Executive Presence For Women Leaders

Author: Nandita C. Gupta, MD, FACC
Medical Director, Cardiovascular Service Line, OHSU Health- Hillsboro Medical Center
Assistant Professor of Cardiology, Knight Cardiovascular Institute, OHSU

Research conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), a nonprofit research organization in New York defines the three pillars of Executive Presence (EP) as gravitas, communication, and image. Stated differently, EP reflects how you act, how you speak, and how you look. CTI concluded that when people are perceived as capable of becoming leaders, they are more likely to be promoted into leadership roles. This is particularly important for aspiring female leaders who continue to battle both conscious and unconscious gender bias.  

Studies show that men are more often associated with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities. This forces women to confront the need to master an intricate balancing act that simultaneously conveys both softness and strength.

  1. Gravitas:

Signals to the world that you know your stuff cold,” said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of the Center for Talent Innovation and author of Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success (Harper Business, 2014). “It’s not about performance. It’s about what you signal about your preparedness for the next big chance.” Women with gravitas find a way to balance being “nice” with having a “can-do, will-do” attitude. It is the core characteristic of EP. Behaviors associated with gravitas include exuding confidence, acting decisively, projecting vision and demonstrating emotional intelligence. 

  1. Professional Image:

Appearance counts, largely as a filter through which your communication skills and gravitas become more apparent. People make choices about who you are based on what you put out there. For women who want to expand their influence and build successful careers, EP is an indispensable tool. While EP alone won’t get you promoted, its absence will impede your progress—especially if you’re a woman.

  1. Communication:

The way to be seen as leadership material is to be compelling, credible and very concise. People with great executive presence have control of their audience. A few common missteps women need to watch out for gossiping, over-sharing, and being oversensitive to criticism. If you are serious about advancing your career, learn to manage those reactions. Listening is another underrated but crucially important communication tool. Great leaders know how to pay attention to the people who are in the room with them. A leader who is distracted sends the message that the person he is she is talking to is not that important. You don’t have to be talking all the time or issuing commands to make your presence felt—listening to others works, too.