Executive Presence in a Virtual World

Executive Presence in a Virtual World: What Matters Now?

Executive Presence: What You Need Now For Influence and Impact

With more of us working remotely, what it means to have an executive presence is changing along with everything else. What matters most right now? Tips for upgrading your executive presence in a virtual world.

What IS Executive Presence?

“Karin and David, my boss just told me that the reason I’m not in box 9 of our talent strategy is that I’m not viewed as having enough ‘executive presence.’ But when I asked her what that means, she told me I should ‘act more executive.’ Seriously! What do I do with that?”

We receive that call, or one just like it, a few times a month.

And, this is not new. It’s been happening for years.

People use the term “executive presence” to mean anything from strategic influence to carrying “the right” purse (sigh).

When we get underneath what this ACTUALLY means, it’s usually one of these competencies that could use some work.

  • Influence and Relationships: Are you seen as a trusted advisor?
  • Confidence and Composure: Do you believe in who you are and what you have to say?
  • Communication: Can you clearly and concisely articulate your point of view?
  • Grace under pressure: Do you freak out when things go wrong or take productive action?
  • Energy: Do you engage others in ways that inspire confidence and hope?
  • Physical Image: Do you look “put together” and ready to make an impact (of course this one’s the most subjective and the most dangerous for unconscious bias).

What Hasn’t Changed?

In this virtual world filled with so much turmoil and unrest, some core components of executive presence remain the same, and if anything, have become more vital.

1. Influence and Relationships

It’s not just who you run into in the cafeteria anymore or the guys you can go have a beer with. In a virtual world, we have to be even more deliberate in nurturing genuine relationships and cultivating influence.

And in many cases, virtual water coolers are democratizing access and the truly influential are getting their day.

If you want to increase your virtual executive presence be deliberate with whom you spend your time. Reach out and schedule some virtual coffees with your peers in other departments. Understand other people’s challenges. Notice and thank the unsung heroes making the work happen every day.

One of the best ways to be influential is to be interested.

2. Grace under Pressure

If there’s anything this last year has given us, it’s plenty of stress and pressure. And for many of us, the work and home stress blend into one big cocktail of opportunity to practice our poise.

Work to become a beacon of calm amid chaos. Stress amplifies as it rolls downhill. If you want more executive presence learn how to slow the roll.

3. Communication

If there was ever a moment that clear, compelling, and concise messaging matters to get past clutter, it’s now.

If you want to up your executive presence work on streamlining your executive communication, checking for understanding, and communicating important messages five times, five different ways.

What’s Different About Executive Presence in a Virtual World?

Things that matter more than ever …

4. Showing Up Real

When it comes to influence and impact, we’re noticing a significant shift towards vulnerability as a credibility builder.

It’s the leaders who say, “I know this is hard. It’s hard for me too, and here’s why. And I care about all of us and the work we are doing. Let’s figure this out together,” (and really mean it) who are changing the game.

5. Confident Humility during Uncertainty

No one has written the definitive book on how to lead well during a pandemic, massive social unrest, and a wacky economy. Most of us have been on a fast pivot to transform not just how we work, but what we’re working on.

Executive presence in this new reality means navigating this uncertainty with confident humility—deciding with incomplete information AND staying nimble if you need to change your mind.

6. Managing Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication with Poise

You gain huge credibility by becoming an artful virtual communicator. Paying close attention to your remote meeting etiquette (e.g. showing up on time, managing your mute button, looking directly at the camera) is a great start. It’s also helpful to master the art of using the right channel for the right message—and knowing the difference between being informal and sloppy.

See Also: Lead Remote Meetings That Get Results and Build Relationships

7. Managing your Surroundings

The good news is, no one can see your shoes. (Don’t even get Karin started about the boss that told her she should go spend several thousand dollars on shoes to up her executive presence—and no she didn’t follow that advice).

But they can see the clutter on your desk, the bad lighting, and the weird virtual green screen that makes your head disappear whenever you move.

Take a look at how your office shows up in the Zoom view. Do you like what your surroundings say about you?

The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to improve your executive presence in a virtual world—which will make a difference for your influence and impact.


How Do I Improve My Executive Presence?

  • Look for opportunities to be a trusted advisor.
  • Believe in who you are, even under pressure to do the contrary.
  • Clearly and concisely articulate your point of view.
  • Take productive action and make good decisions.
  • Engage others in ways that inspire confidence and hope.
  • Put it all together and be ready to make an impact.

