Don't Be the Rodney Dangerfield of the Boardroom. 4 Key Behaviors for Improving your "Executive Presence"
We have all been there, whether it's a meeting in the conference room of some major corporation or a small business BNI meeting at your local diner, sitting there yawning and checking our phones for the time. Just counting the minutes until this meeting is done, "I've got things to do today, my list is a mile long and this meeting is not helping me at all with my business. Damn! Only 5 minutes have passed since I last checked the time, maybe I will just check my emails now on my phone". And so it goes, you lean back in your chair with your face buried in your phone not caring or paying attention to the subject at hand in the meeting.
What I have just described is a perfect way to communicate to the others in the room your self -importance and disrespect. Many of us, in both small business and corporate America, need to reboot and learn that "Executive Presence" is a vital competency needed for success. What is executive presence, you ask?
"Executive presence" is the ability to be the one who walks into a meeting room and instantly makes the energy rise, the enthusiasm increase and people begin to pay attention.
Can this competency be learned? Absolutely, yes! For some it will be tougher than others, but we should all focus on making this competency better.
How can you do it?
Here are 4 behaviors that will instantly improve your executive presence and make you a better business person:
1)Respect for people-
seems simple, right? Hmmm… When was the last time you spent most of a meeting on your phone or laptop? Did you ever consider how disrespectful that is to the meeting lead as well as others in the room? We have become a society of business people who are self-important and disrespectful of our peers. Put the phones away, and if you are leading a meeting don't be shy about asking others to close laptops and put phones in their pockets. Think about it like this- If you attend a meeting it must be because the topic is somehow relevant to your job function, how can you contribute with valuable input AND provide your work colleague, who is leading the meeting, with support while your attention is focused on the device in your hand?
To fix this behavior, when in a meeting make it a point to leave your phone in your office or car and ask your colleagues if they will agree to do the same. Google has instituted a no phone in meetings policy by putting bins outside the meeting room for people to drop their phones in while going into the meeting. But the respect for people doesn't stop there.
While in the meeting be an active participant with a positive attitude. Listen to others actively and engage with their ideas, don't be confrontational even if you disagree. Acknowledge that there are many good ideas and some may suit a problem or challenge better than others. In the same vein, ask yourself, "when was the last time I sent an email to a colleague and maybe copied his/her boss expressing what a good meeting it was or how you appreciated a certain point made by the meeting leader?" I'm guessing it's been a while if ever. Little gestures like this go a long way to making people feel like the work they are doing is appreciated. If you don't get any of these things back, it doesn't matter. They should not be done with reciprocity in mind. If you demonstrate respect for people it will come back around in ways you can't count.
2.Increase your own knowledge base-
Having some gravitas in certain areas demands respect almost by default. Being a resource for your colleagues can also help your standing. But how do I do this? Here is a simple tip or two to help you get started- Making time to read is crucial to the way people react to you. No matter how long you have been doing a certain job there are new ways and emerging technologies that will affect you and how you perform.
If you rest on your laurels in today's hyperactive markets, you can bet your 401k you WILL be left behind. If you are not reading daily, then commit to something that is practical for you. Make every Wednesday morning from 8-8:30am your reading time, or every Saturday make it a point to read at least 5 headlines from the previous week. If you want to really turn up the learning curve then start a journal club at work where once a week you and a group of your peers discuss an article that all of you have read and listen to what others took from it. Bottom line is the advertisements we saw on TV when we were kids are so relevant to us now as thriving business people- 'Reading is FUNdamental"
Interacting with people is something that we do every day, some of us are more than others. Depending on multiple factors including job function, determines the volume of people we may encounter in a day, but ask yourself "How aware am I of that person and their attitudes and beliefs about topics ABC?" The answer is probably not very. Thus, you need to train yourself to be aware of other people's body language and tone etc. The ability to read people takes some practice, this is what makes poker such a good game, but it's skill that will make you stand out in the meeting room. If you read the look on a colleague's face about a certain task, be empathetic and ask if he/she needs any help or further information. If you detect a negative tone in what on the surface is a compliment, try to understand why that person may feel that way. Differences in perspective happen all the time and we all should be more open minded to them.
4.Be Self Aware-
This is by far the toughest behavior to master. Seeing yourself as the outside world does requires a lot on your part, especially when you're hearing unpleasant things about yourself. Some of this negative feedback may run directly counter to how you believe you behave or model yourself. But remember if that is the way others are seeing you, perception is reality.
Self-awareness is so important that there are tools to help people measure it. They are called 360 degree feedback tools and they usually entail giving a survey instrument about your behaviors and traits to your peers, your manager and those that report to you. I have done this exercise upwards of 4 times and the results can be an awakening. But they give you tangible things to work on and improve, like being a better listener, providing positive and constructive feedback more often, focusing more on solutions than problems, being more flexible, etc. If you get the chance I would highly recommend using one of the many tools available to help you. But you must be committed to accepting the results and using them to improve. If you dismiss any of the results as "not true about me" then you really lack self-awareness and even worse, don't see the need to improve it.
A simple behavior that you can implement today is just to be aware of how you conduct yourself in certain situations. Try to step outside of your body and envision how your behavior and attitude could be taken. It is generally a good idea to think about a statement before raising it in a meeting, but if you're concentrating on improving self-awareness ask yourself about the potential ramifications of the statement you're about to make, can it be taken as rude or negative by others? Is it insensitive to a particular person in the room? Is there a way to re-phrase it to put a more positive spin on it? Seems like a lot of work? Not really, it takes seconds to answer those questions.
Another big one is- "are you letting people finish their thoughts, or are you talking right over them?"
This is a behavior that I have spoken to members of teams I've managed about. I have realized that many of them didn't even realize they were doing it and were glad it was pointed out. But you can be aware of how you act in your next meeting with some of this in the back of your mind.
Executive presence is a competency that is never mastered but always being developed. Be acutely aware of your own behavior and attitudes and how others may perceive them. Test and measure them if you can. If you Google the term "executive presence" you will see literature supporting that those who have made improving this competency a priority in their professional development are more likely to succeed in whatever business they are in.
This is proof of the importance of it. Just remember that no matter how positive, solution oriented or flexible you think are, you are bound to have certain things that are perceived by others as not so nice and could use some polish. In the end, Executive Presence is about influence and lacking the ability to influence will certainly influence your career to a place you may not want to be.