Measuring and Developing Executive Presence in Leaders and High Potentials

Monday, August 25, 2014

Executive presence is one of the hottest topics in talent development discussions today. You may hear from senior leaders that their high potentials are missing this “X factor,” though they struggle to define what it is. Instead, they say, “I know it when I see it.”

This approach is frustrating for everyone, from the high potential leader to those sponsoring their career advancement to you as the professional in charge of training and development.  

We know from extensive research that technical and managerial skill is not enough to succeed at the highest levels. As leaders move ahead in their careers and face greater complexity and challenge, they must assert influence, galvanize people to take action, and execute a strategy by getting work done through others.

These qualities demonstrate readiness to take on larger leadership roles. It’s likely you notice executive presence is missing when leaders stand on a bigger stage to lead a strategic initiative, take charge of a large-scale change, or to step into a bigger enterprise role.

While coaching senior leaders and partnering with talent development in global organizations, we found a common need: a cohesive approach to developing executive presence in leaders.  Many organizations default to presentation skill, an ability to command the room, or look the part, but you may feel intuitively it goes much deeper.  Well, it does.    

Research-based approach to executive presence

We set out to close the gap and define executive presence with a scientific model that translates this “X factor” into clear, understandable leadership qualities and actionable advice.

Through extensive research into theory and literature in management, communications, psychology, and social action theory, we developed a robust model of executive presence. We validated the model with 10 independent PhD assessment experts, built a multi-rater assessment—the Bates ExPI™—and tested it with over 100 leaders in 20 global organizations.

Three-dimensional executive presence model

The model speaks to the depth of qualities that leaders need to assert influence.  These qualities fall into three dimensions: character, substance, and style. Within these dimensions are 15 distinct facets that contribute to a leader’s ability to mobilize people, inspire engagement, and ignite action.

  • Character: person-based qualities leaders develop early in life that tend to build trust and foster goodwill  
  • Substance: cultivated qualities of mature leadership that speak to credibility, temperament, and having a vision that inspires 
  • Style: those more overt aspects of presence, such as the way we show up, the energy and assertiveness we bring, and the way we connect and interact with others. 



Measuring executive presence

As we talked with our clients about the relevance of executive presence to training and development programs, we found a common concern. 

For example, one VP of talent management for a Fortune 500 financial services company reflected, “How do you measure things like character in leaders, and address needs when it comes to qualities like humility, integrity, and concern? Aren’t these facets deep-rooted?” 

As many of our clients found, without a sufficient approach to measurement, attempts to build development programs around these qualities often fell flat. 

It’s important to clarify that measuring executive presence isn’t about whether the leader has these qualities. It’s about whether these qualities are showing up in the leader’s communication and interactions with key stakeholders. A tool like the ExPI measures a leader’s blind spots—the areas for improvement where there might be dissonance between the leader’s self-perception and the perception of their peers, boss, and direct reports. 

Multi-rater feedback offers the leader insights into how these qualities are coming through in their day-to-day leadership. The experience is often eye opening, particularly because as leaders move up in rank and influence, fewer are willing to tell them the truth about where there might be gaps. With concrete data about their EP, leaders feel energized to take action.    

Tips for developing executive presence 

Beyond defining and measuring executive presence, what else can you do to continue on the trajectory and help leaders and high potentials develop it? Here are three quick strategies.

  1. Map it to your competency model and in performance reviews. We’ve found that the facets highlighted in our research on EP correlate nicely with the leadership competency models currently used in many organizations. By drawing connections between the two, you can reinforce the importance and applicability of EP to your organization’s culture and strategy. 
  2. Provide business relevant context in feedback to engage leaders.It’s important to tie feedback on EP to the leader’s business context, so it establishes in their mind the practical relevance of development themes and evokes an appropriate sense of urgency to take action.
  3. Provide reflective learning experiences. Provide leaders and high potentials with opportunities to reflect on past leadership experiences and connect the dots with their strengths and developmental themes. Through the power of recollection, leaders embark on journeys of personal discovery that lead to clarity about what defines them. When they’re able to clarify what defines them, they can demonstrate an “executive presence” that’s authentic, unique and true. 

Having a clear definition of executive presence, a way to measure it, and practical approaches to coaching and training to it are all essential steps in enabling leaders to build presence and amplify their influence. For more information on the Model of Executive Presence and ExPI, visit

About the Author

Suzanne Bates is CEO and founder of Bates, a global coaching and consulting firm that helps leaders influence the world. She advises the CEOs and top executives of international companies on driving business strategy through communicative leadership and executive presence. Suzanne is the author of the bestselling business books Speak Like a CEO, Motivate Like a CEO, and Discover Your CEO Brand (McGraw-Hill) and writes a popular leadership column, Thoughts for Tuesday (

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