See also:

How to Develop Charisma in a Virtual World

Your Executive Presence – an Interview with Hilary Blair

6 Reasons to Give Your Team Better Executive Exposure

6 Reasons to Give Your Team Better Executive Exposure

You want to give your team executive exposure but, if you’re like me, you’ve learned the hard way that it can backfire. After all, not all executive exposure is good exposure.  It can be tempting to hold back visibility in an effort to protect, you or your team.

  • “She’s a little rough around the edges. She’s not ready for that kind of exposure.”
  • “Not all exposure is good exposure. What if he says something stupid?”
  • “If I bring my SME along to the meeting, my boss will think I don’t know what I’m doing.”

These are just a few of the reasons managers give for keeping their employees in the background doing the heavy lifting, while they present the results and negotiate the political landscape. Sure, it’s more efficient to have the workers doing the work while the managers explain it, but you might be missing vital opportunities for development, recognition, and growth.

6 Reasons to Give Your Team Better Executive Exposure

1. The Spotlight Will Show Up When You Least Expect It
Perhaps the most pragmatic reason to get your team comfortable speaking at the next level is that someday, you won’t be around and they’ll need to. Some exec will start asking questions as they poke about, and if your employee’s not prepared, he’ll likely stick his foot in his mouth.

2. It’s the Best Way to Understand the Bigger Picture
No matter how many times you explain “why” you are asking your team to do something, somehow when your boss says it, the lightbulbs go off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my direct reports  say, “You know I said that exact thing, but when you said it, they listened.” Sure it’s frustrating. But the point isn’t who gets credit for getting through—the point is getting through.

3. They’ll Learn By Watching You
Bringing your employees along gives them a great chance to watch you in a more senior environment. They’ll learn more from watching than anything you could tell them.

4. They’ll Learn By Watching Your Boss
I’ll never forget the first time I walked onto the C-level floor. The atmosphere was completely different than the scurry below—a calm intensity was standard protocol. Not easy to explain. The only way I learned to swim in those waters was to watch the bigger fish.

5. The Preparation Is Great Development
The conversation you have while preparing for, and debriefing, the session is full of opportunities for growth and connection.

6. It Takes Time to Build a Brand
Don’t wait until Jane is perfectly ready to be promoted until you start talking up her accomplishments and skills. A slow and steady trickle of positive exposure will lay a strong foundation when it’s time to throw her hat in the ring.

It’s natural to want to protect your team until they are completely ready for higher-level exposure. Don’t throw them into the spotlight under-prepared, but regular exposure to higher-level people and strategy will go a long way in accelerating their development.

See Also: 6 Things Good CEOs Always Do to Connect With Employees (Inc)

Your Executive Presence Interview with Hilary Blair

Your Executive Presence – Interview with Hilary Blair


Do you ever wonder how you can have more executive presence? (And what is exactly is executive presence?)  Join David for a conversation with Hilary Blair, Founder of ArticulateRC, an expert in voice and presence who works with leaders around the world to develop their executive presence. You’ll get ideas to help you show up as the best version of yourself – not a clone of another leader, when and how to get feedback on your presence, how to let people see you, building trust, and, yes, we even talk about your clothes – but maybe not in a way you’ve ever heard before.

Connect with Hilary:



Articulate Real & Clear

how do I convince my manager I'm professional

How Do I Convince My Manager I’m a Professional?

“Why does my manager care if I go directly to his boss with an idea? Good ideas are good ideas, right?”

“Customers don’t need all that formality. They’re chill. Why can’t I just show up and give them an update?”

“When the CEO ran into me in the hallway and asked “What’s going on?” I told him. Now my manager is “coaching” me to be more strategic in what I choose to share.

“I can’t help it if I get fired up, it means I care!”

“WTF I’m killing myself here, and now my boss tells me I’m not ready for the next level until I have better ‘executive presence.’ ”

Great results are more than half the battle. But professionalism matters too. Every day, I hear from high-performers frustrated that their results do not seem to be enough for their boss.  The tragedy is, it’s likely small stuff that’s distracting you both from what matters most.

Six Ways to Convince Your Manager You’re a Professional

Here are six easy(ish) ways to show up more professionally.

