Executive Presence Gone Wrong
Last week I reported to Grand Jury duty. Towards the of the selection process, the jury warden asked people to make a line if they 1) Had a “must serve” on their summons, for having postponed too many times and 2) Could still not serve. He repeated the instructions several times. A couple of people who lined up had gotten it wrong, and he repeated the instructions AGAIN. All within hearing range, and all in public view. A few minutes later, a man popped up from his seating row and said in a loud and commanding voice, “What’s this line for?!” I noticed that he was in a dress shirt, suspenders, elegant shoes and briefcase. He looked like someone who knew how to use executive presence. The trouble was, he was so clearly out of synch that he ended up looking foolish.
Many of my clients ask me about executive presence. This man had presence, but he was using it to cover up his mistake. When people use executive presence to influence or destabilize others or to cover bad behavior or conceal when they are wrong, it can leave others, especially those junior to them, feeling off and confused. And it can make that leader lose peoples’ trust, especially that of his or her direct reports.
So the takeaway is, don’t confuse executive presence with intimidation. People will see through it. If you can learn to be vulnerable, ie, “I’m sorry officer, I wasn’t listening and I’m not sure what this line is for” and still look people in the eye, sit up straight and dress with flair, your executive presence will take you much farther.