The ‘It” factor — What’s your executive presence?

You know it when you see it. A leader walks into a room and heads turn. The person instantly attracts positive attention and people gravitate toward them.

Executive presence is the ability to project confidence, poise under pressure and engage others. Research shows that about 55 percent of your credibility comes from how you look. How you sound accounts for an additional 38 percent, only 7 percent of your credibility is based on what you say.

The reality is that executive presence isn’t in anyone’s DNA.  It is, however, possible to leverage your existing strengths and address elements of executive presence that may be weaknesses now but can be developed.

So the good news is that anyone can cultivate those skills. Successful leaders have summed up their assessment of executive presence to include style, substance and character. 

Style is the first impression people make of you. Yes, we do judge a book by its cover.

It’s harsh but everyone does it. Confidence is clearly conveyed when your image is precise and meticulous. So grooming habits, color choices in your wardrobe and alterations to tailor your outfits all add up to a commanding presence.

A common mistake is not taking the time to shop and update basic pieces.  Just because it still fits you does not mean it is the right choice. Showing a current head-to-toe image will give you a competitive edge.  Understand how to present a precise, meticulous but approachable persona.

Substance is made up of your social presence — your demeanor in leadership situations. Leaders show a natural interest in those around them, exude warmth and are able to engage people.

Being approachable, trustworthy and “present” means that we are fully invested in what others are concerned about. The leader who is able to ask the right questions to encourage someone else to do all the talking instantly becomes memorable.

Substance also includes the nonverbal body signals that sometimes sabotage our success.  Focus on posture, direct eye contact and smile to send out a positive vibe.

Character is your inner core — the personal traits and values that define you. Leaders are authentic and sincere. They have identified four or five values and strive to model these in everything that they do consistently.  Clearly communicating in everything that they say and do helps leaders become transparent.

Whether entertaining a client for dinner, conducting a presentation or leading a staff meeting, executives understand how to excite people’s imagination, win hearts and minds and project an authentic and confident image. Executive presence provides an edge to help you grow your business as well as develop relationships.

Shelley Menduni, a Dublin, Ohio-based executive image consultant, trainer and speaker, is the author of “New You: Discover the Best Version of You,” a new book to help people establish a personal brand and manage perceptions of others. Learn more at www.professionalimagery.com .