Executive Presence: I know it when I see it!… Really?

When I started my professional coaching work, after 30+ years in healthcare leadership, I became curious as to why so many leaders wanted me to coach “up” various people reporting to them – to work on Executive Presence. When I asked them what Executive Presence meant to them, the answers were vague: the “IT” factor, gravitas, appearance, presentation skills, etc., etc.

Not many specifics for a coach to work with.

I decided to dig deeper and figured there must be a science-based explanation defining Executive Presence. I wanted something that would satisfy both the sponsors (the people hiring me and paying to help executives) and the client (the people who are willing to fine-tune and change their skills and behaviors for future success).

I came across an article by Suzanne Bates and it resonated with me.  Three words: Character, Substance and Style.

So simple, and yet, so hard to combine for the right chemistry of effective leadership.

Since I was a novice coach, I decided to attend a Bates ExPI Certification Program. I learned there are many facets to these three simple words, as demonstrated in the below model:

The Character facets represent qualities that leaders learn early in life and that are important for building TRUST.

The Substance facets are more part of adult development for those on a leadership track, and they are key to CREDIBILITY.

The Style facets reflect how leaders use two-way communication–real dialogue–to create alignment and drive EXECUTION.

This was a breakthrough for my coaching career. This tool that helped me find the “it” of Executive Presence. By asking the sponsor, client, and stakeholders to identify two or three of the facets that the client needs to work on, something incredible happens. They either agree on the facets, or they identify gaps in opinion that allow legitimate dialogue around change.

I would encourage leaders and coaches to check out Suzanne Bates book, All the Leader You Can Be The Science of Achieving Executive Presence.  I wish I had this tool when I was a Chief Executive, hiring and developing leaders.

Too often we make decisions on leadership with our heart, head, or gut. Sometimes, we need to dig deeper into the science to truly evaluate talent and identify areas for leaders to grow.

John Fletcher
About the author

As a strategic adviser and Leadership Coach, John Fletcher is a Healthcare innovator and experienced leader based in Seattle, Washington.
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