Executive Presence: The Career Trait Today’s Ladder Climbers Need

Jane Bianchi

executive presenceWhen it comes to succeeding at work, mastering the skills needed to do your job effectively is just one piece of the puzzle.

You also need to project a polished image—one that says you’ve got what it takes—to rise through the ranks and be a leader.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Ph.D., knows a thing or two about getting noticed. These days, the economist, business consultant and 20-year veteran of the talent management industry is garnering a lot of attention for her new book, “Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success,” in which she explains exactly what you need to do to showcase your leadership abilities front and center.

So if you’re ready to take charge at your company, listen up! We chatted with Hewlett to learn more about executive presence—and how you can start cultivating this workplace X factor today.

LearnVest: What exactly does it mean to have executive presence, and what difference can it make in your career?

Sylvia Ann Hewlett: Executive presence (EP) is a measure of image—a dynamic mix of gravitas, communication and appearance. Gravitas is the core characteristic, signaling that you know your stuff cold. You can communicate this with the authority of a leader through your speaking skills and your ability to command a room.

If you’re able to crack the EP code, you’ll be first in line for the next plum assignment. But if you’re not, you’ll have a harder time getting to your dream job.

The third characteristic you mentioned was appearance. How does that factor into the EP equation?

Appearance is extremely important because it is the first filter through which gravitas and communication skills are evaluated. That explains why high-performing junior employees oftentimes get knocked out of contention for key roles and promotions: They simply don’t look the part. No one bothers to assess your communication skills or thought leadership capabilities if your appearance telegraphs that you’re clueless.

I mention in my book that executives like Steve Jobs and Margaret Thatcher exude great executive presence. Philosopher and media personality Cornel West—with his distinctive Afro, three-piece suits and fearsome oratory—never fails to make a powerful and lasting impression.

Each person must find a signature look that is authentic but appropriate for the environment in which they work.

RELATED: Brand Yourself: 6 Mistakes That Could Be Holding You Back

  • Matt

    Do they take you seriously if you use a word like ‘gravitas’? lol

  • Colgate University

    Thank you for adding the link to our news story on Cornel West. He made a powerful and lasting impression at Colgate.