Why is executive presence so important?
Executive presence is everything. It's how you show up, it's how you talk, it's how you dress (yes, it's how you dress). It's the manifestation of your ideas, beliefs and emotions. As a CFO, you cast a shadow that's probably longer than you think and everyone is watching your every move even when they don't know it. So your executive presence, simply put, is your presence as an executive.
If you have negative presence, people won't want to talk with you. They won't proactively approach you to ask you for advice, get your input or opinion. In fact, they will take measures to actively avoid you.
If you have a neutral presence, people won't know you exist - you become invisible. They don't take the time to engage with you, consult with or support you.
If you have 'positive' executive presence, you exude gravitas. When you walk in a room, people look up. When you speak, people listen and when you make requests, people deliver.
Executive presence is just one of the 3 skills that sits within the 'Impact' quadrant of high performance for CFOs. In this quadrant, CFOs have a high focus on driving commercial outcomes for their business and utilising non-technical skills to amplify the impact of the technical expertise they bring to the executive table. The impact quadrant is the place to start for most CFOs who want to elevate themselves because it is the quadrant that's all about self-leadership.
So why is executive presence so important? It's the most effective way to accelerate the right result.
How do you get executive presence?
There are certain skills that you must master in order to have and maintain executive presence. When I work with my CFOs on executive presence we:
1. Define for them what it looks like. Executive presence means different things to different people. The starting point for executive presence should be to ask, "How does said executive presence exemplify my brand as a CFO?". Because if it doesn't align with your brand, it will feel fake and it won't stick.
2. Articulate the business benefit of executive presence. This goes deeper into the 'why'. Executive presence, like many skills, are nuanced depending on the context in which they are enacted. It's important we are intentional with executive presence so that it has the impact we desire.
3. Prepare a strategy for successful implementation. Elevating executive presence takes courage because it requires you to behave differently and at first it can be easy to let fear of non-acceptance get in the way. The more detail in which you can break down your implementation plan and feedback loop, the quicker and easier it becomes to execute and the hurdle to overcome is lower.
It's a robust and proven process that is focused on engagement and performance with an embedded shift in behaviour. But it all hinges on the effectiveness of a source that might come as a surprise to you.
The secret source of executive presence
I want to let you in on the secret behind executive presence.
The secret is that executive presence starts at home. Not in the office. When we work on the pillars of high performance for CFOs (financial, professional, structural, cultural and personal), executive presence starts in the personal pillar - that is, the pillar that activates high performance at work. The personal pillar is the one where sleep hygiene, journaling, spending time with your loved ones, and exercise, to name a few, come in.
Think about that for a minute. When you've got your personal pillar in order - you're doing the things you know support you - you come to work fresh and with mental clarity, ready to face the difficulties of the day. When you've had too many late nights, skipped too many gym sessions, or missed too many family dinners, you know this has a negative impact on how you show up and ultimately how you perform.
The one action to elevate your presence
You might be thinking, gosh, it's all too much. You might be feeling a bit guilty because you've taken your eye of this particular ball and you know just how important it is. Not to worry, there's one thing you can do right now to get you back on track.
Presence is ultimately about preparation.
We come off the rails when things get out of hand, and we get a little chaotic which we project through our presence. We know happens from time to time. Once you've caught yourself, the easiest way to reset your positive habits to elevate your presence is to schedule the preparation time you need to do what it takes to be at your best.
Time to get practical
What does executive presence look like for you?
What habits will support you consistently showing up like that?
When will you do those things?
Put it in your calendar...now!