Review: Executive Presence – The Missing Link Between Merit & Success by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Executive Presence (1)This review was first published in the Aug. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success

By Sylvia Ann Hewlett

HarperCollins Publishers


Put away your smartphone the next time someone’s in the boardroom making a presentation.

Not only is scrolling through emails, watching your Twitter feed and playing games bad manners. Your divided attention could also cost you a shot at the corner office or cut short your stay at the top.

More than 4,000 college-educated professionals were asked to identify what makes or breaks a bid to join the senior leadership ranks within their organizations.

Lose your smartphone or lose your executive presence was a recurring theme.

“Tuning out to consult your smartphone elicited some of the most heated discourse in our focus groups and interviews,” says Slyvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Talent Innovation and author of Executive Presence.

One of the professionals interviewed by Hewett’s team said she’s annoyed with fellow managers who stare at their smartphones and believe their time is more important than anyone else’s.  As the interview subject put it, “How can you trust a leader to keep his eye on the big picture if he can’t keep his eye off his iPhone?”

So how do you show the people in a position to promote you that you’re leadership material? And how do you convince everyone else to follow you?

You need to develop your executive presence. “No man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal or develops a significant following without this heady combination of confidence, pose and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal,” says Hewlett. “ It’s an amalgam of qualities that telegraphs that you are in charge or deserve to be.”

Based on her research, Hewlett says executive presence is built on the three pillars of gravitas, communication skills and appearance.

Of the three, gravitas is far and away the most important.  “Without it, you simply won’t be perceived as a leader, no matter what your title or level of authority, no matter how well you dress or speak. Gravitas is what signals to the world you’re made of the right stuff and can be entrusted with serious responsibility.”

According to senior leaders, the top aspects of gravitas include confidence and grace under fire, decisiveness, integrity, emotional intelligence, vision and charisma.  Hewlett says we want leaders who keep their promises, keep their cool and show compassion and courage in making the tough calls.

Top communication traits include superior speaking skills, the ability to read and command a room, forcefulness and assertiveness, a sense of humour and a gift for small talk. “It’s the conversation before the meeting that establishes whether or not you’re worth listening to in the meeting,” said a senior executive interviewed by Hewlett.

And when it comes to appearance, being polished and groomed tops the list.  “In interview after interview, senior leaders told me that failure to come through on the grooming front signals either poor judgment or lack of discipline. Neither is good.”

Anyone with corner office aspirations needs to read Hewlett’s book.  She says what most of us can’t or won’t say to our colleagues. She catalogues career-limiting blunders and offers career-advancing solutions. There are also chapters specifically for women, minorities and members of the LGBT community.

“Cracking the executive presence code will close the gap between merit and success, between where you are right now and where you could be if you unleashed your full potential and allowed it to fly and soar,” says Hewlett.

So if you want to unleash your full potential, put away your smartphone and give your next presenter your full and undivided attention.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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