Executive Presence: Vital Attribute for Career Advancement


My manager told me that “executive presence” was a key soft skill I needed to sharpen to progress in my career. Can you define why executive presence is important and provide specific strategies to help me enhance it? 


Legal professionals who exude confidence and capability are often described as “born leaders,” as if nature, rather than nurture, was behind their success. In truth, most of these standouts spend years honing their executive presence and learn best practices by observing their role models. 

That means you can’t enhance this quality overnight, but here are some areas to focus on to sharpen your executive presence, which will improve your standing among clients, colleagues and managers. 

Become a consummate communicator 

Strong communication skills are the cornerstone of executive presence, but it’s not just about being forthright or assertive. Don’t aim to be the loudest voice in the room. Instead, adapt your behavior to each situation and do whatever it takes to establish a rapport with those around you. Work on maintaining eye contact and practicing active listening, rather than eliminating all of the “ums” and “you-knows” from your conversation. People who are excessively self-conscious about their speech can sound robotic — the opposite of what you want to achieve. 

Be the eye of the storm 

When the pressure is on, your goal is to make good, thoughtful decisions, not act hastily for the sake of appearing decisive. Train yourself to take a pause when confronted with new or unexpected challenges, so you can think through the problem and solicit advice from people you trust. Easy-to-learn techniques based on mindfulness and meditation will help calm your nerves and, by extension, the nerves of those around you who are worried about the situation. 

Challenge yourself 

Would-be leaders are prepared to do things that don’t come naturally to them. It could be giving a presentation at the firm’s annual away day or working with a client who’s regarded as particularly demanding. Make it clear to your managers that you welcome stretch assignments. Taking on activities that others find daunting is one of the surest routes to acquiring executive presence. 

Remember that executive presence is a mindset, not a one-off project. Once you’ve reached one goal, set your eyes on the next. If you can maintain your reputation as someone hungry for new challenges and opportunities, the rewards will follow.