Executive Presence: The French call it je ne sais quoi – which literally translated means “I don’t know what it is” and we use it when something has an intangible quality that makes it distinctive or attractive.
Some lucky people are just born with it; the power to make heads turn as they enter a room. People sit up and listen when they speak and everybody wants a piece of them. Is it something you are born with, or can you develop your own je ne sais quoi?
We asked image expert Sharon Connolly if a leader can be coached in executive presence.
Executive Presence – Connolly says:
There is a huge amount you can do to increase your influence and gravitas. Consider the six elements that make up a first impression; appearance, body language, carriage (posture), expression, tone of voice, and vocabulary. A person can identify black spots and raise their game in any or all of those areas and therefore increase their impact.
When meeting someone in person appearance is the first filter. It’s only part of the equation but if your dress lets you down you will fall at the first hurdle and not get the chance to impress someone with your carefully honed language skills. Dressing well needs to become part of your personal brand. Where would 007 be without his impeccably tailored tuxedo?
Leaders spend so much time developing their communication soft skills that they often let simple things like dressing with impact slip. Tackle this element before you go on to hone any of your other skills”
We asked Connolly to give us her top image tips.
- Pay attention!
Study how others dress and understand what makes an impact and what lets them down. By simply sitting outside with a coffee and watching the workforce go by you can learn a huge amount about how a leader stands out from the crowd. People watch and see if you can identify the leaders and the worker bees by the way they dress.
- Invest in yourself.
We often have a preoccupation with cheapness. Why do people insist on advertising themselves in the cheapest packaging available? If you wish to be seen as a valuable commodity you need to package yourself accordingly. I’m a huge fan of a bargain and a very savvy personal shopper but you should buy the best quality you can afford. Wait for the sales if you need to.
- Fit to perfection.
Even the best designer suit or shirt can look cheap if it does not fit properly. A visit to an alterations specialist (If you are in Singapore I recommend Clancys in Far East Plaza). An ordinary outfit can be spectacular if it fits you properly.
- Develop a signature style
If you left a suitcase of your clothes in the middle of the office would anyone be able to identify those clothes as yours? Develop your own signature style. Easier for ladies than gentlemen but think about colours, accessories, perhaps shoes, ties. What is it about your wardrobe that is personal and distinctive? No novelty socks please!
Watch your clothes for wear and tear. Curly shirt collars, fraying hems, faded or shiny fabric from dry cleaning. Even the best quality clothing has a shelf life and I’m often weeding tired worn out clothes from executive closets. Inspect your wardrobe regularly for signs or wear and tear, get new pieces from African prints if necessary. If it looks old and tired, so will you!
Depending on your industry fashion is not important, but being current most definitely is. As a leader you need to be at the forefront of your game, up to date with the latest research and development in your field. If you are wearing trends from 1999 could your ideas belong to that decade too.
- Colour yourself confident
Today the power suit has been replaced by the power shirt. Ditch pale pasty pastels for strong colours which convey authority. If your industry is better suited to white shirts then that’s fine, wear white shirts with stripes or checks. Black trousers and white shirt? How embarrassing will it be when you get mistaken for the waiter when you take your clients to the restaurant? Ladies, if you wear a lot of black then ensure that you accessorise well. A short colour analysis session will help you identify which colours are right for you and tell you how you can use them to gain the psychological advantage in differing situations.
Finally a huge problem in many offices. Ladies is your attire appropriate for the office? Many aspiring women leaders exhibit too much flesh. I completely advocate dressing like a woman, but a chic stylish one – Save the short skirts and plunging necklines for the weekend.
Sharon Connolly is a global professional speaker, trainer and author based in Sydney.