leader: 

  • Inner and outer confidence
  • Good listener – willing to spend time with stakeholders and hear them
  • Willing decision maker – timely
  • Discrete – they know what is appropriate to share/not share in different settings
  • They keep promises – their word is their bond
  • Value people and the contributions they make
  • Generosity of spirit
  • They hold a strong vision and inspire a desire to bring one’s best
  • Place trust in others and are willing to delegate, relinquishing control

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and you may have your own qualities you’d like to add. I can imagine those I hear from saying, “Where do I even begin?” I would invite you to relax, to know that you are in good company, you won’t be able to do all of this at once, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. Begin with the description that matters most to you right now as a leader.

Marshall Goldsmith, one of the most acclaimed executive coaches in our time recommends working on one or two things at a time and really giving yourself permission to take this in bite- size pieces. I agree with that approach because I’ve seen many folks try to make wholesale changes during a transition like this and greatly frustrate themselves in the process. As you read through the list, and add anything you see missing, you will know intuitively which one would benefit you and your team most if you were to strengthen that area.

You might want to pull in a few key members of your close circle to help you be accountable for the changes you are making. For example, one executive had a habit of interrupting people, which drove his team members crazy. He determined that he wanted to focus on being a better communicator, which meant listening more and not interrupting. He gave a few people permission to call him out when he did interrupt. This accomplished a few things: he was sharing by modeling that it is okay to admit we aren’t perfect and ask for help, he was demonstrating trust in the team to help him change a habit and the structure he created was a success.

The better you know your natural talents and strengths, and those of your team, the more you will be able to leverage all the talent you have and put people in the roles where they will flourish. There will always be something to improve, and if we focus on doing what we naturally do well and invite others to do the same, everyone plays a stronger game. 

Teri Johnson is the founding partner for Personal Best Partners, a company that helps business and civic leaders build teams that perform at their fullest potential.

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