1. Get a Grip on Your Emotions

You’re fired up. You’re angry. You can’t believe Joe missed the deadline, or Cindy talked to a customer that way… again.  YES! That means you care. YES! that means you know what must be done.  But even if you see executives flying off the handle, it doesn’t mean you should too. Keep the passion, lose the drama.  Take a step back to breathe and consider the most effective words and tone before communicating.

2. Focus on What Matters Most

When you try to do everything, it’s hard to do the most important things well. If you want to be taken more seriously, pick a few strategic priorities that will make the biggest impact and build a strong plan to execute elegantly on those things first. Be sure that you spend time every day working on those priorities.

3. Build Some White Space Into Your Calendar

When you over-book your calendar, you’re more likely to find yourself racing late into meetings, disheveled and under-prepared. Try leaving yourself a few minutes between appointments so you have time to gather your thoughts, connect with key stakeholders before the meeting starts, and consider how you can bring the most value to the table. A little white space will also help you resist the urge to multi-task with your phone under the table while “no one is looking.” (BTW–someone is always looking.)

4. Streamline Your Communication

Before speaking, consider your audience. When the CEO “casually” asks, “How’s it going?” be ready to tell her something substantial. When your boss asks for an update, don’t come in spewing all the details; bring a bulleted list of what you’ve done and what you need. Our free MIT huddle planner works well for this. Consider who you’re speaking to and how your communication can serve them well.

5. Develop Upwards Empathy

Before you write your boss off as a witch, consider the pressure she’s under and how you can help. Professionalism requires perspective.

6.  Stop Talking Trash

You don’t have to convince me, I’m sure you’ve got some peers that would be better off being “promoted to customer.” AND, nobody likes a whiner. Take the high road at work when it comes to talking ABOUT folks. It’s not as fun, but much more classy.

Your turn. What’s your best advice for managers looking to show up more professionally?

See also: our Fast Company Article– 10 Common Excuses That Silently Damage Manager’s Careers.

My boss treats me like a kid

How Do I Stop My Boss From Treating Me Like a Kid?

Have you ever seen this dynamic? A manager has known “a kid” on his team forever. He loves him and really wants what’s best for him And still, yet, he can’t stop treating him like a kid?

If you ask “the kid,” (who also loves and respects said manager), is also very frustrated that he’s being treated like a kid.

“I know I’ve grown. How do I convince him?”

We call this the “Tommy syndrome.” Tom is ready for what’s next, but his well-meaning manager can’t stop thinking about him as Tommy.

Dear Karin and David,

I’ve grown so much as a leader. I’ve gone back to school. Worked hard as a volunteer leader in my professional associations. My team’s results are solid. But my boss doesn’t give me a chance. I’m her go-to guy to get stuff done, but when it comes to presenting to senior leaders, or for stretch assignments, she seems to give those opportunities to the folks she’s hired in the last few years. I know I have the deeper personal relationship, and I value all I’ve learned from her. But honestly, I wonder if I should start looking outside for a fresh start.


A Grown-Up #AskingForAFriend


How Do I Stop My Boss From Treating Me Like a Kid?

1. Don’t act like a kid

This may seem like the most obvious answer, but we often find that this familiarity goes both ways. Don’t over-disclose your frustrations, your insecurities, or ask for extra guidance or concessions. Act the part of the role you want.

2. Approach one-on-ones as organized as if you’re in a new job

Our free MIT huddle planner can help you organize your thoughts and prepare for your discussions. Treat every one-on-one as if it were an interview for the next role. Bring that level of professionalism and preparation.

3. Ditch the Diaper Drama and clearly state your goals

Be straightforward with your manager and tell her that you would like to be considered for the role that interests you. Ask her what skills and competencies you need to demonstrate to be qualified for consideration. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking. David’s first middle-level management promotion came when he actively said, “I want to do that.” The organization had been looking externally until he expressed interest.

4. Get real about expectations

What does success really look like for your current role and at the next level? Be sure you’re crystal clear about your manager’s expectations. Here’s another approach that can help. Often, your manager isn’t sharing where you’re not meeting expectations because they see you as a known quantity and don’t want to jeopardize the relationship. Be clear that you want to exceed the requirements of your current role and get the feedback you need to know where you’re not meeting the mark.

