As a measure of success, EP is the new black. Not just for lawyers, but for marketers, CIOs, financial advisors, anyone working today who wants to get farther faster. It’s kind of a magic bullet.
EP stands for “Executive Presence.”
In a new Strategy + Business article by Sally Helgesen, she breathes a sigh of relief when she notes that the “executive in the hoodie fad has passed its sell-by date of coolness.” Part of the reason is the enormous diversity of companies today, which are run by equally diverse CEOs and other senior executives. As the hoodie has gone, so has the chiseled-jaw Mad Men-style leader.
According to Sylvia Van Hewlett, who has written a new book called, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, true EP is “an ineffable blend of appearance, communication skills, and gravitas” — an important word that, as Helgesen says,”definitively declares the end of the hoodie era.”
Strategy + Business author Helgesen writes, “I’d suggest that true leadership presence is rooted less in a combination of skills and characteristics than in the capacity to actually be present. That means being present for the moment, for others, for the mission, and for the task at hand. There’s a reason why the words ‘presence’ and ‘present’ have the same root.”
She paints a picture that really struck me – she said that over the years, when walking into a room of people, she could always tell the most senior person in the room. It was the person who looked the least distracted, the one most able to focus on what was going on at that moment.
Consider today, when walking into a room full of lawyers, marketers or tech professionals, all one sees is the tops of their heads, because everyone is head-down, fingering their devices. Everyone in the room in an instant becomes remarkably unimpressive. They are all the same. There is an opportunity for a leader to emerge in that room. It could be any one of us – if we only pay attention to our EP – our executive presence.
Helgesen says, “This capacity to be present, to be unencumbered by logistical details or other distractions, gave the leaders I watched an appearance of freedom, authority, and ease. These are not qualities that can be coaxed forth by addressing the cosmetics of leadership presence: what we wear, how we walk, the relative firmness of our handshake, the timbre of our voice. All these things matter, but they alone cannot make someone who is unfocused seem like a leader. Conversely, individuals who at first glance appear unprepossessing can exude calm and authority if they are fully present.”
She continues with the most important point of her article: “The irony is that our quest for efficiency, our desire to leave no task undone, has the ultimate effect of undermining our capacity to be fully engaged by what we do. So even as we work harder and improve our performance, we are eroding our capacity to inspire the trust and confidence required for sustainable success.”
This is not new – we all know this. The answer is understanding what “executive presence” means for you and having it become a part of your daily DNA. Then, at the same time, be “present,” whether you are on a conference call where you aren’t seen (but you are heard – and we know you are multi-tasking), at a business development event or in a client meeting. Keep your eyes forward and look people in the eyes.
I wrote a blog post a few years ago called “The Secret of Becoming a Rainmaker,” where I write:
This post isn’t about telling you how to sell. It’s about me finally articulating the one attribute that stands out among all others – the one attribute that enables lawyers, regardless of practice area, industry strength, personality type, communication style, law firm or law school credentials, to consistently and effectively develop client relationships that pay off.
Here it is: Stop thinking about yourself.
If you can do this, your executive presence will take care of itself.