The X-Factor: Do You Have It?

February 11, 2014 in Executive Presence by Connie Glaser

In a study of the performance evaluations of nearly 58,000 senior-level executives, female managers ranked higher than their male counterparts in 20 out of 23 categories. The primary category where women fell furthest behind? Confidence and executive presence. The good news for women, however, is that confidence is easier to develop than competence.

Executive presence is that elusive X-Factor that can make or break a career. Executive presence matters just as much as – sometimes even more than – impeccable credentials and an impressive track record. It can even compensate for resume weaknesses.

Headhunters estimate that, on average, executive presence accounts for as much as 70 percent of first impressions we make. But that figure applies to men. Throw a highly qualified female into the mix, and that figure can soar to as high as 85 percent. What’s more, in recent years, executive presence has emerged as such an essential prerequisite for career advancement that major corporations like Shell Group and J.P. Morgan Chase have sent many of their high-potential female managers to special seminars to develop this elusive quality.

What exactly is executive presence?  

Executive presence refers to that quality of taking hold of a room by making a self-assured entrance, graciously shaking people’s hands, and forging immediate, personal connections. In a nutshell, it’s charisma coupled with confidence, knowledge, and character. When leaders with executive presence speak, people listen – because their words project conviction and authenticity.

Here’s the good news: Executive presence is not something you are born with. You can develop and cultivate it.  Here are some tips for women to convey that special quality of leadership:

  • Enter a room with a sense of purpose and confidence (even if it’s feigned at first!)
  • Cultivate a voice of credibility. Forget the hedges, qualifiers, and tentative language.
  • Don’t leave a meeting without contributing to the discussion.
  • Learn to speak so people will listen. Lead with the executive summary and don’t stray from your focus.

Smart companies realize a competitive advantage in helping high-potential performers cultivate their professional presence. Through the help of mentors, executive coaches, and leadership training, individuals can better achieve their potential and make an even greater contribution to the organization.