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Have you ever wondered why sometimes really smart, qualified people are not promoted?  Why is it that some entrepreneurs are able to grab the spotlight while others stumble around in anonymity? Two articles I read recently in the Harvard Business Review and Marie Claire magazine address this issue by talking about something called “executive presence.” All other things being equal such as experience or education, the person with the strongest executive presence, or what I call good personal branding, will get the promotion or in the case of the entrepreneur, the business.

“You’re smart, driven, and good at what you do. But that alone won’t be enough to score you a promotion or corner office. A slew of other factors that constitute “executive presence”–from your wardrobe to your ability to inspire colleagues–will also play a huge role in how far you will go.”– Marie Claire Magazine

A study conducted by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) concluded that having executive presence “accounts for as much as 28 percent of a woman’s success.”  That means almost a third of what goes into your success is not based on how well you actually do your job! So what makes up executive presence?  According to Hewlett, there are three basic factors:  how you look, how you speak and how you behave. “It’s all three things and nailing them makes you a contender.”

Let’s take a closer look…

1. How you look. Let’s turn the tables a bit here and ask, who would you rather hire? Assuming all things are equal, do you hire the assistant who shows up with a skirt that’s too short, has chipped fingernail polish and a wrinkled shirt? Or do you hire the person who is neat, has a cute hair cut and an overall polished appearance? It’s a no-brainer. Why should we think we are judged any differently when we are trying for a promotion or competing for customers? Appearance matters.

2. How you speak. Do you speak with authority? Do you have good volume when making presentations or do stumble over your words? Do you look others in the eye when speaking? Do you give the impression you would serve well as the voice of the company when speaking in public?

When he made presentations to the executive team, he was invariably well-prepared, but his lack of comfort was evident in his body language. Normally highly articulate, his presentations were long-winded and rambling. In the Q&A portion of his presentations, he tended to be overly deferential to members of the executive team, and he was hesitant to insert himself into the conversation when the executives got into a debate. As one senior executive said privately, “Frank’s an incredible asset to the company, but I just can’t envision putting him in front of a customer.”-from Deconstructing Executive Presence, Harvard Business Review.

3. How you behave. Sylvia Hewlett lists six elements of executive behavior: grace under fire, decisiveness, emotional intelligence, ability to read a room, integrity and authenticity. I would also add confidence, knowing your strengths and knowing how to leverage them, taking initiative, taking responsibility and taking decisive action. Ask yourself, do I exhibit these traits? Do I know what my strengths are and how to optimize them? Do I make them known to my target audience, be it a boss or a client niche.

Whether climbing the corporate ladder or trying to attract more clients, you would do well to think carefully about how you look, speak and behave. Qualifications, education and skill all matter, but there is simply too much competition to ignore the other 28% of your personal brand which includes your presence.

I love hearing from you! 

How do you try to exhibit the traits of executive presence or good personal branding?

Post your answers below in the comments or find me on Facebook.


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Heather Poduska is a Reach certified personal brand strategist, image consultant and business coach who helps women entrepreneurs create client attractive brands, polished brand images and brand communication strategies to increase their visibility and impact in the marketplace and grow their businesses.
To learn even more about Heather and the Clear Voice Branding System click the link.