When you look at my resume it appears as if I had a master plan. Each job logically building on the next. A natural progression of skill and opportunity. But of all the things I’ve planned in my life, my career has not been one of them. And it took me until this week to be able to articulate how it all came about and came together.
This past Thursday I spoke on executive presence to the Guidehouse Young Professionals Group. The presentation I reviewed with the group’s leaders on Tuesday was fine, they said so. It was a holistic look at executive presence because I wanted folks to understand that executive presence wasn’t the well-spoken, charismatic white male executive stereotype. Then, the week unfolded and I ended up modifying my presentation the morning of the event.
My first clue to adjust my presentation was the feedback from the event leaders. “Fine.” They said it made sense and they’d heard some of this before. “It would be good for the group.” OK, this moment spoke to my ego. Fine and good are not what I strive for, especially with public speaking. So, I sat with their feedback.
My next clue came the next day. A former teammate reached out and asked me to speak on a panel about “consulting mindset” to small business leaders. He shared some of their struggles and asked if I would share my experiences, techniques, and lessons learned. I thought about the times where consulting seemed easy for me, where I struggled, and my core truths that served me well time and time again. When the panel ended, I came back to “fine” and “good” and sat with it in context of how I felt after the panel a bit hopped up on happy work memories.
My final clue came through a friend’s LinkedIn post. I follow a few leadership coaches for their expertise, insights into my own coaching practice, and motivation, and K.C. is one of them. I met him over a year ago at the Mindful Leader Summit. He posted about the importance of being present as a leader and pointed out the obvious: presence is in the phrase executive presence. After I read his brief post, I felt an inner oooooohh come over me, and I sat with it.
Each time I noticed, accepted and sat with a clue. I was present, open, and curious. I didn’t try to solve what I sensed, I just kinda swirled it around like wine in a glass. Observing. Savoring. Consuming.
The next day it was all there for me. The “fine” and “good” was gone. The inspiration appeared in its place. I spent about 30 minutes adjusting my presentation and then practiced it a few times. Yes! This was the vibe I wanted. This was the story I sought to share along with the tools to bring it to life so each person could create their own executive presence. And the chat comments, emojis, and post-session emails from the 260+ attendees confirmed the value and impact of my altered presentation.
I shared with the young professions that:
- Executive presence is about bring present
- To have presence you need to be clear on who you are and the value you bring… and most importantly what is missing if you’re not in the room
- To be invited to the table (job, project, team, conversation) you need to articulate your innate talents and acquired skills, so folks know when to call you or how to advocate for you
- You can define your brand (what you want to be known for) but those who experience your thinking, words, attitude, and work determine your brand, so show up consistently in all ways
- Every meeting, email, product, or conversation is an opportunity to be present and practice
- It’s important to be present in your own way, with the hair, attire, and words that gives you confidence … and always remember if you can share information in a way that your mom or grandmother understand, you nailed it
- We’re all “young” each time we learn a new skill, accept a new opportunity, or work with a new client – the uncertainty is there, the eagerness is there, and the space to start anew and practice is there
I was AUDITORILY PRESENT when I interviewed senior executives and felt the tingle of “the” soundbite to use in national news story. I was CURIOUSLY PRESENT when I stood in an operating room as globally renowned international radiologists walked me through a live procedure answering my questions so that I could translate it all to help patients make more informed decisions. I was EMOTIONALLY PRESENT when I worked with families of the fallen and took in the stories of their loved ones. I was METICIOUSLY PRESENT when I proofread material going out by federal agencies to millions of Americans to connect them to much needed services and support. I was INTERPERSONALLY PRESENT when I got to know various military generals in order to ghost write for them in such a way an employee talked to me about how great a blogger one of them was, then shared my own words back to me written under another’s name.
As I sat with it all this week, I realized that my ability to be present in the moment – with people, with my skills, with confusion, with my gut, with excitement, with my apprehension – is what created the dynamic career I’m so proud of and awe of…. as I never could have envisioned it when I was 25.
This week reminded me that while setting goals is good, setting intention for how you show up is more powerful. Being present lets you notice more, think more, connect more, and do more. It puts all of you in the moment with others and that, that is true executive presence.