Can the Executive X-factor “presence” be developed?

Executive Development

We have all experienced meeting someone who has charisma, a certain something that draws you to them and that commands attention and respect. Strong leaders are often referred to as having this intangible aura that makes others want to follow, emulate and strive to impress them. Is this really an ‘X factor’, an innate ingredient we either possess or we do not? HFL Principal Associate Glen Hancox reports.


However we describe it, this intangible aura is actually tangible, and it is called “presence”. In senior leaders we might refer to it as “executive presence”.


Executive presence is a combination of skills and character – it is about values, personality, behaviours, performance, influence, inspiration, articulation, presentation, connection, drive and congruence between all of those factors. It is being authentic and comfortable in your own skin. Presence goes beyond first impressions or physical attributes; it is your personal brand, the traits and values that define you and, importantly, how you communicate these to others. Presence is also the ability to be ‘in the moment’ and totally focussed, being ‘in the flow’ and having complete clarity.


It is often considered to be a key contributor to leadership effectiveness, along with the ability to deliver results and to shape and communicate purpose and direction. Fundamentally it enables leaders to exert influence beyond authority, causing people to listen as well as act. Relationships are strengthened, engagement raised, trust built and results achieved.


Can presence be learned?


Some senior leaders already have it, and some don’t.


Many times we hear observers say that Fred or Linda is very effective as a leader, and would be able to go to the next level “if they had presence”. Those of us who coach senior leaders will also hear the quieter, less confident leaders say that they don’t aspire to a more senior role because they are not really suited to the limelight in the way that others appear to be able to effortlessly carry it off. They are often referring to what they believe is that lack of presence.


Notwithstanding that research suggests it is holistic, present in all of us, can it be enhanced, brought to the front, developed? The simple answer is yes, absolutely.


One other thing is sure: every senior leader wants to have or develop executive presence, as an influential leader is a powerful communicator, has strong presence and is authentic.


If it can be developed, how is this achieved?


Developing your personal or executive presence is not a ‘one size fits all’ or magic formula. It’s development is unique to the individual and made up of a range of factors. While the general principles can be workshopped at lower levels in the organisation – and particularly with emerging leaders – at senior middle management of executive level HFL strongly recommends an intentionally focused coaching assignment.


The HFL Executive Presence coaching execution removes the mystery from executive presence and taps into the skills and personal attributes that give each leader their unique authenticity and power. Recognising that sustainable presence is personal and goes beyond skills development, our program highly customised and flexible one to one coaching sessions covers physiology, communication & engagement, presentation skills, behavioural patterns, values and personal branding. All in the privacy and safety of a confidential coaching relationship.


Our coaches draw on skills and techniques from the world of performance and acting, supported by leadership fundamentals.  We will help the leader convey strength and confidence through body language, vocality, communication of their authentic self and being present in the moment. Our approach is practical and focussed on real world application, blending skills practice with exploration of personal and behavioural elements.




Those executives who have successfully developed a greater executive presence report that they experience:


Greater confidence in and better outcomes from interactions with others, including their manager, their peers, and the reports of their peers;


Greater confidence and poise under pressure, both in private and public moments;


Greater ability to influence using language, speaking skills, and appropriate and assertiveness; and harnessing an appropriate demeanour;


Greater ability to read an audience or situation or even appearance;


Greater clarity of purpose, by learning to take the time to be present with themselves; and


Accelerated personal development by revisiting leadership through a different and highly personal lens.


For a more detailed conversation about how we deploy these types of coaching (and workshop) assignments, please contact us.


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