Jessica didn’t want to lose the qualities that make her an outstanding leader.
A senior leader in the non-profit sector, Jessica is passionate about her job. She is well-loved by her team and colleagues, who point to her commitment to her organization’s mission and her ability to inspire and motivate others. They say she excels at mentoring her team and building collaborative relationships.
But, Jessica’s passion and enthusiasm often fail to translate effectively in settings that call for her to show up with authority, clarity, and confidence–settings that call for executive presence. Her role requires her to advocate for funding and resources for her organization. In these settings, she sometimes comes across too chatty and informal, getting carried away with details and missing big-picture key messages. She also gives her team so many public accolades for their contributions that others are left unclear about hers.
This feedback was not new to Jessica.
“I’ve heard this all before,” she said in a recent coaching session. “They want me to be someone else – act calmer, don’t talk with my hands. But that’s not who I am. I’m passionate!”
Jessica was afraid that showing up with executive presence meant becoming bland, passionless, and dry. She thought it meant losing the qualities that have made her successful in her career.
I encouraged Jessica to reframe her views on executive leadership. An effective leader is adaptable. They maintain their core values but can pivot to different audiences and environments. They honor the environment they’re in while staying true to their authenticity and integrity.
“I was just having this conversation with my husband,” she said. “If I go to a fast food restaurant with the kids versus a date night with my husband, I’m still the same person! I just behave differently to fit into each environment.”
The light bulb had gone off.
“When I’m working from home and having one-on-one meetings with my staff, that’s different from when I’m presenting to stakeholders to get funding for my programs. I have to know my audience and honor that.”
Jessica realized she can have executive presence while staying true to who she is. Here are the strategies that helped her do that.
Think strategically about your message and tailor it to your audience.
Jessica often has 10 minutes to present her organization’s mission to high-profile decision makers. In those cases, she must streamline her message, getting to the point with big-picture context and relevant, supporting data. Other times, she needs to brief cross-functional teams on collaborative projects. In those instances, granular, technical detail is appropriate. Ask yourself, who is my audience and what do they need from me? Be clear about the purpose for your communication.
Think about how you want to show up.
Jessica is personable, outgoing, and charming, qualities that win her instant fans in her organization. In formal settings, however, those qualities have cost her authority and credibility. Think about how you need to show up to be most effective. Your demeanor during a one-on-one with a trusted colleague will be different from how you show up when presenting to senior leaders.
Take the time to prepare.
Jessica didn’t always prepare for presentations, trusting that she would be able to answer questions on-the-spot. Inevitably, she’d be asked about something she didn’t think through beforehand, and would lose credibility when she wasn’t able to answer. She learned to prepare thoroughly, anticipating questions and knowing her message inside and out. She delegated to her staff to provide her with the information she needed, allowing them to contribute while ensuring she came across as the authoritative voice in the room.
Stay on script.
When leaders are passionate about their organizations, it can be easy to get sidetracked with interesting yet irrelevant stories and details. Ask yourself, what is my goal for this meeting or presentation? How much time do I have to present? How can I accomplish that goal in that time? Use those answers to craft your presentation, then practice staying on-script.
Focus your passion.
Jessica worried that strengthening her executive presence would mean dimming the passion she has for her organization. But, many of her habits–friendly chit-chat, going off-script, spending too much time on technical details–would dilute her message, and, ultimately, hold her back from reaching crucial goals for the organization. She practiced channeling her enthusiasm into a focused, succinct message, which she could still deliver with the passion that is authentic to her. She discovered that with focus, her passion is much more impactful.
Impactful leaders balance their passion with the needs of their audience, adapting to different environments while maintaining their authenticity. Practice these strategies and you can have executive presence while staying true to who you are.