5. Play bigger

To be seen as a thought-partner, you’ve got to act like one. Start thinking and speaking strategically. What are the business concerns that keep your boss’s boss up at night? What goals must they achieve to be successful? In interactions with your boss and her colleagues, start speaking in terms of these initiatives and concerns.

6. When you’re overlooked, have an honest conversation

Once you’ve done all of the above for several months, if you’re not considered for the next opportunity, it’s time for another conversation. You might say something like, “It seems like you don’t consider me as qualified for these roles. Do I have that right?” Pause and let them respond. See what additional information you uncover. If it’s not obvious, ask again what skills, behaviors, and achievements you need to demonstrate to be considered.

7. Change your context

Some people will always have a difficult time seeing you differently than the person you were when they first met you. If you try all of these tactics and you’re still not being seen the way you’d like, check with a mentor or some other colleagues to verify that it’s not something you’re failing to do. If you’re doing everything you can and nothing changes, you may have to change your context where your new professionalism and strategic thinking are seen without the baggage of history.

Your turn. What advice would you give A Grown-Up so their boss stops treating them like a kid?

Looking for more ways to coach your employees to high-performance? We can help.

Looking to be a more confident and competent leader? Check out our book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results- Without Losing Your Soul

Learn more about our leadership development programs.

Or download our brochure or contact us at info@letsgrowders.com 443-750-1249

Have a leadership or management question? Send it here and we’ll do our best to share our perspective.  You might also enjoy our Fast Company article on 10 Excuses that Silently Damage Manager’s Careers


Excited vs. Excitable: The Real Secret to Executive Presence

The situation would have sent any leader who cared running for aspirin. I asked Mark, the Senior VP, “Are you okay? Are you stressed? What needs to happen next?” Mark responded, “Karin, I don’t get stressed. There’s no use in that. But as it turns out I’m a stress carrier.”

In humor lies the truth.

Mark had mastered executive presence. Mark had excited but not excitable nailed. Deeply passionate about the cause, nothing rattled him. He’d taken on each new scene as if he’d seen it a thousand times before. His actions were values-based, consistent, deliberate and timely. And yet he knew that his calm words didn’t always have a calming effect on his team. In fact sometimes, the more calm he appeared, the wilder his VPs became– as if to make up for his lack of excitable.

Stress was still rolling down hill, even though Mark had tried to stop it.

Excited Energizes, Excitable Freaks People Out

In almost every company I work with, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern– things are remarkably calmer on the executive “floor.” (Thank goodness, not always a real floor these days.)

The stakes are higher, the decisions graver, these folks have farther to fall, and yet when the going gets tough (for the execs who get it) the volume doesn’t amplify.

In full disclosure, I didn’t learn this early in my career. For a long time I believed my excitable nature proved I cared. I confused stress with passion. Fired up is a long way from freaked out. Know the difference in yourself, and in those you lead.

Your team longs for calm in you and in them. Don’t stop with you.

How to Encourage Excited vs. Excitable

So how do you grow leaders who emulate calm, in the midst of a frantic context?

1. Acknowledge Reality

More than anything your team needs to know you get it. Otherwise they think your head is in the sand. When you calmly state the issue and the implications, I promise that your team will breathe a sigh of relief. They’ll move from trying to prove that the fire is real, to trying to figure out how to extinguish it.

2. Stay Consistently True to Your Values

Great leaders stay true to their values when the going gets tough. If “customer service is #1” has been your rallying cry and you start short-cutting when budget (or boss) pressures loom, your team will be confused at best. Don’t change course. Instead ask, how do MAINTAIN OUR COMMITMENT to a great customer experience with these new parameters?

3. Encourage Wacky Solutions

Chances are that someone is sitting on an idea that is so crazy it might just work. Give them an opportunity to share. Then help them calm down, ask great questions, and consider how they could best execute.

4. Use Failure as Learning

When the going gets tough, our  tolerance for failing decreases, and in many well-intentioned leaders, disappears. Ironically, it’s in the toughest times that we need it most. The 18th failure is much harder than the second. Help your team stay calm and keep learning.

5. Stay Real

When the going gets really tough, your team wants the truth. Share what you can and help them to make informed decisions.

Leaders who win well are excited, but not excitable. They have a strong vision and a strong sense of where they are headed. They expect disruption and leverage chaos as an opportunity to engage creative solutions.

Stay excited. Resist excitable–for you and those who care enough to follow your lead.