Episode No. 136
  •  April 11, 2024

The Authentic Leader

Embracing Your Executive Presence as a Woman

On this episode of Crina and Kirsten Get to Work our hosts explore executive presence for women at work. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist and the CEO of Hewlett Consulting Partners, said that executive presence is the difference between merit and success.  We can sometimes cringe when we hear and talk about executive presence because it can feel like a call to be someone other than who we are – the requirement to fit into a mold to be a leader.  No, say our hosts!!  The new executive presence is about authenticity and inclusion.

Hewlett conducted surveys in 2012 and again in 2022 that tell a story of significant shifts in our view of executive presence.  The New Rules of Executive Presence (hbr.org).  Hewlett says, “[t]he old ideal—shaped and embodied by white male CEOs who ruled the U.S. and European corporate worlds through the beginning of this century—has long been eroding.”

Executive presence is made up of gravitas (think confidence and decisiveness); communication (think clear and  direct) and appearance (think authenticity).  In 2012, Hewett’s survey showed that having “a blue-chip” pedigree was important for gravitas, and that characteristic did not even make the list in 2022.  In 2022, respect and inclusiveness were more important to executive presence than they were in 2012.  Another shift was seen in the communication element of executive presence where in 2012 “forceful” was important and in 2022 “listening to learn” was important to executive presence.  Even our view of executive presence as it relates to appearance has changed – while being polished is still important, authenticity has risen to one of the most important factors in the appearance component.

Executive presence is learnable – and you do not have to master all of the elements.  Focusing on your authentic strengths can improve your executive presence.  Hewlett’s work tells us two important things: 1. we can be our authentic selves and have executive presence; and 2. executive presence in the workplace is more inclusive than ever before.