Executive Presence Sets Great Leaders Apart

While nuanced and often inadequately defined, executive presence can be what sets apart good leaders from great ones. But what is executive presence, and can it be developed?

the woman looking over the city

Most developing leaders face a critical juncture where they’ve experienced a good deal of success but don’t know how to move beyond that place toward greatness. They want to make an impact, be more influential, become a trusted advocate with senior stakeholders, and/or drive greater revenues, but they can’t seem to break through some unidentifiable barrier.

Part of the answer to overcoming this challenge is found in executive presence.

But, what is executive presence?

Executive presence is the unspoken “gravitas” a leader exudes that significantly impacts their ability to influence. While some mistakenly characterize it only as charisma or power dressing, executive presence is so much more!

One of the challenges with executive presence is that most leaders recognize it when they see it; however, when they are asked to define it, their clarity disappears. So, let’s dive into the definition of executive presence, as well as seven metrics tailored for senior leaders to measure their own executive presence strength.

The Definition of Executive Presence for Leaders

The literature doesn’t help when trying to clearly identify and elaborate upon “what is executive presence?”.

If you take the time to do the research, you’ll discover there are many definitions for executive presence. Most try to distill it down to three or four traits, and therein lies part of the problem. Every explanation seems to present a different array of what those three or four traits are! All of this can leave leaders confused and still wondering about what the complete picture is.

Executive Presence Traits

The fact is that some aspects of executive presence are deeply internal. Confidence, emotional control, and other deeper areas of personal identity, for instance, cannot be faked at senior levels.

In contrast, there are other aspects of executive presence that are skill-based. With the right guidance, skills such as adaptable communication and executive-level questioning can be developed and measured.

Additionally, some aspects of executive presence are tactical, and can be guided and then also measured. Corrections to externals such as dressing acumen, posture, verbalization, and other external traits can be learned and developed quickly, if one only knows what to do.

Developing Executive Presence With the Right Guidance

The good news is that developing executive presence is not rocket science. Anyone can build this aspect of their leadership “gravitas” if they just know where to begin and where to focus.

However, the challenge, as already alluded to, is that executive presence is deeply nuanced, and often inadequately defined, providing leaders who are striving to develop their executive presence with a moving target.

But, based on many years of executive coaching and clients’ results, I’ve seen that leaders can build their executive presence given the right direction and tools. The question, then, boils down to this: What is the process (and then metrics) for developing executive presence?

The 7 Cs of Executive Presence™ Model for Leaders

Over the years of working with executives and leadership teams, I’ve developed a model to help empower leaders to build executive presence that I call the 7 Cs of Executive Presence™. The framework comprehensively covers every critical aspect leaders need to exhibit executive presence.

The 7 Cs of Executive Presence™ are:

  1. Competence — being a global expert in your domain, being known for that expertise, and having sufficient breadth to have an intelligent conversation outside of your specialization.
  2. Control — emotional maturity, or what we commonly call composure.
  3. Confidence — the perfect balance of confidence without being overly confident (arrogant) or insecure; absolute comfort in your own skin.
  4. Class — mastery of the social rules of any culture.
  5. Connection — enhancing your network, kick-starting conversations with strangers, building trusting relationships, and adapting communication styles to your audience’s personality.
  6. Collaboration — the ability to champion win-win solutions, resolve conflicts, drive sales, and get people to work together.
  7. Clarity — communicating through frameworks that make sense, are unforgettable and are succinct.

A person who has executive presence scores a minimum of 8/10 on all seven of these metrics, according to this model. Fundamentally, executive presence is about being the perennial all-rounder.


Executive Coaching Client Case Study

I had the great opportunity to witness the effectiveness of this model with one of my clients, a senior director of a Fortune 500 IT firm with over 250,000 employees. He came to me for one-on-one executive coaching, and together we identified nine areas for growth and development. These areas ranged from bolstering his lack of confidence, to improving his emotional intelligence, to reestablishing expertise and mastery in his field.

Using the lens of the 7 Cs model, we were able to isolate what was derailing his executive presence:

  • Competence – After years in a leadership role and due to the rapid degree of change inherent in the technology sector, he had become somewhat out of touch with the latest technology.
  • Control – Using an emotional intelligence diagnostic tool that I developed, we confirmed that his self-awareness of his emotions – and thereby his self-management of those emotions – had room for improvement.
  • Confidence & Collaboration – His confidence in himself as a leader had seriously diminished due to these and other contributing factors. Among other things, a degree of midlife reflection and a slower rate of promotion from what he had experienced in the past combined to negatively impact his confidence. In turn, all of this had a negative impact on how he worked with others and collaborated within his organization.
  • Class – We worked on his appearance, his posture, how he dressed, and even how to tie a power knot in his tie!
  • Clarity – We worked on cognitive constructs for how to be more impactful in the way he assembled and presented information.
  • Connection – His lack of confidence and control due to poor emotional self-awareness impacted his ability to connect with others. Once we worked on these areas, his ability to connect improved greatly.

This leader was very engaged in the coaching process and worked hard to improve. During our final coaching session, he told me that he created a reminder system to hold himself accountable to grow in the 7 Cs. He would rate himself each month and continue to frame his next actions for the following months based on those metrics. He committed to continuing to do the work.

Fast-forward two or three years after our coaching time together concluded, I was walking through a hotel lobby in India when I was approached by a well-dressed confident executive.

“Mike, so good to see you again!” he exclaimed, looking me in the eye and reaching out his hand.

My confusion must have been apparent, because he quickly re-introduced himself as the client I had worked with previously. He was a completely different person! We caught up briefly, and I learned that he had received a double promotion since I had last worked with him and was now responsible for a significant business unit in his Fortune 500 company.

This is executive presence development at work.

Executive Presence Self-Evaluation & Leadership Coaching

As you review the 7 Cs of Executive Presence™ and reflect upon your own strengths and weaknesses, what elements of executive presence are you strong in? In which areas could you afford some growth?

Now, take your self-reflection a step further: Identify which of those growth areas you want to intentionally work on to take your executive presence, and thus your influence, to the next level.

Maximize Your Executive Presence with Churchill Leadership Executive Coaching

Start your journey toward greater executive presence today. Contact us to learn more about Churchill Leadership Group’s proven Executive Coaching program, its benefits and the remarkable return on investment it offers.


Mike Fisher is a C-Suite Advisor, Churchill Executive Coach, Organizational Transformation Consultant, and Leadership Development Architect.

He supports C-Suite leaders to transform their organizations through socially-intelligent human capital management. He transforms organizations’ leadership development ecosystems by custom-designing their leadership development architecture. And he works intimately with executive leadership teams to solve systemic organizational challenges by empowering them to develop executive presence, lead high-performing executive teams, drive sales, and maximize their business impact using the tools of emotional intelligence, self-confidence, psychometric profiling, behavioral management, and deep listening.

Mike has partnered as an executive coach with more than 1100 executive leaders across 30+ diverse business domains and more than 25 countries spanning every continent of the globe and has trained over 10,000 leaders around the world to build their executive presence.

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