Kate Mason: Building Executive Presence as a Woman at Work

Explore ways to build executive presence at work, focusing on authority, self-awareness, and connection with others. This article offers insights on embracing your own sense of self while stepping into authority, and shares practical tips to boost your confidence and effectiveness in the workplace.

I know the drill.
You've just got back another lot of performance feedback and everything is going well. There's just this one, annoying action item: you're told to "build your executive presence" before that promotion can happen. What does that even mean? (And why don't your male co-workers get the same feedback?).
Or maybe it's this; you're in a meeting, and you want to be able to respond concisely and authoritatively to that question you got asked in front of everyone but in the moment, your mind drifts and you don't feel prepared. 
Communicating yourself at work is a complicated thing, especially when you're thinking through all the meta tasks and to-dos on your mind, or trying to walk the tightrope between looking friendly and having authority, too. (Did I sound too mean? Should I follow up after the meeting? What did it mean that they asked me to take notes?).
My women clients tend to share that they're exasperated to spend so much time on *how* their message is landing, as well as crafting the message itself. Twenty years ago, books like "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office" were popular: now we're not focused on a cutthroat, performative 'meanness' to get the job done; we're wondering how do I step into authority but still retain the my own sense of self in the process. 
Here are three ways to think about executive presence and how you might embody it at work: 

Executive presence often means showing authority and decisiveness

Obviously authority means different things to all of us, but its importance is paramount when it comes to influencing your stakeholders and your team. Think about it: would you take instruction from someone who seemed to be wavering or unsure?
Consider structuring your own arguments and presentations with a strong logical bent: what's the headline? What example can you point to to exemplify that? What does it mean for the other person or team you're addressing?
You don't need to masculinize: you need to focus on the key ask and focus your energy there.

Ask yourself, what turns up your power and what turns it down?

This is a good way to begin to understand what is energizing you at work, and what's taking a toll on your energy and presence, too. Many report that things like having expertise, being prepared, feeling like you have allies in the room and knowing you have the trust and respect of your team are critical to doing your best work.
Narrow yours down: what exactly makes you feel like you nailed a presentation, and how can you create the conditions for that to happen more frequently?
Similarly, think about what turns your power down. Maybe it's jargon you don't understand, having to say no, feeling inexperienced in the room or at the company - there's a lot of reasons we can feel somewhat deflated in a meeting.
Again, isolating what your own personal kryptonite is so you can more accurately understand what's going on when it happens, and how you can mitigate it going forward.

But how do you really feel?

So much of our presence is actually about how we make others feel. Part of your executive presence is how connected you are in your relationship to others around you. 
Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 rule is interesting here, too. He suggests that far more of the meaning we send to others is actually communicated via nonverbal communication methods, like voice and tone (38%) and body language (55%). Intriguingly, he argues only 7% of the meaning another person receives is from our words, alone.
Think about whether your behavior is congruent with the words you're saying: are you saying everything is fine, but your arms are crossed and looking away? It's unlikely to be believed and therefore persuasive to others around you. Giving your attention to your co-workers, and really understanding their perspective is a great way to understand how to position your own projects. 
There's not one easy listicle to read in order to make sense of decades of cultural conditioning and workplace culture (that would be a lot easier!). But these frameworks offer a way to begin to think about your own energy and presence at work, and if you look at it objectively, how to turn up the volume on the parts that make you feel more effective at getting your point across.
​​Dr Kate Mason runs a course, Communicating with Power, on Maven. She is a world-champion debater, communications expert and tech professional who has spent her career working with founders and executives from tech startups to major global brands, like Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Uber and many more. In 2017 she founded her own strategic communications firm Hedgehog + Fox in Silicon Valley and now works with companies coaching women on actionable skills to step into their power across the United States, Asia, and Australia. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her partner and their two sons.
Related Courses

You might also like

Dave Kline: The 5 Deadly Sins for New Managers

Annie Duke’s Strategies for Managing Uncertainty in Decision Making

9 Leadership Styles (and How to Develop Your Own)

Lead by Example and Inspire Your Team

© 2024 Maven Learning, Inc.