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ATD Blog

Executive Presence Helps Leaders Level Up

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

What is executive presence? How do we work to achieve it if we don’t know what it is? Executive presence is an umbrella term for specific behaviors and attributes that together inspire confidence in a leader’s potential to make significant contributions and achievements. Executive presence determines whether you gain access to opportunity; the more significant the opportunity the more important this set of defining characteristics becomes to the trajectory of your career.

If you aspire to be a senior-level leader, you need to be aware of the critical components of executive presence to help you navigate the nuances of senior leadership.

10 Behaviors of Executive Presence

Executive presence is a collection of behaviors that result in your ability to instill confidence in others. It’s a vague umbrella term for many behaviors that determine whether you gain access to opportunities within organizations. As leaders move up, they are often rewarded and regarded for their technical competencies until they cross an invisible line where technical competencies are not as relevant. Capability is now assessed based on how you interact, influence, and work with others. I have worked with hundreds of leaders across a multitude of organizations and industries and noticed that there are common behaviors that roll up under executive presence. If there are perceived gaps in your ability to demonstrate them, you may impede your progress toward senior-level leadership roles.

These are the 10 behaviors that keep leaders from leveling up:

1. Communicating with confidence: This behavior involves the ability to express ideas, thoughts, and messages clearly and assertively, demonstrating self-confidence and political savvy in both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Observed barriers: Being hesitant, holding back and not speaking, lacking clarity in writing or presentation skills, or doubting your messages are common barriers to achieving this competency.

2. Leading and adapting to change: Refers to the skill of effectively leading teams or organizations through periods of volatility or uncertainty, demonstrating flexibility, connection, resilience, and the capacity to guide others through transitions.

Observed barriers: Comfort with the status quo, being resistant to or having an aversion to change communicates an inability to adapt to new circumstances, which ultimately will slow progress and innovation within an organization.

3. Developing others: This behavior involves actively supporting the growth and development of team members or colleagues, helping them acquire new skills and capabilities to enhance their performance and career prospects.


Observed barriers: Relying on the same proven talent repeatedly to support the critical initiatives. A lack of investment in leadership development and an expected practical application of those skills within the organization.

4. Strategic planning and decision making: This is the capacity to think critically and strategically, making well-informed decisions that align with both short-term needs and longer-term goals and objectives and effectively executing plans to achieve them.

Observed barriers: Focusing on the tasks and work of the moment, the over-glorification of busy, and the rewards for the “get stuff done” culture at the expense of taking the time to plan using objectives, goals, and actions to help organize where to focus. Decisions are in silos, held at the more senior levels versus thoughtful criteria for how to allow for better decision making closer to the process or customer.

5. Building and leveraging relationships: This involves establishing and nurturing meaningful connections with colleagues, stakeholders, customers, and others, leveraging those relationships to achieve shared goals and objectives.

Observed barriers: Asking for support without investing the time to build the relationship. Fear of perception when leveraging relationships—the “icky” factor.

6. Delegating and empowering others: It encompasses the skill of assigning tasks and responsibilities to team members while providing them with the autonomy, trust, and support needed to excel in their roles, fostering a sense of empowerment.

Observed barriers: The tendency to micro-manage, limiting team members’ autonomy and creating fear of mistakes and risk. Minimizing diversity in seeking out ideas by keeping a small, trusted group of colleagues (echo chambers) for getting work accomplished.


7. Navigating conflict: This behavior entails the ability to address and resolve conflicts or disagreements within a team or organization constructively. Looking at conflict as the opportunity to hear relevant and important information helps us manage our perspective.

Observed barriers: Conflict avoidance or an overly competitive conflict style. Both can sometimes be beneficial and counterproductive if they are the sole style utilized.

8. Sharing leadership: It refers to the willingness to collaborate and share leadership responsibilities with others, fostering a sense of teamwork and collective ownership in achieving organizational goals.

Observed barriers: Reluctant to share and do all the highly visible and important work ourselves. We like the work, we are experts, we like the affiliations that come along with the work, and we are keeping others from growing and ourselves too as a result.

9. Influencing: This involves the capacity to persuade and inspire others to support and follow one’s ideas, initiatives, or vision, often through effective communication and compelling visions of the future. Inviting others to join, challenge, and share is a recipe for success.

Observed barriers: Using power as the main form of influence. Leaders often forget they have positional power. This drives a series of behaviors in others that need to be considered when looking for support, issuing assignments, or asking for help. Also, not taking the time to create relationships is problematic when influencing.

10. Emotional intelligence: This refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others. It includes skills such as empathy, self-awareness, impulse control, stress tolerance, and emotional regulation, which are important for effective leadership and interpersonal relationships.

Observed barriers: A lack of awareness of emotional expression and an inability to connect with others interpersonally. A lack of interest, care, or concern for others unless there is overlap and integration of work—a very narrow view of the importance of people.

These 10 behaviors collectively contribute to an individual’s executive presence and can significantly affect their success in organizational leadership roles. Developing and demonstrating proficiency in these areas can help leaders advance in their careers and avoid barriers to success.

About the Author

As the founder and CEO of Abloom Coaching, Karyn Edwards takes an evidence-based approach to bringing professional coaching and personal development to leaders so they can take control of their future. Her work is rooted in her experience working in organizations for 25-plus years as a senior leader. Edwards has a solid understanding of what leaders experience and also understands what organizations are looking for in their top leaders.

In her work as an executive/leadership coach, Edwards has helped executives, senior leaders, and purpose-driven professionals take their life and career to the next level. She was accepted into Forefront, a selective accelerator program for rising stars in the leadership development field, where she receives mentorship and teaching from leadership thinker Marshall Goldsmith and other top coaches.

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Kudos, Karyn - this is a useful article. Those who unfortunately equate executive presence with gravitas (long on presence, short on results) ought to see it.
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Straight to the point! Came across while thinking "What's missng?". Very clear, very helpful thank you.
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