- On November 10, 2020
I spoke on executive presence earlier this week at NAPABA’s annual convention, along with Caroline Tsai, CLO of Western Union, Shaila Ohri, AGC Exelon, Nydia Han, ABC anchor/investigative reporter, and Jennifer Chow Bevan, executive & leadership coach at Path Relaunch. Executive presence is “more than the ability to attract attention when entering a room; it is about the ability to demonstrate to your peers, managers, and clients that you’re a leader who is capable and reliable, and worth paying attention to. It is about how to align and motivate people and inspire confidence in others.” It’s an essential trait for lawyers, whose job it is to influence people, and it becomes even more important as you climb the corporate ladder.
- To have executive presence, you need to look the part, sound the part, and feel the part. It’s easy to look the part! Dress professionally and simply. Don’t be remembered for your clothing but for your composure and effectiveness. For video calls, use flattering lighting.
- Sound the part. Find your voice and use it! Don’t let meetings go by if you have something to add. Come prepared, and speak in a volume and manner to make an impact. Note that Zoom is the great equalizer nowadays. People who can dominate meetings in person are often diminished on Zoom, so here’s your chance to be heard.
- Feel the part. Be present and connect with people — look them in the eye, understand what they are looking for and where they are coming from. Show empathy. As you rise in the ranks, grow not only your subject matter expertise but also your social skills so you can manage conflict and influence decisions.
- Understand how you are perceived. Be aware that women of color are in a double bind. Asian American women, for example, are seen as either too loud/aggressive or too quiet/meek. Once you know the stereotype, you can address it. For example, speak up but read the audience so you can deliver the message appropriately (and try to develop a relationship first so you can be seen and heard). If you get feedback that you are too aggressive (or too weak), ask open questions, get a dialogue going, and ask for examples. Figure out if it’s consistent feedback or not. If you encounter bullying behavior, go ahead and call it out. It’s helpful to have allies, who have your back and can amplify your voice. Allies are always great, not just when you are attacked!
- Be authentic and stay on message. Preparation can give you a lot of the requisite confidence. But don’t overprepare so you come across as robotic and inflexible. You still need to adjust to the interaction, and address the question posed. Use the material you prepared selectively to avoid droning or diluting your message. Know that people respond to authenticity; don’t pretend to be someone you’re not (young people of color often think they have to emulate some imagined ideal of a non-diverse majority person to succeed; you don’t!). It’s ok to show vulnerability.