Rejuvenating Executive Presence: A Modern Twist On Age-Old Foundations

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Executive Presence

Executive Presence has been revamped, but it continues to stand strong on its three stable pillars. Think of it like your traditional cocktail; the same ingredients but with a fresh twist.


A vehicle for genuine self-expression


Back in 2019, while delivering a programme in Penang, Malaysia, I encountered a data scientist who was embarking on a journey to discover her true identity. She appeared disengaged during the program, up to the point when Amy Cuddy’s research was discussed. It’s worth mentioning that I have been impressed for life by Cuddy’s research in the realm of presence and her power-posturing technique. I always include her teachings in my classes, and up to this moment, they have typically been well-received by participants. For some, it marks a pivotal moment. In a surprising turn, this data scientist challenged the renowned psychologist’s findings, citing others’ and animatedly arguing against power posturing claiming its inefficacy.

This encounter led me to two profound realisations. First, she had a point in asserting that power posing––adopting open postures that convey power and confidence, resulting in increased feelings of power and confidence––doesn’t universally work for everyone. Its critics argue that factors such as individual differences, cultural context, and situational factors may influence its effectiveness. However, its efficacy lies evident within the audience. Your “power” is what your audience observes you, and it shapes their perception of you.

Second, like many other participants in the programme, she was on a quest to discover her authentic self. Authenticity hinges on understanding one’s core values; without this understanding, it remains elusive. Effective communication should be a conduit for authenticity rather than a facade. By identifying one’s core values, individuals develop self-awareness, leading to confidence and an authentic appearance—essential elements of executive presence. As one progresses on the executive journey, the need to stay true to one’s identity intensifies. In essence, executive presence isn’t about conforming to stereotypes but about authentically embodying one’s values and principles.


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The elusive connection between merit and achievement


Let’s start with revising the basics: Executive Presence is a multifaceted concept encompassing three essential pillars: Gravitas, Communication, and Appearance. These traits serve as the bedrock of a leader’s ability to inspire confidence, command respect, and influence others.


  • Gravitas, echoing the Aristotelian concept of Ethos, embodies the character and credibility of a leader, rooted in integrity and authenticity
  • Communication, akin to Logos, underscores the clarity and persuasiveness of one’s message, fostering connections
  • Lastly, Appearance, reminiscent of Pathos, encompasses the visual and behavioural cues that evoke emotional responses, enhancing relatability and trust. Together, these traits intertwine to shape a leader’s Presence, anchoring them in a compelling blend of authority, resonance, and charisma


This combination impacts your ability to inspire confidence in others to believe in and follow you. Sylvia Ann-Hewlett, the most published author ever in the Harvard Business Review and the author of the acclaimed Executive Presence 2.0, recently published findings of her team’s new comparative study of Executive Presence traits evolved within the last decade.

Her definition of EP as “the missing link between merit and success” contributed to spreading knowledge about this phenomenon. Guess what, EP is still standing strong on top of each pillar. The only change is that these traits’ perceptions and manifestations received an update in the last ten years. And no wonder – a lot has happened in the past decade, with lockdowns as primary events responsible for redefining our work experience. Here is a recap of what has changed and what stays the same.


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Executive Presence reimagined


As can be expected, in the ever-changing landscape of the workplace, Executive Presence has also evolved, with new, critical traits emerging in the post-lockdown context:


  • Gravitas in Executive Presence 2.0 involves two new top traits: inclusiveness and respect for others. Inclusiveness encompasses diverse hiring practices and ensuring all employees feel valued and supported, leading to uncovering value for individuals within the organisation. Respect for others goes beyond mere dignity, requiring an understanding of diverse perspectives and experiences to strengthen business insights
  • Communication skills, another crucial aspect, include the command of Zoom due to the shift to virtual communication accelerated by the pandemic, and a “Listen to Learn” orientation, emphasising active listening and learning before decision-making
  • Appearance, while traditionally less significant, now emphasises authenticity even more, with leaders expected to reveal their true selves rather than conform to outdated ideals. Additionally, leaders must be willing to show up both online and in-person to stand out in the new era of EP


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The true meaning


Reflecting on my first encounter with Executive Presence, it felt like a head-on collision. Nearly thirty years ago, a challenging presentation experience reshaped my approach to leadership and ultimately transformed my professional life. In a boardroom meeting at the Institute of Directors in London, facing seasoned executives: I was unprepared, lacking confidence, and doubted my abilities.

It turned out to be, by far and large, the worst presentation of my life. I found myself rambling in circles, saying words without any context, and as I kept speaking, the C-Suite executives in the room began to stare into my soul. I could feel the boardroom boiling this poor frog presenting. At that moment, I realised that Executive Presence was not merely a matter of projecting confidence or mastering the art of persuasion; it was about embodying authenticity and conviction in every word and gesture. It was about standing firm in the face of uncertainty and radiating an aura of credibility that could sway opinions and inspire action.

In the aftermath of that transformative moment, I embarked on a journey of growth, seeking to cultivate my brand of Executive Presence. Today, as I reflect on that pivotal moment in my career, I am reminded of the profound impact that Executive Presence has had on my journey.


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Elevate your Executive Presence


The evolving landscape of Executive Presence presents both challenges and opportunities. Balancing confidence with inclusivity, assertiveness with respect, and polish with authenticity requires considerable effort, and it’s an arduous, but learnable process.

Finding a reliable training provider you can entrust your team’s progress will ease your organisation’s training burden. To navigate these complexities and inspire your teams to greater heights, contact us now to arrange the Command the Room/Zoom training for your executive team. This will bolster your and their chances of excelling in the modern era of Executive Presence.